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December 2010

The long, unhappy life of Saul Bellow

by Joseph Epstein

On the novelist's flaws, foibles & fallings-out.

. . . one has to have a less than admirable character to be a fiction writer.
—Saul Bellow

The most penetrating literary criticism I know of the novelist Saul Bellow was made in my presence by my dear friend Edward Shils one afternoon in his apartment in Hyde Park. Edward had been reading, in manuscript, a portion of James Atlas’s biography of Bellow. He put down Atlas’s pages, and, with his fondess for extended metaphors, said to me: “You know, Joseph, Mr. Atlas will only grasp the true nature of Saul Bellow when he understands that our friend Saul, had he been allowed to sit for two hours in the lap of the Queen of England, would, when told by the Queen that she must now attend to her official duties, though she much enjoyed their visit, freshly emerge from the Queen’s lap with two observations: first, that the Queen had no understanding whatsoever of the condition of the modern artist, and, second, ...

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Joseph Epstein is the author of Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).


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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 29 December 2010, on page 4

Copyright © 2014 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com

http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/The-long--unhappy-life-of-Saul-Bellow-6495

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