Study Guide

Herzog Chapter 1

By Saul Bellow

Chapter 1

  • The story opens with the main character, Moses Herzog, thinking that he might be going out of his mind. And, simply put, he's okay with that. Interested yet?
  • It sounds like the guy's been jumping from one place to another before finally settling down in a house in the Berkshires region of Massachusetts. Now that he's settled, he's gotten into the habit of writing tons of letters, addressing them to newspapers, friends, relatives, famous people, and even dead famous people.
  • It sounds like Herzog is hanging out alone in a big old house and thinking about his ruined marriage. Apparently, his ex-wife and his ex-best friend have been spreading the rumor that he's insane.
  • Herzog knew earlier in the year that his mind was starting to go. He'd be teaching one of his classes (he's a humanities professor) and he'd say something completely random in class. He wouldn't know where it came from, but he'd find it so interesting that he'd have to pursue the line of thought even when it had nothing to do with the class.
  • Looking back on his life, Herzog thinks about his first wife, Daisy, who he treated terribly before divorcing her. His second wife Madeleine has apparently been trying to ruin him. Oh yeah, and he also thinks of himself as a bad father, no matter how much he loves his kids.
  • In the next few pages, we get glimpses of Herzog's marriage to Madeleine and his career as an academic. But all of this stuff will be fleshed out later in the plot as we learn more about the guy.
  • The longer he thinks, the more Herzog realizes how carefully Madeleine planned their breakup even before he knew there was any problem. She even got him to lease a new house for her to live in with Val after she broke things off.
  • Herzog flashes back to the conversation where Madeleine ended their marriage and told him to move out. He imagines himself punching her in the face, but then shivers the thought away.
  • After his split with Madeleine, Herzog went to see his doctor to make sure he was in okay health. In reality, he wished there were something wrong with him that would give him an excuse to relax. But alas, the doctor said he was in tiptop shape.
  • With Madeleine out of the picture, Herzog thinks about another woman named Ramona, a mature student of his who he's been seeing since his split with Madeleine.
  • Ramona offers to let Herzog stay in her vacation home on Long Island. But Herzog is worried that Ramona is looking to pin him down and marry him. Realistically, Ramona seems like a dream girl for Herzog. But maybe this is exactly what scares him so much. So he does the opposite of what Ramona suggests and leaves town to get away from her.
  • Herzog goes shopping for vacation clothes, but gets frustrated when he thinks about how much handsomer his ex-friend Valentine would be in the same outfits. It's around this time that the narrator reveals that Valentine and Madeleine had an affair while Madeleine was with Herzog. Now Valentine and Madeleine are together.
  • Thinking of Madeleine puts Herzog in a bad mood, so he takes out his frustration by bickering with the teenage salesperson in the clothing store.
  • Back at home, Herzog checks himself out in the mirror and thinks of how old and washed up he looks.
  • Herzog thinks about a trip he took to Europe right after Madeleine broke up with him. He remembers worrying that someone he met there gave him gonorrhea. It turned out to be nothing in the end, but the scare makes him write a letter to a married woman named Wanda, who he had an affair with while visiting Europe. He figures that he had an affair with her because he was so confused and angry after finding out about Madeleine's betrayal.

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