Obituary

Eminent literary critic Harold Bloom dies at 89

Harold Bloom, a staunch champion of the Western canon, was frequently called the most notorious literary critic in the United States.
Harold Bloom, a staunch champion of the Western canon, was frequently called the most notorious literary critic in the United States. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Harold Bloom, the prodigious literary critic who championed and defended the Western canon in an outpouring of influential books that appeared not only on college syllabuses but also - unusual for an academic - on bestseller lists, died on Monday at a hospital in New Haven, Connecticut. He was 89.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Mrs Jeanne Bloom, who said he taught his last class at Yale University last Thursday.

Bloom was frequently called the most notorious literary critic in the United States. From a vaunted perch at Yale, he flew in the face of almost every trend in the literary criticism of his day.

Chiefly, he argued for the literary superiority of the Western giants like William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer and Franz Kafka - all of them white and male, his own critics pointed out - over writers favoured by what he called "the School of Resentment", by which he meant multi-culturalists, feminists, Marxists, neo-conservatives and others whom he saw as often betraying literature's essential purpose.

"He is, by any reckoning, one of the most stimulating literary presences of the last half-century - and the most protean," Mr Sam Tanenhaus wrote in 2011 in The New York Times Book Review, of which he was the editor at the time; "a singular breed of scholar-teacher-critic-prose-poet-pamphleteer".

At the heart of Bloom's writing was a passionate love of literature and a relish for its heroic figures.

"Shakespeare is God," he declared, and Shakespeare's characters, he said, are as real as people and have shaped Western perceptions of what it is to be human - a view he propounded in the acclaimed Shakespeare: The Invention Of The Human (1998).

Bloom was widely regarded as the most popular literary critic in America. Among his other bestsellers were his magnum opus, The Western Canon: The Books And School Of The Ages, published in 1994, and How To Read And Why (2000).

Bloom was born on July 11, 1930, in the East Bronx, into an Orthodox Jewish household. He was the youngest of five children of William and Paula (Lev) Bloom, struggling immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father was a garment worker.

When he graduated from Cornell University in 1951, his teachers insisted that he go to another institution for graduate school.

"We couldn't teach him anything more," said M.H. Abrams, the eminent critic and scholar of Romanticism who was Bloom's adviser.

Bloom is survived by his wife Jeanne, a retired psychologist whom he married in 1958, and two sons, Daniel and David.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2019, with the headline 'Eminent literary critic Harold Bloom dies at 89'. Print Edition | Subscribe