Page 31 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 35

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RIBALOW / SAUL BELLOW
21
HERZOG’S CHARACTER
Moses Elkanah Herzog is a w riter with a muddled personal
life. He is, in Bellow’s words, a “bad” husband twice, a “loving
but bad father” and “an ungrateful child.” He is an academic
with an admired book to his credit, but has been bogged down
in his work as he is obliged to deal w ith an un fa ithfu l wife, va r­
ious mistresses and a large, sometimes unappreciative Jewish fam­
ily. He is—as are so many of Bellow’s men—an insatiable woman­
izer. A t one point, Herzog writes, in great puzzlement, “W i l l
never understand what women want. W hat do they want? They
eat green salad and drink human blood.” Herzog fights w ith his
wife Madeleine for control of their daughter. Madeleine, for a
while, had converted to Catholicism. Once, Herzog attended
church services with her. “He was a Jew. Why was he in church?”
he wonders. And when he genuinely attempts to win back his
daughter (there is a moving scene between them late in the nar­
rative), he is told, “You’re a real, genuine old Jewish type that
digs the emotions.” A friend advises him, “W e ’ll find an ortho­
dox shul—enough o f this Temple junk . . . You and me, a pair
of old-time Jews.”
Elsewhere, Herzog is accused of “Hebrew Puritanism,” and
at the end o f the novel, when Herzog retreats to his house in
the Berkshires, he thinks o f it as a “symbol of his Jewish strug­
gle for a solid footing in Wh ite Anglo-Saxon Protestant Amer­
ica.” And, rather triumphantly, he concludes, “Here I am. Hi-
nen i!” The novel includes many irrelevancies, many events and
scenes not central to the story (including numerous letters, com­
plete and incomplete, to well-known and to obscure individuals
—letters always unmailed and hence undelivered). But Valentine
Gersbach, his wife’s lover; his stepmother Taube; his friend San-
dor Himmelstein; his voluptuous mistress Ramona, all are beau­
tifu lly drawn and are excellent Active creations by a novelist who
appears to be more philosophic and reflective than creative. And,
as so many critics have stressed, Herzog is intensely Jewish for
there are no non-Jews in the novel.
Robert Alter, in his essay on Bellow in A fte r The Tradition,
remarks that “Herzog at several points emphasizes that because
he is a Jew, he looks at the world with different eyes. . . . He
preserves the mental habit o f his forebears particularly in being