John Lyly’s Anatomy of Wit as an Example of Early Modern Psychological Fiction

Adele Kudish

Abstract


John Lyly developed the prose style that would become known as euphuism, named after the main character in his Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578) and Euphues and his England (1580). The term ‘euphuism’ signifies the use of paradoxical and self-correcting language, while its spokespersons express a great deal of self-doubt and contradiction. We can conjecture that Lyly intended his ironic, detailed examination of ‘wit’ to dissect both the intellect and its often-inconsistent maneuverings, revealing a cynical view of human behavior. In this article, I re-read The Anatomy of Wit (1578) in the context of a larger body of what I call proto-psychological fiction. I argue that certain Early Modern texts, of which Lyly’s is a strong example, share tropes and motifs that indicate the author’s interest in the workings of human psychology avant la lettre, and more specifically, of a pessimistic strain of thought that is critical of self-awareness and doubtful of our ability to be guided by reason.

Keywords


John Lyly; sixteenth century fiction; psychological fiction

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