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Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays

by Northrop Frye

ISBN 0691012989 / 9780691012988 / 0-691-01298-9
Publisher Princeton Univ Pr
Language English
Edition Softcover
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Book summary

Northrop Frye was one of the most influential 20th-century literary scholars, and Anatomy of Criticism is his most influential book. In this rigorous and readable work of scholarship, Frye feistily champions literary criticism's legitimacy and independence--both by differentiating criticism from other academic disciplines, and by banishing any conception of the critic as "parasite or jackal" (this latter view, Frye notes, is still quite popular, "especially among artists"). The book began as something quite different, and took nearly a decade to write. Frye published his first major work--Fearful Symmetry, on the Romantic poet William Blake--in 1947 and had set out to produce a second tome on Edmund Spencer. But the critical insights accumulating in his fertile mind were too insistent, so the book on Spencer became Anatomy of Criticism.

Anatomy of Criticism remains provocative and enlightening in no small part because of its ambitious breadth. Frye's comprehension of literary history is breathtaking, as is the complexity but also the clarity of his thought. Four chapters treat historical, ethical, archetypal, and rhetorical modes of criticism, bracketed by a "Polemical Introduction" and a "Tentative Conclusion." Frye's ultimate aim is to confirm for the reader that literary criticism is a science in its own right: "Criticism," he says, "is to art what history is to action and philosophy is to wisdom.... And just as there is nothing which the philosopher cannot consider philosophically, and nothing which the historian cannot consider historically, so the critic should be able to construct and dwell in a conceptual universe of his own." Rather than promote any particular critical approach over another, he tries to construct a theoretical structure sturdy and expansive enough to accommodate and inter-relate a broad range of critical approaches. --Russell Prather [via]