Annotations in Frye’s Books

Among the materials in the Northrop Frye collection at the Victoria University Library are some 2053 books from Frye’s own library that he annotated.  These books represent about forty percent of his books that came to Victoria University after his death, the books without annotations having now been put in the regular collection or otherwise disposed of.  (The list of Frye’s annotated books is available online at

An “annotated” book means that it has passages that Frye marked in the text or comments he wrote in the margins or both.  He marked passages by underlining words and phrases, by enclosing a portion of the text in parentheses, by putting a line in the margin that would run vertically beside a passage, or by enclosing a portion of the text with a square bracket.  The marginal lines and square brackets ordinarily do not point to more than five or six lines of text.  Frye’s markings are usually quite neat, and they are almost always in pencil. The markings are sometimes, in fact quite often, accompanied by marginal comments.  If the side margins were too narrow, Frye often put his comments at the top or bottom of the page.  Some books contain hundreds of marginalia: in the three volumes of Madame Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine (one is an abridgement) Frye made 303 marginal notations, and there are hundreds of other marked passages, even though there are no marginalia past p. 174 of the second volume of the unabridged edition.  He made 175 marginal notations in Boehme’s Six Theosophic Points. On the other hand, in Jane Robert’s two-volume The “Unknown” Reality: A Seth Book there is only one barely perceptible mark in volume 1.  Some books have three or fewer markings––for example, Margaret Schlauch, The Gift of Language, Arthur Versluis, The Egyptian Mysteries, Alfred North Whitehead, The Aims of Education and Other Essays and Adventures of Ideas, Roger Zelazny, The Isle of the Dead, C.D. Broad, The Mind and Its Place in Nature, Chao Pi Ch’en, Taoist Yoga, W. Richard Comstock, The Study of Religion and Primitive Religions, among others.

Frye also corrected typographical errors and misspellings he ran across, and with his eye for such things he appears to have missed very few of these.  There are thousands of such corrections.  In Ken Wilber’s Spectrum of Consciousness Frye corrected eighty-three misspellings: after noting five on one page he wrote in the margin, “God, what a lousy proofreader” (31).  On the last page of Chayim Bloch’s The Golem, after twice correcting the misspelling of Tycho Bache, Frye wrote, “The Golem must have done the proofreading.”  He marked nine typographical mistakes on p. 226 of Stan Gooch’s Guardians of the Ancient Wisdom.  Frye was alert to other kinds of textual details as well.  He observed, for example, that in a footnote on p. 376 of A.E. Waite’s The Holy Grail the publication date of Karl Simrock’s Parcival und Titurel was given as 1876, whereas in the bibliographic appendix more than 200 pages later the date was recorded as 1857.  Quite why Frye’s eye would be drawn to a detail like this in a 624-page book is uncertain, but it is typical of the careful attention he gave to many of the books he read.  The amount of such close observation revealed in the annotations is extraordinary.

In a number of books Frye made marginal markings and comments for several hundred pages and then stopped.  It is tempting to think that he simply quit reading at that point.  But in many cases he resumed his annotations several hundred pages later.  In some books, one encounters over the course of several hundred pages only a single line or brief passage marked or typographical error corrected.  Marguerite Yourcenar’s Coup de grâce contains no markings until the final page, where Frye wrote following the last paragraph, “ferocious damn story.”  Or, to take another example, in Otto Rank’s The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, the only mark in the book is Frye’s underlining of “sensorialism” on p. 103 with a question mark in the margin.

Books that have a sheet laid in have been placed in the “annotated” collection even if they contain no other marginalia.  The thing most frequently laid in is a small sheet or card on which Frye constructed a table of twenty-six lines, beginning with the seven-letter sequences “y o u a u o y,” “y o u b u o y,” “y o u c u o y” and continuing through the alphabet to “y o u z u o y.”  Occasionally he made one of these grids with the “y” omitted, making a five-letter sequence (“o u a u o,” o u b u o,” etc.), and in at least one case there is a chart with only three letters in the twenty-six line column: “u a u,” “u b u,” and so on.  The grids are almost always incomplete: one or more of the slots will be blank, the initial letter having been omitted.  Some of the grids have the letter “a” added to the right and left sides.  There are dozens of these word games, if that is what they are.  These mysterious palindromic sequences can be found as well in Frye’s notebooks, and they are scattered throughout other manuscripts in the Frye collection.

The other kind of sheet laid in, though less frequently, is a version of what is known as “etaoin shrdlu” (pronounced “eh-tay-oh-in shird-loo” by linotype operators), which represents the twelve most common letters in English according to their frequency of use.  On a small sheet of paper Frye would set down the letters of the alphabet according to one version of the frequency of use data:






Some of his charts omit the final two letters.  Frye would mark through each letter in the chart with an “X,” and then for some of the lines he would enter a proofreader’s deletion symbol to the right.  Whether or not Frye played this letter-frequency game while he was reading the books into which the slips were inserted is uncertain, but that is one possibility.  Perhaps these two games are simply diversions; perhaps they are related to Frye’s interest in what he called “the alphabet of forms.”  The former may have some connection to the secret name of the seven-day week that Robert Graves deciphers in The White Goddess or one of Graves’s other alphabet riddles.

As for the annotations themselves, one typical form is the shorthand comment that Frye repeatedly used for various reactions: astonishment (“Oh, God”), disappointment that a point isn’t developed or conclusion drawn (“well . . .”), approval (“nice,” “very nice”), bafflement (“huh?”), skepticism “(uh huh”), and mistakes in grammar or diction (“ugh,” “tsk”).  What he meant to convey by two of these brief remarks, “yuh” and “this,” is uncertain.  The latter or some alternate form (“this point,” “here’s this,” “this link,” “this, again”) appears frequently, and it may mean nothing more than nota bene.

The date when Frye annotated a particular book is almost impossible to determine, though occasionally he will provide a clue.  We know, for example, from a notation on p. 16 of The Books of Charles Fort that he read that book in 1952 and that he read Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous when he was sixty-three.  It is clear from the following entry that Frye read Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra first when he was thirty-one and then again ten years later:

What Nietzsche needed was a good-natured affectionate Hausfrau who would make him wipe dishes.  This remark is not merely a small man’s glib revenge on a great one, as all Nietzscheans would automatically say.  Veblen points out that economically productive labour, as distinct from leisure-class swagger, is historically descended from women’s work.  The self-conscious masculinity and overestimate of swagger in N. [Nietzsche] are of course connected; and without this disease N. would have seen the production of art as the keystone of his thought.  Production of art is imgve [imaginative]; production of superman only voluntary.  In his gospel of work even Carlyle was wiser than N., for a time.

[written in darker pencil]  1953.  The notes in lead pencil were written ten years ago, when (a) I read N. in light of Nazism (b) N. was competing with Blake in my mind.  Fortunately, I got only to p. 140.

The last of Frye’s lighter lead-pencil entries is on p. 139.  He went back through his earlier annotations and made a number of additional remarks in the margins of the first 139 pages, and then copiously annotated the rest of the 1100-page book, The Philosophy of Nietzsche (New York: Modern Library, n.d).

Such evidence for the dating of annotations is extremely rare.  And while the copyright dates of the books as they are entered in the Victoria University Library’s list can indicate a point before which Frye could not have annotated a book, these entries do not always provide the date of the edition Frye was actually using.  The edition of A.J. Arberry’s Sufism, for example, is given as 1950, but the edition Frye annotated was the fourth impression of 1968.  Thus the two references to Frye’s student Peter Fisher in the marginalia were written after Fisher’s death in 1958.

Frye marginal markings—the vertical lines, brackets, and parentheses—are interesting to contemplate because they call attention to passages that he felt to be important for some reason or another.  The 166 passages Frye marked in Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World or the 100 passages he marked in Walt Anderson’s Open Secrets: A Western Guide to Tibetan Buddhism would obviously be revealing to someone studying Frye’s interest in Whitehead or Buddhism.  But the most engaging of Frye’s annotations are by far his marginal comments.  Outside of the brief epithets already mentioned, these notes are of two general kinds—brief notes that record some analogue, parallel, or archetype and longer comments, observations, or critiques.  The latter include charts and diagrams Frye occasionally constructs in margins or fly-leaves.

Examples of the short inscriptions are found in A.E. Waite’s The Holy Grail, where Frye records such parallels and themes as these in the margins: “dreams and the anima” (131), “Eros Regained” (137), “demonic parody of incarnation” (155), “antihistorical Yeatsian Christ” (155), “Dante colors” (185), “shape of FQ [Faerie Queene]” (186), “Burnt Norton” (226), “alienation myth” (445), “Yeats” (463), “echo of N.T.” (192), “echoes of Simon Magnus” (191).  Or Frye would jot down various archetypes he recognized in something Waite wrote about: “Enoch archetype” (57), “water of life” (63), “Wandering Jew” (87), “struggle of brothers” (95), “dark tower” (145), “Joseph archetype” (147), “the younger son type” (181), “Exodus archetype” (182), “Eve archetype” (185), “Simeon—archetypal name” (202), and “divine child” (421).  There are thousands of such marginal jottings in Frye’s books.  He seems not at all concerned with remarking on Waite’s purpose or argument or evidence, though he will from time to time make a comment like this one, a response to Waite’s critique of Jessie Weston’s study of the grail myth: Waite “lacks a certain kind of imagination: T.S. Eliot saw what she meant” (434).  A similar series of archetypal parallels and analogues can be found in another of Waite’s books, The Quest of the Golden Stairs (1974), where Frye records more than fifty comments in the margins.

The following list is a sampling of Frye’s marginalia that relate to the idea of interpenetration, and idea that he picked up from Plotinus, Oswald Spengler, Alfred North Whitehead, David Bohm, Owen Barfield, the Mahayana sutras, and elsewhere, and that became for him an important critical principle:

1.  Edward F. Edinger, Ego and Archetype (1973).  Edinger wrote that “the psyche also manifests itself through a multitude of unique, separate centers of being, each of which is a microcosm . . . ‘an absolutely original center in which the universe reflects itself in a unique and inimitable way’ [here Edinger is quoting from Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man].  Frye’s marginal annotation: “point of interpenetration.”

2.  E.R. Eddison, The Worm Ouroboros (1967).  In a scene between Lord Gro and Lady Merrian she asks, pointing a sword at his throat, who and how many are in his company.  Eddison then wrote: “He answered her like a dreamer, ‘How shall I answer thee?  How shall I number them that be beyond all count?  Or how name unto your grace their habitation which are even now closer to me than hand or feet, yet o’er the next instant are able to transcend a main wilder belike them even a starbeam hath journeyed o’er.’”  Frye’s marginal annotation: “interpenetrating spiritual world.”

3.  Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom (1958).  Eliade wrote: “Clearly his situation [the yogin’s] is paradoxical.  For he is in life, yet liberated; he has a body, and yet he knows himself and thereby is peruşa; he lives in duration, yet at the same time shares in immortality; finally, he coincides with all Being, though he but a fragment of it, etc.  But it has been toward the realization of this paradoxical situation that Indian spirituality has tended from its beginnings.  What else are these ‘men-gods’ of whom we spoke earlier, if not the ‘geometric point’ where the divine and the human coincide, as do being and nonbeing, eternity and death, the whole and the part?”  Frye’s marginal annotation: “interpenetrating point.”

4.  José Ortega y Gasset, What is Philosophy (1964).  Ortega wrote that the sciences “must somehow achieve articulation with one another, without one of them holding the other in subjection.  This can only be done by basing themselves anew on philosophy.”  Frye’s marginal annotation: “nonsense.  It can only be done by interpenetration.”

5.  P.D. Ouspensky, The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution (1954).  Oupensky, in a passage about what he calls the “human centers” (intellectual, emotional, instinctive) as they relate to a diagram of the human body (head, chest, lower body and back), wrote, “In reality each center occupies the whole body, penetrates, so to speak, the whole organism.  At the same time, each center has what is called its ‘center of gravity.’”  Frye’s marginal annotation: “interpenetration of a specific number.”

6. Gopi Krishna, Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man (1971).  In the top margin of p. 275 Frye wrote, “language is the ultimate atom or solid unit of experience: breaking through it leads to interpenetration.”

7.  Plotinus, The Enneads.  In sec. V.8, Plotinus wrote: “To ‘live at ease’ is there; and to these divine beings verity is mother and nurse, existence and sustenance; all that is not of process but of authentic being they see, and themselves in all: for all is transparent, nothing dark, nothing resistant; every being is lucid to every other, in breadth and depth; light runs through light.  And each of them contains all within itself, and at the same time sees all in every other, so that everywhere there is all, and infinite the glory.”  Frye’s marginal annotation: “vision of interpenetration.”  In his notebooks one of the passages that Frye frequently pointed in connection with interpenetration—he quotes it in The Double Vision—is the idea that “everything is everywhere at all times.”  Frye encountered this idea in Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World, and in his annotation to that passage in Whitehead’s book Frye wrote: “this doctrine of the universal mirror is a point for me, I think.  The passage is almost identical with Plotinus, V, 8.”

8.  Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949).  Campbell wrote, quoting from Louis Ginzberg’s The Legends of the Jews: “For God did not appear from one direction, but from all simultaneously, which, however, did not prevent his glory from filling the heaven as well as the earth.  In spite of these innumerable hosts there was no crowding on Mt. Sinai, no mob, there was room for all.”  Frye’s marginal annotation: “vision of interpenetration.”

9.  Frye underlined the word “interpenetration” in the following passage from G.R. Levy’s The Phoenix’ Nest: A Study in Religious Transformations (1961): “Beyond all distinctive converse, we come to Interpenetration, which only supervenes completely at the height of vision . . . when all differences between immortal and mortal are seemingly dissolved.”  Levy goes on to say that interpenetration corresponds to Teilhard de Chardin’s Omega point.

10.  Alphonse Louis Constant (pseud. Éliphas Lévi), The History of Magic (n.d.).  Frye marked this passage in a note on p. 102:  “The possibility of communication with those who have left this life is a question of the interpenetration of worlds.  To say that the human spirit departs or comes back is a symbolic expression, like the statement that the heaven is above us.”

11.  G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit (Findlay and Miller ed., 1977).  Hegel wrote that the supersensible world “is itself and its opposite in one unity.”  Frye’s marginal annotation: “interpenetration.”

12.  In his introduction to The Divine Names and The Mystical Theology of Pseudo‑Dionysius the Areopagite (1977), C.F. Rolt wrote: “According to Dr. McTaggart each human soul posses behind its temporal nature a timeless self and each of these timeless selves is an eternal differentiation of the Absolute.  Now if these timeless selves are finite, then none embraces the whole system.  And if that is so, in what does the Spiritual Unity of the whole consist?  If, on the other hand, they are infinite, then each one must embrace the whole System, and if so, how can they remain distinct?”  Frye’s marginal answer to this last question: “interpenetration.”

13.  Francis Huxley, The Way of the Sacred.  Frye extensively annotated two different editions of Huxley’s book (Doubleday, 1974) and (Dell, 1976).  On p. 323 of the Dell edition, Frye underlined “interpenetration” in Huxley’s paragraph about the Gandavyuha Sutra, the thirty-ninth book of the Avatamsaka Sutra, which was another important source in the development of Frye’s understanding of interpenetration.

14.  Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought (1971, Harper trans.).  Heidegger wrote: “Only something that is itself a location can make space for a site.  The location is not already there before the bridge is.”  Frye’s marginal annotation: “interpenetrating world.”

15.  C.G. Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis (1970).  Frye underlined the word “interpenetration” on p. 375.

16.  Charles Poncé, Kabbalah (1973).  Regarding the Kabbalistic speculations of the sixteenth-century alchemist John Dee, Poncé wrote: “the center [of the point of creation], is contained within man as well as within space.”  Frye’s marginalia: “he has a good sense of interpenetration.”  Regarding Ponce’s discussion of “the monad of pure energy” in the concepts at the center of Kabbalistic thought, En-Sof and Sefiroth, Frye wrote “the everything everywhere” in the margin.

What use can be made of Frye’s annotations, the examples of which just outlined are generally limited to those on religion, the occult, the hermetic tradition, alchemy, the Kabbalah, states of consciousness, new age science, Eastern religion, mysticism, and what Frye called his “kook books”?  Those interested in, say Frye’s connection with Dante would be interested in his copious annotations to The Divine Comedy, which have been extensively catalogued (258 pp.) by Nicholas Graham, and will be a part of a forthcoming book, Northrop Frye on Dante, by Graham and Domenico Pietropaolo (Ottawa: Legas).  Frye’s relation to James Joyce and Wallace Stevens, would doubtless profit from examining his edition of the Finnegans Wake and Collected Poems, which are profusely annotated.  The marginalia can add to what we learn from Frye’s notebooks about interests that appear very infrequently in his published work.  When Frye wrote in the margin of Stan Gooch’s Guardians of the Ancient Wisdom, “centrifugally this is crap: centripetally it’s fascinating” (177), the brief comment illuminating.  Gooch’s book is a survey of certain occult themes that he finds in Robert Graves, Margaret Murray, Sir James Frazer, Geoffrey Ashe, and others.  What Frye means is that he is interested in the imaginative use he finds in Gooch’s material, not how it conforms to experience in the ordinary world.  The marginalia have to do with poetic coherence rather than scientific correspondence.  The study of Frye’s annotations is in its early stages: it might well prove to be a valuable resource for Frye studies.

Frye’s annotations contain thousands of examples of what he called “archetype spotting” (Late Notebooks 129, 130, 369, 564–5), which he saw as a danger to be avoided in his writing because it would be seen as a substitute for genuine argument.  By archetype spotting he means the kind of thing that he notes in the books by A.E. Waite catalogued above; or the marginalia in, say, G.R. Levy’s The Gate of Horn, where one finds the following jottings in the chapter on “The Cave as Temple and Tomb”: “threshold,” “terrible mother,” “Virgin or lamb vs. Kali or serpent,” “mouth of hell,” “HS [Holy Spirit],” “sphinx riddle,” “scapegoat for Azazel,” and so on.  But there is a great deal more than archetype spotting in the marginalia, as this final sampler illustrates:

• E.R. Eddison, A Fish Dinner in Memison (1968).  On the last page of the novel: “how anybody could set out this preposterous Vala-vision with such lucidity & still believe it is beyond me.”

• William Ralph Inge, Christian Mysticism (1956): “if only he wasn’t such a fucking priest.  There are no dangerous thoughts.  That’s God-ass-licking” (122).

• George MacDonald, At the Back of the North Wind (1956).  “This would be a better story if it weren’t for all the parsonical crap about providence in nature, symb. by north wind” (267).

• Macrobius, Commentary on the Book of Scipio (Columbia University Press ed., 1952).  “if I could articulate a theory of recovery from projection for all this it would make Л [Rencontre] a pretty important book” (end of chap. 11, 133).

• Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, The Book of Secrets—I: Discourses on “Vigyana Bhairava Tantra” (1977).  Rajneesh wrote: “What are the symptoms of being in love?  Three things: First, absolute contentment.  Nothing else is needed; not even God is needed” (349).  Frye’s marginalia: “The hell it isn’t; I loved like that once & the silly wench fell out of love.  I needed God then, very badly.”

• Gérard de Nerval, Selected Writings (1973).  “the thing is he’s so damn close to something like the Avatamsaka vision” (170).

• Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness (1955).  There is only one annotation in this book, at the end of chap. 1, p. 25: “curious how quickly fashions change in philosophy: this chapter is almost incomprehensible now.  (She says so herself, 43).”

• Charles Williams, Descent into Hell (1979).  On the last page of the novel: “God, what horseshit.  Sickness isn’t damnation, if there is such a thing, and there probably isn’t.”

• Philip Rawson, Tantra: The Indian Cult of Ecstasy (1973).  On Rawson’s account of the male and female principles, Shiva and Shakti, Frye wrote: “Albion & Vala: female as the space around the male; later what’s under him” (18).  On Tantra’s rejection of the tradition of Indian asceticism, Frye wrote: “the ideas of dirt and filth derive from excretion; and what can’t be taken up with us is excreted.  Because the sex organs also excrete, they’ve often been thought of as unredeemable.  They’re the driving force of redemption, as here” (21).

• Stephen Larsen, The Shaman’s Doorway: Opening the Mythic Imagination to Contemporary Consciousness (1977).  In response to Larsen’s comment about validating the myth of the individual,” Frye wrote, “an ind. m. [individual myth] is always a psychosis” (160).  And in response to Larsen’s account of the process of consciousness in the psyche, Frye wrote, “what you want is a Word of God” (174).

The Wisdom of Laotse (1948, trans. Lin Yutang).  In response to Laotse’s epigram that his “teachings are very easy to understand and very easy to practice, / But no one can understand them and no one can practice them,” Frye wrote, “a very brief statement of the essential paradox of the great religions” (297).  At the end of book 4, Frye wrote,

Laotse’s Commentary of Genesis

In the beginning God created heaven and earth.
That was where the trouble started.
Before, there was chaos,
Which is what the wise man still seeks.
He divided light from darkness, dry land from sea,
But we got sea and darkness anyway.
Silly blundering old bugger,
Why couldn’t he have left well enough alone.

• Samuel Alexander, Space, Time, and Deity: The Gifford Lectures, 1916–1918 (1966).  At the end of the introduction, Frye wrote: “This kind of writing reminds me of the British music of the period—Elgar, Holst, Delius.  The connections are as rigorously self-limiting as Mendelssohnian music.  The prior social consciousness from which the individual withdraws is ignored.  The animal context of consciousness, including the subconscious, is ignored.  Here’s my foot.  There’s that stone.  But it’s more languid than the Johnson-Handel culture” (31).

• Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (1973): “death is one of the things the unconscious is unconscious of” (22).  “full humanness includes intelligence and sanctity, both of which are maladjustments” (58).  “recognition of the creature removes the barrier to the spiritual body, and that’s what’s repressed” (87).  “[Becker’s] discussion of Freud entirely personal: discussion of S.K. [Soren Kierkegaard] never even mentions Regina.  If S.K. has the right to resist doubt, what hasn’t Freud the right to resist faith?” (124)

• Louis Pawls and Jacques Bergier, The Morning of the Magicians (1975): “This is an important book for me as it confirms my hunch of a Druid analogy” (185).

• Nicolas Berdyaev, Truth and Revelation (1957).  Diagram on the verso of the back fly-leaf, coordinating the Megillot and the Book of Jonah with Frye’s four “confiscated gods”––the so‑called HEAP scheme:

(S.S. [Song of Songs])

(Eccl [Ecclesiastes])




(Lam. [Lamentations])

• H.P. Blavatsky, An Abridgement of “The Secret Doctrine” (1966).  At the end of the Preface, xxvi: “essence of religion [for Blavatsky] not the Poetic Genius but a doctrine, not the constructing power but something it constructs.”

• C.G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy (1953).  “the end of repeating the experiment of the creation is to be one with Christ’s power of transforming substance (red and white) into his spiritual body” (266).  “this link: the end of alchemy is to give the mind real transforming powers” (267).  “like many writers on occult subjects Jung doesn’t take seriously the dark senex-hermaphrodite world with evil & misery & suffering.  It’s all part of a purely intellectual game with him” (286).  “the prima materia & the ultima materia or perfectum opus are the same thing, & they’re obviously both God, the beginning and the end of the quest” (309).  “thought it crude to be rude, so he keeps his crown on” [comment on an allegorical woodcut of the sun and moon copulating, both wearing only their crowns] (316)

• Martin Buber, Between Man and Man (1961).  “I get the impression that the translator of this book doesn’t understand it” (36).

• George MacDonald, Phantastes: A Fairy Romance for Men and Women (n.d.).  “cycle closing over the point of epiphany.  On my diagram the north door is the fourth one & the door of rebirth south: opposite of Blake & the Beulah tradition” (182).  “island, the Atlantis with its head above the sea, is the restored individuality.  You can only describe your mind in the terms suggested to you, from whatever aspect of the ‘material world’ you’re interested in” (162).  “I built palaces like these at around ten.  Before that the palaces were in underground caves” (94).  “for some reason or other the memory must be the opposite of the past, the mental selection being so largely a matter of self-realization” (83)

• Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-element in Culture (1955).  “The rules of the game include accepting the assumptions of the question.  This in turn is what I call the trumpery show of logic” (114).  “it makes a difference whether play is content or not.  If not, it’s simply construct” (152).  “play contains seriousness: hence seriousness has something to do with content, play with form.  He [Huizinga] seems to associate seriousness with mimesis (form outside)” (190).

• Charles Fort, The Books of Charles Fort (1941).  Frye made copious annotations throughout the 1062 pages of this book.  On the final page, he wrote: “This book is a disappointment.  Partly because he’s a ‘character’ now, and buttonholes and bores; partly because of more references to religion; he can kid me that he knows something of astronomy, but I know he knows bugger-all about religion.  The real trouble is that, like BD [Book of the Dead?], it’s the first essay on a theme that would take three books to work itself out.  Also, of course, his insistence on his relativism gets mechanical.  There are brilliant things in Fort, but he’s no Samuel Butler, I think.”  At the end of a curious introduction by the secretary of the Fortean Society, Frye wrote: “after all, my disciples are even dopier” (xxvi).

• Ernst Cassirer, Essay on Man (1951).  “I suppose that if one differentiated West & East as mathematical & mythical continuum one would make more sense of [F.S.C.] Northrop’s book,” a book from which Cassirer had quoted (217).  “So the historian is the collector of symbolic forms in time; the cultural philosopher collects them in conceptual space.  The latter deals with apocalyptic; the former with the cyclic analogy.  Note the simple pluralism common to Spengler & Cassirer” (178).   “As a historian or critic of philosophy Cassirer’s often very suggestive.  But he’s a bust as a Gurreat [Great] Thinker, and what he says himself about art is mostly horseshit” (170).  “Note that the literal-sigmatic antithesis recurs on a higher level: anagogy is however not a mere disembodied antithesis of archetypal work.  Maybe there’s a sixth factor here [beyond the five levels of the Anatomy], & if so, a seventh—I’ve been groping for two apocalypses, one disembodied but not quite the analogy of innocence” (141).

• Thomas Pynchon, V (1964).  Pynchon wrote: “life’s single lesson: that there is more accident to it than a man can ever admit to in a lifetime and stay sane” (300).  Frye wrote “balls” in the side margin and then added at the top margin, “I think P. [Pynchon] is pretending to endorse this shit, unwilling to admit that his creation is really speaking better than he can.”

• Edward Bulwer Lytton, Zanoni (1906).  Regarding this passage, “My child!  My child!  Thy mother shall save thee yet,” Frye wrote: “Oh, shit.  Why make so much noise?  Mothers are obsessed hysterics.  So what?” (311).

• Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo in The Philosophy of Nietzsche (Modern Library, n.d.).  At the end of sec. 1, Frye wrote, “curious: N’s [Nietzsche’s] attitude toward Z. [Nietzsche had written that Thus Spake Zarathustra was a “sign of the times”] is, psychologically, exactly the same as mine toward FS [Fearful Symmetry].  Except that I have an even greater sense of detachment from it.” (Frye annotated both editions of Thus Spake Zarathustra that he owned.)

• Jacob Boehme, Six Theosophic Points (1958).  “In Boehme, as in Milton, God “begins,” for us, only in epiphany” (Berdyaev’s introduction, xxi).  “I used to call this Ungrund mysticism the deification of the Void, which is apparently just what it is.  I also thought of it as anti-Blakean, but I’m not so sure” (ibid., xxiii).  “Being is the union of the contraries.  Evil is the negation cast out of both” (ibid., xxi).  “And God said let there be light and there was light.  a) Creation is by the Word  b) The Word must be a suffering God  c) The Word withdraws from the first will to ‘recognize’ it as transformed Nothing” (15).  “in Adonis the creature is Narcissus, looking into the mirror; in Eros he (or rather she) becomes the mirror” (19).  “in Boehme creation is not so much a making as an emanation: it’s closer to birth, hence the Thanatos source, but it’s different from that too” (23).  “I suppose this hidden identity is what is occult about occultism” (41).  “his [Boehme’s] Magic is Blake’s imagination, but what his imagination is in Blake, I dunno” (132).  “the Father is what the Son proceeds from: the mother is what it returns to (the same thing)” (142).  And at the top margin of p. 23, this chart:

fire-anguish > light > air & wind > fire flash
Father > Son > Spirit > birth of man
1st pr. [principle] > 2nd pr. > 3rd pr. > 4th form

• William Butler Yeats, Explorations (1962).  “I think my intuition in my 1947 article [“Yeats and the Language of Symbolism”] was correct.  The externalized inspiration of A Vision places Yeats at phase 1, & God appears as a gigantic spider or vampire sucking everything out of man” (405).  “In Plato poetry is eikasia, whereas it ought to be dianoia.  In Blake mathematics are [sic] memory and ought to be imagination.  Yeats does something to convert Blake’s perspective.  What’s abstract about A Vision is not the geometry but the biography” (340).

• Paul Valéry, The Art of Poetry (1958).  “V[aléry] manages to avoid the ‘neo-classical’ return to the ego that produces bureaucratic art like W. Lewis & Pound—art without dignity” (125).

• Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditations (1908).  “Traherne interprets image as similitude, Blake as identity.  Traherne’s view is the core of what’s wrong with Arianism” (195).

• P.D. Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching (1949).  “I suspect that G. [G.I. Gurdjieff, Ouspensky’s teacher] got very little of this, except hints, from ‘schools’ in the Orient.  I think he dredged it out of the level of his mind that remembers all the ‘ancient wisdom.’  If so, finding a teacher & school may not be so essential: it’s another form of the superstition of apostolic succession, which the Viennese quacks have taken over.  The real teacher could just as well be Christ (transmitted for me through Blake), or a book.  This is not to deny the value of teachers & schools where they exist, but when they don’t there’s nothing but the desert & the still small voice” (116).  Regarding what “G.” says about being subordinated to another man’s will,” Frye wrote, “nobody but the risen Christ has such a will.  Every teacher is a courtier, an adviser.  Anyone who wants advice is a prince” (161).  “the principles of the school are certainly the right ones if there have to be schools.  There aren’t any schools, so there must be something wrong with the argument.  If there were schools, organized as the apostolic succession idea, they’d simply follow his own law of octaves & end up biting their arse.  The insistence of a school reads like an obsession.  See pp. 312–13.  I distrust this you-must-have-a-teacher line because (a) at 63 I haven’t found one & probably won’t, so I’m wasting my time reading this (b) it’s a me-or-else line in practice & if I distrust this in the Gospels I certainly distrust it in G.” (237)

• Jessie Weston, From Ritual to Romance (1957).  “When women do get initiated into Mithraism they’re apt to stand under the wrong end of the bull” (end of chap. 12).

• On the last page of Weston’s book, following the list of other Anchor books, Frye constructed two “chain of being” charts:

d. [divine] priest
h. [human] king
a. [animal] shepherd (or horseman]
v. [vegetable] carpenter (or doctor)
m. [mineral] smith
sp [spiritual]
old king h hero
dragon a horse
wasteland v fertile land
chapel perilous m city
sea w [watery world] river > fountains

• Mircea Eliade, The Scared and the Profane (1959).  “You can’t advance an inch spiritually from superstition without accepting the total profanity of space and so isolating (‘inside’) the sacral feeling.  Doesn’t he know that?” (23).

• At the end of The Sacred and the Profane, Frye sets down these charts of sixteen of Shakespeare’s comedies and romances (omitting Troilus and Cressida):

AY [As You Like It] TN [Twelfth Night] LL [Love’s Labour’s Lost] MV [The Merchant of Venice]
MND [A Mids. Night’s Dream] CE [Comedy of Errors] MA [Much Ado about Nothing] MW [ Merry Wives of Windsor]
TGV [Two Gentlemen of Verona] (P) [Pericles] AW [All’s Well that Ends Well] TS [The Taming of the Shrew]
WT [The Winter’s Tale]

T [The Tempest] MM [Measure for Measure] Cy [Cymbeline]

6.  TN, LL
5.  T, WT, CE
4.  MV, MA
3.  MV, MND, AY, TGV
2.  TS, AW
1.  MM

• On the back fly-leaf of The Sacred and the Profane Frye constructs an outline for the “Third Book,” the book he intended to write after Anatomy of Criticism:

I.Continuous Fictional Forms
          1. Scripture and Scared Books; Encyclopaedic Forms
          2. Romance: Naïve
          3. Epic
          4. Mimetic Fiction
          5. Ironic Fiction and the Return to Myth
II. Episodic Fictional Forms
          1. Genres of Drama
          2. Comedy (“spring equinox”)
          3. Epiphanic Romance (“summer solstice”)
          4. Tragedy (“autumn equinox”)
          5. Epiphanic Irony (“winter solstice”)
III. Continuous Thematic Forms
          1. Myth and Concept
          2. The Informing of Theology
          3. The Informing of History
          4. The Informing of Metaphysics
          5. The Informing of Law and the Social Sciences
IV. Episodic Thematic Forms (Lyric)
          [here the outline is left blank]

• Another book outline, this one for a book on the Bible, is found on the back fly-leaf of Yeats’s A Vision, two different editions of which Frye annotated.  This is from the 1956 Macmillan edition:

1.  Introduction: Purpose and Scope
2.  The Up & Down Cycle, the Messianic prototypes, etc.
3.  The Messianic hero: four stages
          3a.  Mysterious origin
          3b.  Emergence, SS [Song of Songs], Ruth
          3c.  Defeat & death
          3d.  Culbute triumph: Esther
4.  The Psalms & the theme of coronation
5.  The story of Israel and of Christ
6.  The Christian Apocalyptic
7.  The Parousia [opposite?]
8.  Job
9.  Ecclesiastes
10.  Apocrypha—Word in the Heart

• Martin Heidegger, What Is Called Thinking? (1972).  “N’s [Nietzsche’s] cycle and Calvin’s pred. [predestination] are the two insane views of modern times.  Calvin’s sanity is a problem” (110).

• Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought (1975).  “Heidegger seems to live in that world of Borges where there are no nouns, only verbs” (202).

• Ursula Le Guin, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters (1976).  Regarding the first short story in this collection, Frye wrote: “straightforward story of earth-spirits on a different time clock: Why does one need another planet?  If this is science fiction so is Rip Van Winkle.”

• One of the more expansive of Frye’s marginalia is Lady Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji, two different editions of which Frye annotated.  The paragraphs that follow are from the 1957 Allen and Unwin edition of this long novel (1135 pp.):

The title “dwellers above the clouds” indicates that courtiers were thought of, & wished to be thought of, as leading a severe & untroubled life of pleasure & privilege.  Murasaki shows them as spoiled, frustrated, and boring each other (with the women often quite literally) to death.  Is the brutal selfishness of the men something she accepts as a datum of life, or something she is satirizing?  The latter by implication, certainly.  (46)

Interesting to know if the original has anything of the Virginia Woolfish quality of the translation. (81)

Genji reminds me of the flower known as the red-hot poker.  If I were a Japanese I could make a poem out of that. (108)

When night lets fall her sable hood

How may one know which dame one scrood? (153)

The most startling feature of this wonderful story is the sense of social security—no reference to torture, imprisonment, beatings, violence, executions, or even war.  In the court, life is like a modern university: when the emperor gets bored with emperoring he just quits, with no questions or upsets.  Murasaki makes it clear that this security extends only to a stratospherically elevated group, but within that group, civilization is complete. (184)

The story is realistic in the sense that nothing supernatural or incredible (in her terms) occurs & in the sense that all human foibles & weaknesses are fully displayed.  But there’s another feature that makes it a romance in my sense—or one of my senses.  That’s her acceptance, not of her own society only, but of that society’s idealized picture of itself.  People who are socially the best people, in other words, really are the best people.  The exact degree of a girl’s beauty (except for Kiritsubo) depends primarily on her heredity, like a knight’s chivalry in Malory. (184).

The jealous mistress Rukujo sets up a Ligeia pattern, killing Yugao & Aoi by projecting a part of herself & bewitching them.  She even speaks through them just as Ligeia does.  After her death she becomes more formidable, a prowling ghoul who seizes on Murasaki.  Yugao is a sleeping beauty archetype: the incarnate dream of the perfect mistress discovered in a completely isolated spot.  (Not completely isolated: she’d already been discovered by Genji’s brother-in-law, who’d had a child by her, but that doesn’t bother Genji: he just wants to adopt the child.  Civilized buggers.)  (359)

There’s a growing sense of bondage as the story proceeds.  The structure is less obviously teleological than that of a Western story: the metaphor of a horizontal [indecipherable word] picture is more than just an analogy.  The reader is almost unaware of the rigidity of Japanese etiquette in the first volume.  Genji is like the sun (I don’t know how much can be forced into his name Hikaru) who sees and [warms?] everyone.  Wherever he goes, women strip, and wait, panting.  But towards the end even Genji runs his head into screens, and the sense of barriers is all over the Kaoru section.  Barriers are an obsession with Kaoru himself, and with Niow the emphasis is thrown on the hampering of an emperor’s son.  What takes over, as people get increasingly bored with themselves and their amusements, is religion, in its completely anti-worldly monastic form. (538)

The disappearance & pretended death of Ukifune (“floating boat”) introduces another archetype, treated with ironic inconclusiveness.  The incident that looks like a comic gimmick turns out to be a means of clinching the sense of ironic frustration increasing throughout the story.  The end is a technical device permitting further continuity—touch of the primitive endless form—but a perfect end in itself.  Ukifune, who’s practically a schizophrenic, is a reborn daughter & mistress, but the final recognition scene, with a young brother adroitly introduced, is left suspended with an irony that reverses the perspective.  Ukifune is not dead to the world in any spiritual sense: she’s just dead; but the growing sense of unreality about the world of desire and the final feeling that the story really is endless, gives [sic] us a final aerial view with the dream of human life becoming an abstract pattern underneath. (937)

Murasaki makes considerable use of displaced characters, which are sometimes rationalized by conceptions of Karma & reincarnation.  Thus a character, generally a woman, will replace or double for an earlier character whom she greatly resembles—Ukifune’s relation to the dead Agemaki. (938)

Thus Genji is the son of the Emperor and his dearly loved concubine Kiritsubo.  After her death, the Emperor tries to console himself with Fujitsubo, who resembles her: Genji has a son by her supposed to be the Emperor’s.  That’s straight Oedipus displacement.  The little girl Murasaki is adopted by Genji because she reminds him of her aunt and his mistress.  The minute the poor youngster’s vagina is big enough to hold him, in he pops, and later on when Genji’s son Yugiri sees her by accident (normally young son’s are kept away from their father’s women) he falls in love with her.  This in itself comes to nothing, but Genji’s second wife has a bastard by someone else, tying up the Oedipus pattern very symmetrically. (938)

If Frye were to have written an essay on The Tale of Genji the essential core could well have comes from these notes.  Similar marginalia still lie hidden in the books in Frye’s library.

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