Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Letter from Bellow

Mark Sarvas at The Elegant Variation stumbled across and transcribed a letter from Saul Bellow. The letter is fascinating, of course, especially because it sounds so youthful. Even in his first novel, Bellow's prose could gray into the outlook of a much older man. Here, and perhaps it is just the misspellings and the sense of a writer still struggling to start out (financially, at least—Augie March came three years earlier with a National Book Award), Bellow sounds younger than he is. If Sarvas is right and this is 1956, that would put him at 41, but he sounds early thirties at best.

But what really caught my eye was the mention of an article that he wrote or was supposed to have written:
I had a disappointing bust up with Holiday. The editors told me first to write the Illinois piece in my own way and then were appalled by my long discussion of boredom in the Midwest. They wanted me to cheer things up a little, like a true native-son. But I couldn't do that. Like Lincoln, I was a lousy immigrant.
Bellow's descriptions of and comments on the Midwest appear in a number of his books, but this would be a real find.

I'm not sure, though, what "Like Lincoln, I was a lousy immigrant" could mean. Kentucky was already a state when he was born there; Indiana became a state shortly after his family moved there, but it was definitely a territory; Illinois was a state by the time the Lincolns settled there. Anyone have an insight?

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