Herzog

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Overview

In one of his finest achievements, Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow presents a multifaceted portrait of a modern-day hero, a man struggling with the complexity of existence and longing for redemption.

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Herzog

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Overview

In one of his finest achievements, Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow presents a multifaceted portrait of a modern-day hero, a man struggling with the complexity of existence and longing for redemption.

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Editorial Reviews

Julian Moynihan
This age is full of fearfull abysses. If people are to go ahead they must move and into and through these abysses. The old definitions of balance and sanity do not help on this journey, but the ideals these terms gesture at remain, even though they require fresh definition. Love still counts, justice still counts, and particularly intellectual and emotional courage still count. This book reserves its sharpest criticism for those people...who try to cope homeopathically with the threat of violence under which we all live by cultivating an analogous, imaginative violence or intemperate despair.
Books of the Century; New York Times review, September 1964
From the Publisher
"A feast of language, situations, characters, ironies, and a controlled moral intelligence . . . Bellow’s rapport with his central character seems to me novel writing in the grand style of a Tolstoy—subjective, complete, heroic." —Chicago Tribune

"Herzog has the range, depth, intensity, verbal brilliance, and imaginative fullness—the mind and heart—which we may expect only of a novel that is unmistakably destined to last." —Newsweek 

"A masterpiece" —The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142437292
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/25/2003
  • Series: Penguin Classics Series
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 194,667
  • Product dimensions: 5.07 (w) x 7.76 (h) x 0.67 (d)

Meet the Author

Saul Bellow

SAUL BELLOW (1915–2005) won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Humboldt’s Gift, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The only novelist to receive three National Book Awards, he was presented the National Book Award Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

PHILIP ROTH, acclaimed author of Portnoy’s Complaint, The Human Stain, and many other works of fiction, is the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Medal of Arts from the White House.

Biography

Praised for his vision, his ear for detail, his humor, and the masterful artistry of his prose, Saul Bellow was born of Russian Jewish parents in Lachine, Quebec in 1915, and was raised in Chicago. He received his Bachelor's degree from Northwestern University in 1937, with honors in sociology and anthropology, and did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin. During the Second World War he served in the Merchant Marines.

His first two novels, Dangling Man (1944) and The Victim (1947) are penetrating, Kafka-like psychological studies. In 1948 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and spent two years in Paris and traveling in Europe, where he began his picaresque novel The Adventures of Augie March, which went on to win the National Book Award for fiction in 1954. His later books of fiction include Seize the Day (1956); Henderson the Rain King (1959); Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories (1968); Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970); Humboldt's Gift (1975), which won the Pulitzer Prize; The Dean's December (1982); More Die of Heartbreak (1987);Theft (1988); The Bellarosa Connection (1989); The Actual (1996); and, most recently, Ravelstein (2000). Bellow has also produced a prolific amount of non-fiction, collected in To Jerusalem and Back, a personal and literary record of his sojourn in Israel during several months in 1975, and It All Adds Up, a collection of memoirs and essays.

Bellow's many awards included the International Literary Prize for Herzog, for which he became the first American to receive the prize; the Croix de Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, the highest literary distinction awarded by France to non-citizens; the B'nai B'rith Jewish Heritage Award for "excellence in Jewish Literature"; and America's Democratic Legacy Award of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the first time this award has been made to a literary personage. In 1976 Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature "for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work."

Bellow passed away on April 5, 2005 at the age of 89.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

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    1. Also Known As:
      Solomon Bellow (real name)
      Saul Bellow
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 10, 1915
    2. Place of Birth:
      Lachine, Quebec, Canada
    1. Date of Death:
      April 5, 2005
    2. Place of Death:
      Brookline, Massachusetts

Table of Contents

HerzogIntroduction: Rereading Saul Bellow by Philip Roth

Herzog

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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

Winner of the National Book Award when it was first published in 1964, Herzog traces five days in the life of a failed academic whose wife has recently left him for his best friend. Through the device of letter writing, Herzog movingly portrays both the internal life of its eponymous hero and the complexity of modern consciousness.

Like the protagonists of most of Bellow's novels—Dangling Man, The Victim, Seize the Day, Henderson the Rain King, etc.—Herzog is a man seeking balance, trying to regain a foothold on his life. Thrown out of his ex-wife's house, he retreats to his abandoned home in Ludeyville, a remote village in the Berkshire mountains to which Herzog had previously moved his wife and friends. Here amid the dust and vermin of the disused house, Herzog begins scribbling letters to family, friends, lovers, colleagues, enemies, dead philosophers, ex- Presidents, to anyone with whom he feels compelled to set the record straight. The letters, we learn, are never sent. They are a means to cure himself of the immense psychic strain of his failed second marriage, a method by which he can recognize truths that will free him to love others and to learn to abide with the knowledge of death. In order to do so he must confront the fact that he has been a bad husband, a loving but poor father, an ungrateful child, a distant brother, an egoist to friends, and an apathetic citizen.

As Herzog obsessively reviews the evidence of Madeleine's and Gersbach's affair, we piece together the circumstances of Herzog's recent past: how Madeleine ached to leave their Emersonian life in the Berkshires, how she grew fond of the flamboyant and masculine Valentine Gersbach, how, after their marriage dissolved in Chicago, Herzog took his melancholy to Europe, and how he returned to interrogate each and every one of their friends about Madeleine's adultery. These recollections impugn not only Madeleine and Gersbach, but, more significantly, they impugn Herzog for overvaluing his own suffering. At one lucid point, he borrows a line from Shelley to express the relative meaninglessness of his suffering: "I fall upon the thorns of life, I bleed. And then? I fall upon the thorns of life, I bleed. And what next?" His sense of injury may be great but what of the pain felt by people like his childhood friend Nachman whose wife has lapsed into insanity? What of the pain of Madeleine's mother Tennie who is left by her playboy ex-husband and her inattentive daughter to age alone? Herzog also asks what the suffering of a cuckolded man is worth in relation to the collective sufferings of societies living in the shadow of Hiroshima and the Holocaust? As a former scholar of Romanticism, Herzog is compelled to weigh serious questions of culture and civilization. Thinking of the world wars, perhaps too of America's involvement in Vietnam and its battles over racism, Herzog wryly revises De Tocqueville's prediction that modern democracies would produce less crime but more private vice to "less private crime, more collective crime." The betrayal he has experienced at the hands of friends and lovers is mirrored by the betrayal he feels at the hands of modern American society where "people are dying...for lack of something real to carry home when day is done." While the garbled, fragmentary letters often display the clashing of personal and public crises; for Herzog the project to restore oneself and the project to restore civilization are really one. It is a Romantic idea that finds eloquent expression in Blake whose work is repeatedly invoked by Herzog.

Crucial to the restoration of American culture, Herzog believes, is a condemnation of the "wasteland outlook." Referring to an intellectual tradition based on the bleak diagnoses of modern civilization by Nietzsche, T. S. Eliot, Spengler, Heidegger and other existentialist philosophers, Herzog laments the wasteland outlook as "the full crisis of dissolution...the filthy moment...when moral feeling dies, conscience disintegrates, and respect for liberty, law, public decency, all the rest, collapses in cowardice, decadence, blood." Real transcendence, according to the wasteland outlook, is only possible in the immoral, "gratuitous" act. In opposition to this philosophy, Herzog offers the wisdom of Blake: "Man liveth not by self alone but in his brother's face...Each shall behold the Eternal Father and love and joy abound." Bellow dramatizes, with comedic effect, these ideas in the "murder" scene. Pistol wielding Herzog realizes, as he peers through Madeleine's bathroom window and sees his wife's lover bathing his own daughter, that the taking or the saving of life has meaning. He resists the temptations of immoralism, and through this act of moral will Herzog manages to regain his balance. That Herzog transcends his personal hurt while being charged at the police station is both ironic and deeply affecting. Now with a "tranquil fullness of heart" he can compose letters of a different character. He reaches out in love to join the human race, writing to his dead mother, to congratulate a colleague on a recent book, to Nietzsche to resolve his mixture of admiration and distrust, to God to affirm his will to live, and to himself in which he rises to a state of rapture: "Something produces intensity, a holy feeling, as oranges produce orange, as grass green." In the end, with "not a single word" left to say, Herzog is restored to himself.

Herzog is primarily a novel of redemption. For all of its innovative techniques and brilliant comedy, it tells one of the oldest of stories. Like the Divine Comedy or the dark night of the soul of St. John of the Cross, it progresses from darkness to light, from ignorance to enlightenment. Today it is still considered one of the greatest literary expressions of postwar America.

ABOUT SAUL BELLOW

Praised for his vision, his ear for detail, his humor, and the masterful artistry of his prose, Saul Bellow was born of Russian Jewish parents in Lachine, Quebec in 1915, and was raised in Chicago. He received his Bachelor's degree from Northwestern University in 1937, with honors in sociology and anthropology, and did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin. During the Second World War he served in the Merchant Marines.

His first two novels, Dangling Man (1944) and The Victim (1947) are penetrating, Kafka-like psychological studies. In 1948 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and spent two years in Paris and traveling in Europe, where he began his picaresque novel The Adventures of Augie March. Augie March went on to win the National Book Award for fiction in 1954. His later books of fiction include Seize the Day (1956); Henderson the Rain King (1959); Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories (1968); Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970), which won the National Book Award; Humboldt's Gift (1975), which won the Pulitzer Prize; The Dean's December (1982); More Die of Heartbreak (1987); Theft (1988); The Bellarosa Connection (1989);The Actual (1996); and, most recently, Ravelstein (2000). Bellow has also produced a prolific amount of non-fiction, collected in To Jerusalem and Back, a personal and literary record of his sojourn in Israel during several months in 1975, and It All Adds Up, a collection of memoirs and essays.

Bellow's many awards include the International Literary Prize for Herzog, in which he became the first American to receive the prize; the Croix de Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, the highest literary distinction awarded by France to non-citizens; the B'nai B'rith Jewish Heritage Award for "excellence in Jewish Literature"; and America's Democratic Legacy Award of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the first time this award has been made to a literary personage. In 1976 Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature "for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work."

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • From the beginning, Herzog calls into question his own sanity. Throughout the novel he confronts the concerns and accusations of madness from Dr. Edvig, his brother Shura, Mady, Gersbach, and others. Is Herzog insane? Does the novel follow Herzog from mental illness to mental health? Is Herzog's condition "normal" for an intellectual living at the height of the Cold War?
     
  • Discuss the "murder" scene. Why does Herzog not carry out the crime? How does this refute immoralism or nihilism? Does it? Does the action, or non-action, constitute heroism?
     
  • Examining the portrayals of Madeleine, Ramona, Zono, Zipporah, Daisy, and the other women in Herzog's life, what generalizations, if any, can be made about Bellow's ideas about women? Are women unknowable to men, as Herzog comes despairingly close to concluding?
     
  • In addition to the letters, what else has played a decisive role in Herzog's "cure"? What role, if any, has Ramona played? His brother Shura?
     
  • Discuss the geography of Herzog, particularly the four main locales—Quebec, New York, Chicago, Ludeyville. If Ludeyville is meant to represent an Emersonian ideal, albeit an impossible one, what do the other settings signify?
     
  • With the vast amount of epistolary material and the great intimacy the narrator has with the hero, we tend to forget thatHerzog is not a first person narrative. Who is the narrator? A removed aspect of Herzog's personality? A competitor to Herzog? His analyst? Where do the narrator and Herzog part ways?
     
  • Some of the most moving parts of the book are Herzog's recollections of his childhood on Napoleon Street. Besides informing the reader about details of his past, how do these sections function in the novel as a whole? How do they assist Herzog during his time of crisis?
     
  • In his portrait of Dr. Edvig and in the comic "gun" scene with Herzog's father, Bellow parodies psychiatry and Freudian ideas on the hostility between father and son. However, Herzog's cure for his emotional problems is essentially a talking cure, a method pioneered by Freud in which the patient gives voice to his/her deepest anxieties. What kind of view of human psychology does Herzog present?
     
  • Most of Bellow's fiction dramatizes the struggles specific to Jewish intellectuals in America. What is significant about Herzog's Jewishness? Is an understanding of his Jewishness indispensable to an understanding of the novel?
     
  • Herzog is a novel that champions ordinary experience. At one point, Herzog eulogizes his father, an ordinary man, by saying "his I had dignity." Opposed to the value of ordinariness and the common connections between people are the ideological arguments—marxism, existentialism, nihilism—of the age. Discuss Herzog's comment at the end of the novel that Mady "brought ideology into my life." Did she? What role did Gersbach play in perverting Herzog's faith in ordinary experience? What about his colleague Shapiro?
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 1, 2013

    Modern-day hero not! A middle-aged whimperer. The story itself i

    Modern-day hero not!
    A middle-aged whimperer. The story itself is fine, but Ithe letters were unbearable.

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  • Posted April 19, 2010

    This is a great book

    Very frightening!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2001

    Herzog

    After more than 40 years, Saul Bellow's Herzog still appeals to an idealized image of American intellectual life in the post-WWII era. No doubt, Moses Herzog was a hero easily recognizable by the audience Bellow wrote for in 1964, the 'people of powerful imaginations.' Like them he was brilliant, sophisticated and creative. His afflictions were also theirs: indulgence, envy, self-destructiveness, immobilizing self-awareness. Many ached to solve the puzzles of existence motivated, as was Herzog, by the twin dangers to human flourishing of the Cold War and strident behavioralism. Today, these dangers no longer motivate, and readers may find that Herzog is no longer an archetype of the thinking American. It is no doubt true that he is still in some ways like his audience. But, his florid use of words, broad knowledge of letters and mastery of languages is rarer. Acquiring them required of him a disciplined study and perseverance now less fashionable. Near the end, Herzog writes about intellectual perseverance in one of his trademark letters to the philosopher Frederick Nietzsche, telling him that to survive 'you must outlive the pain.' Perhaps pain is for us too high a price to pay for a thoughtful life; perhaps true education is too meager a reward. Whatever his limitations, Herzog is an educated man and a survivor. Bellow's description of his struggle begs us to consider whether we have achieved either, or want to.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2001

    Stunning

    Everything about this book is gorgeous, page after page of language at it's finest, each sentence glinting with Bellow's craftsmanship. The novel is wrapped around characters, ideas, and the ironies of the human condition, not so much the action of the plot. It's a stunning piece of work. Smart. Absorbing. Aware.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2000

    Fluent in all particulars

    ' The blood-coloured sunsets of winter and solitude were behind him. They didn't seem so bad now that he had survived them' Bellow records both vague transient emotions and heart-scalding pain with the same unremitting attention to detail. A compelling read and an eye opener to - dare I say it - male sensibility!

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