Saturday, January 14, 2012
A Theft by Saul Bellow
This novella, divided into 6 unnumbered chapters, was intended for a magazine, but none would publish it, so Bellow published it in 1989 as a paperback only. The plot is simple. Clara Velde is a successful fashion writer in New York City living on Park Ave. amidst a city in an era of moral and financial bankruptcy - she refers to NYC as "Gogmagogsville" (p. 12), from Satan's warring kingdoms Gog and Magog. Oddly, the protagonist is not male and not Jewish ! The book's title refers to the disappearance of Clara's prized emerald ring. Clara associates the ring with her love for the Washington, D.C. politico Ithiel Teddy Regler and with her own professional and personal power. With 7 marriages between them, they are "permanent" (p.) lovers and the ring was a gift, bought at Madison Hamilton (47th St.) (p. 40), from Ithiel (the name can be translated as "God with me"). The ring's apparent theft leads Clara into a series of psychological crises and forces her to confront a long-buried complex of interpersonal issues. Unlike most Bellow protagonists, she doesn't "take much stock in the collapsing-culture bit" (p. 89).
Clara is a romantic who believes that "you couldn't separate love from being" (p. 31). Regarding Ithiel "I love you with my soul" (p. 33). The emerald ring "represented the permanent form of the passion she had for this man" (p. 43). She equates the emerald as symbolic of the inner mines of her body and states "I am an infant mine" (p. 43) referring to the gems her 3 daughters would be.
Gina Wegman (p. 45) is an Austrian au pair with a Haitian boyfriend, Frederic Vigneron (p. 82), who steals the ring while exploring Clara's apt. The theft is symbolic of theft of our humanity by civilization (East & West) that we have created. Ultimately, Gina explains the significance of the heirloom to her Haitian and returns it by convincing the youngest daughter Lucy ("There's something major in Lucy") (p. 47) to secretly return it to her mother's night table (p. 83).
In the end, Clara has an epiphany-like moment, reminiscent of Seize the Day, where she feels at one with the surrounding humanity (she calls herself "homeless" (p. 109)). She is most overwhelmed by the goodness of her 10-year old daughter.