Daily Archives: August 25, 2009

Re: The Vicar of Bray


A very interesting note from Craig Walker regarding Frye’s enigmatic diary entry on this date (see the post below).

Today I was discussing with a group of students the Shaw Festival production of Bernard Shaw’s “In Good King Charles’ Golden Days” (1939), the title of which comes from the satirical ballad, “The Vicar of Bray,” in which the Vicar’s opportunistic flexibility in the matters of politics and religion allows him to retain his position throughout all the vicissitudes of that era (of Civil War and Restoration). I suppose Frye means here that readiness to compromise clearly will only take a person so far and no further; but it is interesting that Shaw (an early hero of Frye’s) takes a somewhat different view, not only seeing King Charles II as a Vicar of Bray type, whose adaptability ensured his survival, but seems to present this as an essential quality of mind for us to embrace in the modern era (where, as Shaw implicitly offers by way of example, Newtonian physics have had to make way for the quantum revolution). In that context, I’m sure that Frye would agree with Shaw: see his essay “Science and Religion”

Today in the Frye Diaries, 25 August


1942: Merely this enigmatic entry:

[80] The Vicar of Bray never got to be a bishop.

[Pictured above as a Royal Doulton figurine.]

1950: Frye wonders if his hay fever is a psychosomatic illness.

[573]… My disease encourages me to sleep in even later in the morning. Today I gave up entirely & read a book on psychosomatic medicine by Helen Flanders Dunbar. I don’t see how she can be the same person as the author of that book on Dante’s symbolism, but the coincidence of names is curious. [Ed. She is in fact the same woman.] She doesn’t say much about hay fever, but she says the emotional pattern behind asthma is often one of repression due to a sense of neglect: if people can manage to break down and weep their asthma gets better. I’ve been told that mother was very sick at my birth & that I was consigned to a nurse who kept me doped with soothing syrup. The strong and irradicable resentment I feel against mother, and especially my feeling that most of her illnesses were due to a morbid mental conditon in which self indulgence predominated, is doubtless fed from some such infantile springs. I can even remember resenting her sleeping half the afternoon. But I doubt very much than any knowledge of my infantile feelings will stop my blood from curdling when the ragweed busts loose, nor does the Dunbar woman suggest that it will. There’s also a strong introverted resistence to duty behind all my illnesses of course.

Tomorrow: expurgated texts; wartime “prudery”