Harold Bloom, the most fabulous sacred monster of the American academy, died in October 2019 in his ninetieth year, leaving a voluminous body of work in literary criticism and cultural commentary, all of it giddily erudite and unremittingly charismatic. This large tome of reflections is the final instalment, ‘completed days before Harold Bloom died’, says the publisher on the flyleaf, though whether it is really finished at all is doubtful. Bloom often cited with fellow feeling Paul Valéry’s bon mot that a poem was never finished, only abandoned, and you sense that this book, which doesn’t conclude so much as break off, could have gone on as long as the man did. ‘I cannot finish this book because I hope to go on reading and seeking the blessing of more life,’ he wrote poignantly at the end of an earlier work, The Anatomy of Influence (2011), which he described prematurely as ‘my virtual swan song’. Here, sadly, is the real thing.
It is a hard book to characterise. In one sense Bloom’s own description of it as ‘a relatively advanced study of the traditional sequence of major poets in Britain and the United States’ is perfectly correct. There are capacious chapters here