The Bellow-Proust Parallel

You wouldn’t think that a Canadian Jew and a gay Frenchman would have much in common, but in the case of Saul Bellow and Marcel Proust, the two share more than the same birthday. Both authors pioneered a style that would give rise to a legion of mimics (see: Philip Roth and Donald Barthelme) and followers. But what was it about each of them that has maintained such a captivating allure decades and centuries later? The easy answer: Timelessly resounding themes.

Bellow, the voracious reader
Bellow, the voracious reader
The great works of both authors, The Adventures of Augie March and In Search of Lost Time, were both epically long and satirically explore the subjects of social class and memory, respectively. Both novels also served to break the mold of the traditional writing styles of the time. In Proust’s case, In Search of Lost Time was a vast departure from the conventional 19th century novel, with a far greater emphasis on the subjective rather than the actions of the characters. As for Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March, it highlighted modern themes of the 20th century that had never been examined before–chiefly socioeconomic disparity (the story takes place during the Great Depression, after all).
Proust's many-volumed In Search of Lost Time
Proust’s many-volumed In Search of Lost Time
Even the backgrounds of the two authors bear several key similarities. Proust, indeed, had Jewish heritage on his mother’s side, his grandparents being affluent Jews from the Alsace region. Additionally, each writer showed a passion for the craft early on, with Proust writing and publishing his own literary magazines as an adolescent and Bellow displaying an incredible zeal for reading literature, ultimately deciding to become a writer after reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Book cover for Bellow's best-loved novel
Book cover for Bellow’s best-loved novel
However, their most important parallel of all, of course, is leaving an indelible and distinct imprint on the literary world. In spite of their many and glaring differences, Bellow and Proust share far more in common than meets the eye.