Harold Bloom, the influential literary critic born to a Yiddish-speaking family of Orthodox Jewish immigrants, has died at 89.
Bloom, a member of the faculty at Yale University since 1955, died Monday in New Haven, Connecticut. He taught his final class at Yale just days earlier.
A fierce defender of the Western literary canon — “Shakespeare is God,” he once declared — Bloom also was the author of dozens of books, several of them bestsellers. He coined the term “school of resentment” to refer to those critics who he believed prioritized the social and political value of literary works over their artistic merit.
His 1990 work The Book of J, a commentary on David Rosenberg’s translation of the first five books of the Bible, identifies “J” — the name biblical scholars give to the author of the oldest sections of the Pentateuch — as a woman who lived at the time of King Solomon. Kabbalah and Criticism explored the methods of interpretation employed by the developers of the Jewish mystical tradition.
“I am nothing if not Jewish,” he told the Baltimore Sun in 2003. “I spoke Yiddish before I spoke English, I still read Yiddish poetry, and recite Yiddish poetry to myself. I really am a product of Yiddish culture. But I can’t understand a Yahweh, or a God, who could be all-powerful and all knowing and would allow the Nazi death camps and schizophrenia.”
Born in 1930 in New York City, the youngest of five children, Bloom’s parents were Orthodox Jews who emigrated from Eastern Europe. His father, William, was a garment worker who was born in Odessa. Bloom didn’t learn to read English until he was 5.
Bloom attended Cornell on a full scholarship, where he studied English, particularly the Romantic poets. He graduated in 1951 and went to Yale, where he earned his doctorate with a dissertation on Percy Shelley, the English poet.
He married his wife, Jeanne, in 1958. The couple had two sons.