Saul Bellow Versus Hugh Kenner

Saul Bellow: Hugh Kenner foe

Saul Bellow’s selected letters have just been published and, at least according to a review by Jeff Simon, they reveal that the Nobel Prize winning novelist really hated the literary critic Hugh Kenner:

There are 708 letters here and none of them seem much like practice, whether nominating Roth for the Nobel Prize in 2000 or cheerfully enlisting Karl Shapiro in a mock club for “haters of Hugh Kenner.” With his old friend Isaac Rosenfeld, he says, “I used to join clubs of this sort” including a “Faerie Queene Club to which nobody could belong who had read The Faerie Queene. When I read the first canto, I was put on probation, and when I read more I was expelled. But no one could ever dislodge me from a Hugh Kenner Society.”

What was the source of Bellow’s animosity? I’d have to read the letters to find out, but I strongly suspect that at the root of it all was a very critical  review Kenner wrote of Delmore Schwartz’s Vaudeville for  a Princess. Writing in the October 1951 issue of Poetry, Kenner dismissed Schwartz’s book as silly and sappy. Bellow and Schwartz were great friends, and the novelist felt particularly protective of the poet because of Schwartz’s mental unstability. Bellow’s novel Humboldt’s Gift (1971) is partially about his friendship with Schwartz.

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