My God, it's good to be back on line! I didn't realize how attached I had become to the internet until my modem blew out almost a week ago. It's a little scary, but I find that I can function without it--just not as happily.
Isn't it interesting that Herzog
is virtually a memoir? Bellow's second wife cheated on him. The characters of Madeleine, Valentine, and Ramona are drawn from life. Indeed, Jack Ludwig, upon whom Valentine is based, wrote an answer novel, Above Ground
, presenting his side of the story (out of print now, of course). Since both Bellow and his second wife Sondra were psychoanalyzed by Paul Meehl, it is probably that the psychiatrist in the novel is based on Meehl. (My professor in psychology school called him brilliant but unusually arrogant, which seems to fit with the psychoanalyst in the novel.) Of course liberties are taken. Perhaps the most striking one is that his child by Madeleine was a son, not a daughter. But anyway, this angle on the novel is interesting. It is also of interest that this all happened in 1959 when his second marriage collapsed, but he wrote of it five years later when his third marriage was failing.
Your analysis, Guillermo, is spot on, as usual. It seems to me to be the story of a man experiencing a severe psychological decompensation (a "nervous breakdown") in response to his wife having an affair and ultimately leaving him for his best friend.
I have never seen the free indirect style used with more facility. The novel seems to slip seamlessly in and out of the third and first person. No wonder that James Wood thought that Bellow and William Faulkner were the best American novelists of the twentieth century, since he places so much emphasis on that particular technique.
Like Dickens, Bellow in this novel seems more successful at portraying men than women. The women are either monstrous, like Madeleine, or sexual fantasies, like Ramona. The men, on the other hand, are an unforgettable gallery of striking characterizations.
The overall effect of this novel is certainly life-affirming and positive. This is much harder to pull off without sentimentality than dark, despairing endings.
I finished Herzog . Although at the beginning I wasn't sure I wanted to follow the rambling thoughts of a depressive professor, by the end I thought I had read one of the most encouraging, life-affirming novels of modern times.
Just as Doctor Glas has no means of communication but his diary, Herzog, with really no one to talk to, has to mentally write these letters. Perhaps we all resort to such tricks to express emotions that we would be embarrassed to talk about to other people.
The free indirect style is very effective, mixing the author's and the character's voices until the boundaries are all blurred. Interestingly, when Herzog starts to recollect so vividly his past, he suspects that "these acute memories are probably symptoms of disorder". The depiction of his family is very moving, and it is clear that the Jewish collective memory is a great part of Herzog's cultural and emotional inheritance: "so we had a grear schooling in grief".
Sarcasm is a great defense mechanism (a wink to Sterling), much used by Jews (I was frequently reminded of Woody Allen). On personal improvement, Herzog says: "I expect to be in great shape on my deathbed. The good die young, but I have been spared so that I may end my life as good as gold".
On religion, it's clear Herzog is an agnostic: "There is always an overawing power, namely, one's terror".
Herzog is a man with an excess of self-consciousness, if that is possible. Clearly, he has defects as a romantic partner, but he seems to be a fundamentally honest, ethical person, He certainly is not lacking in the capacity for love and affection, as his relations with Junie, his daughter, and his brother show. However, he has problems relating to other persons, especially women. Of Daisy we get to now little. Madeleine is a horrible, horrible woman (at least from the perspective we get, but, in any case, she does cheats and she does try to keep Herzog away from Junie). Sono, the Japanese, sounds like an excellent woman, as well as the sexy Ramona, and Herzog himself knows that he is attracted by conflict, more than by tenderness and affection. That maight be a somewhat pathological condition.
Happiness, the difficulty of identifying, finding and keeping it, is of course one of the central subjects of modern art. "Some people are at war with the best things in life and pervert them into fantasies and dreams".
However, by the end, Herzog has found that unhappiness has no virtue in it (it may be the consequence of virtue, but it's not usually the case): "the advocacy and praise of suffering take us in the wrong direction and those of us who remain loyal to civilization must not go for it".
For the moment, just the rambling thoughts of a reader.
I've finished this. Anyone else ready to discuss it?