The Criteria for Literary Quality

There are three criteria to which I look when judging the universal worthiness of a text; though these criteria have been espoused by various literary critics for millennia, they have most recently been specifically identified by my critical hero, Harold Bloom. They are:

*aesthetic splendor, or overwhelmingly glorious literary beauty; case in point:

Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead. (From “The Dead,” by James Joyce)

*cognitive power, or the ability to prompt the reader into deep thought and meditation; case in point:

What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.
Sure, he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unused. (Hamlet, IV.iv.32-38)

*wisdom, which is to say, the evocation of universal truth; case in point:

It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.

Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.

The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:2-5)

Call me an optimist, but I firmly believe that humanity is still capable of crafting quality literature such as this. But where shall this quality be found? And so, I wander, and I contemplate…

One response to “The Criteria for Literary Quality

  1. This is a beautiful blog. Very entertaining to say the least. I also teach Literature, and what a site you have created! Thank you for this lovely find.

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