Possessed by Memory: The Inward Light of Criticism

Knopf. Apr. 2019. 560p. index. ISBN 9780525520887. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780525520894. LIT
The Jewish text Pirkei Avot states that the 80s are a decade of vigorous old age. Approaching 90, Bloom (Yale Univ.; The Anxiety of Influence; The Book of J) confirms this maxim, publishing two books this month alone. Part 1 discusses parts of the Bible; Part 2 delves into Shakespeare; Part 3 treats British authors from Ben Jonson to Algernon Charles Swinburne (who is especially good on the Romantics); and Part 4 considers Walt Whitman and 20th-century American writers. A coda reflects on Marcel Proust's series "Remembrances of Things Past." Quoting extensively (sometimes excessively), Bloom brings a keen mind and prodigious memory to bear on the prose and poetry he considers, and his insights make one want to read, or reread, these works. Having published some 45 books, Bloom not surprisingly sometimes repeats himself, as when he claims here as he did in The Western Canon that Samuel Johnson was inhibited from becoming a major poet because of his admiration for Alexander Pope. Bloom's treatment of Falstaff here overlaps observations in Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human and his 2017 book about that character. Yet even these chapters contain new discoveries, along with engaging, sometimes touching, personal reminiscences.
VERDICT A must-read for all who enjoy literature.

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