Excerpted from thesmartset.com:

On the first page of Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays, Northrop Frye irritably dismissed the “conception of the critic as a parasite or artist manqué … sometimes reinforced by a dubious analogy between the creative and procreative functions, so that we hear about the ‘impotence’ and ‘dryness’ of the critic, of his hatred for genuinely creative people, and so on.” As a critic himself, Frye might have been a bit touchy on the subject, but he had nothing to worry about on that score. It’s a rare novel that has anything like the “creativity” of Anatomy of Criticism. While few people care overmuch about the debates that roiled English departments in the years when Frye reigned at the University of Toronto (1939 to 1991), readers coming to Anatomy of Criticism for the first time might be surprised at what they find: a work of formidable scholarship, yes, but with a huge cast of characters (seemingly every writer who ever lived, from the tribal scribes of Mesopotamia to P. G. Wodehouse) moving in a dense network of interconnectedness in which every end is a new beginning, and genres as various as melodrama, farce, epic, satire, and romance live happily together on the same page. It’s rather like George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga, but with good prose.

What is the novel referred in bolded letters above? I think most reader of this article will not have priorior knowledge on Anatomy of Criricism, but I couldn't find any mentioned novel in this paragraph.

  • I hope this means you're planning to read the Anatomy -- it's a revelation! Jan 26, 2016 at 1:35

1 Answer 1


It’s a rare novel that has anything like the “creativity” of Anatomy of Criticism.

This it-cleft construction, which isolates and focuses the complement of the It BE piece, may be paraphrased

[Only] a rare novel has anything like the “creativity” of Anatomy of Criticism.

The author compares the Anatomy—a composition from a prose genre which is typically supposed to be pedestrian and unimaginative—to something entirely different: novels, the prose genre which presumably exhibits the greatest "creativity". He claims that it is only a "rare" novel, one which is encountered very seldom, which exhibits so much "creativity" as the Anatomy does.

In other words, the Anatomy is more creative than all except the rarest novels—

—a claim, by the way, which I wholeheartedly echo.

In this construction, it is an expletive or 'dummy' subject, whose referent is the complement of the It BE piece, specified further in the concluding relative clause. Compare It is I who say this to you = I (not just anybody) say this to you.

  • It's conceptually acceptable and fits the paragraph well, but looking at its structure closely, this means "novel" = "Anatomy of Criticism", but then it's repetitive and redundant to mentioned it twice. The similar structure "It's a strange cat that has anything like the funniness of cartoon figure Garfield" is more natural to me, since "cat" is not equal to "Garfield". I don't know, I feel a little bit uneasy that it refers to itself.
    – CYC
    Jan 26, 2016 at 2:07
  • 1
    @CYC I have rewritten this to make myself clearer. Jan 26, 2016 at 3:39

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