As noted in a previous question, political philosopher Robert Paul Wolff ironically claimed that Allan Bloom's celebrated culture war screed The Closing of the American Mind (1987) is actually a novel by Saul Bellow:

Bellow has demonstrated that among his other well-recognized literary gifts is an unsuspecting bent for daring satire. What Bellow has done, quite simply, is to write an entire corruscatingly [sic] funny novel in the form of a petty, bookish, grumpy, reactionary complaint against the last two decades. The "author" of this tirade, one of Bellow's most fully realized literary creation, is a mid-fiftyish professor at the University of Chicago, to whom Bellow gives the evocative name, "Bloom."

Wolff, Robert Paul. Review of The Closing of the American Mind, by Allan Bloom. Academe, vol. 73, no. 5, 1987, pp. 64–65. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/40250092. Accessed 11 January 2024. Quote is on page 64.

Further, Bellow's last novel, Ravelstein (2000), is widely acknowledged to be a roman à clef with the stuffy and pompous eponymous character being a stand-in for Bloom. For example, in his review upon the novel's appearance, James Wood wrote:

The book's protagonist, Abe Ravelstein, is a lightly disguised portrait of Bellow's old friend, Allan Bloom, the conservative Chicago political theorist who became famous for his book The Closing Of The American Mind (1987). Indeed, it memorialises a larger intellectual community at the University of Chicago, and tells the story of Bloom's death from Aids, and of Bellow's dance with death five years ago. Most of the recent events in Bellow's life find their telling in this new book.

Wood, James. "The worldly mystic's late bloom." Review of Ravelstein by Saul Bellow. The Guardian 14 April 2000. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2000/apr/15/fiction. Accessed 11 January 2024.

There would appear to be a straight line between Wolff's claiming that "Bloom" is merely a character in a novel by Bellow, and Bellow's publishing a novel thirteen years later wherein the titular protagonist is a fictionalized stand-in for Bloom. Has Bellow ever commented on Woolf's essay, even outside of any connection to this novel? Have scholars and critics made this connection? Has Ravelstein been interpreted in relation to Woolf's essay? Is there anything about the portrait of Ravelstein that would suggest that the novel was meant as a response and/or rebuttal to Wolff? Or anything in the novel that would undermine the suggestion that it was inspired by Wolff's essay?

Note: I am aware that Bellow and Bloom were friends and colleagues at the University of Chicago, and that Bellow therefore would not have needed Wolff's essay to get the idea of fictionalizing Bloom, since novelists have always already been known to fictionalize real life individuals. I am asking about whether Ravelstein can be or has been read in relation to Wolff's essay. The question is about the relationship of the novel to the essay, not merely about the relationship between Ravelstein and Bloom.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.