Frye Scoop: Northrop Frye and Finnegans Wake

The editors of the American Scholar, for its thirtieth–anniversary issue, asked a number of distinguished scholars, writers, and critics to select what were for them the outstanding books of the past thirty years (1931–1961)––books notable for originality or enduring significance or for revelation in changes in thoughts and attitudes.  Below is Frye’s reply from American Scholar 30, no. 4 (Autumn 1961): 606.  This little tidbit was just uncovered: it was not included in Frye’s Collected Works.

Thirty years would include the publication of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake in 1939.  This is the only twentieth‑century book that I find myself living with, in the way that I live with Tristram Shandy, Burton’s Anatomy, Dickens, and the greater poets.  It is an inexhaustible word‑hoard of humor, wit, erudition, and symbolism; it never, for me, degenerates into a mere puzzle, but always has on every page something to astonish and delight.

It is, of course, no secret that Frye was a great fan of Finnegans Wake.  He kept his copiously annotated copy of the book on the shelves directly behind the desk chair in his office in Northrop Frye Hall.  The twenty‑nine volumes of the Collected Works have now been expanded by another 72 words.

 

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