Study Guide

Herzog Friendship

By Saul Bellow

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His friend, his former friend, Valentine, and his wife, his ex-wife Madeleine, had spread the rumor that his sanity had collapsed. Was it true? (1.6)

Wow. Who needs friends when you've got a friend like Val? Not only does the guy steal Herzog's wife, he spreads the rumor that Herzog is insane so that Herzog will be out of the way while they have their new love affair.

"I am your friend. And I'm a truthful person." (2.83)

Like many people in this book, Aunt Zelda needs to remind Herzog that she is his friend even when she gives him painful advice. That's what a good friend does, even though it might be painful at the time.

"Good friends of mine, you mean." (2.90)

Herzog isn't dumb. He knows that a lot of his so-called "good friends" were chasing after Madeleine the moment they heard about her split with Herzog. This fact just reminds Herzog that friendship is all well and good, but it tends to crumble when there's a beautiful woman involved.

I was thankful for your friendship. I was in a state, though. One of those states in which one makes great, impossible demands. (3.84)

Herzog knows that in his last meeting with his friend Sandor Himmelstein, he was unreasonable in his demands for his divorce settlement. Being a friend, Sandor tried to tell him he was wrong, but Herzog wouldn't listen. It's only looking back that he can understand what a good friend Sandor was.

Herzog noted from a favorite source—Opposition is true friendship. (4.151)

Experience has shown Herzog that true friends will always tell you when they think you're wrong. That's what leads him to think that friendship is based more in opposition than in agreement.

"There's nothing so ordinary about marrying a woman like Madeleine or having a friend like Valentine Gersbach." (5.224)

Ramona wants to marry Herzog. But she also wants to be his friend. Like many people, she's quick to tell Herzog that he's wrong in thinking his split with Madeleine is normal. There's nothing normal or acceptable about your wife divorcing you, trying to put you in an asylum, and then getting together with your best friend.

He said he didn't know how […] he would survive this terrible trouble between the two people he loved most in the world. (5.256)

Val is a really good liar. When he hears about Herzog's troubles with Madeleine, he plays the part of the best friend and tells Herzog how much he loves both Herzog and Madeleine. The truth is that Val is the cause of Herzog's marriage problems, since he's been having an affair with Madeleine all along.

"I'm sure Valentine thought he acted in my best interests. He must have held Madeleine back." (5.273)

Despite the fact that Val has gotten together with Madeleine, Herzog is convinced that Val is still acting like a good friend. Herzog knows that Madeleine would be a lot harder on him if she were given free reign. But he knows that behind the scenes, Val is holding her back.

"Remember when you were running away to Poland last year and made your will? You named him executor and guardian." (6.36)

Herzog remembers just how close he used to be with Val when he's reminded that Val is the executor of his (Herzog's) estate. That means if Herzog died, Val would take over all his property and become Herzog's daughter's legal guardian. The funny thing is that, even after what Val's done, Herzog doesn't rush to his lawyer's office to change his will.

"He alone knew how I felt about my kid and wrote me weekly reports about her, faithfully, with real kindliness. Until I found out he gave me the grief he was consoling me for." (6.93)

Herzog can't believe how seamlessly Val played the part of his best friend while he was secretly seeing Madeleine. Val even gave Herzog weekly reports about how Madeleine and June were doing. He just happened to leave out the part that he was practically living with them while he gathered this info.

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