Daily Archives: August 28, 2009

Helen Kemp: “Frygian”


A note from Margaret Burgess may resolve the issue of the adjectival form of “Frye”:

 I don’t know how much Frye would care about which variant is used, but it is perhaps worth noting for the record that the term appears in the Correspondence, where Helen, writing from London on 12 October 1934, quips: “I have quite a stock of Frygian witticisms up my sleeve to chuckle over at odd moments on the ‘bus and walking down streets, and even in lectures when they’re dull” (NFHK, 1:344). Although there is obviously no way of knowing, one might speculate as to whether she thought up the term on her own, or whether it might possibly have been coined at some earlier time by Frye himself.

Frijeeyin? Frigeeyin? Fryin?


Several years back Glen R. Gill, author of Northorp Frye and the Phenomenology of Myth, emailed me (and I think others) to ask if I had an opinion on the proper adjectival form of “Frye.”  For some reason this struck my funny‑bone, and so I dropped my pedantic inquiry into what Frye meant by “chess‑in‑bardo” or whatever I was doing to pen this bit of doggerel:


So what’s the adjective for “Frye”?
Do you pronounce your “g” as hard?
Do you, like Gill, just wonder why
The “g” is sometimes soft as lard?

At other times it disappears,
With triplet vowels aligned in row.
The folks must surely have tin ears
Who say the “g” has gotta go.

For precedent consider “Styx”:
Its adjective requires a “g.”
For even Appalachian hicks
“Norwegian” works phonetically.

But why restrict phonetic rule
To followers of Norrie Frye?
Does not the pedant, simple fool,
Induce, then universify?

Thus, “Frygean” applies to texts,
To arguments and archetypes,
To all the Spirit/Word contexts.
The lightest and the darkest types.

But I will quiz the linguist Kris
(My daughter): she may know the rule
To cure our ignorance of bliss
And send us back to suffix school.

Meanwhile, methinks that Glen R. Gill
Should forego adjectives for Jung
And Freud and Frye, and just fulfill
What Norrie craved—a simple tongue. Continue reading

Frye and the Tale of Genji


In both Anatomy of Criticism and The Secular Scripture Frye refers to Lady Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji as an example of an “endless” romance, the conclusion of which does not preclude Lady Murasaki from adding any number of additional episodes. Frye annotated his own copy of this expansive eleventh century Japanese tale of court life (trans. Arthur Waley [London: George Allen & Unwin, 1957] 1135 pp.) Frye’s annotations are more expansive than the notes he ordinarily scribbled in the margins of his books. If he were to have written an essay or a more extended commentary on The Tale of Genji, the essential core might well have come from his annotations, which are transcribed in what follows. (The numbers in parentheses following each entry are to the pages in Frye’s edition.)

The title “dwellers above the clouds” indicates that courtiers were thought of, & wished to be thought of, as leading a severe & untroubled life of pleasure & privilege. Murasaki shows them as spoiled, frustrated, and boring each other (with the women often quite literally) to death. Is the brutal selfishness of the men something she accepts as a datum of life, or something she is satirizing? The latter by implication, certainly. (46)

Interesting to know if the original has anything of the Virginia Woolfish quality of the translation. (81)

Genji reminds me of the flower known as the red-hot poker. If I were a Japanese I could make a poem out of that. (108)

When night lets fall her sable hood
How may one know which dame one scrood? (153)

The most startling feature of this wonderful story is the sense of social security—no reference to torture, imprisonment, beatings, violence, executions, or even war. In the court, life is like a modern university: when the emperor gets bored with emperoring he just quits, with no questions or upsets. Murasaki makes it clear that this security extends only to a stratospherically elevated group, but within that group, civilization is complete. (184)

The story is realistic in the sense that nothing supernatural or incredible (in her terms) occurs & in the sense that all human foibles & weaknesses are fully displayed. But there’s another feature that makes it a romance in my sense—or one of my senses. That’s her acceptance, not of her own society only, but of that society’s idealized picture of itself. People who are socially the best people, in other words, really are the best people. The exact degree of a girl’s beauty (except for Kiritsubo) depends primarily on her heredity, like a knight’s chivalry in Malory. (184).

The jealous mistress Rukujo sets up a Ligeia pattern, killing Yugao & Aoi by projecting a part of herself & bewitching them. She even speaks through them just as Ligeia does. After her death she becomes more formidable, a prowling ghoul who seizes on Murasaki. Yugao is a sleeping beauty archetype: the incarnate dream of the perfect mistress discovered in a completely isolated spot. (Not completely isolated: she’d already been discovered by Genji’s brother-in-law, who’d had a child by her, but that doesn’t bother Genji: he just wants to adopt the child. Civilized buggers.) (359) Continue reading

Today in the Frye Diaries, 28 August


 1942: Frye and his drinking buddy George Beattie join Helen and Ruth Jenking for a night of “pounding hell out of” Mozart:

[87] Discovered something called Allergitabs, which make me feel funny but seem to work. Picked up that souse George Beattie at the pub and then went to a kosher place on College & Spadina, George making love furiously to Helen all the way. Then to Ruth Jenking’s where we pounded hell out of a couple of Mozart fantasias — amazing things he wrote in 1791 for music boxes, his last year when he was picking up anything he could get in the way of a commission.

1950: Hay fever, the formal causes of literature, and beauty:

[580] Well, today the sea breezes blew ragweed at me all day long, & I had, quite simply, one hell of a time. I didn’t feel able to go swimming — I knew that if I tried I’d start sneezing my fool head off. So I stayed on the verandah or on the beach and scribbled at my paper. A young girl here about eighteen…kept playing around me with a dog. She wasn’t especially pretty or intelligent looking, but her body — she was in a bathing suit — had that extraordinarily beautiful feeling of youth & health about it, & with this lovely & nearly naked figure hovering in my line of vision I had some difficulty concentrating on the formal causes of literature.

Tomorrow: hay fever notwithstanding, a breakthrough on the formal causes of literature