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The Anatomy of Melancholy (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – April 9, 2001
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About the Author
William H. Gass (b. 1924) is an essayist, novelist, and literary critic. He grew up in Ohio and is a former professor of philosophy at Washington University. Among his books are six works of fiction and nine books of nonfiction, including On Being Blue (1976; published as an NYRB Classic), Tests of Time (2002), A Temple of Texts (2006), and Life Sentences (2012). Gass lives with his wife, the architect Mary Gass, in St. Louis.
- Item Weight : 2.69 pounds
- Paperback : 1382 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0940322668
- ISBN-13 : 978-0940322660
- Product Dimensions : 4.94 x 2.28 x 8.08 inches
- Publisher : New York Review Books; 1st Edition (April 9, 2001)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #380,411 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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As for the book itself, you have probably seen it mentioned so many times that you have finally decided to see what all the rumpus is about. And it is truly wonderful. Compare to Montaigne. ..... Burton is even more poetic, and earthier too, and even more humorous.
The amazing M. A. Screech, editor of (Penguin's) Montaigne, far exceeds this Burton's editor, Holbrook Jackson, in erudition and in helpfulness. The former is a modern scholar and the latter is vintage. I wish Screech, or someone like him, would get busy on Anatomy. (Sure, but but who could do anything approaching his accomplishment on Montaigne?). The intro here by William H. Gass is a great benefit of this edition, and in fact maybe we should pick up Gass' books next.
My advice is to read the 3rd partition first, in case you don't think you will read the whole work. My favorite partition, anyway.
I wish I had had time for a more studious reading, looking up the notes and looking more closely at the Latin, but alas I did not. Anyway, these notes just cite the sources of the quotations, nothing more. The reading alone is still a considerable effort, but very very worth it. You will wish you had known the author personally, just as you have imagined talking with Montaigne. A long wonderful book is just several wonderful shorter ones, so why be afraid?
also, instead of spoiling the plot by citing typos in the text i'll just note the end of the book:
W. Wilson, Printer, 4, Greville-Street, London.
-'"- , ' 5
4 ' . T-% "
hmm. represents the clinically depressed burton bashing his head against the typewriter, or the clinically depressed copy editor giving the big eff you to his tyrannical penny pinching boss? ah well, i'm keeping this book for three reasons: 1. because it's charming in the way errors at chinese restaurants are charming, 2. because my roommate threw a half full beer can in the garbage before i could fish out the packaging/receipt and 3. because in the throes of melancholy who cares enough to not be had by bootleggers anyway. you win bootleggers, you win.
My reservations are that this edition is the only affordable one in print, and it is still neither unabridged (when you see the book, and it's the size of a cinder block, you won't believe me, but it's true) nor with sufficient emendations. I shouldn't blame the NYRB folks for not making a standard critical edition at a mass paperback price point, but, well, I guess I am.
Burton was an Oxford scholar who had spent much of his life in Christ Church College of that institution accumulating quotes, ideas, and general collectible wisdom from the classics. His self-styled anatomy of the causes of melancholy is both ponderous and witty--quite in tune with Burton's styling himself as "Democritus Junior." Democritus, you will recall, was a Greek philosopher of the 5th century BC who developed the idea of atoms forming the basis of the universe. He was also sometimes called the "laughing philosopher" because of his wit.
Burton himself has a good time with this kind of humor, and his book is not at all a gloomy analysis of melancholy. What it is is a compendium of every kind of thought on the subject, and is replete with Latin quotations and Greek philosophy. It is a museum of myth, ignorance, and insight. Written in a uniquely antiquarian style, it is a treat for the modern reader. Like Sir Thomas Browne's gothic prose, Burton's is unique as well as intriguing. His book is meant to be dipped into, not to be read straight through. The wonderful thing is that it's not just a classic but a readable classic. It is, yes, antiquarian, but happily antiquarian.
I loved it.