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Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays With a New foreword by Harold Bloom Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691069999
ISBN-10: 0691069999
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Simply overpowering in the originality of its main concepts, and dazzling in the brilliance of its applications of them. Here is a book fundamental enough to be entitled Principia Critica."--Commonweal

"An attempt to give a synoptic view of the scope, theory, principles, and techniques of literary criticism ... the book is continuously informed by original and incisive thought, by fine perception, and by striking observations upon literature in general and upon particular works."--Modern Language Review

"Does literary criticism need a conceptual universe of its own? Professor Frye has written a brilliantly suggestive and encyclopedically erudite book to prove that it does; and he has done his impressive best to provide a framework for this universe. His book is a signal achievement; it is tight, hard, paradoxical, and genuinely witty. . . . [Professor Frye] is the most exciting critic around; I do not think he is capable of writing a page which does not offer some sort of intellectual reward."--Hudson Review

"This is a brilliant but bristling book, an important though thoroughly controversial attempt to establish order in a disorderly field.... Mr. Frye has wit, style, audacity, immense learning, a gift for opening up new and unexpected perspectives in the study of literature.... It would be hopeless to attempt a brief summary of Mr. Frye's dazzlingly counterpointed classifications."--The Nation

From the Back Cover

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. In four brilliant essays on historical, ethical, archetypical, and rhetorical criticism, employing examples of world literature from ancient times to the present, Frye reconceived literary criticism as a total history rather than a linear progression through time.

Literature, Frye wrote, is "the place where our imaginations find the ideal that they try to pass on to belief and action, where they find the vision which is the source of both the dignity and the joy of life". And the critical study of literature provides a basic way "to produce, out of the society we have to live in, a vision of the society we want to live in".

Harold Bloom contributes a fascinating and highly personal foreword that examines Frye's mode of criticism and thought (as opposed to Frye's criticism itself) as being indispensable in the modern literary world.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; With a New foreword by Harold Bloom edition (September 25, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691069999
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691069999
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #240,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Whether you agree with him or not, there's no denying that Northrop Frye is the most important literary critic from North America-- and quite probably the most influential English- language critic of the 20th-century. His influence, I should add, is not limited to literary scholarship, but has been felt in other disciplines as well (e.g. Hayden White's classic historiographical study "Metahistory").
Although he's written many books on a host of specific subjects, "An Anatomy of Criticism" is Frye's magnum opus. In it, he outlines a general theory of literature-- what it is, how it is structured, and how it "works". These questions are answered in the volumes four essays, each of which approaches the subject from a different theoretical perspective: (1) a theory of modes", (2) a "theory of symbols", (3) a "theory of myths", and (4) a "theory of genres". Although these theories are not 100% unified into a larger structure, they are interrelated and complementary-- and, taken together, they do form what I believe can be called a (multifacted) "general theory of literature".
The book begins with a "Polemical Introduction". Here, Frye makes an argument that is at once simple and profound. For too long, he claims, literary criticism has revolved primarily around matters of taste, with critics pronouncing judgement on the relative merits of different authors and works. Frye believes that this has prevented literary criticism from really coming into its own as a serious scholarly activity-- and he wants to make literary scholarship a genuinely scholarly subject.
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Format: Paperback
You're in the bookstore and you've pulled this book off the shelf when the lights go out. You call out, "Anybody here read 'Anatomy of Criticism?' Clerks and customers volunteer opinions, some of them informed and well-meaning. Still, you wish you could read the darn blurbs.
These are from the back cover of my copy of 'Anatomy of Criticism:'
...simply overpowering in the originality of its main concepts, and dazzling in the brilliance of its applications of them. Here is a book fundamental enough to be entitled 'Principia Critica.' -- Vivian Mercier, 'Commonweal'
...an attempt to give 'a synoptic view of the scope, theory, principles, and techniques of literary criticism,' ...the book is continuously informed by original and incisive thought, by fine perception, and by striking observations upon literature in general and upon particular works. -- 'Modern Language Review'
Does literary criticism need a conceptual universe of its own? Professor Frye has written a brilliantly suggestive and encyclopedically erudite book to prove that it does; and he has done his impressive best to provide a framework for this universe. His book is a signal achievement; it is tight, hard, paradoxical, and genuinely witty... [Frye] is the most exciting critic around; I do not think he is capable of writing a page which does not offer some sort of intellectual reward.' -- Robert Martin Adams, 'Hudson Review'
This is a brilliant but bristling book, an important though thoroughly controversial attempt to establish order in a disorderly field. ...Mr. Frye has wit, style, audacity, immense learning, a gift for opening up new and unexpected perspectives in the study of literature... It would be hopeless to attempt a brief summary of Mr. Frye's dazzlingly counterpointed classifications.
Read more ›
Comment 43 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
In this classic work Frye takes a long view of literature, and discerns deep structural patterns. In Essay I he charts a progression in the history of western literature from myth through romance through realism to irony in which the hero becomes increasingly human. Essay III envisions different archetypal literary forms (comedy, romance, tragedy, satire) as continuous phases of a central quest-myth that recurs throughout the history of western literature, and lays out a rich and resonant typology of their symbolism.

I found Essays II and IV, which are concerned with forms of symbolism, and genres, respectively, to be somewhat muddled, and much less insightful than the other two essays.

Bottom line- if you read Essays I and III you will gain a new and lasting insight into the stories you come across and the way they work, be they novels, films, plays or poetry.

Highly recommended as an antidote to the facile post-modernism and literary identity politics that most English departments are awash in these days.

For those reading the book, I also recommend googling Everett Frost's recreation of the mandala diagram of Essay III that Frye left out of the manuscript.
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Format: Paperback
It really is of no importance, whether you agree with Frye, or you do not. After all, such things only matter if you are yourself literature historian, and you already developed your own viewpoints of the literature or culture and what does it look like. But, if you are only begining your own path upon that winding road, you shouldn't walk right past Frye without stopping and looking at least for some time.

Amongst the books to which I return often, which fuel over and over again mine desire for things that are slowly, but irreversibly being forgotten, amongst E.R.Curtius, Erich Auerbach, Roland Barthes, stands Frye. Stands there as an equal. His "Anatomy of criticism" keeps shoving itself, many times over, as an endless well of themes, motives, ideas, it functions as a marvelous whole which is trying to shed some light upon the dark corners of the earth. Especially those presented in literatures of all kind.

Of course, this is a major task for any book, and question remains of Fryes successfulness. Personally, putting aside all thoughts of structuralism, deconstructionism and all kinds of isms, that emerged years after this book was published, Fryes conception of critic, and critical task still remain important and strong as ever it was.

I will not talk about it here, it makes no sense at all, retelling Frye. He's making best argue over his own position with his own words, which you will find printed here. What I should say is - putting aside Frye and his work means missing very large part of literature. Not the corpus itself, of course, but rather a certain viewpoint, manner of building worlds with bricks that are dealt beforehand, manner that breathes new life into a body that has been slowly rotting away.
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