I was in Bryan Prince Books today where I got talking with Tracey, one of the helpful and knowledgable staff, who had just read Alice Munro‘s Lives of Girls and Women and loved it. (Munro’s latest, Too Much Happiness is now out and available at Bryan Prince Books — that’s Bryan Prince Books, located in the heart of Westdale Village, Hamilton.) I confessed that I actively prosyletize for three people: Shakespeare, Frye, and Munro. Tracey said that she’d been meaning to read Frye, and I of course told her about us — at which point the man standing behind us piped up, “It’s a good blog.” This gracious young man, whom I’ll call “Matthew” (in fact his real name), assured me that he’d been reading the blog since it first appeared two weeks ago, and that he knows others who are reading it too. (He’s also a Munro fan: coincidence?) I can’t pretend I wasn’t delighted by this chance meeting–and, of course, a high end cultural establishment like Bryan Prince Books offers the best chance of such a meeting. I’m also going to assume that this single encounter is representative of the thousands if not millions of anonymous readers out there who visit us daily. Bless you all. Godspeed. May the road rise to meet you.
However, let me ask you what I asked “Matthew”: Why not come out from the shadows? We’d love to hear from you. Submit a Comment or send us a post via email on any marginally Frye-related topic. We’ll gladly put it up.
In his account of the thematic modes in Anatomy of Criticism Frye says that the general theme in the ironic mode is the pure, timeless moment of vision, and the examples of such vision he gives are “Rimbaud’s illumination, Joyce’s epiphany, the Augenblick of modern German thought, and the kind of nondidactic revelation implied in such terms as symbolisme and imagism.” Frye himself had several of these moments of vision. The earliest, reported in John Ayre’s biography, was during his early high school years in Moncton when he suddenly realized that he could shed without consequence the moral and religious dogmas of the fundamentalist envelope in which he had been raised. Frye did not recall what triggered the revelation: he simply realized on a walk to school one day that the albatross of fundamentalist teaching “just dropped off into the sewers and stayed there.”
There were other epiphanies: one in Edmonton (1932), one (perhaps two) with Blake (1933), another in Seattle (1951), and still another on St. Clair Avenue in Toronto (early 1950s). The “Third Book” Notebooks contain a hint of a fifth epiphany––in 1944 on a walk down Bathurst Street in Toronto. A final epiphany may have occurred in Yugoslavia only four months before Frye’s death: he speaks of “that loud flash I got in Zagreb: the ideal of spontaneity, where the moment of composition and the moment of performance are the same” (The Late Notebooks of Northrop Frye 1:415).
Frye refers to these moments variously as intuitions, epiphanies, illuminations, and enlightenments. Most of them were experiences of unity––experiences, as he says, “of things fitting together” in a momentary flash of insight (Northrop Frye in Conversation 48). Although Frye did speak about the Blake and Edmonton epiphanies in several interviews, he never mentioned them in his books and essays. But in his notebooks there are more than thirty references to one or another of these experiences, the most important of which seem to have been what he calls his Seattle and St. Clair illuminations. I have found Frye’s accounts of these experiences to be as endlessly fascinating as they are enigmatic. The references are often quite cryptic. In Northrop Frye: Religious Visionary I took a stab at analyzing the Seattle and St. Clair epiphanies (90–6), but the different kinds of recognition that came to Frye on these occasions remain something of a riddle. Perhaps some blogger out there would be interested in sifting through the various notebook entries with the aim of providing illumination of these illuminations. What follows are the relevant passages. The references at the end of each entry are to the volumes in the Collected Works of Northrop Frye. Page breaks and other editorial insertions are within square brackets. Continue reading
1942: Frye reveals that he’s a man of his time when it comes to women in wartime. He was clearly not yet familiar with this iconic figure, Rosie the Riveter, pictured above.
 Speaking of war, I sometimes feel that women are bad for morale: they go in for catastrophe, funerals & oracles. They’re the sex of Cassandra, and they’re extremely short on humor. They hate obscenity, an essential part of humor, and the female magazines never go in for it. Cartoons, jokes, breezy comic stories, have little place in the Ladies Home Journal. It isn’t just mediocrity: the male magazines for mediocrities always have humor: but what the average woman wants is something maudlin to attach her complex of self-pity and I-get-left-at-home and my-work-is-never-done and nobody-appreciates-it-anyway to. There’s something morbid about the domestic mind which weeps at weddings and gets ecstatic over calamities. During the war they keep making woo-woo noises prophesying large drafts & taxes with no we’ll-get-along-somehow reserve. Partly of course because they’re not in it. If people only believed in immortality & a world of spiritual values! But it might only make the war more ferocious.
1950: Frye’s account of the “Frye is God” lore that was then popular.
… There was also a letter from Irving attached to his new essay for the Americans [it is not clear which paper Frye is referring to here]. A story in it about a freshman coming to Victoria to take an R.K. course from Professor Frye. When he begins he believes in God: when he gets to Christmas he believes in Frye’s God: when he comes to the end of the year he believes Frye is God. As a matter of fact I’ve known for some time that undergraduates used to refer to me casaually as “God” in their conversations. It’s a strain to live up to that, & doubtless of some theological interest to know that God gets a hell of a dose of hay fever every year at this time: maybe that’s why so many wars start in August & September.