Decorative Initial Should there be a literary canon? Although there is no single master list of authors who are "in" our culture's literary canon, and in this sense the literary canon differs from "the books of the Bible officially recognized by the Church" (66 books for Protestants, 82 books for Catholics), canonized authors are those writers who are most frequently taught in literary surveys and who are generally included in literary anthologies.

The close relationship between teaching practice and anthology content is made evident by the following statement that begins the "Preface to the Third Edition" (1974) of The Norton Anthology: "The Norton Anthology was invented for use in the indispensable course designed to introduce students to the greatness, continuity, and variety of British literature. Its strength is that it is grounded, not on a priori views of what might be taught in such a course, but on long experience in actually teaching it. The first edition of the anthology in 1962 was the product of more than a decade of experimentation with the introductory course by several of the editors, who then proceeded to test the book in their continued teaching." There are a number of important assertions one might note in this opening statement: (1) that the anthology does not represent the "a priori" views of its editors but simply reflects what is being taught (but are the authors who are being taught selected in accordance with a set of "a priori" views?); (2) that literary surveys are teaching "the . . . variety of British literature" (but do predominantly white, middle- and upper-middle class male authors represent variety?; (3) that the authors being taught, and thus selected for the anthology, represent "the greatness . . . of British literature" (but how is "greatness" defined, and who is privileged to define it?); (4) that the anthology is a disinterested facilitator of what teachers want to teach—"the product of more than a decade of experimentation" by editors "who then proceeded to test the book in their continued teaching" (but to what extent does the anthology actually create the course once the anthology is put into circulation as "a product"? To what extent does the anthology solidify and determine the shape of the literary canon for years to come?).

Feminists have been much concerned to pose certain probing questions related to the concept (and practice) of the literary canon:

As attempts to address the problem of the canon, at least four different approaches [alternative readings, adding to the canon, developing a counter-canon, and critiquing the notion of the canon] have been suggested and enacted by feminists.

The Literary Canon

Last modified 1989