Monthly Archives: August 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”

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?

Frye and Pynchon II


A note from Michael Sinding:

Regarding Pynchon and Menippean Satire:
Charles Hollander notes that at Cornell, Pynchon also took a course with M. H. Abrams. As Abrams reviewed Frye’s “Anatomy,” it is possible that Pynchon picked up the idea of the genre from that class. Hollander reported the course with Abrams in “Pynchon Notes,” and suggested the connection with Menippean Satire at a recent conference. He doesn’t give the year in which Pynchon took the course, but says Pynchon graduated from Cornell in 1959.

The term Menippean satire does not occur in Pynchon’s writings. But as Hollander’s note shows, Pynchon wrote a paper (which Abrams later quoted to students) comparing Voltaire’s “Candide” with Samuel Johnson’s “Rasselas.” Both of those books are (or can be seen as, if you’re fussy) Menippean satire, and that might have led Abrams to talk about the genre.

“Abrams Remembers Pynchon.” Pynchon Notes 36-39 (1995-1996): 179-80.



Thanks to the traffic at the blog over the past six days, Google at last has a good handle on us.  Googling “educated imagination blog” is now sufficient to bring us up as the first hit.

You’ll notice that we’ve added a new “widget” in our menu column.  There is now a drop-down “Category” menu. Every entry we post is assigned a category. For example, all  of the “Today in the Frye Diaries” entries posted so far are categorized “Frye Diaries, August.”  When you hit the “Frye Diaries, August” link wherever it occurs, you’ll be presented with all other entries in that category.  Other categories at the moment include “Metaphor,” “News,” “Guest Bloggers,” and a few others.  Needless to say, the number of categories will only continue to expand as our content increases.

We are also slowly but surely lining up commitments from prospective guest bloggers. Let’s be clear on what this means: it only requires that you send us text, in whatever form you care to send it, and we will post it. At no point will you be required to interact with the blog yourself. You are providing content to us via email, we are putting it up on the blog under your name.  That’s it. We hope that encourages a lot of you to jot down some thoughts and send them to us so that we can post them for others to read.

Finally, you’ll see that we’re embedding links to other sites relating to people, places and book titles.  When it comes to books, we try to link to sites where the chapter or section in question can be found online for quick confirmation. This includes works by Frye, whose Collected Works seem to be extensively excerpted in Google Books. If you have access to better links than we are posting, please forward them to us.

Today in the Frye Diaries, 23 August


1942: In bed with hay fever and thinking about Jane Austen:

[75] Stayed in bed all day: even so not a good night. Read Jane Austen’s Love and Friendship, a skit which proves to me, as none of her novels prove, that she is an important & not merely an intelligent & amusing writer. Jane is a blind spot to me: I enjoy reading her for relaxation and I admire her skill and ingenuity, but I never feel much sense of cultural infusion, of the kind I require from a great writer. This boils down to the fact that I have nothing to say or discover about her, & and so take her merits on faith… I can’t forgive Jane for the vulgarity and Philistinism of Mansfield Park: if she hadn’t written that absurd book I could enjoy her without reservations. But her explicit preference for her dim-witted Fanny to her intelligent and sensible Mary Crawford means that in the long run she accepted her county families, and had no positive basis for her satire of Lady Catherine or Collins or Sir whatsisname [Walter Eliot] in Persuasion. In the long run she stands for the “dismal and illiberal,” for the exclusion of the free air of culture and intelligence. Mansfield Park gives her away–well, it gives the whole 19th c. away.

Note: Compare what he says here with his extended examination of Austen in The Secular Scripture more than thirty years later. (See Chapter 3, “Our Lady of Pain: The Heroes and Heroines of Romance,” which can be read in its entirety at the above link: pull down the “Contents” menu and hit the link for chapter 3.)

1950: Local gossip in Massachusetts with an old Oxford acquaintance, Rodney Montgomery Baine: the difficulties in landing a permanent academic post, the increasing necessity to complete a PhD to do so, the breakup of a friend’s marriage.  Then, finally:

[568]… He said he liked my book [Fearful Symmetry], though, again very typically of Rodney, he prefaced this by saying he’d found some errors in it, & almost wrote me about them.  That leaves me a bit up in the air, as he’s forgotten what they were: however, Rodney’s criticized my stuff before now, & what he calls error I don’t invariably recognize as such.

Tomorrow: the Fryes’ wedding anniversary