The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages

The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages

by Harold Bloom

Paperback(1st Riverhead ed)

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“Heroically brave, formidably learned… The Western Canon is a passionate demonstration of why some writers have triumphantly escaped the oblivion in which time buries almost all human effort. It inspires hope… that what humanity has long cherished, posterity will also.”The New York Times Book Review

Literary critic Harold Bloom's The Western Canon is more than a required reading list -- it is a vision. Infused with a love of learning, compelling in its arguments for a unifying written culture, it argues brilliantly against the politicization of literature and presents a guide to the great works of the western literary tradition and essential writers of the ages: the "Western Canon." Harold Bloom's book, much-discussed and praised in publications as diverse as The Economist and Entertainment Weekly, offers a dazzling display of erudition mixed with passion. For years to come it will serve as an inspiration to return to the joys of reading our literary tradition offers us.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781573225144
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/28/1995
Edition description: 1st Riverhead ed
Pages: 560
Sales rank: 299,325
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.01(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Harold Bloom is a Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University and a former Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard. As The Paris Review has pointed out, "no critic in the English language since Samuel Johnson has been more prolific." His more than thirty books include The Best Poems of the English Language, The Art of Reading Poetry, and The Book of J. He is a MacArthur Prize Fellow, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees, including the Academy's Gold Medal for Belles Lettres and Criticism, the International Prize of Catalonia, and the Alfonso Reyes Prize of Mexico.

Alfred Kazin has said, "Bloom is all literature, (he) positively lives it," and The New York Times called him "the most original literary critic in America." He lives in New Haven and New York.


New York, New York and New Haven, Connecticut

Date of Birth:

July 11, 1930

Place of Birth:

New York, New York


B.A., Cornell University, 1951; Ph.D., Yale University, 1955

Table of Contents

Preface and Prelude

I. On the Canon
1. An Elegy for the Canon

II. The Aristocratic Age
2. Shakespeare, Center of the Canon
3. The Strangeness of Dante: Ulysses and Beatrice
4. Chaucer: The Wife of Bath, the Pardoner, and Shakespearean Character
5. Cervantes: The Play of the World
6. Montaigne and Molière: The Canonical Elusiveness of the Truth
7. Milton's Satan and Shakespeare
8. Dr. Samuel Johnson, the Canonical Critic
9. Goethe's Faust, Part Two: The Countercanonical Poem

III. The Democratic Age
10. Canonical Memory in Early Wordsworth and Jane Austen's Persuasion
11. Walt Whitman as Center of the American Canon
12. Emily Dickinson: Blanks, Transports, the Dark
13. The Canonical Novel: Dickens's Bleak House, George Eliot's Middlemarch
14. Tolstoy and Heroism
15. Ibsen: Trolls and Peer Gynt

IV. The Chaotic Age
16. Freud: A Shakespearian Reading
17. Proust: The True Persuasion of Sexual Jealousy
18. Joyce's Agon with Shakespeare
19. Woolf's Orlando: Feminism as the Love of Reading
20. Kafka: Canonical Patience and "Indestructability"
21. Borges, Neruda, and Pessoa: Hispanic-Portuguese Whitman
22. Beckett...Joyce...Proust...Shakespeare

V. Cataloging the Canon
23. Elegiac Conclusion

A. The Theocratic Age
B. The Aristocratic Age
C. The Democratic Age
D. The Chaotic Age: A Canonical Prophecy

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The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
dsddd More than 1 year ago
The last reviewer is obviously a rather dumb and semi-literate fellow. Bloom has said this over and over in interviews and of course here in the Western Canon, but I shall again repeat - in any book AESTHETIC QUALITY IS ALL HAROLD BLOOM IS INTERESTED IN - not the way a work affects western civilization, not any deeper moral code ingrained, or any philosophical innovation, he cares not about race or religion, so long as the work is aesthetically aware.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am both saddened and slightly bemused by the previous 'Ph.D.' bearing reveiwer who gives us his own insightful take on literature. While the works of William Shakespeare and others may be 'saturated' with politics, it does mean it was the primary aim in the writing of the works, and certainly shouldn't be in the reading. As Bloom says, a Marxist or feminist reading of 'Hamlet' will us things of Marxism and feminism but nothing of Hamlet himself, and by default nothing of ourselves. Political, social, and historical goals can be written about and debated in nonfiction, so why bother with all of the trouble making said things part of the subtext and not the text itself. The truth is that the beauty of literature, and psychological/philosophical power it holds can only be communicated to us through this art, and as Leo Tolstoy said, (paraphrasing him here) art is the indirect communication between one soul and another'. Politics can't explain technical choices such as meter, rhyme, or poetic devices, and certainly cannot tell us things about ourselves. As these great works in 'The Western Canon' were written by indivduals and not by society, the goal is psychological and not 'social'. Even if an author deliberately attempts to distance himself from the aesthetics of literature, if he is in fact a decent writer than the attempts will be in vain, and said attempt will only inadvertently reveal the ultimate power of the poet.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After I entered graduate school about eighteen years ago, I decided to acquire all thirty-eight of Shakespeare's plays. I had taken two courses on him at college and was no doubt inspired by what I had read. That impulse, aside from constituting my peculiar authority for this review, proves prophetic, uncannily so, in the light of Harold Bloom's The Western Canon. In illuminating the Western Canon, Bloom makes it abundantly clear that William Shakespeare centers the canon, indeed is the canon. Well, all of us students of literature have discerned Shakespeare's greatness at one time or another, but did we know that he occupied such a prominent place? After Shakespeare, I acquired all of Charles Dickens' novels, another distinguished member of the canon. Bloom isolates twenty-six particular canonical authors in order to explain the quality their work possesses. Having read literature for about fifty years, he is more than qualified to judge those writers' merits. Throughout the book, Bloom informs us of his personal reactions to the literary works he reads, a nice touch, which suggests that even the greatest literary works have to be simply read at one time. Life is too short to read all the good writers, so we require a canon to direct us to the best of the best. By giving his keen attention to these twenty-six writers, who include Dante, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Cervantes, Milton, Whitman, Wordsworth, Proust, and Borges, Bloom elucidates the qualities of the writing that wrest for each one a place in the canon. To provide a larger context for that analysis, Bloom adopts a framework from Giambattista Vico's New Science, which posits a cycle of three phases. Bloom adopts two of the phases, the Aristocratic and Democratic Ages and, rather than follow Vico exactly, he postulates a 'Chaotic' Age. The writers of the latter group reflect the fragmentation, chaos, and confusion of the contemporary era. But this framework remains a broad context for the writers, with an expanded list in the Appendixes. Lacking much exposition on the reasons for certain writers' belonging to their respective ages, we are left to infer the aspects that characterize one age as opposed to another. Appropriate to this last modification of his is the elegaic form that embraces his discussion. The irony of mournfulness imbuing such an erudite treatment of this grand subject, 'the books and school of the ages,' lends a sharp emphasis to Bloom's lament for the doom of the great books. We're not a nation of Western Canon lovers. 'Teachers now tell me of many schools where the play [Julius Caeser] can no longer be read through, since students find it beyond their attention spans.' Despite this melancholy, the book lucidly defines and describes the Western Canon. It will be a point of great interest to the educated reader to learn of Shakespeare's pre-eminence. Shakespeare's cognitive, linguistic, and imaginative brilliance simply makes him the nonpareil par excellence of western literature. 'No other writer has ever had anything like Shakespeare's resources of language,' Bloom declares. Shakespeare serves as a constant point of reference for the originality and universality of the other authors' works. The titles of two chapters point up this fact: on Freud, 'Freud: A Shakespearean Reading' and, on Joyce, 'Joyce's Agon With Shakespeare.' Try as they did, Freud and Joyce could not surpass the center himself. What are the qualities that make for a canonical work? If a work is in the canon, it has strangeness, weirdness, originality, uncanniness, and universality. Bloom insists, as those words imply, on the aesthetic value of literature. Therein resides the primary benefit of literature. Great works of literature are not political or social documents; they are fine aesthetic edifices. Great literature will not make us better persons necessarily, but it can humanize and broaden us. As Bloom upholds this
dverg48 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
He's too full of himself - one of the dullest books I've tried to read in decades.
JBreedlove on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A literary journey through some of the great literature of western civilization. Our guide is incredibly knowledgeable Harold Bloom of Yale. I have garnered many new facets on philosophy, history, and literature and how they are all tied to modern thought from this book. Epic.
mewilbur on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Harold Bloom is erudite, has great insights into great literature, and is never boring. The Western Canon is not a lite list. This is challenging reading. If you're looking for pablum with a few lumps in it, read the feminists, multiculturalists and their "cheerleaders" (If you're looking for pablum, go to the supermarket.) because you won't find them here. Enjoy.
Memorial on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The ultimate reference book of our times, and an empassioned defense of books worth reading. Having been raised on television, I often turn to this book as inspiration; any page will do. Television, like any bad habit, dies hard, and this book keeps away the knaves: the college football games, the Playstation 2, the 24-hour news networks and so on. Plus there are the appendices, a massive list of what Harold Bloom considers to be the Western Canon, split into four eras; it reminds me of all the reading that's to be done. Who has time for television?
wenestvedt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Yes, there is a canon, and yes, it's worth knowing why it includes what it does.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
harold bloom is an aristocratic reader in an age of democratic reading. he upholds traditional values in literature. shakespeare is god; dante, the pope; and jane austen, the queen of england. he says the current trends in literary criticism are a fad and will fade away. i'm sure the same thing was said of the democracy we live in. the current trends will not fade away, but harold will. i don't always agree with harold, but like proust i'm facinated by old aristocrats. let's enjoy the old fellow while we have him.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The books is horrible. First, Bloom is antiChristian. Bloom adopts the documentary hypothesis that basically says the biblical writers were frauds and the the Bible has been changed repeatedly over the years. Of course, there is not one shred of evidence to support such a view. Not one ancient document supports this view, it is adopted by non-Christians but has no evidence to support it. Blooms ideology, which he foolishly claims doesn't effect his views, determine not only how he views books but what books he includes in the list. Really, how can anyone justify having the Koran in the Western Canon. Bloom also makes philosophical judgemnts throughout the book and then dares to claims his views on literature are solely based on a books literary quality and that political, social, and philosophical views should not determine how we look at literature. This is unbelievable naive. In addition, Blooms list itself has problems. The Western Canons should include literature that has had a tremendous impact on Western civilization and books that have been widely read for centuries. Does the Egyptian Book of the Dead really qualify. Its simply on the list because one of the oldest pieces of literature. Who actuaaly still reads it and what impact has it really had on the West. Books left off the list are also problematic. Metaphysics is not on the list and many other important works. A good book on the canon should discuss objectively how each book has impacted the West. It should include information about how many copies of it have been sold, and what typwe of impact it has had on society and on other literature.. Of course, the Bible, not Shakespear, would be at the center of this discussion and instead of being criticized its monumental influence would be discussed and praised. Only an antiChristian writer would do any different.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While Bloom would like to uphold what he believes are choices based on pure aesthetics, how can anyone argue that this aim is possible? This book is too basic for even an introduction to literature. The works Bloom reviews and mentions (briefly and with a lack of detail) are books saturated with politics, emotion and bias, much as all of us are as humans. Several of these works, in fact, reject aesthetics for emotion and politics! Shakespeare, Dante, Cervantes...all glowing examples of literature 'with a mission'. Bloom himself is on a mission; he may not call it 'feminism' or 'Marxism' - perhaps it is 'Bloomism'. Bloom only gives cursory mention to the many OTHER reasons why books become part of a 'canon'. If he were to believe as Wilhelm von Humboldt did, for example, Shakespeare, Dante and Cervantes would disappear in favor of Homer, Aeschylus and Aristophanes. We create the canon. We are the canon.