The Dean’s December

ISBN: 0140189130
ISBN 13: 9780140189131
By: Saul Bellow

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About this book

Albert Corde, dean of a Chicago college, is unprepared for the violent response to his expose of city corruption. Accused of betraying his city, as well as being a racist, he journeys to Bucharest, where his mother-in-law lies dying, only to find corruption rife in the Communist capital. Switching back and forth between the two cities, The Dean's December represents Bellow's "most spirited resistance to the forces of our time" (Malcolm Bradbury).

Reader's Thoughts


It would be unfair to give it a rating since all I remember about it is that I've read it, which probably means it didn't impress me much one way or the other. I do remember that my country was mentioned...

Laurent Szklarz

i ve read several of the author's books and i ve kept a fond memory of them. everything i cant say about this one. i ve read this book is the first one after he got the nobel prize. pity. he should have sticked to what he got the nobel for. this book is way too long, to messy, gets all over the places and overall boring and not really interesting


description of romania behind the iron curtain: good. creepy analysis of urban chicago in the 70s: bad. plus the dean is so unloveable.


Printre alte lucruri, un nene care gandeste prea mult face o paralela extrem de subiectiva intre Bucurestiul si Chicago-ul anilor 70. Concluzia: si estul, si vestul, si in general cam toata planeta se cam duc dracului.


If it sometimes feels like the characters in DECEMBER are mouthpieces constructed by Bellow for the purpose of talking at his audience, it is a beautiful and eerily prescient set of lectures he gives to us: "In the American moral crisis, the first requirement was to experience what was happening and to see what must be seen. The facts were covered from our perception. More than they had been in the past? Yes, because the changes, especially the increase in consciousness -- and also in false consciousness -- was accompanied by a peculiar kind of confusion. The increase of theories and discourse, itself a cause of new strange forms of blindness, the false representations of 'communication,' led to horrible distortions of public consciousness. Therefore the first act of morality was to disinter the reality, retrieve reality, dig it out of from the trash, represent it anew as art would represent it."

Ronald Wise

This is the most powerful of Bellow's novels I've read to date. An aging journalist turned college dean, caught up in situations which emphasize the personal ramifications of the social political storms raging at home and the unforgiving communist bureaucracy of his wife's homeland of Rumania. Haunted by hostile politically correct reactions to his recent freelance articles, Albert Corde maintains a caring and moral course while questioning his own motivations. A chance encounter with a childhood friend oddly provides some answers. This was a timely read for me, while hearing of efforts by neo-conservatives to make the Public Broadcasting Corporation more "balanced", and wondering if there wasn't such a thing as a generally accepted "truth" that becomes more clearly defined with increasing information. This came to my list when all of Bellow's books were added to my reading list following my enjoyment of The Dangling Man.


Now I understand why teachers dissuade overuse of parenthetical notes. I have come to really dislike the protagonist -- I cannot think of another text that has ever affected me in that way --, as well as Bellow's overuse of the words "feminine," "female," and "lady" to describe anything a woman does. "Female generosity" on page 143, "feminine poise" on page 107, "lady phrases" on 92, "feminized tobacco flavor" on page 90, "female bittersweet fragrance" on page 87, "feminine claims" and "broad femininity" on page 83, "feminine flourishes" on page 82, "feminine boor-control" on page 76, "feminine hierarchy" on page 72, "female speculation" on page 53, "secret feminine reasons" on page 51, and so on.His writing style is flat, especially compared to Nelson Algren. Maybe reading this text immediately after "The Man With the Golden Arm" is unfair?

Indranil Banerjie

This book is categorised as a modern classic. Reading the book felt a lot like swallowing a piece of hard, irregularly shaped rock.


Bellow’s reputation as a remarkable prose stylist shows here in the way he uses detail to foreshadow. The heightened use of contrast, too, sets the book apart from his other novels; the story itself follows the same template used for Bellow's other novels – the lives of the urban, upper class and educated. What's different this time is a striking aspect of the protagonist here: an ability to express the utter devastation of life in the American underclass. The unflinching exploration of class in America sets this book apart from his others.


This is the weakest of Bellow's novels that I have read. It really isn't a novel at all. The Dean is called in about the criminal death of one of his students. The book is more of a dialog or extended reflection than a story.


I did like this book, but I think I preferred "The Victim." This one just didn't pull me in as much, didn't grab my interest in the same way. I'm not sure why. The characters were good. The storyline was well put together and the way that the two main lines are interwoven was masterfully done. I got a bit sick of the pedantic talk from time to time, but it was in keeping with the character. Regardless, I just didn't get as into it as I hoped I would.

Andrea Rice

This is the story of Albert Corde, a college dean whose Roumanian astronomer wife, Minna, defected to the West with the encouragement and help of her intellectual mother, Dr. Valeria Raresh. Now Dr. Raresh has suffered a stroke, and the Cordes are in Bucharest where the secret police and a bitter bureaucracy is denying them the right to visit to her in the hospital. The depictions of these intellectual women are sublime, especially coming from an author who neglected his female characters in the past. And there are lots of gloomy winter scenes of Corde drinking Slivovitz in his wife's childhood bedroom.


I'm ambivalent with this book. This is the first Saul Bellows book I have read. I think that the protagonist, Albert Corbe is a realistic character. He's definitely fallible. It is this fallibility that I appreciate. I also appreciate how the novel is filled with contradictions. Corde talks of his cousin, Detillion and states that he is offended when found out about his swindle. There are several more contradictions and parallels which is the point of the plot. Compare Communist Romania in the eighties with Capitalist America. Despite the differences of each area, there is poverty and victims of each regime. I think at times the clear point of this was muddled the the charcter's vision. Like the way Corde comes to his conclusions, the reader must look for meaning underneath his rhetoric at times. It is definitely a more academic read which I appreciate. But the question is, "Do I like it?" I still don't know.


Saul Bellow was a witty writer with stunning insights into the tragedy and comedy of human life. But The Dean's December simply failed. It was a painful, boring book.


I'm sad to say that I didn't enjoy this book. Saul Bellow is one of my favorite authors but I was very disappointed how the book progressed (it was very boring with no "oomph" like in his books Herzog and The Adventures of Augie March). I am looking forward to reading Henderson the Rain King in the near future though.

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