Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays
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Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  817 ratings  ·  47 reviews

Striking out at the conception of criticism as restricted to mere opinion or ritual gesture, Northrop Frye wrote this magisterial work proceeding on the assumption that criticism is a structure of thought and knowledge in its own right. Employing examples of world literature from ancient times to the present, he provides a conceptual framework for the examination of litera

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Paperback, 400 pages
Published October 15th 2000 by Princeton University Press (first published 1950)
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Ellen
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Luckless undergraduate standing in front of Northrop Frye’s An Anatomy of Criticism

I vividly remember my reaction, when as an undergraduate, I read Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism as a required text in a course I was taking. The book begins innocently enough; in his “Polemical Introduction,” Frye discusses the critic’s role and the current gaps in literary theory (which, of course, he intends to fill). With the first essay, though, however, Frye begins to launch his system.

I recall feelin...more
sologdin
A superior display of erudition.

Sets out its task in terms reminiscent of Kant's assertion that "philosophy stands in need of a science" in the Critique of Pure Reason: "If criticism exists, it must be an examination of literature in terms of a conceptual framework derivable from an inductive survey of the literary field. The word 'inductive' suggests some sort of scientific procedure. What if criticism is a science as well as an art?" (7). Both Kant and Frye strike me as latter day Miltons, who...more
Sunny
I have to admit thAt I found this book really tough to read and understand. Northrop references so many books in this to make his point based around art and literature mainly that it's hard to keep up at times. I have probably ready only 25 % of the books he is referring to. So found it hard to relate to some of the things he is talking about. The book does make some excellent points around poetry and civilisation and language and culture which I found immensely interesting but on the whole I ha...more
Justin Evans
Well, this is pretty dense in a way that books usually aren't these days. Not dense in a Frenchified theory way, and not dense in a flowery language kind of way. Just conceptually dense. Which is fine, but not all of the concepts are useful. Density aside, the first two essays - on historical criticism and 'symbols,' (which for Frye doesn't really mean, well, symbol) - are pretty good, if overly schematic. The third essay is horrific. Really, you just need a diagram for it, but we get over 100 p...more
Alex
This book (1957) is an insane Blakean view onto Western literary totality, a set of theories as stacking dolls, a proto-structuralist polemic against dispersed schools of criticism and against 'literary taste' for 'archetypal criticism,' for the ideology of the 'eternal return.' There's some sniping against critics who thought "criticism couldn't become a science," but Frye wasn't going to take "criticism couldn't become a science"... for an answer. There's also some rushing to create a space fo...more
Simon
OK, it's certainly silly to give this book such a low rating, but honestly, I found it bad. The Polemical Introduction was intriguing but left one wanting to know exactly what he thought the science of criticism would be like. The first essay, on modes, was a taxonomy by principles (the status of the hero relative to 'us') that didn't seem all that intuitive to me. And at the end, there seemed little beyond taxonomy. What this had to do with the goal of explaining the literary phenomena, which I...more
Eric
Oct 26, 2007 Eric marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: criticism
Frye writes like a genial, slightly waggish but awesomely learned professor talks. This book should be subtitled, "The Mutations of Storytelling." Easygoing and smoothly narrated next to the nigh-nightmarish Wimsatt & Welleck.

Some:

"The disadvantage of making the queen-figure the hero's mistress, in anything more than a political sense, is that she spoils his fun with the distressed damsels he meets on his journey, who are often enticingly tied naked to rocks or trees, like Andromeda or Ange...more
Spencer
Frye was one of the literary critics that attempted something with his discipline far more ambitious than merely attempting good academic work. This book shows that he was trying to conceive of literary criticism as not only a discipline on its own but as a discipline that is fundamental to humanity's quest for the divine. You see this primarily in his anagogic notion of literature: the point where the world no longer contains our literary words but reverses so that our words recreate the world....more
wally
Apr 23, 2011 wally rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: frye
seem to recall something about frye...something about his view, based on 'matthew arnold's precept of letting the mind play freely with a subject in which there has been much endeavor and little attempt at perspective."

t'would appear that frye believed that there is (1950s...late 50s?) an absence of a systematic approach to criticism.....in need of a coordinating principle, central hypothesis....

...realize the existence of other philosophies, too....the critic must remain classless to remain obj...more
Jacob Wickham


Northrup Frye argues that literary criticism is a way of thinking, defining it thus: "… by criticism I mean the whole work of scholarship and taste concerned with literature which is a part of what is called variously liberal education, culture, or the study of the humanities. I start from the principle that criticism is not simply a part of this larger activity, but an essential part of it" (3). Literature is not taught, criticism is taught. He places criticism, and the humanities on the same l...more
Jason
Northrup Frye argues that literary criticism is a way of thinking, defining it thus: "… by criticism I mean the whole work of scholarship and taste concerned with literature which is a part of what is called variously liberal education, culture, or the study of the humanities. I start from the principle that criticism is not simply a part of this larger activity, but an essential part of it" (3). Literature is not taught, criticism is taught. He places criticism, and the humanities on the same l...more
Christy
On trying to read Northrop Frye 30 years after European critical theory stormed the gates of the academy, leaving the humanities, which were retrospectively ripe for collapse, in a kind of fall-of-Rome state of confusion and disillusionment, I was actually reminded (again - it comes up often for me these days) of Shelley’s poem:

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains – round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone an
...more
Elena
After some odd months of reading this book, I finally finished it. I was bombarded by the task of memorizing some of the terminology. Next year, I will have to revisit this book again. I found my mind wandering into so many different avenues during my read that I was too distracted. In a word this book is quite "DENSE." It is filled with so much information that my brain couldn't really process all of the information as well as I would have liked too. Nonetheless, Frye's criticism and tone is do...more
Justin Dielmann
A pretty necessary read whether you agree with all Frye's concepts or not. The last monument of structural criticism which should be taken seriously (pardoning perhaps Bloom). Frye's erudition serves to point the direction in which a critic or artist should begin to explore; however, do not be mistaken, he is simply an updated Aristotle and thus a beginning and not an end to a true understanding of literature. Frye's grand system can serve as a foundation for exploring and discussing texts, but...more
Fabian
Although clearly written with highly cultivated people in mind, I did find this book useful in gleaning some critical concepts essential to academic work. The terminology is really complex (and baffling, at times), but the way the author managed to intersect myth and form and genre and find points common to each was a profound and startling revelation about the nature of both [systematic approaches to] literary criticism and Frye's own intellectual prowess. I will certainly be revisiting this bo...more
David Crisman
Groundbreaking influence on the understanding and criticism of literature, both classic and modern.
Tracy
I've praised so many books so much (this page is called Good Reads, after all!), I thought I would complain.

I should love this book! I don't. I think it's overly general and kind of obvious. . . The most interesting thing about it is that life itself, the great story, is a journey through all the seasons. The second most interesting thing is that the season of winter is the season of irony.

I do use that notion for 12th Night...but...I should love this book, and I do not! And I like theory!!
Sammy
Nov 16, 2007 Sammy added it
Recommends it for: those that like a taxonomic treatment of things
it has been so long since I read this book, it would be unfair for me to rate it.

I remember it being very influential on me. A lot of my poems comes directly from it. Especially "Garden Poems" and "City Poems." And somewhere in Frye, I found the idea of treating Hip Hop and Pop music no differently than other literary works.

I think I will have to read it again at some point. Maybe I'll get more insights. Or, at least, not misrepresent what Frye had said.
Andrew
The greater portion of the book is spent cutting literary criticism into certain categories (very Aristolean.) But the spoiler/ender is that Fry does a bang-up job of showing how such ideas are endemic to criticism itself, have their own internal structure, and thus we CAN speak of literary criticism by itself. Just as scientists have "scientific thinking" Frye shows us how we can think "critically (of literature.)"
Thom Dunn
Austin Wright pronounced Frye's approach schematic and seductive. As I recall Frye's was not so much a method or approach to literature but a cyclical theory of cultural history with literature taking its place in that scheme. And so, each work has its place in the scheme of things--if not, why, it is out of place. But I presume too much on a class I had 50 years ago.
Dan
Although Frye's traditional approach to the criticism of literary texts seems dated now, particularly from the perspective of recent literary theory (feminist criticism, Marxist criticism, post-structuralism, etc.), this text is an impressive attempt at systematizing Western literature according to genres, myths, symbols and modes.
Peter
May 16, 2009 Peter added it
this book is too big to say anything comprehensive about. E.M Forester said in his famous lectures about the novel (I recently re-read these) that scholarship was rare. I think I've found some. I am not quite with Frye--he is far to progressive for me--but a get a great deal out of him. I had not read this book for many years.
Yngvild
Anatomy of Criticism is one of those books that I reference several times a year. It always has an informed opinion on any author, book or genre I might want to consider. I don’t have to perfectly agree with what Northrop Frye says to appreciate his take on a subject.
Maureen
Oct 16, 2011 Maureen rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: students/scholars of English or any other literature, philisophers, anthropologists
Recommended to Maureen by: one of my professors
Please note that I am not giving this five stars because I agree with all of his ideas. However, there are some keen insights here and I admire his rigorous approach to literary criticism. It is a true classic of the field. I intend to write a more thorough review at another time.
Bryan
A pillar of modern literary criticism. For that reason, I read it. The language takes some getting used to, and Frye is not easy to follow when he makes off on tangents that he only understands. I learned a great deal about form and structure by reading this book.
Leonard Pierce
This is pretty much the founding document of modern literary criticism, and it's a damn lively and engaging one at that; it doesn't seem dated at all, even given all that's happened in criticism and theory since.
Andy
I wanted to get into literary criticism. This is a little obscurely written at times, but the ideas are not difficult and it's positively entertaining. Goes through genres, symbols, etc.
Scroutch
Taxonomy of literature, insightful at times, boring at others. Polemical introduction is the best! Fourth essay is pretty good too.
Screaming Viking
This has made a deep impression. All the same, it will take at least another two reads to internalize Frye's most important ideas. Wow.
Sylvain
Frye's theory of symbols is surprisingly refreshing. Too bad the other three essays seem dated to the point of irrelevance today.
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Born in Quebec but raised in New Brunswick, Frye studied at the University of Toronto and Victoria University. He was ordained to the ministry of the United Church of Canada and studied at Oxford before returning to UofT.

His first book, Fearful Symmetry, was published in 1947 to international acclaim. Until then, the prophetic poetry of William Blake had long been poorly understood, considered by...more
More about Northrop Frye...
Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake The Educated Imagination The Great Code: The Bible and Literature Northrop Frye on Shakespeare The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance

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