Tuesday, 4 April 2017

'Anatomising' Literature!

‘Anatomy’ in Literature

Have you ever wondered about this curious streak of having an oxymoronic terminology, incorporating the ‘scientific’ to the ‘literary’?

Well, we do have good examples that vouch to this fusion, in the renowned Russian physician and short story writer Anton Chekov, whose famous lines -

"Medicine is my lawful wife and literature my mistress; when I get tired of one, I spend the night with the other,”

speaks volumes to a physician’s love for literature.

Now let’s hack the difference in usage between these two terms!

Anatomy in medicine would denote the science dealing with the form and structure of living organisms.


Anatomy, in literature, would mean the dividing of a topic into parts for detailed examination or analysis.

A few examples of ‘Anatomy’ in Literature

Lyly’s Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit - 1578

Euphues, the Anatomy of Wit (1578), marked the beginning of John Lyly’s literary career, made him a best-selling author, and afforded him a reputation as one of the most prominent prose writers of the era.

It is perhaps more accurately remembered for its inflated language known as euphuism, a highly artificial style adopted from Latin prose and never before attempted in English.

From the books’ title and character name, Euphues, Lyly’s adversary Gabriel Harvey coined the term euphuism. This new word was and has been a term of great disapproval or even disgust for most of the four hundred years of its existence. In 1887 critic George Saintsbury characterized it as ‘‘eccentric and tasteless.’’ In 1890 critic J. J. Jusserand called Lyly’s style ‘‘immoderate, prodigious, monstrous.’’ Much later, C. S. Lewis described Euphues as a ‘‘monstrosity’’ and a ‘‘fatal success.’’

Euphuism — The writing was highly technical, with a set structure the author popularized to the point of influencing Shakespeare.

Lyly was known for his playful comedies that showed off the linguistic cleverness of his characters. Here are a few works by other writers that also mix comedy with clever language:

As You Like It (1599–1600), a play by William Shakespeare. In this pastoral comedy, double (or even triple) disguises make way for gender reversals and several humorous misconceptions and mishaps.

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler (1981), a novel by Italo Calvino. This novel is a comedy, a tragedy, and a thoughtful and thought-provoking experience.

The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), a play by Oscar Wilde. In this comedy of manners, the dialogue is bristling with irony, sarcasm, and social puns.

Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy - 1621

Anatomy of Melancholy: Robert Burton 1621: It explores a dizzying assortment of mental afflictions, including what might now be called depression. Burton considers melancholy to be an ‘inbred malady’ in all of us and admits that he is ‘not a little offended’ by it himself. In short, The Anatomy of Melancholy uses melancholy as the lens through which all human emotion and thought may be scrutinized.

Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and female Anatomy - 1949

When The Second Sex appeared in 1949, reactions ranged from the horrified gasps of conservative readers to the impassioned gratitude of millions of women who had never before encountered such a frank discussion of their condition. Reactions to the sections discussing the female anatomy and homosexuality were especially hostile.

Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism - 1957

Anatomy of Criticism (1957), a survey of the field by Northrop Frye. In this book, the critic reviews the principles and techniques of literary criticism.

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 preface that examines Frye's mode of criticism and thought (as opposed to Frye's criticism itself) as being indispensable in the modern literary world.

The four essays in Anatomy of Criticism are - 

"Historical Criticism: A Theory of Modes",
"Ethical Criticism: a Theory of Symbols",
"Archetypal Criticism: A Theory of myths", and
"Rhetorical Criticism: A Theory of Genres."

Durrell’s Reflections – An Anatomy of Islomania - 1957

Love of Islands and ‘Anatomy of islomania’: [Islomania – love of Islands]

In Reflections, (1957) Durrell classified his love of islands as ‘‘Islomania’’ and says that, ‘‘This book is by intention a sort of “anatomy of islomania,” with all its formal defects of inconsequence and hapelessness.’’

Boulton’s The Anatomy of Literary Studies - 1980

First published in 1980, The Anatomy of Literary Studies provides students of English Literature with a clearer understanding of the significance and scope of the subject and a comprehensive background to its study. It gives pointers towards intellectual integrity and advice on independent study, libraries, essay writing and examinations.

Bloom’s The Anatomy of Influence - Literature as a Way of Life - 2011

At the age of 80, with almost 40 books behind him and nearly as many accumulated honors, Harold Bloom has written, in “The Anatomy of Influence,” a kind of summing-up — or, as he puts it in his distinctive idiom, mixing irony with histrionism, “my virtual swan song,” born of his urge “to say in one place most of what I have learned to think about how influence works in imaginative literature.”


Gale’s Contextual Literary Encyclopedia
The New York Times
The British Library, UK [bl.uk]


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