A major Saul Bellow autobiographical short story
BELLOW, SAUL. (English) “By the St. Lawrence,” Autograph manuscript signed
No place, Prob. March 1995
38 pages. 4to. Ruled paper, neatly removed from a notebook.
BELLOW, SAUL. “By the St. Lawrence,” Fair copy printout signed. March, 1995. Inscribed on the first page to his longtime friend and attorney: “For Walter Pozen from his old friend Saul Bellow, May 5, ’95.” 17 pages. 4to.
A MAJOR LATE AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL SHORT STORY. In this heavily revised manuscript story, Bellow revisits the scenes of his immigrant childhood and reflects on the nature of memory and loss. The story, with important changes from the present manuscript, was published in Esquire (1995) and then in Bellow’s Collected Stories (2001). A reviewer of the latter book observed, “the volume opens with the most recent piece, “By the St Lawrence,” which becomes a kind of retrospective manifesto for the characteristic forms and themes of Bellow’s stories as a whole” (Christopher Tayler, The Telegraph).
In this autobiographical short story, the elderly intellectual protagonist, Rob Rexler, returns to his native Canada to deliver a lecture on Bertolt Brecht. Before going to McGill University, he instructs the taxi driver to take him to Lachine, his (and Bellow’s) birthplace on the St. Lawrence River. There he revisits the scenes of his youth. Themes of loss and death recur, as Bellow’s character reflects on the fragile nature of life and memory. There, while visiting his dying cousin Albert, Rexler brings up a distant memory. He recalls waiting in a Model T as a young boy while Albert went into a brothel. Afterwards, the two drove past the scene of a train accident in which a pedestrian’s body parts and internal organs were strewn on the ground. Rexler is astonished that Albert now has no memory of incident, but his cousins shrugs it off: “The things kids will remember.” But Rexler, nearly as old, retains the power to recall and try to make sense of his life, as does Bellow.
This heavily revised autograph draft differs in numerous ways from both the accompanying fair copy and the story as published in Esquire and Collected Stories. This working manuscript, with its countless revisions and its added and omitted passages, shows Bellow at the height of his powers.
BELLOW, SAUL. Autograph manuscript notes on Ralph Ellison. . 1p. 4to, from the same notebook as the autograph draft of “By the St. Lawrence.” Bellow reminisces about his friend Ralph Ellison, author of Invisible Man: “Towards the end of the fifties the Ellisons and the Bellows lived together in a Duchess County house … Writers are natural solitaries and during the day we did not seek each other out. A nod in passing was enough. But late in the afternoon, Ralph mixed the martinis and now and then there were long conversations …”
Provenance: Bellow’s close friend, advisor, and longtime attorney Walter Pozen, with Bellow’s inscription ““For Walter Pozen from his old friend Saul Bellow, May 5, ‘95.”