Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Robert D. Denham Collection at Moncton

This past July Bob Denham was in Moncton, New Brunswick, to assist the Frye Festival in its celebration of Frye’s 100th birthday. Bob’s great contribution was his donation to the Moncton Public Library of his collection of Northrop Frye books and related materials, as well as many pieces of artwork. The Moncton celebration was briefly noted in a previous post (July 23), and the talk that Bob gave on that occasion was posted in full on July 16. At this time I am pleased to report that almost all of the approximately 450 books have been catalogued and are easily available in the Heritage Room at the library for viewing and studying (though not for withdrawal). The other materials (listed below) are also available, neatly filed and housed in plastic bins. The artwork, including many portraits and caricatures of Frye, are placed about the room, though not yet in their final arrangement. Frye’s writing desk from his Clifton Road home is here. A bronze bust of Frye by Hanna Boos, a smaller version of the one in Northrop Frye Hall at Victoria College, is here.

The approximately 450 books include all of Frye’s books, 18 of the 30 volumes of the Collected Works, many translations, about 40 books edited by Frye, about 30 volumes written by others and devoted to Frye, about 70 volumes containing essays by Frye, and 75 volumes which in some way, shape or form give reference to Frye. Beyond the books is a treasure trove of primary and secondary materials that can be found nowhere else.

Bob divided his donation into 17 groups, and provided enough detail on individual items to fill 90 pages of printed text. To give you an idea of what is in the collection, here is a list of the 17 groups:

  1. Frye’s books: Editions and Translations
  2. Collected Works of Frye
  3. Books edited by Frye
  4. Frye’s separately published monographs
  5. Books and journals devoted to Frye
  6. Offprints of Frye’s Essays
  7. Essays by Frye that first appeared in journals or in books edited by others
  8. Frye’s Articles in Journals, Magazines, Newspapers, Offprints
  9. Frygiana (miscellaneous items related to Frye, including art work)
  10. Frye video and audiotapes
  11. Secondary Periodical Literature
  12. Obituaries, Memorials, Tributes
  13. News Stories
  14. Reviews of Frye’s Books
  15. Italian Materials related to Frye
  16. Dissertations on or related to Frye
  17. Books containing material related to Frye and His Work

The approximately 450 books, plus all the related materials, could be a boon to anyone doing research on Frye or anyone interested in Frye. Come to Moncton, visit the Public Library, and ask to see the Bob Denham Collection, housed in the Heritage Room. You can spend all day here if you want, or several days. It’s as easy as that.

A Letter to the Frye Community

“I think that everybody tries to produce what Marshall McLuhan called a ‘counter environment.’ That is, you set yourself in opposition to the kind of mass tendencies which the media set up. That’s what’s so important about the humanities in the uni­versity; there is always something of Mark Hopkins and the log. There’s something of a personal dialogue between one human being and another. And the fact that this dialogue is being car­ried out in the teeth of all the mass emotion techniques of the electronic media is a very important side of the humanities.” ––Northrop Frye

A great deal of imaginative and intellectual energy was generated by the two recent conferences on Frye, honoring the centenary of his birth––one in Budapest and the other in Toronto.  Our weblog, “The Educated Imagination,” allows us to continue the dialogues begun at those two gatherings.

The aims of the blog are

● to stimulate and foster interest in Frye’s work

● to facilitate the conversation about his criticism

● to provide useful research tools for all who want to study his writings

● to keep the bibliography of Frye studies up to date, becoming a steward of the history and tradition of such studies

● to testify to the ways that Frye’s thought has influenced our thinking, understanding, and teaching

● to explain things in Frye’s work that may be difficult, to analyze the various parts of his conceptual universe, and to evaluate and critique his theories

● to understand the sources of Frye’s thought and the influences that shaped it

● to see how Frye’s criticism interpenetrates with or otherwise relates to the conceptual universes of other systems of thought

● to study how Frye’s criticism has been applied practically, both in literary studies and in other disciplines

● to understand how Frye’s work fits into the history of criticism

● to examine Frye’s place in Canadian culture

● to pose questions about Frye’s work that others may be able to answer

● to develop the fledgling journal––go here

● to publicize and review books and articles about Frye

The blog, which, as you can see, is fully searchable, enables one to comment on earlier postings, and it has a “library” that has begun to accumulate materials, including articles on Frye’s work, several ebooks, pdf files of the Northrop Frye Newsletter, previously unpublished material, selected reviews of some of Frye’s books, student notes from Frye’s courses, and the like.

The purpose of this letter is to invite you and your friends and colleagues to become a part of the conversation.  You may want to respond to earlier postings by using the “comment” feature of the blog.  Beyond that, feel free to send Joe Adamson ( your articles, comments, queries, suggestions, and / or earlier things you’ve written about Frye.  By so doing you will circulate your ideas among the more than 11,000 visitors who log on to the blog each month.  If you would like to become a regular blogger, posting every week or even once a month, please let Joe know.  As Frye says, the techniques of the electronic media certainly have their down side.  But they can also help bring us together by engaging in dialogue about a common subject.

Joe Adamson and Bob Denham

Frye on the Two Americas

Walden Pond

As the American presidential election campaign comes to a close, and the prospect of a president Romney is, grotesquely, a possible outcome we must brace for, I thought it might be worth quoting from an essay that Frye wrote in the late sixties, entitled “America: True or False?”  Roger Hyman, a Canadianist and a colleague of mine here at McMaster, drew the piece to my attention the other day as we were grumbling over lunch about the wretched state of the world and harkening back to the sixties and the very different, much more hopeful atmosphere then; he recalled, to my envy, the year at grad school when he was taking, all at the same time, courses from three giants, Frye, McLuhan, and Donald Creighton, the Red Tory historian of Canada.

The essay was written in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam war and the student movement, and originally published in Notes for a Native Land, A New Encounter with Canada (ed. Andy Wainwright, Oberon Press, 1969), a collection of essays by various Canadian writers and intellectuals. It was another time, another place, but the words, mutatis mutandis–and the necessary adjustments are remarkably few–still speak so clearly and lucidly. As Frye eloquently said of Canada in The Modern Century, the country we should be loyal to is not the country that exists, but the one we have failed to create:

. . . . As for the USA, there is a political separation from that country which a Canadian feels as soon as he goes outside Canada. Politically, Canada ought to be one of the small, observant countries in a new world of continental, powers, much as, say, Switzerland has been in Europe. A Canadian going to the United States to teach in a university there is often asked by his American students if he notices any difference. They expect the answer to be no, and nine-tenths of the time it is no, but the tenth time there is some point of discussion that suddenly makes him feel like a Finn in Russia or a Dane in Germany. His students have been conditioned from infancy to be citizens of a vast imperial power; he has been conditioned to watch, to take sides in decisions made elsewhere.

But what does political separation matter when economically and culturally there seems to be no difference at all? The great producing machine of North American capitalism knows nothing of an undefended border: it spews its consumer goods all over us, pollutes our air and water and earth, turns our landscapes into a strangling nightmare of highways, tears the guts out of our cities and strews them along “ribbon developments,” cuts down our forests and digs up our mines, bellows and mimes a mixture of advertising and propaganda into our eyes and ears all day long. In short, everything that happens in the United States happens in Canada too, except that most of it is crossing a border and invading another country. But is that any real exception? Canadians seem to be quite willing to go along with this process: no political leader dares resist it for fear of “lowering the standard of living.” If our identity is to consist only of a querulous and pointless anti-Americanism, it is hardly worth holding on to.

The economic development of America has been intensely competitive, and so has developed in an oligarchic direction, taking advantage of everything that increases social inequality, like racism. Exclusiveness breeds hysteria, because of the constant fear of revolt from “below,” and the hysteria is increased by an economy that depends on advertising, and so tries to create a gullible and uncritical public. Advertising absorbs propaganda as the economic expansion goes beyond the limits of America and turns imperialist, and the two merge into the category of “public relations,” where one throws oneself into a dramatic role, and says, not what one means, but what the tactics of the situation are supposed to demand. In so insane a context the question of whether or not murdering a prominent figure or planting a bomb would be good publicity for one’s cause becomes almost a rational question. Hysteria breeds counter-hysteria, racism counter-racism, and American capitalism is now facing various opposed forces who may turn out to be stronger than it is, because they fight with the same weapons but believe in them more intensely. On both sides the social unit is the organized mob. An appalling crash in the near future seems to be at least a possibility for American society, and Canada could no more avoid such a conflict than Belgium could avoid a war between Germany and France. We look round for a third force, but the best organized one seems to be the criminals, who profit from both.

And yet everyone realizes: that there are two Americas, and that underneath this gigantic parasite on the American way of life there is quite a different America, tough, shrewd, humorous, deeply committed to a belief in democracy, with a genuine hatred of violence and unreason, anxious to reduce, even try to eliminate, poverty and social discrimination in its own country and to keep out of trouble with other nations. It may be sentimental and easily misled, but it is very far from being inarticulate or powerless. It is potentially in control of the political structure, which may often be,. in practice, the executive committee of the economic structure, but does not have to be: the Constitution which is its basis aims at democracy, not at oligarchy, and it is still a powerful revolutionary force.

I do not see how America can find its identity, much less avoid chaos, unless a massive citizens’ resistance develops which is opposed to exploitation and imperialism on the one hand, and to jack-booted radicalism on the other. It would not be a new movement, but simply the will of the people, the people as a genuine society strong enough to contain and dissolve all mobs. It would be based on a conception of freedom as the social expression of tolerance, and on the understanding that violence and lying cannot produce anything except more violence and more lies. It would be politically active, because democracy has to do with majority rule and not merely with enduring the tyranny of organized minorities. It would not be conservative or radical in its direction, but both at once.

What is true of American identity is a fortiori true of Canadian identity. Our political independence, such as it is, is the chance that enables us to make common cause with the genuine American that Thoreau and Jefferson and Mark Twain and even Ezra Pound were talking about. This all sounds very vague, but that doesn’t worry me: this is a statement of belief, not a program of action. It also sounds very unlikely, but hope is said to be a major virtue.

(CW 12: 403-405)

Educating the Imagination Conference

As many of you will know, a conference was held at the University of Toronto at the beginning of October in honour of Frye’s centenary, and on Thursday evening a bronze statue of Frye (modeled on the one originally unveiled in Moncton earlier this year) was unveiled in the quad of Victoria College. The statue is located just outside Northrop Frye Hall. For more on the unveiling, go here.

The conference itself was a great success, the level of the papers very high, and the considerable number of papers from the younger generation of scholars gave us much to hope for the future of Frye studies. The conference website, here, may be posting some of the papers.  Here is the conference program:


October 4th – 6th 2012,
Victoria University in the University of Toronto



9.45 -10.00 Welcome by Neil ten Kortenaar (University of Toronto)

10.00-11.15 am

Panel 1: Influences on Frye (Chair: Melissa Dalgleish, York University)

Joseph Adamson (McMaster University): “Frye and Edgar Allan Poe”

Craig Stephenson (IAAP): “Reading Frye Reading Jung”

Robert D. Denham (Roanoke College, Emeritus): “Frye and Colin Still”

11.30 am-12.45 pm

Panel 2: Frye: Structure and Change (Chair: Paul Downes, University of Toronto)

Duncan McFarlane (University of Ottawa): “Frye, Bloom, and the Problem of Satire”

Jan Gorak (University of Denver): “Frye and the Comedy of Humors”

Glen Robert Gill (Montclair State University): “The Dialectics of Myth: Northrop Frye’s Theory of Culture”

12.45-2.00 Lunch (on your own)


Plenary Lecture by Robert Bringhurst

“The Use and Abuse of Theory in Literature”

(Chair: Germaine Warkentin, University of Toronto)

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Missing Items in the Frye Corpus

Missing Items in the Frye Corpus

Robert D. Denham

When I was compiling Frye’s bibliography Frye wrote to me, saying:

 I never know how exhaustive a bibliography should be, especially with the development of that snake in the grass the tape recorder.  With me, the difference between writing and speaking from notes is a chalk-and-cheese difference, and when I’m asked to speak I often make it a condition that I am not to produce a manuscript.  But of course when I turn up either a tape recorder is revolving somewhere or the CBC has gone into action, and they produce what purports to be a manuscript.  Thus there now exists a speech of mine printed in the Educational Courier, Nov.–Dec. 1968, Vol. xxxix, No. 2, (listed as) “The Social Importance of Literature,” pp. 19–23.  The same magazine printed a speech in another issue which I am sending you: use your own judgement.  Similarly with campus magazines.  I recently wrote out a speech for the local alumni called “The Quality of Life in the Seventies,” which was printed in the University of Toronto Graduate, Spring 1971, Vol. III, No. 5, pp. 38–48.  But to this was added a speech called “Education and the Rejection of Reality,” pp. 49–55, which, as the editor says, “consists of Dr. Frye’s words as they came off the tape.”  This is one I know about, but I quite often hear about recorded speeches of mine that I haven’t even seen, and didn’t until then know existed.  I think this is probably illegal, but the copyright law is in such a chaos that nobody really knows what is legal.

But sometimes the chalk and cheese turn out to be almost indistinguishable.  An example is a series of two lectures on “Reconsidering Levels of Meaning” Frye gave at Emory & Henry College in 1979.  He spoke only from two or three pages of notes he had scribbled on a writing pad.  I taped his lectures and later transcribed them.  They were published twenty‑five years later in Christianity and Literature and are now included in volume 25 of the Collected Works.  Although my transcription never received Frye’s imprimatur, we are doubtless the richer for having this variation on a theme that Frye was working on when writing The Great Code.

A number of talks Frye gave cannot be accounted for.  Either he spoke extemporaneously or from notes; or, if there were manuscripts, they have disappeared.  Perhaps some of them were taped.  What follows is a list of more than 140 talks Frye gave for which no known manuscripts exist.  Bloggers might know whether some of them were recorded and, if so, whether it might be possible to recover them.


A paper on Blake, at the Graduate English Club, 25 October 1934.

In 1936–37 and 1938–39 Frye wrote papers for his Oxford tutorials with Edmund Blunden on Wyatt, Fulke Greville, Crashaw, Herbert, Vaughan, Traherne, Herrick, Marvell, Cowley, the Dark Ages, the character book, King Lear, the history of language.  He may have written papers on Sidney and Lyly as well.  At least some of these papers Frye sent to his Victoria College mentor, Pelham Edgar, who passed them on to Frye’s friend Roy Daniells.  What subsequently became of them is uncertain.  They are not among the Edgar Papers at Victoria University or the Daniells Papers at the University of British Columbia.

“A Short History of the Devil,” at Oxford to the members of the Bodley Club, 2 December 1938.

“The Search for Wisdom” and “The Search for the Word,” at the Victoria College retreat, 27 September 1942.

A talk on Frazer to the Liberal Arts Club, Toronto, October 1942.

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