The Western Canon

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The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages
The Western Canon.png
Cover of the first edition
AuthorHarold Bloom
CountryUnited States
SubjectWestern canon
PublisherHarcourt Brace
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)

The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages is a 1994 book about western literature by the critic Harold Bloom, in which the author defends the concept of the Western canon by discussing 26 mostly English language writers whom he sees as central to the canon.

School of resentment[edit]

School of resentment is a pejorative term coined by Bloom and expounded upon in his work. It is used to describe related schools of literary criticism which have gained prominence in academia since the 1970s and which Bloom contended are preoccupied with political and social activism at the expense of aesthetic values.[1] Broadly, what Bloom termed "schools of resentment" approaches association with Marxist critical theory, including African-American studies, Marxist literary criticism, New Historicist criticism, feminist criticism and post-structuralism—specifically as promoted by Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. The "school of resentment" is usually defined as all scholars who wish to enlarge the Western Canon by adding to it more works by authors from minority groups without regard to aesthetic merit and/or influence over time, or those who argue that some works commonly thought canonical promote sexist, racist or otherwise biased values and should therefore be removed from the canon. Bloom contended that the school of resentment threatens the nature of the canon itself and may lead to its eventual demise.

Philosopher Richard Rorty[2] agreed that Bloom is at least partly accurate in describing the "school of resentment", writing that those identified by Bloom do in fact routinely use "subversive, oppositional discourse" to attack the canon specifically and Western culture in general. Yet "this school deserves to be taken seriously—more seriously than Bloom's trivialization of it as mere resentment".[3]


Bloom argues against what he calls the "school of resentment", which includes feminist literary criticism, Marxist literary criticism, Lacanians, New Historicism, Deconstructionists, and semioticians. The Western Canon includes four appendices listing works that Bloom at the time considered canonical, stretching from earliest scriptures to Tony Kushner's Angels in America. Bloom later disowned the list, saying that it was written at his editor's insistence and distracted from the book's intention.[4]

Bloom defends the concept of the Western canon by discussing 26 writers whom he sees as central to the canon:[5][6]


Norman Fruman of the New York Times wrote that "The Western Canon is a heroically brave, formidably learned and often unbearably sad response to the present state of the humanities".[7]

The novelist A. S. Byatt wrote:

Bloom's canon is in many ways mine. It consists of those writers all other writers have to know and by whom they measure themselves. A culture's canon is an evolving consensus of individual canons. Canonical writers changed the medium, the language they were working in. People who merely describe what is happening now don't last. Mine includes writers I don't necessarily like. D. H. Lawrence, though I hate him in a way, Jane Austen, too.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bloom, Harold (1995). The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. New York: Riverhead Books. pp. 4, 7, 20, 22, 24, 25, 29, 50, 56, 93, 292, 491, 492. ISBN 978-1-57322-514-4.
  2. ^ pdf[full citation needed]
  3. ^ Shifting the Scene: Shakespeare in European Culture, edited by Ladina Bezzola Lambert
  4. ^ Pearson, James. "Harold Bloom [Interview]". Vice Magazine. Retrieved 23 September 2020.[better source needed]
  5. ^ Harold Bloom, The Western Canon, 1994, p. 2
  6. ^ Tucker, Ken (21 October 1994). "Book Review: 'The Western Canon: The Books and the School of the Ages'; Books". Retrieved 1 May 2011.
  7. ^ Fruman, Norman (9 October 1994). "Bloom at Thermopylae". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Lawrence, Tim; Guttridge, Peter. "Reloading the ancient canon". The Independent (London). 21 November 1994.

External links[edit]