Daily Archives: August 24, 2009

Frye the Dancer II


Another note from Bob Denham:

From a letter by Deanne Bogdan to Bob Denham, 20 September 2002

Dear Bob,

. . . I saw the most amazing documents today, something I just have to share with you. The grandmother of one of my new students [Trevor Norris] dated Norrie at Vic. Her name was Florence Sparling. Her elder sister Ruth, is, I think, mentioned in the Frye-Kemp correspondence. My student, whose grandfather and great-grandfather were in the United Church ministry, today brought in two signed dance cards from his grandmother’s archives. One was from the Supper Dance of the Victoria College Music Club held at the Royal York Hotel on Feb 18th, 1930. Norrie’s signature ‘H. Northrop Frye’ appears for dance #4, a waltz entitled, “Poor wandering me.” There are 11 other names on the card. This dance took place two weeks after that of the first card, dated Jan. 29th––the Charles House, South House at-Home. Norrie’s name is written in the first space, but it doesn’t look like his writing. My student thinks his grandmother may have written it in. Anyhow––get
this––beside H. Northrop Frye is written (Buttercup). . . .

[“Buttercup” was Frye’s student nickname]

Frye at an Undergrad Mixer


A note from Bob Denham:

For your edification, here’s the last paragraph in a letter from [class of ’33 member] Pete Colgrove, now 85, living in Santa Fe, NM:

I could mention an instance of Norrie’s sense of humor. With immense dry relish he would tell the story of the first dance he went to after trying to absorb all my anxiously persistent coaching, a tea-dance at one of the girls’ residences, called a ‘Paul Jones’: a circle of boys facing in around a circle of girls facing out; when the march music stops without warning, the couples facing pair off to dance; this happens several times and so becomes a ‘mixer.’ Norrie, who was of average height, had to dance in succession with the three tallest girls in our year—each well over six feet tall! Well, Norrie would wind up this story magnificently describing how he couldn’t see where he was leading, and worse, could see neither to the left nor right since his nose was buried between the bosoms of his partners.’ (Pete had learned ballroom dancing from his two female cousins.)

Cormier’s Book Collection, Moncton, ca. 1936


A note from Ed Lemond, Frye Festival, Moncton:

In August, 1936, one year before their marriage, Frye and his wife-to-be were going through a very rough patch, including the turmoil around Helen’s abortion and his preparations for departure to England. In a couple of his letters from Moncton (the first dated August 10, the last dated August 29) he mentions a neighbour by the name of Cormier, a good friend of his father’s. Cormier, “a mere trainman,” had what Frye believed to be the “best library in Moncton,” put together over 20 years of buying from a bookstore in England, with a heavy (in every sense of the word) emphasis on anthropology, comparative religion, and evolutionary theory. Haeckel, Frazer, that sort of thing, all “very dogmatic and violently anti-clerical.” This library eventually ended up in the hands (literally in the fraying boxes) of a descendant (a grand-daughter probably, with an unforgettable name, Beer), and in 1994, in my capacity as a used book store owner, I purchased what must have been almost the entire collection. It was the most spectacular purchase of my 21-year career as a book dealer, including the complete first edition Golden Bough, complete 1882 Arabian Nights, first American editions of Darwin’s masterpieces, etc. More than a thousand books, all hardcover, all in wonderful condition, despite the years. Frye was impressed by the books Cormier collected but not by the company he kept, most of whom Frye found to be “pig-headed.”

Google Books has online excerpts from the Collected Works Frye-Kemp correspondence.

Today in the Frye Diaries, 24 August


Today is the Fryes’ wedding anniversary: their fifth in 1942 and their thirteenth in 1950.


A bad double feature at the movies (Through Different Eyes and Rings on Her Fingers) — complete with annoying gender stereotypes — leaves Frye in a mood to address “the war of the sexes”:

 [77] People are human beings first and men and women afterwards. Their bodily functions are different; their environments are different, though the difference in this century has been greatly decreased. So there may be generalizations of the ‘men are like this whereas women are like that’ kind which may have some hazy and approximate truth. I don’t know. Men’s conversation is more abstract & less personal than women’s, but whether that’s an accident of training or an essential sexual trait I don’t know. I do know that the kind of mind that thinks along these lines of facile anitheses is a dull & tiresome mind. It betrays a fixation on sex-differences which is mere adolescence, & in an adult unhealthy.

1950: A very hot day of shopping in Boston. Then an anniversary dinner:

[570] We went to the Bella Vista for dinner, which Dick Ellmann had recommended as the best place in town, but it wasn’t any hell — not nearly as good as the Viennese place. However, it was all right, though we were outdoors on a roof under an umbrella, and I’d have done better in an air-conditioned interior [because of hay fever]. Beside us was a young man who’d just got his Ph.D and was celebrating. His conversation got louder with his drinks & was a mixture of of cultural & personal remarks that, considered as a pattern, gave me quite an insight into the Harvard level of student sophistication, though it’s difficult to say just what it was.

Tomorrow: an enigmatic reference to the Vicar of Bray; hay fever as psychosomatic illness?