Case 7
Anatomy of Criticism

Throughout his Anatomy notebooks, Northrop Frye sketched out the mandala, a symbolic circular figure with symmetrical divisions of ten used in Buddhism and other religions as a representation of the universe. The circle or mandala is the core of Anatomy divided into two hemispheres, the top half representing the epic and the bottom, fiction.  For Frye, the mandala symbolized his vision of the cosmology or totality of literature.

After having drafted out his work through diagrams and tables in his early notebooks, Anatomy of Criticism became more formalized as a series of lectures given by Northrop Frye in 1954 after his appointment as Class of 1932 Visiting Lecturer at Princeton University. The book is an expansion of the four public lectures delivered at that university in March 1954. Upon publication by Princeton University Press in 1957, Anatomy initially garnered few reviews.  It has since become one of the most quoted academic books of its time.

During the time leading up to the publication of Anatomy, Frye sketched mandalas as well as a number of complicated tables he used to categorize the forms that literature could take. In his diaries, Frye often chastised himself for his laziness with regard to his writing and thinking, but the fact that he spent part of the luncheon honouring Pearson working on a table to formulate ideas that would become central to his work, suggests a mind that was seldom disengaged from it.