Daily Archives: September 16, 2009

Sára Tóth: Frye and Joseph (2)


Joseph in Egypt C. 1515 Jacopo Pontormo

Sára Tóth responds to Russell Perkin:

Yes, it is a possible explanation for my “surprise” that Frye read the Joseph story more realistically than usual. I cannot actually supply hard textual proofs that he also had in mind something similar to Luther’s allegorical-theological interpretation but that would certainly account for his reservations.

As to Thomas Mann, the notebook entry I quoted continues with a reference to him (which does not answer your question, though): “I’ve encountered several times the assertion that he’s a type of Christ; but what’s really Christlike about him? I’ve investigated Mann, but without result. The one thing that interests me is that he descends to Egypt and becomes, not the Pharaoh or temporal ruler, but his adviser, a Castiglione courtier. Castiglione’s book has always fascinated me… etc.”

The Circle of Fifths, Romance, and the Key of C


A nice observation from Peter Yan:

Frye used the musical term mode to describe and order the character’s power in relation to us readers; and how these modes change over time, giving us, in the first chapter of Anatomy of Criticism, how a genuine historical method should work in literature.

What is curious is that the ultimate myth/genre for Frye was the Quest Romance, which he assigned the key signature of C, the key which all keys can be translated into, and the key which all modes musical take off from. The Quest Romance myth is the mode which includes all the other myths in its epic form.

Rodney Baine and Charlie Bell


Merton College Chapel

Rodney Baine, mentioned in the 1950 diary entry for 23 August, was a U.S. Rhodes Scholar studying at Oxford, whom Frye met during his early days at Merton College in 1936 –– one of several fellow students he chummed around with.  Other friends were Joseph Reid from Manitoba, Alba Warren from Texas, Charles Bell from Mississippi (all Rhodes Scholars) and a hard‑drinking New Zealander, Mike Joseph.  In 1937 Frye spent time between terms touring Italy with Baine and Joseph and once back in Oxford he took up residence in a boarding house some distance from Merton College, sharing a suite with Baine and Joseph.  Frye apparently had not seen Baine between their Oxford days and the 1950 chance encounter on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, where Frye was studying during his Guggenheim year.  After stints at MIT, the University of Richmond, and Delta State University of Alabama at Montevallo, Baine landed a teaching position in 1962 at the University of Georgia, where he became a distinguished eighteenth‑century scholar.  Among his publications were books on on William Blake, Daniel Defoe, Robert Munford, and James Oglethorpe.  In 1981 Baine’s son James established the Rodney M. Baine Lecture Fund to commemorate his father, and in April 1982 Frye presented the Rodney Baine Lecture, “An Illustrated Lecture of Blake’s Jerusalem” at the University of Georgia.  Baine died in 2000.

In the full diary entry for 23 August 1950 Frye wrote, “Evidently he [Baine] was closely involved in the Charlie-Mildred bust up: in fact he had a hand in drawing up the articles of separation, & is still friendly & still corresponds with both.  He says that when we saw them they probably weren’t even living together, as Mildred had kicked him out of the house soon after he got back from Italy.”  The reference is to the divorce of Charlie Bell and Mildred Winfree, with whom he had lived during his year at Oxford.  Frye adds: “Charlie’s present wife [Diana (Danny) Mason] is a Quaker, & he reports that he has had the happiest year of his life.  Bell later taught at Princeton, the University of Chicago, and St. John’s College in both Annapolis and Santa Fe.  Several years back Charlie Bell sent me his reminiscences about Frye from the time of their Oxford years.  I reproduce it here, with editorial insertions in square brackets:

  Continue reading

Circle of Fifths and the Great Doodle


Some very interesting comments from Michael Sinding:

Many thanks for this information, Bob, fascinating as always.

Re: the Circle of Fifths. I’m only going by the Wikipedia article, and I don’t know if I’m saying anything new here, but beyond the relations of harmony and discord in the Circle, it’s also worth noting the important of progression, resolution and mood in both the Circle and the Anatomy’s theory of myths.

The article says: “To the ear, the sequence of fourths gives an impression of settling, or resolution. (see cadence)… [T]he tonic is considered the end of the line towards which a chord progression derived from the circle of fifths progresses.” Also, progression-resolution in the Circle seems to be often either upwards or downwards.

In Anatomy, myths are defined by certain resolutions and moods. And resolution and mood imply a certain foregoing sequence of elements.


“The obstacles to the hero’s desire, then, form the action of the comedy, and the overcoming of them the comic resolution” (164).

“In drama, characterization depends on function; what a character is follows from what he has to do in the play. Dramatic function in its turn depends on the structure of the play; the character has certain things to do because the play has such and such a shape. The structure of the play in its turn depends on the category of the play; if it is a comedy, its structure will require a comic resolution and a prevailing comic mood” (171-72).

Re: Frye and Joseph


Sara, that’s a really interesting post. Frye quotes Genesis 49:22, “Joseph is a fruitful bough” recurrently as one of his standard examples of metaphor, which is a bit odd in terms of his view of the story! What you say suggests that he read the Joseph story more “realistically” than he usually does with the biblical text. On that level, Joseph is not the most appealing character: he “brought a bad report” to Jacob of the handmaids’ sons, and he follows this with the egocentric and even blasphemous dreams. (When I teach this story in my Bible and Literature course, I find very divergent responses to Joseph.)

Frye would obviously have been aware of the theory that the Joseph story represents the interpolation of Egyptian material into the narrative: I wonder whether he thought it was discordant with the rest of the story?

You mention that the Joseph story is generally highly regarded, and I also wonder whether Frye comments anywhere on the greatest retelling of it, and one of the great modern works inspired by the Bible, Thomas Mann’s Joseph tetralogy. I think this is one of the most neglected masterpieces of modern literature – perhaps partly because of its forbidding length.

By the way, Samuel was another biblical character whom Frye did not like!

Today in the Frye Diaries, 16 September

1942: Frye’s other extra-curricular pre-occupation of the time: movie music. [Above, the kind of thing that Frye is presumably talking about — the closing sequence from Citizen Kane. Spoiler Alert! “Rosebud” is revealed.]

[117] Ideas for article on movie music. Orson Welles’ incessant woo-woo noises, a full series of drum rolls & trombones slithering from solemn burp to gloomy blop. Most incidental music is just ‘flourish,’ ‘sennet,’ ‘exeunt with a dead march’ stuff, a bag of tricks ‘sound effects,’ in short. Oscar Levant describes the sweep (Aug. 29) & feels that the producer always wants tutti, like the parvenu who wouldn’t have any second violins in his orchestra. He quotes a Russian film (Shostakovich) opening with a lone piccolo, followed by a flute. This indicates a lack of enterprise in experimenting with timbre. Hollywood can’t use woodwinds: they can’t shiver their timbers: only brass. The piano’s very effective percussive tone they leave out: they overdo harps & leave out tom-toms & gongs ever for horror films. Conventional orchestra background for everything: no regrouping. Motto from Ecclesiasticus. Nobody listens, so no leitmotif, an obvious point, one would think. Quotation, of course, and plagiarism. Uniformly heaving scoring: all harmonic tricks & general air of having found the lost chord, mostly the dominant discords. Why not long stretches of scenery & music for real drama, towards an operatic movie? Because nobody listens. This all the more essential as real music has dropped behind. There’s no amusing popular song: just bawling & nasal honks. Swing is stuck on a treadmill of rhythm, even Duke Ellington. Might recall ‘motion picture moods’ of Rapee as showing plagiarism bias. Often more effective. Farmyard Symphony vs. Fantasia, use of Beethoven’s Pastoral. Even good tricks, high pedal-point on Snow White, 19th c. What I mean by vocal music is that musical comedies can’t last. Songs are painful to photograph, singers even more so, & the camera is too relentless in its pursuit: musical comedy plots are pretty fragile…Need more Gershwins? Might explain about ‘syncopation’ of jazz. If chromatic harmony is played out the movie is the place for new experiments, not the concert hall. Of course there is a good deal going on, the train-boat sequence of The Reluctant Dragon. Oh, we’re getting there: that should be enough for a necessarily rather vague & ill-informed article. After all, I don’t know anything about montages or pan shots or fadeins or the rest of the patter.