I tend to find Harold Bloom a tedious windbag, but there’s no denying he knows his stuff when it comes to world literature, and I’m reluctantly impressed by the bibliography appended to his The Western Canon; The Books and School of the Age (1994), which The Booklist Center has put online. It includes a few clunkers (like Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s dreadful What Is to Be Done?), but on the whole it’s a well-thought-out list. (Click on the “Continue on with” link at the bottom of each page; it’s broken into four segments.)


  1. Chernyshevsky has quite a bit of historical significance, and you have to admit WITBD is a romp. I’m no specialist, and read in translation, but I can think of a few universally lauded “important” canon authors with less to say, and with much less humor.
    He’s the soviet Ayn Rand, as a favorite author of Lenin and Stalin, and he offers some nuggets of advice to men about courtship that feminists hate because it’s so entirely true.

  2. Well, sure, he’s historically important, and “the soviet Ayn Rand” is perfect; I’m not so much objecting to his presence as channeling Nabokov, who suffered for his contempt for Chernyshevsky as a writer (though of course he admired his guts and principles).

  3. he entirely disapproves of the list; it was an editor’s demand and supposedly done in a rush. if you want one /truly/ impressive work about world literature, try ”história da literatura ocidental” by otto maria carpeaux/karpfen, unfortunately only in portuguese.

  4. Not including any of the Icelandic sagas is pretty inexcusable. Njal and Egil should both be there.

  5. Somehow a list that can include a batch of minor English poets* but not include The Castle of Otranto or at least one novel by Mrs. Radcliffe (The Italian for preference, but I’m flexible) does not seem optimal to me. (He could have at least dropped Melmoth for Otranto.) And if you include four of Jane Austen’s novels, why not include Sense and Sensibility (Northanger Abbey, I must admit…)?
    *I’ve read and studied enough over the years. I’ve never even heard their names before: George Darley? Thomas Wade? Lionel Johnson? Ernest Dowson? However good the are, they’re not “essential”.
    There are in fact a slew of entries on that list that are first rate but not “essential”.

  6. p., do you have a reference for that Portuguese work? many hatters would not be fazed by Portuguese.

  7. (Dostoyevsky is the bigger hack of the two, and I suspect he’s taught because he’s acceptable to both feminists and anticommunists. Pretty awful though. Nabokov certainly made the right choices given the time and the climate.)

  8. I suspect he’s taught because he’s acceptable to both feminists and anticommunists
    Pondering the enormity of that statement, I almost let my morning coffee go cold. What national curriculum does it apply to? I know that the giant monocultural orange groves of US academia are immunologically unstable, precisely due to their size and single-mindedness. But I thought they were on the way to recovery from those two afflictions.
    Does “acceptable to” mean “attracts fee-paying students such as”? I didn’t know feminists and anticommunists had such buying power, as compared say with metrosexuals. What kind of jobs do they hold down? Academic ones? Ah, so the system feeds off itself. Verstehe.
    I had believed it only a convention of university English to say “Dostoyevsky is taught”, instead of “Dostoyevsky is read”. But it seems that I am wrong. What is being taught is right-thinking, and Dostoyevsky is an acceptable pretext. What do feminists have to say about that last little smooch that put Torquemada off his feed? I’m assuming they are all of one mind about it – or at least should be, since right-thinking is normative by definition.

  9. Acceptable meaning near-universal in AP courses in american high schools, anthologies and undergraduate world literature courses, and a convenient pretext for classroom riffing on themes that appeal to both angry, fearful women and the religious right.
    It is an enormous statement. Crime and Punishment is a confused bloodbath and a Christian propaganda piece that the author didn’t even maintain enough interest in to keep track of its characterization. Notes from the Underground is a snide and empty response to a better work.
    I’m sorry if you’re set aghast by the notion that American students are instructed what to read, and what to believe about what they read. When the loudest and most reactionary groups are done being offended, what’s left is a pile of shit warmed over. And like it or not, that warm pile of shit is taught, by feminists, in universities, to anticommunists.

  10. Gosh, David, you sure do churn your peeves with gusto. I like your vision of angry, fearful women instructing “anticommunists” after everyone has had their (sic) turn at being offended. It fits with the impression I get, seeing these things from a distance in Germany, far away in time and space.
    But how is it that there seem to be so many Americans angry, offended and authoritarian about one thing or another? With your tub-thumping animus against Dostoyevsky, you too seem hell-bent on setting people straight. So Crime and Punishment is a confused bloodbath and a Christian propaganda piece, so what? It’s also much more than that. A warm pile of shit is also a Good Thing, when you consider what it would do to you if you couldn’t get it out of your system.
    Suppose literature students were not “instructed” as to what to read, and what to think about what they read – neither by feminists nor anti-feminists, neither by the god-fearing nor the godless. Suppose that instead they were introduced to a world of writers and thinkers, present and past, who have helped others to free their imagination from their angry ignorance? I can just barely imagine a resentful compromise to do just that.

  11. It’s just occurred to me that Dostoyevky’s novels are full of confused, resentful people with only sporadic control over their emotions, all in search of something to believe in. Isn’t that contemporary America ©? Does a bear shit in the woods?

  12. I entirely agree with Dave’s comments about the Icelandic sagas. It’s also interesting to see that Bloom includes many of the plays by Strindberg but little of the literature. “The Red Room” in particular I would have thought worthy of inclusion. And continuing on the topic of Swedish literature, I’ve no doubt that Bellman (late 18th c.) is as fine as many of the minor English poets of the same time (if one can find a good-enough translation) or that Almqvist, “The Queen’s Tiara”, would stand up well in comparison. The inclusion of Ekelöf, “Guide to the Underworld”, is a very good choice, however. I don’t think Ekelöf has got quite the attention he deserves in the English-speaking world.

  13. John Emerson says

    Too many Americans. Some books seem more like cultural reference points than actual books to read. The list is so compendious as to have little real bite, and with no apparent exclusion principles it has to include everything whatsoever. A more biased selection wouldn’t be burdened by that requirement.
    Left out: Marie de France, Aucassin et Nicollete, Aloysius Bertrand, Hans Christian Anderson, The Good Soldier Svejk, Pierre Reverdy, Leonard Cohen (literary poems), Kenneth Rexroth, and of course my own little hobbyhorses from Portuguese, “Menina e Moca” and the poems of Dom Dinis.
    What I have omitted seem to me fated to become period pieces: even their ‘multiculturist’ supporters will turn against them in another two generations or so, in order to clear space for better writings.”
    That’s nasty. Longfellow, Whittier, Lanier, and Bryant strike me as period pieces now, though perhaps that’s lingering ill effect of 9th grade English class. Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser, likewise. Vachel Lindsay and Edgar Lee Masters I actually like for ethnic, personal-history sorts of reasons, but I don’t know how well they’d travel.
    I’d be interested in others’ impressions. (I find most American and English poetry of the 19th century almost unreadable, even that of prose authors I like such as Melville , Thoreau, and Emerson.)

  14. I find most American and English poetry of the 19th century almost unreadable
    John, there must have been an enormous number of poets in the 19th century whom I’ve never heard of, if their unreadable works make up “most” of the output. I only know Browning, Tennyson, Dickenson, Wordsworth, Shelley, Whitman, Swinburne, and Keats. I find them readable.

  15. John Emerson says

    Actually, I probably meant only “most American poetry” and “much British poetry” after 1850.
    I never developed a taste for Dickinson and Whitman, and the rest of them (Whittier, Lowell, Longfellow, Bryant, and others even worse) seem unbearable. I’d include Tennyson and probably Browning and Swinburne from your list.

  16. I agree with the outrage over exclusion of the Icelandic sagas. The list also seems surprisingly light on history. No Livy? No Tacitus? Machiavelli’s Florentine Histories and Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy are far more interesting than the Prince. And for reasons that are utterly mysterious to me, Francesco Guicciardini’s History of Italy is never on anyone’s list.

  17. John Emerson says

    The lack of history history must be deliberate. There’s not much philosophy either.

  18. From an earlier epoch, when I was a grad student at Yale:
    A professor of English at Yale
    Was fat and unnaturally pale;
    He once did a pose
    Without any clothes
    And entitled it “Moby: A Whale”.

  19. rootlesscosmo says

    At my New York City high school in the 50’s, Ernest Dowson (though none of the others in kishnevi’s post) was taught, or rather “Cynara” (formally “Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae”), maybe because it was the source of so familiar phrases including “gone with the wind” and “I have been faithful to… in my fashion.” (The latter, slightly amended for scansion, turns up in “Kiss Me Kate.”) It was much, much later that I learned that Cynara is the genus to which artichokes and cardoons belong, though if Dowson intended this allusion, I can’t think what he might have meant. The Order of the Thistle? But why?

  20. You can lead a student to the trough of tasty books and he could drink in the synopsis but the autopsy will show that it went the way of oats, never used for sustenance.

  21. [Hobby-horse]
    Unaccountably, Euclid’s Elements is missing from the list. Book I in particular is, to my mind, one of the few truly essential documents of world literature. Any book based on rational understanding points back to its groundbreaking method of exposition. And it tells a great story, of the construction of a beautiful bridge from simple ignorance to complex understanding of the truth of the Pythagorean Theorem. It is one of the most aesthetically pleasing books ever written.
    Book I of the Elements is, deliberately, the most elaborate proof of the Pythagorean Theorem ever devised. There are plenty of simpler ways of getting there, just as there are simpler ways of explaining that Odysseus took ten years to get back home from the Trojan War. The magnificent experience of the journey in each instance is the crux of the biscuit, as they say.
    So, fie on Bloom for ignoring it.

  22. I agree that leaving out Euclid I is quite peculiar, and no doubt deliberate. There’s a hidden fraternity of “people who never got past their experiences at Bronx Science”, which Bloom apparently belongs to.
    On the other hand he includes Riddley Walker (although, weirdly, as an American novel), with which choice I vehemently concur.

  23. John Emerson says

    Jesus, Ramus, old buddy. Here we’re trying to squeeze in a few historians and philosophers and you want to pile on the mathematicians.
    The Origin of Species or The Voyage of the Beagle would be good additions too….
    Bloom’s definition of literature must be fiction, poetry, drama, and autobiography, plus a few authors like Aristotle and Plato who are indispensable for reading the rest.

  24. It’s pointless (but fun) to argue with any such list, especially one so ambitious as to want to represent the entire western canon. No matter what you put on, you’ll ignore more worthy books than you include and everybody will have to quibble about at least some of your choices.
    My own peeve with this list would be the exclusion of all Dutch authors except Erasmus and he’s listed as German.

  25. Bloom’s definition of literature must be fiction, poetry, drama, and autobiography, plus a few authors like Aristotle and Plato who are indispensable for reading the rest.
    Yes, and I think it’s a perfectly reasonable way to draw the lines, especially if one doesn’t feel oneself competent to pronounce on the value of what lies outside. As Martin says, it’s pointless (but fun) to argue with any such list. It is pretty shocking to call Erasmus German, though.

  26. Unaccountably, Euclid’s Elements is missing from the list … the exclusion of all Dutch authors except Erasmus
    Ladies and gentlemen, before your very eyes I will now produce the missing link: Spinoza.

  27. Naming a girl-friend Cynara (or Cinara) was Horace’s idea, not Dowson’s. Why he should call her ‘artichoke’ (the ancient meaning of Greek kinára / kunára) is not obvious. He mentions her six times in all, in Odes 4.1 and 4.13 (thrice) and Epistles 1.7 and 1.14. Unfortunately, the massive up-to-date commentaries on Odes I-III (I and II by Nisbet and Hubbard, III by Nisbet and Rudd) and Epistles II (by Brink) have yet to be joined by anything half so full on Odes IV or Epistles I.

  28. Grumbly Stu @ “It’s just occurred to me that Dostoyevky’s novels are full of confused, resentful people with only sporadic control over their emotions, all in search of something to believe in. Isn’t that contemporary America ©?”
    And what of your Germany, “far away in time and space” (viewed from an ivory tower perhaps?). Whose novels best depict a scatalogically obsessed people with rigid control over their emotions, all believing in coming back from summer vacation with the optimal tan to better confront the horrendous possibility of something being found out of place?

  29. michael farris says

    “all believing in coming back from summer vacation with the optimal tan to better confront the horrendous possibility of something being found out of place?”
    tans, some might add, achieved through monopolizing sun chairs by draping towels over them at 5.00 am….

  30. what of your Germany
    You seem to be initiating a Bart and Lisa exchange:
    B. “Your country is terrible”
    L. “No, your country is terrible”
    B. “No, your country is terrible”

    No thanks.
    What I said implies nothing at all about Germany – neither “Germany is better”, nor “Germany is worse”, whatever such phrases might mean. Obviously both countries are full of decent people whose concerns are about things like bringing up the kids and holding down their jobs. But I asked
    how is it that there seem to be so many Americans angry, offended and authoritarian about one thing or another?
    Whatever the reasons, that kind of turbulent obsessiveness does not exist in Germany today (it did in the 1920s and 1930s, of course, and in the late 60s in Germany, France and America). The American phenomenon is by no means confined to academia, although that was the immediate context of my remarks. I’m not suggesting that people should not be concerned about things other than their kids and their jobs. My point is that so many Americans appear to think that ranting and raving about their concerns is one good way to address them, and that using laws to control, suppress and punish as much as possible is another way.
    I think it would be interesting to read Dostoyevsky against this background. The German title of Crime and Punishment is usually Schuld und Sühne (Guilt and Atonement), which I’ve been told is more faithful to Преступление и наказание. I doubt that, but my Russian is more decrepit than I am. Enlightenment, Hat?
    a scatalogically obsessed people with rigid control over their emotions
    What a silly thing to say. Is it a reference to the ephemeral outrage surrounding Charlotte Roche’s book Wetlands? Or have you just googled rural legends? The action of The 120 Days of Sodom takes place in the Black Forest only because the weather there is better than in the Bastille.
    monopolizing sun chairs by draping towels over them at 5.00 am.
    That appears to be a running complaint kept alive by Club Med tourists. I see it often among the funny bits in the Sunday Times. Never been to one of those places myself. No criticism implied, I suppose it’s just that happy, glistening people don’t want to talk about the things that I want to talk about.

  31. John Emerson says

    The problem goes way back. If Stu knew the real truth about Arminius and Eormanric he wouldn’t dare to defend the barbarians so boldly.

  32. John, I just read a bit about Hermann and Ermanarich. I admit I wouldn’t want to encounter one of them at 5 in the morning – but because of the hatchets, not any ranting and raving.

  33. “It is pretty shocking to call Erasmus German, though.”
    And what about the fact that the Swiss and Austrian writers are just listed under “Germany”? Am I the only one who’s shocked by that?

  34. The German title of Crime and Punishment is usually Schuld und Sühne (Guilt and Atonement), which I’ve been told is more faithful to Преступление и наказание.
    You’ve been told wrongly. It translates literally to Crime and Punishment; ‘atonement’ in Russian is искупление [iskuplenie].

  35. Преступление looks like “transgression”. What is “transgression” in Russian, and what “guilt”?

  36. So Schuld und Sühne etherializes the book into the realm of moralizing. It should be Verbrechen und Strafe.
    Überwachen und Strafen is how Foucault’s Surveillir et punir appears here. Crime and Punishment is Crime et châtiment.

  37. It is pretty shocking to call Erasmus German, though.
    Well, what Bloom has, but that site does not appear to reproduce, is:

    Erasmus, a Dutchman living in Switzerland and Germany, while writing in Latin, is placed here arbitrarily, but also as an influence on the Lutheran Reformation.

    As it does explain, the book, while discursive, is centered on 26 authors (Shakespeare, Dante, Chaucer, Cervantes, Montaigne & Molière, Milton, Samuel Johnson, Goethe, Wordsworth & Austen, Whitman, Dickinson, Dickens, George Eliot, Tolstoy, Ibsen, Freud, Proust, Joyce, Woolf, Kafka, Borges & Neruda & Pessoa, Beckett), and the appendixes are “and read these too.” Another one of its themes is arguments (like some of those above) against the “six branches of the School of Resentment”: “Feminists, Marxists, Lacanians, New Historicists, Deconstructionists, and Semioticians,” who would canonize or decanonize for non-aesthetic reasons.
    História da literatura ocidental by Otto Maria Carpeaux
    Isn’t that nine volumes long, like four times as many pages as Bloom, and with smaller type?

  38. Marie-Lucie. I dont think p saw your query, or, if [s]he did, I didn’t see the answer. I was also interested by this, so I did a little googling. The first result led to a dead link, but the one at
    gives some information about the work, but not a price. Probably it’s expensive as there are eight volumes.
    This link gives quite a lot of information about it: (To get more than the opening sentence, click on “More”.) Despite the name of the site and the word “More” it’s in Portuguese, but quite straightforward Portuguese).

  39. Athel, thank you for the research. Eight volumes! That is way more than I expected. It is not likely to be in any of the libraries around here either. But I will keep it in mind for when I am in a place which offers more opportunities for research.
    a cute short name but easily overlooked, by you too it seems, not just by other readers. There is some value in redundancy (= in this case, extra letters). Or are you just an avid txtr?

  40. John Emerson says

    Call the Germans Dutch and forget about it. A common American idiom.
    Before the Dutch Republic, were the Dutch not Germans? Weren’t they just one of the dozens of Low-German-speaking German states in a disunited non-nation?
    I ask this in all sincerity. Is there a linguistic reason for drawing a line between Dutch and the other Low German dialects? By which I don’t mean “any distinguishing feature at all” but “any reason important enough to single out Dutch”.
    By this standard Erasmus was a Holland or Netherlands German the way someone else might be a Prussian or Bavarian German.
    BTW, the Erasmus wiki suspects Erasmus of being gay. During his own time he was not suspected. We’re stricter than the Inquisition!
    Also, Erasmus’s “Adages” are a must-read. You don’t read straight through a thousand+ pages worth, of course. You read a few pages now and then from the abridged edition. Some are familiar, some unfamiliar and interesting, and some rather meaty, expressing serious ideas in an amusing way.
    In the 100 pp. or so I read I found that Erasmus, like Aristotle, had a definite interest in octopuses, which he called poulpes to avoid the whole pluralization mess.

  41. Grumbly Stu @ “What I said implies nothing at all about Germany”
    That would be the Germany “far away in time and space” from a contemporary America “full of confused, resentful people with only sporadic control over their emotions, all in search of something to believe in”, n’est pas?
    Since you’re closer to the subject than I, is it true that German defecatory apparati are designed expressly to provide the user a particularly well-examined view of the days doings?

  42. John Emerson says

    Eormanric and Arminius were two different barbarians, though. Arminius was the Hermann of Teutoberg forest, whereas Eormanric was defeated by the evn more barbarous Attila.

  43. “So Schuld und Sühne etherializes the book into the realm of moralizing. It should be Verbrechen und Strafe. Überwachen und Strafen is how Foucault’s Surveillir et punir appears here.”
    There is actually a new(ish) translation of the book called Verbrechen und Strafe (by Swetlana Geier). According to several reviews at, it’s the best translation into German yet.
    Small typo: I’m sure you meant “Surveiller et punir”.

  44. thanks, bruessel. “SurveillEr” it is. It’s amazing that the English “i before e” rule works in French as well. First one writes “i” and then, when that turns out to be wrong, one writes “e”.
    I’ve heard of Geier, now that you mention her. I’ll check out Verbrechen und Strafe, haven’t read it for ages.
    Just noticed that you missed the chance to correct “etherializes” as well. Too late!

  45. the days doings
    It’s not true. Germans in general are exactly as squeamish about shit as Americans in general. Verbally, both groups are equally unflappable – “shit, man!”, “ach du Scheiße”. But I myself don’t have an image of steaming shit before my mental eye when I say “shit” or “Scheiße”, and I think that’s true of most people.
    The purpose of that toilet construction is something I too have wondered about. At the end of the 60s, your explanation was the only one I could come up with. I never encountered a German who knew more than I did (when I thought to ask). You hardly see the things any more.
    Recently, though, I may have made my first speculative breakthough on the subject. I was talking to a semi-squeamish friend of mine who lives with a girl and her 1-year-old daughter. Neither of them works, so they are short of cash for things like Pampers. I asked him why they spend money on Pampers when they might save money by using cloth diapers. He wrinkled his nose and said it was disgusting, you first had to rinse the worst off before you could put the diapers in the washing machine. (Note the progressive subjugation of manhood in Germany. Thirty years ago, a guy living with a girl to whom he was not married would have left her if she asked him to help wash the diapers. But I digress …)
    When he said that, I flashed back to my mother in the 1950s, rinsing diapers out in the toilet. I vividly recall her pulling the diaper upwards, which sloshed water, and drenching it again, which sloshed water. My little precocious mind registered something like: “boy, you gotta me careful with that, otherwise you get water and shit everywhere”.
    Meditating now on this madeleine of disgustingness, it suddenly occurred to me that the “presentation shelf” of the old German toilet may be there to make it easier to rinse out diapers. With the flush handle, you can control the flow of water over the diapers, instead of having to churn them like a laborer in the devil’s buttery.

  46. If your earliest memories go back that far either you’ve got much younger siblings or it’s a new record. I don’t know what Freud would have to say, if he were still in fashion. Something good, I suspect.
    My wife has inherited a log cabin with an outdoor toilet. I want her to get it proper indoor plumbing. She says back to nature is very Norwegian. I say damn tradition.

  47. They weren’t my diapers, for pete’s sake! I am the oldest of 6 kids. The two next-younger siblings are only 2 and 3 years younger than I. I was born in 1949. My observations might have been made around 1955, when I was 6. I said “precocious”, but how smart do you have to be to recognize that shit and water don’t mix?
    Anyway, surely the rinsing of diapers is the genuine universal primal scene? As to that other business of which Freud made so much, you hardly ever get a look-in. It depends on how the house is constructed. That’s why architects are so essential to the development of the modern psyche.

  48. John Emerson says

    Not every single goddamn architect in the world is essential for the modern psyche. Maybe some architects are. Maybe.
    Give those guys an inch and they’ll take a mile. Mark my words.

  49. Kári Tulinius says

    The old Danish translation of Dostoyevsky’s most famous work was titled simply: Raskolnikov.
    also, grumble grumble Icelandic sagas grumble grumble odious windbag Harold Bloom grumble grumble entrance to hell located in the Yale English department grumble

  50. marie,
    that’s just me being unsurprisingly lazy. (:
    as for the história, there were two editions when the author was still alive, and a more recent one based on his manuscripts and handwritten corrections to the second edition. it’s in four volumes and comes in a more accesible price:
    there is an article on carpeaux at the english wiki. very badly written but accurate. if anyone is still interested, i’d strongly recommend his collected essays (two huge volumes so far). i only throw the occasional reference to this guy because i feel that, given the popularity of auerbach and others, he would still be of interest to many a studious person outside of brazil.

  51. Most of us work in millimetres.

  52. John Emerson says

    Courtesy forbids me to specify whether or not Ms. Crown is one of the architects essential to the modern psyche.

  53. marie-lucie says

    p, thank you for the extra info.
    (My name has two parts, both essential; if it is too long for you you can use “m-l” which many people do, here and elsewhere.)

  54. Marie-Lucie. Your reply to p reminds me of something I’ve wondered about since I started living in France. Do you (as a linguist) have any suggestions as to why in some countries (USA especially) shortening of first names is almost universal, whereas in others (notably France) it is very rare? I know lots of Jean-Michels, all of whom go by “Jean-Michel”. The only name I know of that is often (but not always) shortened is Marie-Thérèse (Marie-Thé). Although many of these compound names have Jean or Marie as the first element (and calling a Marie-Lucie “Marie” would not be very good for disambiguation), not all do, and the exceptions don’t usually get shortened.

  55. Hm, I have nothing much to say about the list, since after the first page or so I realized I was hopelessly uneduated. Still wondering if I’m an angry and fearful woman, though. (How would I know?) But so grateful to Stu for the phrase “presentation shelf.” We have them in Russia, too. I think the idea is that you get to take a good look so that you’ll have something to say when the doctor asks — as they always do — “how are your bowels”?
    As for me, here at the dacha — ahem, Mr Crown — we have an outhouse. Nothing wrong with a good outhouse. Good outhouse: sturdy, tidy, clean, with few spiders, swept often. Electricity. Paper tossed in a receptacle for burning (keeps the smell down). Excellent exercise walking to the back of the lot. Downside: on cool mornings, very unhappy backside. Upside: instant waker-upper.

  56. Athel, the study of given names is quite complex as there are a number of factors at work, but one linguistic reason for why names are shortened or not is the general structure of words in the language: in English there are many one-syllable words, and also a number of one-syllable standard names (eg John, Paul, Jane, Glenn, etc) and many longer names are shortened to fit the pattern (eg Bob, Tom, Zach) while the short(ened) ones can be lengthened as “diminutives” (Bobby, Tommy). In French, one-syllable names seem to be less common to begin with. Another reason is sociolinguistic: in North America (which tends avoid formality) it seems that most people like to be called by a shorter or diminutive form of their official name (or even by a nickname), but this is rarely done in France, especially outside the family. French parents rarely say that they are naming their new baby X but they will use Y at home: any such nicknames, if not traditional (and thus unremarkable, like Pierrot for Pierre [Peter]), tend to arise spontaneously and be limited to the family.
    There is no such thing as a “middle name”: most children are given 2 to 4 names at birth but only one of them (nowadays the first, formerly it could be the last) is used in daily life, the others are there for the purpose of legal identification (on your birth certificate, national ID card or passport) as well as to honour older relatives or friends, but they never appear in other contexts: it is always strange to read famous French writers’ strings of names in English-language publications (as in Bloom’s list), since the names beyond the usual one are never used in referring to their bearers. There was a discussion of this custom in an earlier thread, pointing out that giving a child the name of a saint would be calling on the saint’s protection for the child, hence the common use of Marie (= Mary) or Jean (= John) (and their local equivalents) in Catholic countries since those saints were closest to Jesus and therefore would be most able to intercede with Jesus on behalf of the child. Since you can’t give the same name to all your children, the easiest thing is to give them double names (thus calling on two saints for protection). Besides the ubiquitous Marie and Jean, two other saints prominent in double names are Anne (Mary’s mother) and Pierre (Peter).
    Not everyone is consciously aware of the religious origins of these customs, but in my case (and that of one of my sisters) the use of Marie or Jean also serves to make an older or unfashionable name more palatable: there were several women called Lucie among grandmothers and great-grandmothers on both sides of my family, but when i was born Lucie was very old-fashioned and adding Marie made it more acceptable. Nowadays it is the opposite: my whole name is very old-fashioned, but one of my nieces is called plain Lucie, in keeping with a return to older names.
    To return to name shortening, for family use Jean-Michel could be shortened to Jean-Mi, like Jean-Philippe to Jean-Phi, thus creating two-syllable names parallel to Jean-Pierre, Jean-Paul, Jean-Jacques, Jean-Luc or Jean-Marc. After Marie there are several commonly used one-syllable names, hence three-syllable names like Marie-Jeanne, Marie-France, Marie-Rose, Marie-Pierre or Marie-Ange. To shorten Marie-Thérèse it would not be possible to leave out the second portion of the name, as just Marie would be a different name, and also confusing in a family with more than one Marie-something, but Marie-Thé with its three syllables follows the general pattern, as does Marie-Jo for Marie-Joseph. But not all such names have common shortened forms (mine doesn’t).

  57. Courtesy forbids me to specify whether or not Ms. Crown is one of the architects essential to the modern psyche.
    Okay, but I always propose indoor plumbing.

  58. John Emerson says

    But not all such names have common shortened forms (mine doesn’t).
    Ricky Nelson to the rescue:

    I said “Hello Mary Lou

    Goodbye heart

    Sweet Mary Lou

    I’m so in love with you

    I knew Mary Lou

    We’d never part

    So Hello Mary Lou

    Goodbye heart”

  59. Ricky Nelson! God bless you, John Emerson!

  60. JE, nice thought, and some people (English speakers) have tried to call me Mary Lou, but I hate it when they do that (I don’t hate the name, it just isn’t mine – Lou is for “Louise”).

  61. John Emerson says

    Mary Lou would be highly appropriate, since it best fits a sixteen year old hillbilly girl. I have no idea what Mary Lous do when they grow up or move to the city.

  62. Grow up OR move to the city?
    Either way, they become Mary L.s.

  63. John Emerson says

    “inappropriate” is what I meant.

  64. I was wondering.

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