Study Guide

Herzog Sex

By Saul Bellow

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His achievements were not only scholarly but sexual. And were those achievements? It was his pride that must be satisfied. His flesh got what was left over. (1.66)

When it comes to sex, Herzog is more interested in inflating his ego than in satisfying a physical urge. Sure, the physical urge is there, but it's not his main priority.

Then he realized suddenly that Ramona had made herself into a sort of sexual professional (or priestess). (1.103)

Herzog thinks about Ramona's long list of lovers and realizes that she has turned herself into a master of having sex. At first, he thinks of her as a professional, but then thinks that she's more like a priestess. That means that Herzog thinks of sex as a sort of religion.

"They are unforgiving about sexual offenses. The fellow was angry, biting, a snotty Limey doctor. And I so vulnerable, heavy with guilt." (1.147)

Herzog is super embarrassed when he goes to a doctor in England worried that he's contracted gonorrhea. And the doctor only makes him feel more ashamed. European doctors are intolerant when it comes to sexual promiscuity, at least in Herzog's experience.

Those eyes might be blue, perhaps green, even gray—he would never know. But they were b**** eyes, that was certain. They expressed a female arrogance which had an immediate sexual power over him. (2.25).

Herzog gets a strange feeling when he sees a woman he's attracted to on the street. His first reaction is to hate her for holding so much sexual power over him. It's moments like this that give us a really good look into the darker side of Herzog's mind.

And sexually, [Ramona was] a natural masterpiece. (3.4)

It might sound like a great compliment for Herzog to think of Ramona as a sexual masterpiece. But let's not forget the fact that a masterpiece is still an object. Herzog can compliment Ramona's beauty all he wants, but he's still making her into a thing by doing so.

Please, Ramona, Moses wanted to say—you're lovely, fragrant, sexual, good to touch—everything. (5.42)

Sheesh, you'd think that Herzog would know enough to say something nice about Ramona's personality every now and then.

Oh, yes—still in fleeting moments the young and glossy stud—such as he really had never been. There were more faithful worshippers of Eros than Moses Elkanah Herzog. (5.72)

Herzog often thinks of himself as a modern Casanova. But deep down, he knows he's kind of pathetic. If only he could find a happy medium between thinking he's the sexiest man alive and thinking he's worthless, he might have a more comfortable life.

The shrimp, wine, flowers, lights, perfumes, the rituals of undressing, the Egyptian music whining and clanging, bespoke practice, and he regretted that she'd had to live this way, but it flattered him, also. (5.79)

Part of Herzog doesn't like the fact that Ramona is such an experienced lover. But another part of him is flattered by the fact that she has picked him out of such a long list of possible boyfriends.

Ramona will feed you, give you wine, remove your shoes, flatter you, smooth down your hackles, kiss you, pinch your lip with her teeth. Then uncover the bed, turn down the lights, and go into the essentials… (5.87)

Simply put, Ramona gives Herzog everything he could ever want in a sexual sense. And even though he's worried about getting too involved so shortly after his divorce, he can't resist her charms. Notice too that he also considers sex to be part of the "essentials" of life.

"It depends what people want me for. Some want a boy, and others a girl." (6.197)

When Herzog visits the New York courthouse, he sits in on the trial of a young transgendered prostitute. He's spent this whole book thinking he's edgy for having sex without marriage. Well he's in for a whole new kind of edgy when he hears the story of a teenager who sleeps with people for money and who can be a boy or a girl depending on what his/her clients want.

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