Author Archives: Bob Denham

Ron Schoeffel

Ron Schoeffel

It is with great sadness that those in the extended Frye community learned of the death of Ron Schoeffel on July 4. Ron, a long-time member of the staff of the University of Toronto Press, was the editor of the Collected Works of Northrop Frye. It was under his steady hand that the 30-volume Collected Works of Northrop Frye were published, beginning in 1996, at the rate of two per year. Ron also initiated the great Erasmus project at the U of T Press, an account of which can be read in Robert Fulford’s column here, and he was also the editor of the U of T Press’s Bernard Lonergan series. My first contact with Ron was in the mid-1980s while working on the Frye bibliography. Then in the 1990s and following there were countless communications back and forth as the various volumes of the Frye Collected Works made their way into print. It was to Ron that I turned over the typescript of the Frye-Kemp correspondence in 1994 as we sat in President Eva Kushner’s office, when the vision of a collected works was beginning to take shape. Ron was always the consummate professional, while at the same time being a warm, caring, fun-loving human being. The last words I heard Ron say were at the Frye conference at Victoria College last fall, when he reported that his wife was the only person he knew who had ever been trapped in an elevator with Northrop Frye. Perhaps someone knows about a second chapter to the elevator story. We will all miss Ron greatly.

Ron’s obituary can be found at here.

Helen Kemp Frye’s Writings on Art

Helen Kemp Frye’s Writings on Art

An E‑Book

Compiled and edited by Robert D. Denham


Iron Mountain Press

Emory, Virginia



 Before enrolling in Victoria College, Helen Kemp had studied at the Danard and Hambourg Conservatories of Music and from the latter earned an associate diploma.  The reviews of her performances while she was a conservatory student recognize her considerable talent as a pianist.  She was no less interested in art.  During her first year at Riverdale Collegiate Institute, where she received the highest standing in the first eight forms, she took part in the Saturday morning classes at the Ontario College of Art.  Before enrolling at Victoria, Kemp had entertained the idea of specializing in art.  This was an interest fostered by her father, who, early in his career, had been an associate of Arthur Lismer and Tom Thomson.  Kemp’s letters to Frye contain a number of whimsical line-drawings, but even the best of these hardly suggest the genuine talent she had as an illustrator, which is revealed in the sketch-books that have been preserved and in the map she drew of the University of Toronto campus.  The latter is a genuine tour de force.  Although she never pursued drawing as a career, art, especially practical art, remained a central interest throughout her life.  When she was a young woman, this interest developed in the direction of art education, and in the letters from the mid-1930s we see the role played by Arthur Lismer, who was educational supervisor at the Art Gallery of Toronto, in launching her career in adult education at the Art Gallery of Toronto.

At the initiative of Lismer, Kemp had become an assistant at the gallery in Toronto during the second week of October 1933.  He had learned that the Canadian Committee, established by the Carnegie Corporation to study the problems of Canadian museums, wanted to train recent university graduates for museum work.  The plan had two phases: students were to gain experience at local museums and then be sent to the Courtauld Institute at the University of London and to galleries on the continent for further study.  Lismer, recognizing Kemp’s potential as an art educator, hired her for the first phase at the Art Gallery of Toronto and then recommended that she continue her museum training at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

In January 1934, Kemp applied to H.O. McCurry, secretary of the Canadian Committee, for an eight-month apprenticeship.  Her application was approved, and in February she spent one week in Ottawa assisting Kathleen Fenwick, curator of prints and drawings at the National Gallery, in lecturing on an exhibition of nineteenth-century painting.  She then returned to Toronto, where she finished her thesis on “The Educational Work of an Art Museum,” and busied herself for the next month with the activities of the art gallery—lecturing on Holbein, conducting classes for a French exhibition, assisting Lismer with his Thursday morning study classes, doing clerical work, and in general familiarizing herself with the operation of the gallery.

In the fall of 1934 Kemp began her study in London at the fledgling Courtauld Institute.  The Courtauld had been founded at the University of London in 1931.  It offered courses for the B.A. honours degree and the academic diploma in both art history and archaeology, as well as for the M.A. and Ph.D.  The Courtauld had a skeletal full-time faculty—the director, W.G. Constable, and four additional teachers.  Most of the lectures and classes, in fact, were given by outside scholars, many of whom were from the museums and galleries in London.  Kemp had some difficulty adjusting to the British form of academic life.  “I don’t like the utter and absolute isolation of one group from another,” she wrote to Frye, adding that “there is hardly any social intercourse among the students.”   On the advice of Geoffrey Webb, her tutor, Kemp soon gave up on attending lectures, which she found exceedingly dull, and spent her time instead going to galleries, museums, and churches.  “I am beginning to get a pretty fair idea of the nature of Gothic architecture,” she wrote, but her knowledge came primarily, not from tutorials, lectures, or books, but from visits to Canterbury and Southwark, Westminster Abbey, and the Temple Church.

One little episode reveals Kemp’s typical attitude toward her program of study: in October 1934 she initially planned to attend a lecture by Bernard Ashmole on Egyptian archaeology, but when she discovered that Albert Schweitzer was the same night giving a lecture entitled “Religion in Modern Civilization,” she abandoned Ashmole, whom she knew was going to be dull, and rushed off to hear Schweitzer.  She sent Frye an extensive summary of his lecture.

On the whole, Kemp was rather casual about her course at the Courtauld.   She spent her first two months “fluttering about,” and when she did turn her attention to learning some art history, she became anxious about being able to accomplish the task in one year.  “I’m almost afraid of June coming the day after to-morrow,” she fretted in a letter to Frye, “and so much to be done.  But all one’s life is like that, and if they expect me to have anything more than the mere beginning of a taste for sculpture and painting in eight months, they are indulging in rather fond delusions.”  She had her moments of confidence, as when she reported that her papers “on a general outline of art history . . . would shame any yankee college for scope.”  When she finally got around to meeting with Constable, he told her that her work has been “excellent.”  But on the whole, Kemp’s year at the Courtauld lacked focus: she was doing little more, she writes to Frye, than “tucking in a fair amount of information in a quiet way, not worrying, because I can’t be bothered.”  Part of the problem was that she received no guidance.  Webb, her tutor, hadn’t the slightest idea of what she was doing, which made her skeptical of Constable’s praise, and she lamented the complete absence of any counsel: “We haven’t had any supervision all term and no essays to write as Webb is too busy or too lazy to read them and always postpones his session with us.”  Two weeks before her exams Kemp remarked that she is “at last getting some idea of what this course is about,” but by then it is too late for her to fill her head with the kinds of information her examiners wanted.

On 20 March 1935, Kemp set out with a fellow student for Italy, spending three weeks in Rome, Tivoli, Orvieto, Assisi, Perugia, and Arezzo and three weeks in Florence.  After returning to London in May, she devoted the next month to preparing, somewhat half-heartedly, for her exams, which she wrote on 17–18 June.   A month later, after an interlude in Brussels where she represented the Art Gallery of Toronto at a conference of the British Museums Association, she learned that she has failed her exams, and she wrote broken-heartedly to Frye: “Exam results came out to-day.  I failed.  It looks pretty grim, written like that, but there it is.  And I’m not doing any howling.  I feel like a general after a lost battle, but I’m all ready for the next one. . . . I don’t feel ashamed or degraded or any damned thing at all, for I haven’t time to waste now.  But I have wondered what you would think.  And that has been my worst disappointment.  If this makes any difference to you I shall just fade out of the picture so far as you are concerned.  It may be better that way.  I will not have you marrying a stupid woman.”  In his reply Frye proposed to Kemp that her “mental outlines don’t altogether fit those of an exam, which places such a premium on glibness and assumes that brilliance is the most valuable of intellectual qualities.  First-rate people don’t do things brilliantly, they do them readily; and I think that this will make you much more clear-eyed and self-assured and take a lot more of the flutter and splutter and gawkiness out of your work than the most meteoric examination success could possibly have done.”  The next day he cabled her, “FORTUNES OF WAR CHEER UP AND SHUT UP LOVE.”   Years later Frye remarked that Kemp “cherished [this telegram] all her life—I think of it as the best literary effort of my writing career.”

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Frye and Colin Still

[William Hogarth, The Tempest, ca. 1735.]

The following paper was delivered at “Educating the Imagination: A Conference in Honour of Northrop Frye on the Centenary of His Birth,” October 4th – 6th 2012, Victoria University in the University of Toronto.



Robert D. Denham

In Anatomy of Criticism Frye notes that critics often break forth into an “oracular harrumph” when they encounter references to alchemy, the Tarot, or Rosicrucianism.  Even today, one encounters readers here and there, having discovered that Frye thought highly of Colin Still’s book on The Tempest or that he had read some esoteric work, recoiling in amazement, as if it automatically followed that Frye was a card‑carrying member of some mystery cult or was engaging in the ritual practices of Freemasonry.

In the late 1970s I was invited to a party in Toronto by a friend at York University, where the assembled party‑goers turned out to be McLuhanites.  When they discovered that I had an interest in Frye, they began to pepper me with questions about his having been a Mason.  I naturally asked what evidence they had for this claim, but none was forthcoming, their assumption being that this was common knowledge.  The rumor, apparently, was initiated by Marshall McLuhan, or at least perpetuated by him.  McLuhan’s biographer Philip Marchand writes that McLuhan “certainly never abandoned his belief that his great rival in the English department of the University of Toronto, Northrop Frye, was a Mason at heart, if not in fact” (Marshall McLuhan, 105).  In a later book review Marchand removes the qualification, saying flatly that “McLuhan thought Frye was a Mason” (“Frye’s Diaries”).  He goes on to say that it’s no wonder that McLuhan suspected that Frye was a Mason because he was interested in the occult, used diagrams, and, most damning of all––get this––took Colin Still’s Shakespearean criticism seriously.

“Colin Still,” Marchand declares, “was a crackpot,” whose book on The Tempest “[m]ost academics would have been embarrassed to be seen reading.”  All this gets picked up by Maclean’s blogger Colby Cosh, who does Marchand one better: “McLuhan . . . despised Frye because he thought he was dabbling in dark occultic forces and perhaps messing about with Freemasonry. . . . Marchand has discovered a new and major source for Frye’s thinking in Colin Still, a hitherto undistinguished flake who believed The Tempest was a disguised representation of some sort of pagan initiation rite.”

Although Frye occasionally comments on Freemasonry,[ii] there is not a shred of evidence that he was a Mason or ever entertained the slightest thought of becoming one.  As for Still’s being a “crackpot” and an “undistinguished flake,” no less a critical intelligence than R.S. Crane speaks of the “pioneering work” of Still in reading Shakespeare allegorically, discovering in the play “the double theme of purgation from sin and of rebirth and upward spiritual movement after sorrow and death” (132).  Peter Dawkins refers to Still as an “eminent scholar” (xxv), and Michael Srigley has defended Still’s thesis.  In a detailed examination of Still’s argument, Michael Cosser says, “Certainly it is not stretching credulity to see a close parallel between the play and what can be pieced together from classical sources as to the training received in the Mystery-centers of old.”  In his study of the sacerdotal features of The Tempest Robert L. Reid takes seriously Still’s view that the play is a “universal purgatorial allegory.”  Howard Nemerov calls Shakespeare’s Mystery Play an “interpretive masterpiece” (470).  These critics, like Bishop Warburton before them, are far from being crackpots and flakes.  In the eighteenth century Warburton, as both Still and Frye were aware, had proposed the theory that book 6 of the Aeneid––the descent to the underworld––corresponds to the ancient rites of initiation.[iii]  In other words, observations about parallels between literary works and Greek initiation rites had been around for some time: noting such parallels was a common critical practice.

Still’s books, listed in all the bibliographies, were also celebrated by the distinguished Shakespearean G. Wilson Knight, who calls Shakespeare’s Mystery Play an “important landmark” (Shakespeare and Religion, 201).  As an undergraduate at Victoria College, Frye had known Knight, who taught at Trinity College at the University of Toronto in the 1930s.[iv]  T.S. Eliot referred to Still in his preface to Knight’s The Wheel of Fire,[v] and it is possible that Frye ran across this reference even before he checked Still’s book out of the Toronto Public Library during his sophomore year––the same year that The Wheel of Fire was published (1930).  In The Wheel of Fire Knight writes, “Since the publication of my essay, my attention has been drawn to Mr. Colin Still’s remarkable book Shakespeare’s Mystery Play . . . .  Mr. Still’s interpretation of The Tempest is very similar to mine.  His conclusions were reached by a detailed comparison of the play in its totality with other creations of literature, myth, and ritual throughout the ages” (16).[vi]  Knight regards Still’s book as confirmation (“empirical proof,” he says) of his own view that The Tempest is a mystical work (ibid.).  A year later Knight wrote that his view of The Tempest

is most interestingly corroborated by a remarkable and profound book by Mr. Colin Still, Shakespeare’s Mystery Play. . . . Mr. Still analyses The Tempest as a work of mystic vision, and shows that it abounds in parallels with the ancient mystery cults and works of symbolic religious significance throughout the ages.  Especially illuminating are his references to Virgil (Aeneid, VI) and Dante.  His reading of The Tempest depends on references outside Shakespeare, whereas my interpretation depends entirely on references to the succession of plays which The Tempest concludes.  We thus reach our results by quite different routes: those results are strangely––and, after all, I believe, not strangely––similar.”  (“Mystic,” 67–8)

Because they have no sense of allegory and no sense of the difference between the reading of a text and the use to which that reading is put, Marchand and friends will doubtless continue to dismiss the interpretations of Still, Knight, and Frye, though one wishes that their dismissals had been based on actually having read what Frye and Still had to say about the parallels between Shakespeare and ancient myth and ritual.

Still’s allegorical interpretation of The Tempest seeks to demonstrate four things: that The Tempest has the same form as the medieval miracle and mystery plays, that it is an allegorical account “of those psychological experiences” referred to by the mystics as initiation, that its features are like those of the ritual and ceremonial rites of initiation, and that these resemblances are “consistent and exact” (8–9).  His method is a comparative one: he works out the analogies between The Tempest and myths and rituals of the past.  In this regard Still’s work stems from the work of the so‑called “Cambridge school,” which, following the publication of the final edition of Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough in 1915, gave shape to the ritual view of drama.  These scholars––most prominently Frazer himself, Jane Ellen Harrison, F.M. Cornford, Gilbert Murray, and E.K. Chambers––produced book after book applying the ritual view of drama to Greek culture.  Colin Still, therefore, is not some eccentric on the margins of the literary establishment.  He belongs to a very large group of critics who have expanded our view of literature by applying the myth and ritual approach.  This group would include Jessie Weston, F.M. Cornford, Lord Ragland, Gertrude Levy, Joseph Campbell, Francis Fergusson, Theodor Gaster, C.L. Barber, Herbert Weisinger, O.B. Hardison, and of course Frye himself, to name some of the most prominent.  The point is that in the field of literary criticism Still is very much an establishment figure.  Thus, we need not concern ourselves overmuch with Marchand’s dismissive judgments, other than to say a little learning is a dangerous thing.   But if Frye and Still belong in the same general critical matrix, it is perhaps worthwhile to explore the connections between them and to consider the reasons that Frye was attracted to Still’s reading of The Tempest.

First of all, Still played an important role in what Frye called his ogdoad––an eight-book vision that he used as a kind of road map for his life’s work.  As with all of his organizing patterns, the ogdoad was never a rigid outline, but it did correspond to the chief divisions in his conceptual universe over the years.  Throughout his notebooks he repeatedly uses a code to refer to the eight books he planned to write.  The original plan was actually eight concerti he dreamed of writing––a dream he had at age nine.  At about the same time, after reading Scott’s novels, he imagined writing a sequence of historical novels, and after he had made his way through Dickens and Thackeray, this modulated into “a sequence of eight definitive novels.”  When he was fourteen, each of these novels acquired a one-word descriptive name (Liberal, Tragicomedy, Anticlimax, Rencontre, Mirage, Paradox, Ignoramus, and Twilight), and these names, along with their symbolic codes, remained with Frye over the years, appearing hundreds of times in his notebooks as a shorthand designation for his books, both those completed and those anticipated.  In the 1940s the eight books were reduced to what Frye called his Pentateuch, but they expanded shortly after that into the eight once again.

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中国连接: The China Connection

The popularity of Frye in Italy has been occasionally remarked.  Three or four years ago I posted on the Fryeblog an account of Frye’s Italian connection; it can be found at  The Italians have translated eighteen of Frye’s books, beginning in 1969.  It was not until almost thirty years later (1998) that the first Chinese translation of a Frye book appeared, and in the course of a dozen years since then the Chinese have translated ten of Frye’s books: Anatomy of Criticism (three different translations), The Educated Imagination, Creation and Recreation, The Well‑Tempered Critic, The Modern Century, The Critical Path, The Secular Scripture, The Great Code, Words with Power, and Selected Essays.  The growing academic interest in Frye’s work in China is a phenomenon not matched by any other country.

The late Wu Chizhe of Inner Mongolia University was involved either as a translator or annotator for six of the Chinese translations.  My sense is that he, Wang Ning, and Ye Shuxian have had more to do than anyone else in making the Chinese people aware of Frye’s work.  Wu was a participant at the first Chinese symposium on Frye’s criticism at Peking University in 1994, organized by Wang Ning, and Wu directed the second international conference held in 1999 at Inner Mongolia University, where he served as head of the Canadian Studies Center.  Ye, who has written extensively about Frye and myth‑archetypal criticism since the mid‑1980s, was a participant at both conferences.  A selection of papers from the first conference was published in Chinese, and from the second, in English.

The academic interest in Frye’s work as measured by the articles written by Chinese about his criticism didn’t really begin until the 1980s.  The indexes record seven articles during that decade.  Since then, the number of Chinese articles has increased at a geometric rate.  In the 1990s there were 38 articles, and in the first decade of the present century, 101.  That trend is continuing in the current decade: from 2010 through 2012 there have been 38 articles either about Frye’s theory or relying on it to produce essays in practical criticism.

For a number of years I have been keeping track of the M.A. theses and Ph.D. dissertations that are either about Frye or apply his principles to literary works.  These records reveal that the first Chinese theses (that is, those written in Chinese) did not appear until 2000, two years after the first translation of Frye into Chinese––Anatomy of Criticism.  During the years 2001 through 2005, 23 more appeared.  At that point a rather extraordinary increase manifests itself.  For the years 2006 to the present I have recorded 158 Chinese theses and dissertations, which represents almost 47% of all theses and dissertations written during this period.  The vast majority of these are M.A. theses, and for those devoted to practical criticism, there seems to exist, to judge from the tables of contents, a kind of template that begins with an effort to define mythical and archetypal criticism and then seeks out the archetypal characters, themes, and narratives in particular literary works, mostly Western.  Michael Sinding instructed us several weeks ago on the blog about Brian McHale’s neglecting to mention Frye’s contribution to the study of narrative.  The Chinese certainly haven’t been so remiss.  Here is a sampler of thesis titles, translated from Chinese:

The Narrative Structure of “Silas Marner.”  Hebei University

Virginia Woolf’s Feminist Subversion of the Comic Narrative Form. Xiangtan University

The Narrative and Thematic Archetypes in “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”  Northeast Forestry University

The Archetypal Characters, Themes, and Narrative of Saul Bellow’s “Herzog.”  Hebei Normal University

The Cyclical Narrative Art of “The Great Gatsby.”  Heilongjiang University

On the Biblical U‑shaped Narrative Mode on “Lord of the Rings.”  Beijing Language and Culture University

The Modern Pursuit of the Truth: Archetypal Narrative and Imagery in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Zhengzhou University

The Pursuit of the Freedom of the Road: Archetypal Narrative and Imagery in John Fowles’s “The French Lieutenant’s Woman.”  Qufu Normal University

The number of Chinese theses and dissertations on Frye since 2000 has averaged 15 per year.  It will be interesting to see whether in graduate education in China this trend continues.  In the 1990s the Chinese government began pouring money into higher education.  It was shortly after that that the academic interest in Frye began to accelerate.  Before 1990 it would not have made much sense to talk about a Chinese interest in Frye, but two decades later, as the data just summarized indicate, that is no longer the case.  There are close to 2000 colleges and universities in mainland China, and from 2002 to 2008 the number of Chinese doctoral students quadrupled.   Some 19 million students are enrolled in Chinese institutions of higher learning.   Several years back Terry Eagleton asked the rhetorical question, “Who Now Reads Frye?”  Among the Chinese the answer is a considerable and an increasing number.  Is China becoming a fertile field for Frye studies?  Or, to switch metaphors, might it be that Frye’s star is rising in the East?

Frye Scoop: On Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago

The following review by Frye, overlooked for the Collected Works, appeared under the “Turning New Leaves” column of the Canadian Forum 38 (December 1958): 206–7.  Frye reviews Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, trans. Max Hayward and Mania Harari (London: Collins and Harvill Press).

Reading this book is quite an experience; reviewing it, for one who knows no Russian, is an exercise in frustration.  It is abundantly clear that it is more of an epic poem than a novel.  The two main attributes of the conven­tional novel, vitality of character drawing and logicality of plot, are hardly present at all.  The story is a series of detached episodes connected by the most preposterous coincidences.  Characters wander in and out, or die and come back to life under other names. Only the incidental char­acters are described with much vividness, while the main figures loom up as cloudily as the heroes of Ossian.  But all the time we are aware that some different principle of unity is holding the book together, a principle based, as in most poetry, on the imagery, and on the symbolic values attached to that imagery.  It is not the picture of the revolution and civil war that organizes the narrative; it is the meaning that the author gives to such figures as the caryatids on a building, to iced rowanberries and lilacs, to the weeping face of the heroine Lara, to a waterfall that is associated with the dragon of a knight-errant romance, to the Siberian forest and its wolves, to the incessant references to the festivals of the Church, especially Christmas and Easter.  The author himself says that his hero was a poet interested in the tech­niques of symbolisme, because it is based on the principle “that communion between mortals is immortal, and that the whole of life is symbolic because the whole of it has meaning.”  A series of poems at the end, supposedly by Zhivago, provide the symbolic keys to the story.  But nobody can unravel this kind of writing except in the original language.  The translators do their best, but candidly admit that their translation has been done in a hurry and that it makes no attempt to give much more than the general sense.  What follows is consequently very tentative, and is designed only to encourage others to read the book for themselves.

The story itself is simple enough.  Yury Zhivago, whose father’s suicide starts the book off, is brought up in Czarist Russia and studies medicine.  He is also a poet, but does not regard poetry as a profession.  Drafted as a medical officer in the First World War, he sees the revolution bring unparalleled social chaos to Moscow, where he lives, and sets out with his wife and family to a village in the Urals.  There he manages, through the charity of an old friend, to live on the land for a while, though his emotional life is complicated by the reappearance of a girl he had known from childhood, Lara, now married to a non-party revolu­tionary whose new name is Strelnikov.  In the civil war Zhivago is kidnapped by the Reds because of his medical knowledge, and spends some years with the partisans in incredible hardship and misery, while his family make their way back to Moscow, whence they are exiled from the country.  Released at last, Zhivago goes back to the Ural village and has a brief and beleaguered affair with Lara, until it becomes obvious that Lara and her husband are next on the shooting list.  A middle-age roué named Komarovsky, who had debauched Lara in her youth and who is one of those greased eels that can wriggle through any society, communist or bourgeois, takes Lara off to the “Far Eastern Republic” in East Siberia, while Strelnikov shoots himself and Zhivago goes back to Moscow, a broken man.  Zhivago dies of a heart attack in a Moscow street car, and Lara, back from the Far East, disappears into “one of the in­numerable mixed or women’s concentration camps in the north.”  An epilogue, dated during the Second World War, says that “a presage of freedom was in the air throughout these post-war years, and it was their only historical meaning.”  Thus the book ends in a mood of serenity and hope.  We, of course, know that it has a second epilogue.

Doctor Zhivago is not by any means an anti-Red polemic, and it is only the terrified Soviet bureaucrats who have made it one.  In this country, where it is assumed that it is part of the job of a serious novelist to make serious criticisms of his society; it would hardly have raised a ripple or real controversy.  Zhivago was, like Pasternak himself, a grown man when the revolution began, and hence feels detached from the struggle to the extent of not accepting the official version of it as a crude melodrama of heroes and villains.  “It’s only in bad novels,” the author remarks, “that people are divided into two camps and have nothing to do with each other.  In real life everything gets mixed up.”  But he makes it clear that however brutal and savage the Reds were, the Whites were far worse, as, like all Fascists, they added sexual sadism to ordinary brutality.  Pasternak merely says what the communists themselves would say, in other and more carefully controlled contexts, that the real revolution, the bringing of freedom and equality to man, has not yet begun.  Also, like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky before him, though in a way quite different from either, he is comparing the Russian society of his time with the vision of life set out in the Christian Gospel.

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Frye Scoop: A Newly Discovered Old Review


[Portrait of George Herbert by Robert White,  1674]

The following review by Frye of books by Rosamond Tuve and Douglas Bush was overlooked in the several bibliographies of Frye’s writing I have compiled over the years.  It is therefore not included in volume 28 of The Collected Works of Northrop Frye, Writings on Shakespeare and the Renaissance.   I stumbled across a reference to the review when I was doing a database search for something else.  The review appeared sixty years ago in Renaissance News 6, nos. 3–4 (Autumn–Winter 1953): 46-8.

Rosemond Tuve. A Reading of George Herbert, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953, 216 p., 17 pl. $5.

 Douglas Bush. Classical Influences in Renaissance Literature.  (Martin Classical Lectures, Vol. XIII) Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press (for Oberlin College), 1952. 60 p. $1.50.

 Miss Tuve’s reading of George Herbert is concerned largely with the scriptural typology in his poetry.  She shows that Herbert is unintelligible without some understanding of the tradition of allegorizing Scripture which had become incorporated in the liturgy and which can be found almost anywhere one looks in Herbert’s period: in sermons, in hymns, in the books of hours, in stained-glass windows, in patristic writings, breviaries, glosses and commentaries.  She has laid particular stress on pictorial analogues, and the book is handsomely illustrated in conse­quence.  She is not out for source-hunting: her primary aim is to explain the grammar of the language that Herbert spoke.

The assumption that the Bible is one book, rigidly unified in its sym­bolism, is primary in the typological tradition, and so is the Augustinian principle that the Old Testament is revealed in the New and the New concealed in the Old.  It follows that every significant event in the Old Testament typifies the Incarnation, notably the Exodus, the deliverance of God’s people from bondage, which is the keystone of Old Testament symbolism.  Miss Tuve shows how such an approach to the Bible clears up Herbert’s use of such images as the Jordan, Joseph’s coat, Naaman, Melchizedek, and the like, and how the use of a Biblical image echoes all the Biblical uses of that image.  Thus the vine carried out of the Promised Land typifies Christ the true vine; the cross links with the forbidden tree of Eden and the brazen serpent of the wilderness, the winepress of Isaiah with the blood of Christ, and so on.

The first half of the book deals with the poem ‘The Sacrifice,’ and takes as its starting point the relation of the poem to the liturgy of the Improperia, the ‘Reproaches’ of Good Friday.  It is also concerned with Empson’s analysis of the poem in Seven Types of Ambiguity, and illustrates the deficiencies of a criticism which deals only with the linguistic surface of a poem, without knowing its real language, the language that is rooted in convention and cultural tradition.  A good deal of Empson’s criticism, especially his remarks about ‘jokes’ and the like, springs from the clichés about the metaphysical style that we have inherited from Johnson’s Life of Cowley.  The notion that Herbert is a metaphysical poet of this type was not Johnson’s, and is not Miss Tuve’s: she shows that in many respects Herbert belongs solidly to the allegorical school.

The book is of great value for the study of Herbert, and of even greater value if taken as an introduction to the study of Scriptural typology.  One would like to see her do a companion study on Vaughan, whose imagery, for all the nonsense talked about his hermetism, is also Biblical, though less liturgical than Herbert’s.  In a way it is rather a reflection on the comprehension of the humanities by the humanists that such a study should have to be written at all.  ‘What kind of readers do we make,’ Miss Tuve asks, ‘whom circumstances have intervened to make ignorant of what every literate man once knew?’  The elementary principles of typology are data that no humanist has any excuse for not knowing.  If other scholars can be prodded into learning them in order to understand Miss Tuve’s demonstration of the inadequacy of Empson’s critique of Herbert, perhaps we have stumbled on a real function of the new criticism.

Mr. Bush’s two lectures form an excellent introduction to the spirit of Renaissance culture.  Generalization and illustration alike are made with a sense of perspective that can only come from great scholarly authority.  He knows better, of course, than to distort his subject by taking it too literally.  There certainly were Classical influences on Renaissance literature, but it is not possible to distinguish the new influences from the older ones transmitted from the Middle Ages.  No one in English criticism has done more to show this than Mr. Bush himself.  The genuinely new features—a growing secularization of learning, more knowledge of Greek, better and printed texts, a sharper historical sense, and a number of distinctive developments such as the Senecan Stoicism of Chapman—are lightly but clearly touched.  Again, it is not possible to contrast Classical with Christian influences, thereby treating Erasmus and Montaigne as though they accepted the kind of antithesis between Christian superstition and non-Christian enlightenment that one may find later in Gibbon or Shelley.  The medieval conception of pagan wisdom as a natural theology contained by the Christian revelation is substantially that of nearly all Renaissance humanists.  Hence if one says, for instance, that one Classical influence on Renaissance literature was a sense of form, a good deal of this sense turns out to be simply the medieval sense of cosmological order persisting unchanged.  These and other considerations indicate that Mr. Bush’s lucid summary of his subject is not as easy as it looks.

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.


Anime and Frye’s Theory of Modes

Pontifus, one of the bloggers at a website called Super Fanicom, has an entry devoted to a reading of the first essay of Anatomy of Criticism.  Super Fanicom is described as

a nerd media and “alternative” pop culture blog.  That usually (but not always) means anime and video games.  We tend to be less sociological and more textual—we focus on discrete shows/games rather than the producers and consumers of those things.

The blog by Pontifus, who hails from Virginia, can be found at  It’s entitled “Of Diebuster, structure, and the parents of gods.”  Pontifus explores the structure of Diebuster, a six‑episode video animation, by turning to Frye’s theory of modes.  He writes:

 Now, I do enjoy examining structure, probably more than I enjoy examining socio-culturo-historico-things in the usual way.  But structural nuances, I must admit after a thousand-odd words about them, are not much of a starting point, which is to say that my thoughts on a story don’t begin with the specifics of its twists and turns.  Customarily, I’ll try to attach broad identifiers to a thing, but Diebuster even makes that difficult — about which I am thrilled, as any excuse to combine Northrop Frye and mad speculation is a good one.

Another blogger at Superfanicom, Cuchlann, had previously written a five–part series on his reading of the “Theory of Modes.”  The first of these, “Adventures in Criticism pt. 1,” can be found at

The subsequent “Adventures in Criticism,” all having to do with the theory of modes, can be accessed by following the “Next Post” thread at the end of the entry. The four subsequent posts, Adventures in Criticism, pts. 2–5 can be found at the first URL given above, though the posts are in reverse order.  Cuchlann begins as something of a contrarian, but he mellows as he gets more deeply in the theory of modes.

Both Pontifus and Cuchlann appear to be aiming for a taxonomy of anime, which is doubtless a first.

The Double Vision in Japanese

Shunichi Takayanagi recently sent me a copy of the Japanese edition of Frye’s The Double Vision, translated by Takashi Eda (Tokyo: Shinkyo Shuppansha, 2012),  172 pp.  This is the seventeenth translation of one of Frye’s books into Japanese, including a revised translation of A Natural Perspective.  Altogether, Frye’s books have been translated into twenty-five languages.  The Italians lead the list with eighteen.  The Chinese and French have each translaterd eleven of Frye’s books; the Koreans, ten.

The St. Lawrence as Leviathan

The following is a footnote to Ed Lemond’s post, here.

In several places Frye remarks that the St. Lawrence is also a Leviathan for ships coming from Europe.  They enter into the Gulf of St. Lawrence like Jonah entering into the belly of the whale.  One of the places Frye uses the figure is in “Haunted by Lack of Ghosts”:

[T]he British painter and writer Wyndham Lewis, who spent some years in Canada during the Second World War, makes this comment about A.Y. Jackson, one of the twentieth-century Group of Seven landscape painters, perhaps with an underlying allusion to the Carman poem already cited:  “Jackson is no man to go gathering nuts in May. He has no wish to be seduced every Spring when the sap rises–neither he nor nature are often shown in these compromising moods. There is something of Ahab in him: the long white contours of the Laurentian Mountains in mid-winter are his elusive leviathan.”

The Leviathan also recurs in Wilfred Watson’s fine poem on another Canadian painter, the British Columbian Emily Carr:

Like Jonah in the green belly of the whale

Overwhelmed by Leviathan’s lights and liver

Imprisoned and appalled by the belly’s wall

Yet inscribing and scoring the uprush

Sink vault and arch of that monstrous cathedral,

Its living bone and its green pulsing flesh–

Old woman, of your three days’ anatomy

Leviathan sickened and spewed you forth

In a great vomit on coasts of eternity. [Emily Carr]

The image of being swallowed by the Leviathan is an almost inevitable one for Canada: the whole process of coming to the country by ship from Europe, through the Strait of Belle Isle and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and then up the great river, suggests it, again a marked contrast to the United States, with its relatively straight north-south coastline.  In Pratt’s narrative poem on the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Towards the Last Spike, the dragon image appears, the symbol of a nature so totally indifferent to man and his concerns that it is irrelevant to wonder whether it is dead or alive:

On the North Shore a reptile lay asleep–

A hybrid that the myths might have conceived,

But not delivered, as progenitor

Of crawling, gliding things upon the earth . . .

This folded reptile was asleep or dead:

So motionless, she seemed stone dead–just seemed:

She was too old for death, too old for life . . .

Ice-ages had passed by and over her,

But these, for all their motion, had but sheared

Her spotty carboniferous hair or made

Her ridges stand out like the spikes of molochs . . .

Was this the thing Van Horne set out

To conquer? [ll. 870-3, 882-4, 890-3, 899-900]

Van Horne was the builder of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the stretch of Precambrian shield in northern Ontario was one of his most formidable obstacles.

In the Bible, of course, the Leviathan swallows Jonah, a prototype not only of Emily Carr but of the Jesus who descended to the world of death and hell for three days. In the closely related myth of Saint George and the dragon, Saint George dies along with the dragon he kills, and has to be separately brought to life. What such myths appear to be telling us is that the Leviathan is the monster of indefinite time and space surrounding us on all sides: we are all born inside his belly, and we never escape from it; he is the body of death from which we cannot be delivered. The Christian, Baroque, Cartesian attitude that the white invaders brought from Europe helped to ensure that in Canada the sense of being imprisoned in the belly of a mindless emptiness would be at its bleakest and most uncompromising. As we have seen, the ego’s one moment of genuine dignity in such a situation is the moment either of death or of some equally final alienation. Among the poets of the generation of Roberts, Carman, and D.C. Scott, Archibald Lampman achieved the highest consistent level of poetry, partly because he was prudent enough to stick to elegiac moods.  (CW 12: 484–5)