I have little desire to rehash the politics, but the facts are plain: by the time I arrived in college as an undergraduate English major in the mid-90s, the idea of the “Western Canon” as a container of—in the words of a famous hymn—“all that’s good, and great, and true” was seriously on the wane, to put it mildly. And in many quarters of academia, mention of the name of Yale literary critic Harold Bloom provoked, at the very least, a raised eyebrow and pointed silence. Bloom’s reputation perhaps unfairly fell victim to the so-called “Canon Wars,” likely at times because of a misidentification with political philosopher Allan Bloom. That Bloom was himself no ideologue, writes Jim Sleeper; he was a close friend of Saul Bellow and “an eccentric interpreter of Enlightenment thought who led an Epicurean, quietly gay life.” Nonetheless, his fiery attack on changing academic values, The Closing of the American Mind, became a textbook of the neoconservative right.
Though Harold Bloom wished to distance himself from culture war polemics, he has unapologetically practiced what Allan Bloom preached, teaching the Canonical “great books” of literature and religion and opposing all manner of critics on the left, whom he lumps together in the phrase “the School of Resentment.” Bloom’s 1973 The Anxiety of Influence has itself exerted a major influence on literary studies, and best-selling popular works, like 1998’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, have kept Harold Bloom’s name in circulation even when scholarly citations of his work declined. In 1994, Bloom re-affirmed his commitment to the Canon with The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, a fierce sortie against his so-called “School of Resentment” adversaries and a work University of Minnesota professor Norman Fruman called a “heroically brave, formidably learned and often unbearably sad response to the present state of the humanities.” (Hear Bloom discuss the book with Eleanor Wachtel in a 1995 CBC interview.)
The Western Canon is tightly focused on only 26 authors, but in a series of four appendices, Bloom lists the hundreds of other names he considers canonical. For all of Bloom’s ornery defensiveness, his list is surprisingly inclusive, as well as—for Fruman—surprisingly idiosyncratic. (Bloom later disavowed the list, claiming that his editor insisted on it.) Like a classical philologist, Bloom divides his Canon into four “ages” or periods: The Theocratic Age (2000 BCE-1321 CE); The Aristocratic Age (1321-1832); The Democratic Age: 1832-1900); and The Chaotic Age (20th Century). You can view the complete list here. Below, we’ve compiled a very partial, but still sizable, excerpt of texts from Bloom’s list that are available online through the University of Adelaide’s ebook library. For all of the unpopular positions he has taken over the past few decades, Bloom’s immense erudition, expansive intellect, and sincere commitment to the humanities have never been in question. As a distinguished exemplar of a fading tradition, he is an invaluable resource for students and lovers of literature.
A: “The Theocratic Age”
The Ancient Greeks
- Homer (ca.800BC)
- Iliad; Odyssey.
- Hesiod (ca.700BC)
- Works and Days; Theogony.
- Sappho (ca.600BC)
- Aeschylus (525 BC – 456 BC)
- Oresteia; Seven Against Thebes; Prometheus Bound; Persians; Suppliant Women.
- Sophocles (c. 496-c. 405 BC)
- Oedipus the King; Oedipus at Colonus; Antigone; Electra; Ajax; Women of Trachis; Philoctetes.
- Euripides (480 or 484-406 BC)
- Cyclops; Heracles; Alcestis; Hecuba; Bacchae; Orestes; Andromache; Medea; Ion; Hippolytus; Helen; Iphigenia at Aulis.
- Aristophanes (ca. 446 BC – 385 BC)
- The Birds; The Clouds; The Frogs; Lysistrata; The Knights; The Wasps; The Assemblywomen.
- Herodotus, 485–420BCE
- The Histories.
- Thucydides, ca.460 BCE
- The Peloponnesian Wars.
- Plato, c.427-c.347 BCE
- Aristotle, 384–322 BCE
- Poetics; Ethics.
- Menander, ca. 342–291 BC
- The Girl from Samos.
- Plutarch, 46–120
- Lives; Moralia.
- Aesop (620 – 560 BC)
- Petronius, c.27-66
- Terence, 195/185–159 BC
- The Girl from Andros; The Eunuch; The Mother-in-Law.
- Lucretius, 98?–55 BCE
- The Way Things Are.
- Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106–43 BCE
- On the Gods.
- Horace, 65-8 BCE
- Odes; Epistles; Satires.
- Catullus (c.84 B.C. – c.54 B.C.)
- Attis and Other Poems.
- Virgil (70-19 BC)
- Aeneid; Eclogues; Georgics.
- Ovid (43 BC – 17 AD)
- Metamorphoses; The Art of Love; Heroides.
- Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, ca.4 BCE–65 CE
- Tragedies, particularly Medea and Hercules Furens.
- Petronius, c.27-66
- Apuleius, c. 123/125-c. 180
- The Golden Ass.
The Middle Ages: Latin, Arabic, and the Vernacular Before Dante
- Augustine of Hippo, 354–430
- City of God; Confessions.
- Wolfram von Eschenbach, 1170–1220
- Chrétien de Troyes, 12th cent
- Yvain: The Knight of the Lion.
- Beowulf (ca.800)
B: “The Aristocratic Age”
- Dante (1265 – 1321)
- The Divine Comedy; The New Life.
- Petrarch, 1304-1374
- Lyric Poems; Selections.
- Giovanni Boccaccio, 1313-1375
- The Decameron.
- Matteo Maria Boiardo, 1440 or 41-1494.
- Orlando Innamorato.
- Lodovico Ariosto, 1474-1533
- Orlando Furioso.
- Machiavelli, Niccolò, 1469–1527
- The Prince; The Mandrake, a Comedy.
- Benvenuto Cellini, 1500–1571
- Tommaso Campanella, 1568-1639
- Poems; The City of the Sun.
- Miguel de Cervantes, 1547-1616
- Don Quixote; Exemplary Stories.
- Pedro Calderon de la Barca, 1600–1681
- Life is a Dream; The Mayor of Zalamea; The Mighty Magician; The Doctor of His Own Honor.
England and Scotland
- Chaucer, Geoffrey (ca.1343-1400)
- The Canterbury Tales; Troilus and Criseyde.
- Thomas Malory, 1430-1471
- Le Morte D’Arthur.
- Thomas More, 1478-1535
- Philip Sidney, 1554-1586.
- The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia; Astrophel and Stella; An Apology for Poetry.
- Edmund Spenser, 1552-1599
- The Faerie Queene; The Minor Poems.
- Christopher Marlowe, 1564-1593
- Poems and Plays.
- Thomas Nashe, 1567-1601
- The Unfortunate Traveller.
- William Shakespeare, 1564-1616
- Plays and Poems.
- John Donne, 1572-1631
- Poems; Sermons.
- Ben Jonson, 1573-1637
- Poems, Plays, and Masques.
- Francis Bacon, 1561–1626
- Robert Burton, 1577–1640
- The Anatomy of Melancholy.
- Thomas Browne, 1605–1682
- Religio Medici; Hydriotaphia, or Urne-Buriall; The Garden of Cyrus.
- Thomas Hobbes, 1588–1679
- Herrick, Robert, 1591-1674
- Andrew Marvell, 1621-1678
- John Ford, 1586-ca.1640
- ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore.
- John Webster, c.1580-c.1634
- The White Devil; The Duchess of Malfi.
- Izaak Walton, 1593-1683
- The Compleat Angler.
- John Milton, 1608-1674
- Paradise Lost; Paradise Regained; Lycidas, Comus, and the Minor Poems; Samson Agonistes; Areopagitica.
- John Aubrey, 1626–1697
- Brief Lives.
- Samuel Butler, 1612-1680
- John Dryden, 1631-1700
- Poetry and Plays; Critical Essays.
- Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745
- A Tale of a Tub; Gulliver’s Travels; Shorter Prose Works; Poems.
- Alexander Pope, 1688-1744
- John Gay, 1685-1732
- The Beggar’s Opera.
- James Boswell, 1740-1795
- Life of Johnson; Journals.
- Samuel Johnson, 1709–1784
- Edward Gibbon, 1737–1794
- The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
- Edmund Burke, 1729–1797
- A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful; Reflections on the Revolution in France
- Oliver Goldsmith, 1728-1774
- The Vicar of Wakefield; She Stoops to Conquer; The Traveller; The Deserted Village.
- Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1751–1816
- The School of Scandal; The Rivals.
- William Cowper, 1731-1800
- Poetical Works.
- Defoe, Daniel (1661?-1731)
- Moll Flanders; Robinson Crusoe; A Journal of the Plague Year.
- Samuel Richardson, 1689-1761.
- Clarissa; Pamela; Sir Charles Grandison.
- Henry Fielding, 1707-1754
- Joseph Andrews; The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling.
- Tobias Smollett, 1721-1771
- The Expedition of Humphry Clinker; The Adventures of Roderick Random.
- Laurence Sterne, 1713-1768
- The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman; A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy.
- Fanny Burney, 1752-1840
- Michel de Montaigne, 1533-1592
- Francois Rabelais, 1494?-1553?
- Gargantua and Pantagruel.
- Marguerite de Navarre, 1492–1549
- The Heptameron.
- Jean de La Fontaine, 1621-1695
- Molière, 1622-1673
- The Misanthrope; Tartuffe; The School for Wives; The Learned Ladies; Don Juan; School for Husbands; Ridiculous Precieuses; The Would-Be Gentleman; The Miser; The Imaginary Invalid.
- Blaise Pascal, 1623–1662
- Rousseau, Jean–Jacques, 1712–1778
- The Confessions; Émile; La Nouvelle Héloïse.
- Voltaire, 1694-1778
- Zadig; Candide; Letters on England; The Lisbon Earthquake.
- Erasmus of Rotterdam, 1466–1536
- In Praise of Folly.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749–1832
- Faust, Parts One and Two; Dichtung und Wahrheit; Egmont; Elective Affinities; The Sorrows of Young Werther; Poems; Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship; Wilhelm Meister’s Years of Wandering; Italian Journey; Verse Plays; Hermann and Dorothea; Roman Elegies; Venetian Epigrams; West-Eastern Divan.
- Friedrich Schiller, 1759-1805
- The Robbers; Mary Stuart; Wallenstein; Don Carlos; On the Naïve and Sentimental in Literature.
C: “The Democratic Age”
- Giovanni Verga, 1840-1922
- Little Novels of Sicily; Mastro-Don Gesualdo; The House by the Medlar Tree; The She-Wolf and Other Stories.
- Victor Hugo, 1802-1885
- The Distance, the Shadows: Selected Poems; Les Misérables; Notre-Dame of Paris; William Shakespeare; The Toilers of the Sea; The End of Satan; God.
- Gautier, Théophile, 1811–1872
- Mademoiselle de Maupin; Enamels and Cameos.
- Balzac, Honoré de, 1799-1850
- The Girl with the Golden Eyes; Louis Lambert; The Wild Ass’s Skin; Old Goriot; Cousin Bette; A Harlot High and Low; Eugénie Grandet; Ursule Mirouet.
- Stendhal, 1783-1842
- On Love; The Red and the Black; The Charterhouse of Parma.
- Gustave Flaubert, 1821-1880
- Madame Bovary; Sentimental Education; Salammbô; A Simple Soul.
- George Sand, 1804-1876
- The Haunted Pool.
- Charles Baudelaire, 1821-1867
- Flowers of Evil; Paris Spleen.
- Guy de Maupassant, 1850-1893
- Selected Short Stories.
- Emile Zola, 1840-1902
- Germinal; L’Assommoir; Nana.
- Henrik Ibsen, 1828-1906
- Brand; Peer Gynt; Emperor and Galilean; Hedda Gabler; The Master Builder; The Lady from the Sea; When We Dead Awaken.
- William Blake, 1757-1827
- Complete Poetry and Prose.
- William Wordsworth, 1770–1850
- Poems; The Prelude.
- Walter Scott, 1771-1832
- Waverley; The Heart of Midlothian; Redgauntlet; Old Mortality.
- Jane Austen, 1775-1817
- Pride and Prejudice; Emma; Mansfield Park; Persuasion.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1772–1834
- Poems and Prose.
- Hazlitt, William, 1778-1830
- Essays and Criticism.
- George Byron, 1788-1824
- Don Juan; P oems.
- Thomas de Quincey, 1785–1859
- Confessions of an English Opium Eater; Selected Prose.
- Maria Edgeworth, 1767-1849
- Castle Rackrent.
- Elizabeth Gaskell, 1810-1865
- Cranford; Mary Barton; North and South.
- Charles Robert Maturin, 1782–1824
- Melmoth the Wanderer.
- Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1792-1822
- Poems; A Defence of Poetry.
- Mary Shelley, 1797-1851
- John Keats, 1795-1821
- Poems and Letters.
- Robert Browning, 1812–1889
- Poems; The Ring and the Book.
- Charles Dickens, 1812-1870
- The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club; David Copperfield; The Adventures of Oliver Twist; A Tale of Two Cities; Bleak House; Hard Times; Nicholas Nickleby; Dombey and Son; Great Expectations; Martin Chuzzlewit; Christmas Stories; Little Dorrit; Our Mutual Friend; The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
- Alfred Tennyson, 1809-1892
- Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1828-1882
- Poems and Translations.
- Matthew Arnold, 1822-1888
- Poems; Essays.
- Christina Georgina Rossetti, 1830-1894.
- Thomas Love Peacock, 1785–1866
- Nightmare Abbey; Gryll Grange.
- Thomas Carlyle, 1795–1881
- Selected Prose; Sartor Resartus.
- John Ruskin, 1819-1900
- Modern Painters; The Stones of Venice; Unto This Last; The Queen of the Air.
- John Stuart Mill, 1806–1873
- On Liberty; Autobiography.
- Anthony Trollope, 1815-1882
- The Barsetshire Novels; The Palliser Novels; Orley Farm; The Way We Live Now.
- Lewis Carroll, 1832-1898
- Complete Works.
- George Gissing, 1857-1903
- New Grub Street.
- Charlotte Bronte, 1816-1855
- Jane Eyre; Villette.
- Emily Bronte, 1818-1848
- Poems; Wuthering Heights.
- Anne Bronte, 1820-1849
- William Makepeace Thackeray, 1811-1863
- Vanity Fair; The History of Henry Esmond.
- George Meredith, 1828-1909
- Poems; The Egoist.
- Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith), 1874-1936
- Collected Poems; The Man Who Was Thursday.
- Samuel Butler, 1835-1902
- Erewhon; The Way of All Flesh.
- Wilkie Collins, 1824-1889
- The Moonstone; The Woman in White; No Name.
- Thomson, James, 1834–1882
- The City of the Dreadful Night.
- Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900
- Plays; The Picture of Dorian Gray; The Artist as Critic; Letters.
- George Eliot, 1819-1880
- Adam Bede; Silas Marner; The Mill on the Floss; Middlemarch; Daniel Deronda.
- Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850-1894
- Essays; Kidnapped; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Treasure Island; The New Arabian Nights; The Master of Ballantrae; Weir of Hermiston.
- William Morris, 1834-1896
- Early Romances; Poems; The Earthly Paradise; The Well at the World’s End; News from Nowhere.
- Bram Stoker, 1847-1912
- George MacDonald, 1824-1905
- Lilith; At the Back of the North Wind.
- Jakob Grimm, 1785–1863 and Grimm, Wilhelm, 1786–1859
- Fairy Tales.
- Hoffmann, E. T. A. (Ernst Theodor Amadeus), 1776-1822
- The Devil’s Elixir; Tales.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844–1900
- The Birth of Tragedy; Beyond Good and Evil; On the Genealogy of Morals; The Will to Power.
- Aleksandr Pushkin, 1799-1837
- Complete Prose Tales; Complete Poetry; Eugene Onegin; Narrative Poems; Boris Godunov.
- Nikolai Gogol, 1809-1852
- The Complete Tales; Dead Souls; The Government Inspector.
- Mikhail Lermontov, 1814-1841
- Narrative Poems; A Hero of Our Time.
- Ivan Turgenev, 1818-1883
- A Sportsman’s Notebook; A Month in the Country; Fathers and Sons; On the Eve; First Love.
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1821-1881
- Notes from the Underground; Crime and Punishment; The Idiot; The Possessed (The Devils); The Brothers Karamazov; Short Novels.
- Leo Tolstoy, 1828-1910
- The Cossacks; War and Peace; Anna Karenina; A Confession; The Power of Darkness; Short Novels.
- Anton Chekhov, 1860-1904
- The Tales; The Major Plays.
The United States
- Washington Irving, 1783-1859
- The Sketch Book.
- James Fenimore Cooper, 1789–1851.
- The Deerslayers.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803–1882
- Nature; Essays; Representative Men; The Conduct of Life; Journals; Poems.
- Emily Dickinson, 1830–1886
- Complete Poems.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864
- The Scarlet Letter; Tales and Sketches; The Marble Faun; Notebooks.
- Herman Melville, 1819-1891
- Moby-Dick; The Piazza Tales; Billy Budd; Collected Poems; Clarel.
- Edgar Allan Poe, 1809-1849
- Poetry and Tales; Essays and Reviews; The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym; Eureka.
- Henry David Thoreau, 1817–1862
- Walden; Poems; Essays.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807–1882
- Selected Poems.
- Ambrose Bierce, 1842-1913
- Collected Writings.
- Louisa May Alcott, 1832–1888
- Little Women.
- Kate Chopin, 1850-1904
- The Awakening.
- William Dean Howells, 1837-1920
- The Rise of Silas Lapham; A Modern Instance.
- Henry James, 1843-1916
- The Portrait of a Lady; The Bostonians; The Princess Casamassima; The Awkward Age; Short Novels and Tales; The Ambassadors; The Wings of the Dove; The Golden Bowl
- Mark Twain, 1835-1910
- Complete Short Stories; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; The Devil’s Racetrack; Number Forty-Four: The Mysterious Stranger; Pudd’nhead Wilson; A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
- William James, 1842–1910
- The Varieties of Religious Experience; Pragmatism.
D: “The Chaotic Age”
- Anatole France, 1844-1924
- Penguin Island; Thaïs.
- Marcel Proust, 1871-1922
- Remembrance of Things Past (In Search of Lost Time).
- Albert Camus, 1913-1960
- The Stranger; The Plague; The Fall; The Rebel.
Great Britain and Ireland.
- Yeats, W. B. (William Butler), 1865-1939
- The Collected Poems; Collected Plays; A Vision; Mythologies.
- George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950
- Major Critical Essays; Heartbreak House; Pygmalion; Saint Joan; Major Barbara; Back to Methuselah.
- John Millington Synge, 1871-1909
- Collected Plays.
- George Douglas Brown, 1869-1902
- The House with the Green Shutters.
- Thomas Hardy, 1840-1928
- The Well-Beloved; The Woodlanders; The Return of the Native; The Mayor of Casterbridge; Far From the Madding Crowd; Tess of the D’Urbervilles; Jude the Obscure; Collected Poems.
- Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936
- Kim; Collected Stories; Puck of Pook’s Hill; Complete Verse.
- Housman, A. E., 1859-1936
- Collected Poems.
- Joseph Conrad, 1857-1924
- Lord Jim; The Secret Agent; Nostromo; Under Western Eyes; Victory.
- Ronald Firbank, 1886-1926
- Five Novels.
- Ford Madox Ford, 1873-1939
- Parade’s End; The Good Soldier.
- Saki, 1870-1916
- The Short Stories.
- Wells, H. G., 1866-1946
- The Science Fiction Novels.
- David Lindsay, 1876-1945
- A Voyage to Arcturus.
- Arnold Bennett, 1867–1931.
- The Old Wives’ Tale.
- John Galsworthy, 1867-1933
- The Forsyth Saga.
- Lawrence, D. H., 1885-1930
- Complete Poems; Studies in Classic American Literature; Complete Short Stories; Sons and Lovers; The Rainbow; Women in Love.
- Virginia Woolf, 1882-1941
- Mrs. Dalloway; To the Lighthouse; Orlando: A Biography; The Waves; Between the Acts.
- James Joyce, 1882-1941
- Dubliners; Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Ulysses; Finnegans Wake.
- George Orwell, 1903-1950
- Collected Essays; 1984.
- Franz Kafka, 1883–1924
- Amerika; The Complete Stories; The Blue Octavo Notebook; The Trial; Diaries; The Castle; Parables, Fragments, Aphorisms.
- Maksim Gorky, 1868-1936
- Reminiscences of Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Andreev; Autobiography.
- Knut Hamsun, 1859-1952
- Hunger; Pan.
- Karel Čapek, 1890-1938
- War with the Newts; R.U.R.
Australia and New Zealand.
- Miles Franklin, 1879-1954
- My Brilliant Career.
- Katherine Mansfield, 1888-1923
- The Short Stories.
The United States.
- Edith Wharton, 1862–1937
- Collected Short Stories; The Age of Innocence; Ethan Frome; The House of Mirth; The Custom of the Country.
- Willa Cather, 1873-1947
- My Antonia; The Professor’s House; A Lost Lady.
- Gertrude Stein, 1874–1946
- Three Lives; The Geographical History of America; The Making of Americans; Tender Buttons.
- Theodore Dreiser, 1871-1945
- Sister Carrie; An American Tragedy.
- Sinclair Lewis, 1885-1951
- Babbitt; It Can’t Happen Here.
- Eugene O’Neill, 1888-1953
- Lazarus Laughed; The Iceman Cometh; Long Day’s Journey into Night.
- Fitzgerald, F. Scott, 1896-1940
- Babylon Revisited and Other Stories; The Great Gatsby; Tender is the Night.
- Nathanael West, 1903-1940
- Miss Lonelyhearts; A Cool Million; The Day of the Locust.
Of this last Appendix–which ends with Tony Kushner’s Angels in America and includes a great degree of diversity–Bloom writes: “I am not as confident about this list as the first three. Cultural prophecy is always a mug’s game. Not all of the works here can prove to be canonical . . . literary overpopulation is a hazard to many among them. But I have neither excluded nor included on the basis of cultural politics of any kind.” Again, the selections above are very limited. Before you ask, “what about x, y, or z!” see Bloom’s full list here. And if you still do not find authors you believe deserve inclusion in any version of the Western Canon, pick up a copy of Bloom’s book to learn more about his critical criteria.
A decent number of the texts above can also be found in our Free eBooks and Free Audio Books collections.
Harold Bloom Recites ‘Tea at the Palaz of Hoon’ by Wallace Stevens
Harold Bloom on the Ghastly Decline of the Humanities (and on Obama’s Poetry)
Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness
Just wanted to mention that Glyn Maxwell’s book On Poetry is the best thing of that kind I’ve read in twenty years.
I just can’t stop mentioning it to people. Sorry.
Erasmus of Rotterdam German..?
I’d be flattering myself if I said I’d read a tenth of Bloom’s list.
I guess I’d better get busy.
Kafka was born in Prague (back then part of the Austrian-Hungarian Kingdom) and hence definitly no german.
It is profoundly disappointing that an institution that purports to foster rigorous thought and open-minded discourse has devolved to the point where “mention of the name” of a serious scholar who fails to conform to prevailing “correct thought” provokes “raised eyebrow[s] and pointed silence.” The modern University — at least in the humanities departments — has lost its mission.
Bloom is terrible. His entire “western cannon” includes 18 women. Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, the very first English novel, does’t even make the cut.
I count more than 18 – Sappho, Christine de Pisan, Gaspara Stampa, Madame de Lafayette, the English translator of Robert Garnier’s Mark Antony (mentioned in the book), Fanny Burney, Jane Austen, Dorothy Wordsworth, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Marguerite de Navarre, George Sand, Maria Edgeworth, Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Shelley, Christina Rossetti, Emily and Charlotte Bronte (the full list on ebooks lists Anne by mistake), George Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcott… that’s 20, and Virginia Woolf hasn’t even been mentioned yet!
You come close to saying that history – the oppression of women – is Bloom’s fault. If women had been treated as equals throughout history, there would be a great many more on this list. Apart from Behn (whom Bloom believes is fourth rate), other surprising omissions include Mary Wollstonecroft and Anne Carson (her best work was yet to come, though). Of course, there are plenty of surprising omissions of male writers – Sigmund Freud, Hans Christian Andersen, P. G. Wodehouse, etc.
The real problem with Bloom’s list isn’t a lack of women, it’s how embarrassingly anglo-centric it is. It’s clear from this list that Bloom reads no language besides English – a major red flag for someone claiming to be an expert on “Western” literature. Frankly this is for me a red flag even for a humble professor of English literature and culture. He does not include Céline, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Samuel Beckett, Leopardi, Eugenio Montale, Thomas Mann, Rilke, Paul Valéry, Novalis, Hölderlin… I could go on for quite some time. These are not minor figures.
Sarah, all of the writers you mention are included in the full list, but not on this edited version. (“Below, we’ve compiled a very partial, but still sizable, excerpt of texts from Bloom’s list that are available online through the University of Adelaide’s ebook library.”)
The complete list may be found here, beginning with the Theocratic Age: http://home.comcast.net/~dwtaylor1/theocraticcanon.html
“It’s clear from this list that Bloom reads no language besides English.”
Bloom’s first language is Yiddish. He learned to read both Yiddish and Hebrew before English.
From the NY Times article “Bloom at Thermopylae”:
“His prodigious reading and uncannily retentive memory have long been legendary. Only a library cormorant could have undertaken so immensely ambitious a task as to survey all of Western literature, from Dante to Borges, in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish and Russian.”
Kafka is included under ‘German’ because he wrote in the German language, not because Bloom thinks he was a German. I doubt you’ll ever see this since you posted over a year ago but I just couldn’t say nothing.
“…a humble professor of English literature and culture.”
What do you mean? One doesn’t simply bumble along and somehow become a professor in English literature and culture, let alone one of the most important academics at Yale. Those who have no respect for English professors don’t really understand the discipline or academia in general.
There is nothing ’embarrassing’ or problematic about an anglo-centric list for anglos.
Taylor, this isn’t one of your women’s studies courses, the bar of significance is just a wee bit higher.
Bloom’s list is not perfect, but then no list is. It is a good place to start, if you want to catch up on the classics. He is not reliable after 1900, though. I would ignore his choices for the ‘Chaotic Age’, as I really think that era is not his area of expertise. For the 20th Century, if you like Bloom’s List, you’ll like the Modern Library’s list of the top 100 novels. If you don’t like Bloom, you’ll hate the Modern Library List for much the same reasons. It is even more Anglo-or American- centric, with only a few female authors.
Kafka was a native German speaker. He wrote in German. Where he was born is beside the point.
Where are Livy and Tacitus? What about The Nibelungenlied?
Good call on Livy and Tacitus! Bloom, in his introduction to the first list, acknowledges the fact that many Greek and Latin works of great merit have been excluded. The reason for this, he says, is that the common reader won’t have time to read anything but the very best works (in terms of literary-aesthetic value) from the older canon.
Das Nibelungenlied does in fact feature in the full list – and quite right too!
Have you read the book? In “The Western Canon”, as the title of the book suggests, he wrote that he focused on the texts from the western world and that he did not include texts from regions outside it partly because he couldn’t read in their original language and that he felt he’s not versed enough to comment upon them. Though he does say that he reads books from everywhere, east or west.
Have you read the book, Sarah? In “The Western Canon”, as the title of the book suggests, he wrote that he focused on the texts from the western world and that he did not include texts from regions outside it partly because he couldn’t read in their original language and that he felt he’s not versed enough to comment upon them. Though he does say that he reads books from everywhere, east or west.
Replying to this two years later (haha), but I feel like noting that Bloom is a huge Anne Carson fan and refers to her as one of the living literary geniuses that he neglected to include in his 2003 book ‘Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds’. I assume he either forgot her or didn’t include her because her best work was to come, as you say (I know he has praised Autobiography of Red, which came out a few years later).
That comment was meant to be in response to Ganon.
This intro is poor.
I’m firmly on the left politically, but agree with Bloom basically stopping with Robert Frost. When art is consciously forced through an ideology, it dies immediately. (We all act out our ideologies subconsciously.) What you have left is propaganda in its many-hyphenated forms. Lit for LGBTQetc.-studies. Or whatever the current group identity is currently being promoted.
If you don’t want to study Western Civ, you don’t have to. If you do, you will read some of these books written by dead white males. Not because I think their viewpoint is correct or laudable, but because in the past, unfortunately, only white men had access to education and leisure time necessary to create art. Therefore, their contribution to Western Civ (which is currently passing away) is the most important.
Of course women and minorities should be represented when the quality of their work is high. And no, I don’t mean quality as compared to men’s work. I mean compared to historical standards, whatever you might define those to be.
What we have now, though, are whole areas of traditional literature being labeled and shunted aside without being read. This also goes to the appalling ignorance of history, misunderstanding of myth, and obsession with the literal so common in youth today. I pity anyone working in academia today; it’s seeming to try to justify the right’s mocking of it.
Well, I am curious what excuses can be found to include Erasmus of Rotterdam under Germany ?
Allan Bloom may be a conservative icon, but there is no doubt much of what he says is pretty much on the mark. All one needs to do is teach at a college for a year and find that his view of students is often on target. Also, read Chris Hedges and Dwight McDonald and you’ll find these “liberal” voices echoing Bloom. As far as “canon” goes, I resent them. The’re childish and biased. Reminds me of when I was a kid and someone asked “What’s your favorite movie?” As if out of hundreds of different genres and styles films I could name one that was my favorite. The “canon” is a guide, nothing more, nothing less.
From the book: ‘Erasmus, a Dutchman living in Switzerland and Germany, while writing in Latin, is placed here arbitrarily, but also as an influence on the Lutheran Reformation.’
Allan Bloom? This is Harold Bloom.
None of Bloom’s lista include Giacomo Leopardi or TSEliot: my questione is, where have they gene? Surely out of Professor Bloom’s horizon.
He wrote in German and was influenced by German writers
DaniMat, have a look at Bloom’s original lists; they include Leopardi (for Moral Tales, Essays & Dialogues, and Poems/Canti) and T. S. Eliot (for Complete Poems & Plays, and Selected Essays). Definitely not ‘out of his horizon’, since he has written extensively on Eliot, plus he considers Leopardi to be one of the greatest poets of his era.
Notable omissions from his original lists can be put down to human error: Freud’s Complete Psychological Works, Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales, Honore de Balzac’s Lost Illusions, and Guido Cavalcanti’s Poems.
The Galsworthy Book is “The ForsytE Saga”
Hancock has it pretty well talking about the difficulty of ‘diverse’ifying literary judgement. Any modification “literary judgement” negates both words. Like the word justice, any modifier added negates justice itself.
Hancock has it pretty well talking about the difficulty of ‘diverse’ifying literary judgement. Any modification of “literary judgement” negates both words. Like the word justice, any modifier added negates justice itself.
Although a bit late, it’s never too late to make such corrections and give credit where due:
Harold Bloom did not write “The Closing of the American Mind.” That was Allan Bloom, an educator who was, of course, of no relation to Harold.
I hope the writer of this article has actually read that text, otherwise… a bit of irony is in order.
The Anxiety of Influence is not only the best book of criticism I’ve read, it’s one of a bare handful I’ve reread (at least six times over the years). It’s formidably difficult, but once you grasp his central thesis it is impossible for you not to see it borne out everywhere you look.
The Canon follows in its footsteps: it’s about influence. The works selected are not “best” or “great” or even, sometimes, very good. They are *influential*, having had powerful and determinative effects, for better and worse, on works after them…and on the very ways we think, we write, and we represent reality. Again, seeing this is very hard work, but it’s impossible to miss afterwards.
Charles Long, one of the greatest African-American scholars of religion and history this country has ever produced, used to talk about a thought experiment: imagine a poor inner-city African-American child, living in inhuman conditions, ignorant of the larger world and of power and of education. “That child,” Long would say, “is living in the world Kant made, whether he knows it or not. Whether he believes it or not.” The point of cultural education is to give that knowledge to people who don’t have it. It’s important to know about Aphra Behn. But we are not living in a world she made. We’re not even living on a street she named.
As an aside, Dr Long passed away the day before I wrote this, something I didn’t know. He was 94. When he was a boy, his tiny piney-woods community of a few hundred African-Americans had taken up a subscription and used the money to bring W.E.B. DuBois to speak. I heard him tell the story in 1999. That is what culture is.
Clearly your breadth of canonical literature is illconjectured and thouroughly uneducated in terms of epistological discourse. Shaking my head
Clearly your breadth of canonical literature is illconjectured and thouroughly uneducated in terms of epistological discourse. Shaking my head
A very *careful* rereading of the parapraph is required. Both Blooms are mentioned and “The closing of the American mind” is attributed to the correct one. A person who hasn’t properly read the text calling out the author for a mistake he didn’t make. Talk about irony.
Aesop was ancient Greek, not Hellenistic. Fix it.
Strictly speaking he is Austro-Hugarian and German culturally.
Reading through the comments, any thought I had of going back to school rapidly subsided. Bunch of arrogant pricks.
Bloom could read in French German Italian Spanish and Hebrew
He was pretty much on par with Umberto Eco for the ability to read other languages
Mind you Bloom wasn’t fluent in a conversational ability with pretty much most of them
tristar, you have to remember that Kafka didn’t think he was all that fluent in Czech
his mother mostly spoke German, and his father mostly Czech
and he knew some hebrew
you could say that all three, Germans, Czechs, and Jews were a minority in Austria-Hungary
he also despised the jewish who were patriotic nationalists to Austria-Hungarian
and he hated Prague
so all the ethnicities and cultures had a neurosis, and tensions were all around the place
with all the fractured identities
….though you could call Austria-Hungary one of the first modern multicultural states, which blew itself apart due to the clash of cultures going on
All Kafka’s writing was in German not Czech.
Willa Carter and Edith Stein our trash as is Kerouac. Beowulf is hardly legible without having a solid understanding of Germanic languages. Miltons, Paradise Lost, and Paradise found brilliant, but having a teenager read, these may be cruel and unusual punishment here in the US. GK Chesterton is the man who was Thursday is brilliant I forgot the book even existed.