This article considers the legacy and value of John Guillory's literary sociology in providing a rationale for literary studies today. Bringing the work of Pierre Bourdieu to bear on the canon wars of the 1980s and 1990s, Guillory laid bare the mechanisms of canon formation within the institution of the school. While the influence of his argument is still perceptible in scholarly treatments of literary institutions, though, his more affirmative case for the general extension of literary appreciation and aesthetic judgment has gone unheeded. This is because Cultural Capital is not really interested in literature itself but in literature and literary education's functions and effects. Turning to Thomas Gray's “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” this essay offers a literary and historical interpretation that contests Guillory's reading of the poem as an allegory of canon formation. It then finds in Stendhal's The Red and the Black an alternative allegory of the fate of the canon in a democratic society and argues finally for the continued value in teaching the canon to those engaged by it.

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