The American literary critic and Yale Professor of the Humanities Harold Bloom died earlier this week at the age of 89. There are several notices but perhaps the best are those in the New York Times. One is by Dinitia Smith and is a standard but fairly detailed obituary. The other is “An Appreciation” by Dwight Garner who also frequently reviews books for the Times and writes on literary matters. If you choose to consult only one, read that written by Garner.
Bloom wrote widely but clearly was happiest writing about poetry. He did write at least one full length book devoted to novels. This was Novels and Novelists (2007). Waugh is mentioned but there is no chapter devoted to his writing. One mention comes in connection with Bloom’s discussion of Tobias Smolett:
Sometimes, when I am reading Smolett, I wish he had been able to read the Evelyn Waugh of Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, A Handful of Dust, because I think Waugh would have been a good influence on him.
Waugh is also listed in an appendix to what may be Bloom’s best known book, The Western Canon: the Books and School of the Ages (1994). The short list of 20 some “canonical” authors does not include Waugh. The listed authors who might be deemed Waugh’s contemporaries are Proust, Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Kafka. Waugh is, however, included in Appendix D: The Chaotic Age: A Canonical Prophecy. The books listed under Waugh’s name in the prophetic appendix are A Handful of Dust, Scoop, Vile Bodies and Put Out More Flags. Other contemporaries of Waugh among the British prose writers named in this appendix include Elizabeth Bowen, Henry Green, Graham Greene, George Orwell, and David Jones.
Bloom was also engaged as editor for several years from 1989 in an ambitious project involving several hundred critical works published by the Chelsea House Press (later acquired by or merged with Facts on File). One of these is entitled “Evelyn Waugh” and is said by both Google Books and Amazon to have been published on 1 May 1994. It even has an ISBN number: 978-1555463533 and is described as appearing in “Modern Critical Views, Series 2”. Harold Bloom is listed as author but might have been the intended editor. Neither the Library of Congress nor the New York Public Library has in its catalogue a book by that title and author/editor combination nor that ISBN. Nor does it appear in a search on WorldCat.org. Anyone knowing anything about the circumstances of this “publication” is invited to comment below. It may be the case of a book project that was assigned an author, title and completion date but never got written or approved for publication.