In 1964, Saul Bellow published his novel Herzog, which is composed of letters written by the main character, Moses Herzog. This fictional character goes through some life changing events that the average reader can relate to, whether the reader has experienced the same events, or knows of someone who has. To cope with reality of his personal mockery, Herzog uses a technique of letter writing to reflect on his own life.
By the age of 47, Moses Herzog had been divorced twice, this second one leaving him angrier and emotionally traumatized than the first one. Not only was his wife conniving, forcing him to move to Chicago and convincing Herzog he was becoming mentally ill, she also committed adultery on her husband. Now experiencing for the second time, a separation of a woman he was devoted to, it is obvious Herzog is experiencing grief. To overcome, or to cope, with the travesty in his life, Herzog begins writing letters to what appears to be addressed to the reader of the novel. The letters may be what helped the man not lose his complete sense of reality: “[h]e was busy, busy in pursuit of objects he was only now, and dimly, beginning to understand,” (128). The writing of the letters allow him to reflect on his previous marriage, and think back on his life in general. “I am not writing with the purpose of exposing Madeleine, or attacking you. I simply believe you may be interested to find out what may happen, or actually does happen, when people want to save themselves from…I suppose the word is nihilism,” (129). These letters may be addressed to an individual, a friend or family member of Herzog, but most of them he writes he never sends out. They are more of journal-writing exercise. As we have learned in “Lives and Letters,” letter writing can be addressed to anyone or anything, whether or not it actually is sent; it is still the creative style of letter writing.
Divorce can’t be an easy experience for anyone to go through, let alone experiencing the event for a second time in one’s life. Love is a hard emotion to break free. Despite the fictional life of Herzog that Bellow created, this character’s reality is genuine. Bellow himself was married more than once, therefore, he has a personal connection with Herzog, just as many readers of the novel may. Herzog’s use of rhetorical letter writing assists with his grieving process, but because of the realism of the plot, the reader of Bellow’s work can make a more personal connection with the text, as if the reader is the one Herzog addressed the letters to.
Saul Bellow, Herzog