The Anatomy of Melancholy: A Selection by Robert Burton

Title: The Anatomy of Melancholy: A Selection

Author: Robert Burton

Publisher: Carcanet Press Ltd.

Date of Publication: 1 February 2004

Rating: 3/5


As the very title alludes, The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton is a dissection of melancholy from every angle possible. What is interesting is how he performs this feat. He breaks down melancholy to its base elements and presents an unparalleled picture before the readers of an emotion that is oft so felt yet never easy to talk about.

Like a physician, Burton goes to the very core to deal with causes and concerns of possible solutions. None of the opinions are exactly his own. He takes a lot of material from other renowned and not so popular sources. He then builds on that by adding his thoughts. He gives a certain structure to melancholy that reading the book will make clear to readers about the complexity of this emotion which like several other emotions is highly over powering and painful. Burton understands very well how sorrow affects the heart, mind or soul and may cause complete loss of functionality. He constantly mentions philosophies of various eras. There is a lot of allusion to Greek, Roman and Latin mythological characters whose attributes are not always elaborated.

The Anatomy of Melancholy mainly comprises of short essays. Burton’s writing style is free flowing in a very classical sense. The modern reader’s mind will require a lot of effort to adapt to it. However, the essays are easier than Bacon. They are neither pithy nor terse. They provide a lot of examples but don’t always broaden them. Some lines are catchy and humorous. The humour is not grim or tedious. Despite it all, it is not an ideal book for beginners. It is definitely not a book to read on a weekend trip. It calls for a lot of attention and pre-requisite knowledge especially in European Classics. Nonetheless, it deals with pertinent issues and provides insightful views on melancholy which is an emotion everyone deals with on a daily basis. It can be easily said that Burton’s originality in assembling notions for a unique presentation and quality research is unbeatable.

Although intended as a self help manual, it will be wrong to say that it serves its purpose completely in the present times as it is extremely difficult to get through the book which is overflowing with didacticism and wisdom. It is a daring act to read the book in the original so an abridged version is suitable for a start though the book is best avoided unless one is compelled to read it as a part of coursework.


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Tee Wai

Tee Wai is an avid reader, a book reviewer and an aspiring writer. Follow the blog for some exciting updates!

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