Author Archives: Bob Denham

Double Vision

In 1971 Henry Weinfield, Professor in the Program of Liberal Studies at the University of Notre Dame, sent Frye a copy of the following poem, which Weinfield dedicated to Frye.  The poem was later published in Weinfield’s In the Sweetness of the New Time (Atlanta: House of Keys, 1980), 37–8.





I distinguish between the two cases:

The bird of the forest and the bird of the poem.

The Nightingale flies in the poem,

The Dolorous Wood,

Not Mother Nature’s forest,

Hovering th’ambiguous foliage.


Nor does he fly as a symbol,

Perched on a Golden Bough,

As metaphor or allegory

Or as messenger between the realms.

There are no messengers between the realms,

And I distinguish between the two cities:

The Nightingale flies in the poem,

For the song that he sings is himself.


And when the Phoenix is burnt on the pyre,

Does he rise as a myth among men?

And are there any reasons?

The circles converge

Not on the singer but the song.

The ashes are lost in the wind,

And the song goes forth from the flame,

Ant there are no reasons.


And therefore, distinguo.

I distinguish between the two grammars:

The sphere of the singer and the sphere of the song.

The Phoenix goes forth from the pyre

As a song in the midst of the world,

And he fashions these verses out of nothing

In order that you might remember


to Northrop Frye


Frye replied to Weinfield, saying

Thank you very much for your letter, for the poem, and for the great honour of dedicating the poem to me.  I don’t find it ironical that criticism should influence poetry, because a fair number of poets have spoken to me about being substantially helped in their creative work by my criticism.  Some other poets have attacked me in tones which suggest some influence there too, even though a negative one.

I was most interested in your remark about a cycle of return to the confines of poetry.  I have felt for a long time that what a great deal of the agitation in contemporary universities and elsewhere is all about is really a movement back from specialization and the intellectual division of labour towards a new period of enlarged perspectives and the building of mental bridges. (Selected Letters, 134)

Frye on Moby-Dick

In response to Trevor Losh-Johnson’s recent post, this passage  from Words with Power:

Themes of descent often turn on the struggle between the titanic and the demonic within the same person or group. In Moby Dick, Ahab’s quest for the whale may be mad and “monomaniacal,” as it is frequently called, or even evil so far as he sacrifices his crew and ship to it, but evil or revenge are not the point of the quest. The whale itself may be only a “dumb brute,” as the mate says, and even if it were malignantly determined to kill Ahab, such an attitude, in a whale hunted to the death, would certainly be understandable if it were there. What obsesses Ahab is in a dimension of reality much further down than any whale, in an amoral and alienating world that nothing normal in the human psyche can directly confront.
The professed quest is to kill Moby Dick, but as the portents of disaster pile up it becomes clear that a will to identify with (not adjust to) what Conrad calls the destructive element is what is really driving Ahab. Ahab has, Melville says, become a “Prometheus” with a vulture feeding on him. The axis image appears in the maelstrom or descending spiral (“vortex”) of the last few pages, and perhaps in a remark by one of Ahab’s crew: “The skewer seems loosening out of the middle of the world.” But the descent is not purely demonic, or simply destructive: like other creative descents, it is partly a quest for wisdom, however fatal the attaining of such wisdom may be. A relation reminiscent of Lear and the fool develops at the end between Ahab and the little black cabin boy Pip, who has been left so long to swim in the sea that he has gone insane. Of him it is said that he has been “carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro . . . and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps.”

Moby Dick is as profound a treatment as modern literature affords of the leviathan symbolism of the Bible, the titanic-demonic force that raises Egypt and Babylon to greatness and then hurls them into nothingness; that is both an enemy of God outside the creation, and, as notably in Job, a creature within it of whom God is rather proud. The leviathan is revealed to Job as the ultimate mystery of God’s ways, the “king over all the children of pride” (41:34), of whom Satan himself is merely an instrument. What this power looks like depends on how it is approached. Approached by Conrad’s Kurtz through his Antichrist psychosis, it is an unimaginable horror: but it may also be a source of energy that man can put to his own use. There are naturally considerable risks in trying to do so: risks that Rimbaud spoke of in his celebrated lettre du voyant as a “dérèglement de tous les sens.” The phrase indicates the close connection between the titanic and the demonic that Verlaine expressed in his phrase poète maudit, the attitude of poets who feel, like Ahab, that the right worship of the powers they invoke is defiance.

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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Ready Reference: A List of the Contents of the Collected Works

A List of the Volumes of the Collected Works of Northrop Frye with the Contents of Each, along with a Notation of the Books by Frye in which the Separate Items Originally Appeared and an Alphabetical Title Index

 Even those who are quite familiar with Frye’s work cannot always remember the general subject of a given volume in the Collected Works.  The present list, the need for which was suggested to me by Michael Dolzani, provides a ready reference to the contents of each volume, like the list of books and their contents that one finds at the back of each volume of The Collected Works of C.G. Jung.  Twenty‑nine of the thirty volumes of Frye’s Collected Works are not available in paperback, which means that those who would like to have the complete published writings would have to lay out a large sum of money––more than $3300 if ordered from the University of Toronto Press.  Readers of Frye, however, may have some or perhaps all of Frye’s separately published books, so the present list, along with the index, can assist them in finding the CW volume that contains the item they are looking for, as well as the book in which the item originally appeared.  The present list consists of two parts.  The first part gives the contents of each volume in the Collected Works, and for those items that were published in one of Frye’s books, the book title is given after the title of the article.  For example, “Crime and Sin in the Bible” ● Myth and Metaphor, 255–69.  The second part is an index of all of Frye’s titles, followed by the CW volume in which they can be found.  For example, “Language as the Home of Human Life” ● CW 7: 577–90.  This second list is similar to what can be found in Jean O’Grady’s stellar index for the Collected Works (CW 30), though I have not separated lectures and speeches (O’Grady’s section II.1) from published or completed works (her section II.5).

Many of Frye’s articles, reviews, and occasional pieces were never included in an edited collection.  They, of course, will not be followed by the title of a book in part 1.  I have not listed the titles of the one hundred eleven interviews in CW 24, Interviews with Northrop Frye.  The list, along with the index, if copied and printed, can serve as a handy guide to the CW, or it may be copied and stored as a searchable electronic file.  ––Robert Denham

 Volumes 1 and 2

The Correspondence of Northrop Frye and Helen Kemp, 1932–1939.  Ed. Robert D. Denham.  2 vols.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996.  xxxii + ix + 979 pp.

 Volume 3

Northrop Frye’s Student Essays, 1932–1938.  Ed. Robert D. Denham.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997.  xxix + 557 pp.


“The Basis of Primitivism”


“Robert Browning: An Abstract Study”

“The Concept of Sacrifice”

“The Fertility Cults”

“The Jewish Background of the New Testament: An Essay in Historical Apocalyptic”

“The Age and Type of Christianity in the Epistle of James”

“Doctrine of Salvation in John, Paul, and James”

“St. Paul and Orphism”

“ The Augustinian Interpretation of History”

“The Life and Thought of Ramon Lull”

“Robert Cowton to Thomas Rondel, Lector at Balliol College, Oxford”

“Relative Importance of the Causes of the Reformation”

“Gains and Losses of the Reformation”

“A Study of the Impact of Cultural Movements upon the Church in England during the Nineteenth Century”

“The Relation of Religion to the Arts”

“The Relation of Religion to the Arts Forms of Music and Drama”

“An Inquiry into the Art Forms of Prose Fiction”

“The Importance of Calvin for Philosophy”

“T.S. Eliot and Other Observations”

“A Reconsideration of Chaucer”

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Frye and Ferenc Juhász

I have recently returned from a successful conference in Budapest honoring Frye in his centenary year.  In a discussion with the Hungarians I mentioned that on several occasions Frye referred to Ferenc Juhász’s The Boy Changed into a Stag Cries out at the Gate of Secrets (1955), a poem much admired by Auden and by Frye as well.  Back home, I’ve tracked down the references:

From Notebook 21 in CW 13: 163

Maybe revolution-rebirth is the telos of Four, in spite of what I’ve said, its 5 reversal being resurrection.  Maybe the universe contained in the mind, the apocalypse of that wonderful Juhasz poem, is reversed by interpenetration.  It’s the same principle of everywhere is here inside out.  Similarly, resurrection is rebirth’s “Behold, I make all things new,” inside out.  The consubstantial risen Christ? (CW 13: 163)

From “The Times of the Signs,” CW 27: 353.  Frye is quoting from The Plough and the Pen, Writings from Hungary 1930-1956, edited by Ilona Duczynska and Karl Polanyi (1963).

At the same time that the Romantic movement had begun the final separation of mythology and science, the Industrial Revolution was making technology a central factor in society.  Both Marxism and the theory of progress in the democracies seized on industrial production as the central uniting force of society, and the realizing power of civilization.  Their conception of technology was much the same: they differed only on whether a capitalist or a socialist economy should control it.  The great advantage of having technology in such a role was that it seemed to develop automatically, with the minimum of reference to the nagging mythological question: is this really what man most wants and needs?  Marxist poets were urged to celebrate the glories of technology under socialism as their ancestors had celebrated gods and heroes.  A magnificent Hungarian poem by Ferenc Juhász, The Boy Changed into a Stag Cries Out at the Gate of Secrets, translated by the Canadian poet Kenneth McRobbie with Ilona Duczynska, thus describes the apotheosis of its transformed hero:

There he stood on the renewing crags of time,

stood on the ringed summit of the sublime

universe, there stood the lad at the gate of secrets,

his antler prongs were playing with the stars . . .

Mother, my mother, I cannot go back:

pure gold seethes in my hundred wounds . . .

each prong of my antlers is a dual-based pylon

each branch of my antlers a high-tension wire,

my eyes are ports for ocean-going merchantmen, my veins are tarry cables, these

teeth are iron bridges, and in my heart the surge of monster-infested seas,

each vertebra is a teeming metropolis, for a spleen I have a smoke-puffing barge

each of my cells is a factory, my atoms are solar systems

sun and moon swing in my testicles, the Milky Way is my bone marrow,

each point of space is one part of my body

my brain impulse is out in the curling galaxies.

[Quoted from The Plough and the Pen, Writings from Hungary 1930-1956, edited by Ilona Duczynska and Karl Polanyi (1963). [NF]]

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The Budapest Conference

Northrop Frye 100: A Danubian Perspective

 To honor Northrop Frye on the centenary of his birth, this conference was held in Budapest, 7–8 September 2012.  It was sponsored by the Institute of English Studies, Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary, and the School of English and American Studies, Eötvös Loránd University.  Participants heard papers by some thirty speakers, representing eight countries.  In addition Milorad Krstić gave a video presentation of his extraordinary Das Anatomische Theater.  Below are the English abstracts of the papers and the brief biographies of the participants.  Only the names and titles are given for the papers and abstracts in Hungarian.


 1.  Bácskai-Atkári, Júlia
Frye Reading Byron

In his influential essay Archetypal Criticism, Northrop Frye interprets Byron’s Don Juan as a clear instance of satire, belonging to the “mythos of winter” (Frye 1957).  As he points out, satire in Don Juan is to a large extent achieved by a strong self-parodying tendency and by constant digressions — both leading to the partial marginalization of the hero (Frye 1963). I will show that Frye’s analysis can be extended to the genre of the verse novel as such: first, it captures the chief differences from the mock epic, which is satire fundamentally lacking the two features in question. Second, the parody of other genres — which typically recall Frye’s “mythos of summer” — and self-mocking tone are present on a higher level too: the verse novel is a form which is by definition a literary response. As such, it is also self-responsive: verse novels after Byron tend not only to be self-reflexive as texts but they emphatically reflect on the genre itself, either by distancing themselves from (certain aspects of) previous verse novels, as did many Hungarian examples in the second half of the 19th century, or even by parodying previous ones, as does Térey’s Paulus with Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. With the appearance of contemporary instances of the genre (e.g. Byrne by Burgess), Frye’s analysis is very much of a current issue.

JÚLIA BÁCSKAI-ATKÁRI graduated from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest with an MA (hons) in English Language and Literature and in Hungarian Language and Literature. Currently, she is junior research fellow at the Research Institute for Linguistics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and a PhD student at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest (PhD programmes in Romanticism and in English Linguistics). Her main research area is the narration of the 19th‑century novel in verse and of the postmodern development of the genre in Hungarian and English literature, with particular interest in Byron’s oeuvre and reception.

 2.  Bánki, Evá

A költészet születése—Samuel I. könyve alapján

[Paper, abstract, and bio in Hungarian]

3.  Dancáková, Mária

Northrop Frye on the Metaphorical Language of the Bible

The paper focuses on Frye’s reading of the Biblical language which he defined, using Bultmann’s term, as kerygma, or proclamation, based on myth and metaphor, and showing affinities with the language of poetry and rhetoric.  However, Frye never seemed to be satisfied with the definition and he struggled to find the exact wording for the biblical language and its literal meaning.  Certain for him was its basis in myth and metaphor, as he believed that only such a language can detach people from the world of facts and logical propositions, and which has the power to transform their lives.  Metaphor, as he explained, is the controlling mode of thought in the Bible and not only an ornament; its use is extended to the identification of a reader with what he reads in the Bible, arising especially from the centripetal relations among its words.  Myth is the cornerstone of the biblical structure, and is not to be perceived as “not really true,” as the form of the biblical stories is more important than their historicity. The intention of the biblical writers was to tell a story, not to provide the readers with the accurate description of the era, or to tell them what they might have missed.

MÁRIA DANCÁKOVÁ (born on August 25, 1989 in Trebišov) currently lives in Presov. She attended the University of Presov in Presov, Faculty of Arts, in the study programme British and American Studies. In 2010 she obtained her bachelor’s degree and is currently in the last year of her master’s degree programme. The topic of her diploma thesis was Northrop Frye on the Metaphorical Language of the Bible. In the winter semester 2011, she spent four months at the University of Bolton, United Kingdom, as an Erasmus student.

4. Dávidházi, Péter

A Tribute to The Great Code: Voltaire’s Lisbon Poem, Mikes and the Book of Job

Being a tribute to Northrop Frye’s work on the Bible, the paper is meant to demonstrate how a present-day scholar may benefit from applying Frye’s insights and methods to a comparative analysis of two literary works with a common, if latent, biblical subtext. Both Voltaire’s “Poëme sur le désastre de Lisbonne ou examen de cet axiome: tout est bien” and Kelemen Mikes’s letter CXCVIII in his Letters from Turkey were prompted by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, both responded to the problems of theodicy, and both alluded to the book of Job.  In constant dialogue with Frye’s ideas, the paper reveals these similarities, but only to highlight (and celebrate) some characteristic differences that are incompatible with the usual classification of Mikes’s work as a typical representative of early Enlightenment literature.

PÉTER DÁVIDHÁZI.  Member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, is head of the Department of 19th-century Hungarian Literature at the Research Centre for the Humanities, and he is Professor of English Literature at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest.  As a visiting professor he taught at the University of California, Irvine, and the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Published in Hungary, England and the US, his books include The Romantic Cult of Shakespeare: Literary Reception in Anthropological Perspective (London: Macmillan, 1998).  His latest book is Menj, vándor. Swift sírfelirata és a hagyományrétegzödes [Go, Traveller. Swift’s Epitaph and the Strata of a Tradition] (Pecs: Pro Pannonia, 2009).  His recent work focuses on the uses of biblical allusions in modern English and Hungarian Poetry.

5. Denham, Robert. D.

The “Two Fryes”: The Aristotelian and the Longinian

This paper examines the question of whether or not there are two essential thrusts to Frye’s critical vision that are more or less incommensurate with each other and that therefore are not subject to Frye’s usual tendency of bringing together oppositions, such as Aristotle versus Longinus, by way of their interpenetration or their being subjected to the Hegelian Aufhebung.  The question is approached by way of Frye’s commitment to both Aristotelian and Longinian perspectives. Denham concludes that Frye finally privileges Longinus over Aristotle.

ROBERT D. DENHAM is the Fishwick Professor of English, Emeritus, Roanoke College, Salem, VA.  He was formerly Director of English Programs for the Modern Language Association.  He has written and edited 26 volumes by or about Northrop Frye, including eleven volumes of The Collected Works of Northrop Frye.  His most recent book is The Northrop Frye Handbook.  This past summer he donated his extensive Frye collection to the Public Library in Moncton, New Brunswick, Frye’s hometown. The collection included books, articles, and other printed matter, amounting to 43 feet of shelf space; 38 videotapes and 65 audiotapes, Frye’s writing desk and chair, a bronze bust of Frye, oil paintings, several dozen original drawings and caricatures, 114 translations of Frye’s books into 25 languages, and numerous other Frygiana.

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We Grieve

The Northrop Frye weblog along with the wider Frye community extends its heartfelt sympathy to Péter Pásztor, his wife Emese, and daughter Zsófi on the tragic death of the Pásztors’ son Domokos in a recent automobile accident.  Péter is the translator into Hungarian of The Great Code and Words with Power and the author of several articles on Frye, including “Reading Frye in Hungary: The Frustrations and Hopes of a Frye Translator,” in Boyd and Salusinszky, ed., Re-reading Frye, 122–39.  Should you want to extend condolences to the Pásztors, their email address is:<>

“Death is not the opposite of life: it is the opposite of birth.”  ––Frye, CW 13: 141

Frye Alert: Index to the Collected Works

The Index to the Collected Works of Northrop Frye, magisterially compiled by Jean O’Grady, is now out.  See here

The Index will turn out to be the most valuable of the thirty volumes.  Thanks once more to Jean for this exceptional achievement and, of course, to Alvin Lee for his equally exceptional leadership in seeing this grand project to a glorious conclusion.

Frye’s Personae

Frye’s “I had genius” remark reveals one of the masks he wore.  Another is revealed in his statement that The Great Code “was a silly and sloppy book” by the standards of traditional scholarship.  Frye was aware that all of us have countless personae, some no doubt troubling to himself and some troubling to others.  Here is an account of the “village” of characters in his own psyche:

The individual man comprises a multitude of other characters—Jung’s archetypes are surely only a few threshold dwellers. There is at least a good-sized village inside me. Many are children, some are women, & a few may be animals or even monsters. Some are replicas of other people I know, either in personal acquaintance or in reading. They die, but new ones move in & grow up. All this is not pure whimsy—I’m trying to get at a real fact of existence. Ever since Plato people have talked of the state in terms of the individual: what would happen if one were to look at the individual in terms of a society? Suppose Jung’s “anima” were not a feminine figure in me, but the aggregate of all the female characters in me? He says himself that the animus is regularly a group or council. So with me: in the course of a day, even a day spent in pure solitude, I should go through a bigger dramatic repertoire than any commedia dell’arte. Pedants, buffoons, comedians, debaters, politicians, hermits, saints, sages, middling-sensual men, suburban bourgeoisie all dispute within me, & everything I do & say is the calculus of probabilities resulting from their competition within me. A good deal of behavior shows this. The “censor” could be a whole Sanhedrin, & the kind of experience of conversion described by William James in his chapter on healthy-mindedness corresponds point for point to a political revolution [The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: New American Library, 1958), 76–111 (Lectures 4 and 5)]. In Victorian times it was fashionable to be patriarchal or matriarchal: only the older & graver heads spoke, & within the individual, as within society, children were seen but not heard. Nowadays democracy is fashionable: we disapprove of censors, allow our women & even children a voice in our assemblies, & if we do not allow our perverts or Calibans to speak, at least we try to locate them & keep a police record of them. Democracy turns easily into a police state, & it is easy for people with liberal & open societies inside them to become converted to a rigorous totalitarian dialectic. I suppose two-party opposition-patterns are more common—nearly everyone is aware of some dividing contrast in his attitudes & moods. I think of all these characters as dramatis personae, speaking masks. Perhaps most of them inhabit a sort of Gentiles’ outer court, the real decisions (every thought is a decision, a bill that’s had two readings & committee in a well-regulated mind) being made by a small cabinet within of high priests. Whether there is one high priest or supreme pontiff I don’t know. This veers toward an idea I’ve had for a long time, that Jesus’ cleansing of the temple & his casting of devils out of individuals were exactly the same act. The thing that’s difficult to grasp is that it’s only the holiest of holies that are socially visible: all the outer courts are hidden. Thus each man looks consistently like one man: only in anarchy do the money-changers & dove-sellers suddenly appear in his face or conversation. Ordinarily he presents the appearance of one man interpreting the will of a small & fairly homogeneous group. Thus for an elect Christian, Christ cleanses the temple, or casts out devils, or harrows hell, redeeming & releasing the bound spirits, or separates sheep from goats, all of these activities being the same.

Northrop Frye and Public Libraries

 Northrop Frye and Public Libraries

Robert D. Denham

Moncton Public Library, Moncton, New Brunswick, 13 July 2012


As Northrop Frye devoted his life to the word, it goes without saying that he had great affection for those wonderful repositories of the word that we call libraries.  But for all of the connections between Frye and academic libraries, he had a special fondness for the public library.

During the summer of 1930, after his first year at Victoria College, Frye got a job pasting labels into books at the Toronto Reference Library––which was a public library, not a university one.  It was here that he discovered––“by accident” he says––Colin Still’s book on The Tempest, a book that significantly influenced Frye’s reading of Shakespeare.  Two years later (Frye is 19 at the time), he returned to Moncton for the summer, taking the two-day journey by way of Montreal.  He was able to land a job at the public library, which had opened in 1927 in what became known as the “Archibald House” at the foot of Archibald Street.

In the summer of 1932 Frye was not altogether happy about being back home: he had become separated from the Toronto he’d grown to like, from his classmates, and of course from his girlfriend Helen Kemp.  But his discontent is mitigated somewhat by his being close to the books he loved.  In the Moncton library he discovered Louis Untermeyer’s American Poetry since 1900, a book that was to introduce him to Wallace Stevens, who turned out to be one of Frye’s literary heroes.

Frye wrote in a letter from that summer, “I rather like working in this library.  It’s such an interesting psychological study.  The number of ways a taxpayer can think up to bully me are practically infinite.  There’s one charming old gentleman who comes in about three times a week, tosses disgustedly a couple of detective stories in front of me and says: ‘Trash, absolute trash! Got any more of that author?’  Then he explains shamefacedly that he uses them as soporifics.  Then there are French youngsters who suddenly become most hopelessly ignorant of English whenever they have a fine due on their books.”

During the summer of 1936 Frye checked out two volumes of Frazer’s The Golden Bough from the Moncton Public Library, and Frazer became, of course, one of the key sources for Frye’s understanding of myth and ritual.  In the early 1950s when Frye was at Harvard on a Guggenheim Fellowship he had at his disposal, of course, the famous libraries at Harvard, but one of the first things he and Helen did was to get cards from the Cambridge Public Library.  And even though in Toronto he had access to one of the great university libraries in the world, he patronized the Deer Park Library, a public library on St. Clair Avenue.

When I first talked to Dawn Arnold and Tina Bourgeois about donating my Frye collection to the Moncton Public Library I had in mind that it might serve as a kind of monument to Frye’s achievement.  I didn’t think of it as becoming much of a research center.  At the heart of the collection are the various editions and translations of Frye’s books.  There are 114 translations in 25 languages.  It seemed very unlikely that researchers would travel to Moncton to read Frye in Farsi or Lithuanian or Arabic, or even any of the 21 translations of Frye into Italian.  In other words, I saw Frye’s books and his writing desk and the drawings and caricatures and paintings as belonging more to the holdings of a museum than a library.  But then I asked whether the library might be interested in the secondary literature––the books and articles written about Frye, the reviews of his books, and so on.  When the answer was yes, then I began to think that the Moncton Public Library might well become a destination for those interested in Frye’s work.  If some researcher, for example, were interested in the reception of The Great Code, he or she would want to consult the almost 200 reviews of that book.  It would require a great deal of time to dig all of these out from a research library, or rather research libraries, since no one library, including the National Library of Canada, would have them all.  But now here they all are in Moncton––photocopies of all of the reviews of The Great Code.  Or take the books devoted exclusively to Frye’s work.  There are 46 of these.  Researchers wanting to consult what is written about Frye might set off for the libraries of the University of New Brunswick, where they would discover 28 of the 46.  But now, why not come to Moncton where they’ll find all but one of these books––98% rather than the 60% they’d find in Fredericton and Saint John?

We do make a distinction between public and research libraries.  I myself have done a great deal of research in public libraries, the Toronto Reference Library, which is the centerpiece of the Toronto Public Library system, being a notable example.  Frye himself liked to go to the Toronto Reference Library because, as he says in his diaries, it was “clear of [his] environment,” that is, it provided a momentary refuge from the university.  It was in the Toronto Public Reference Library that Frye read The Tibetan Book of the Dead and Jung’s Secret of the Golden Flower.  It was also in this public library that he began to write Anatomy of Criticism, the greatest work of critical theory of the last century.  

In his 1950 Diary Frye reports that on a trip to London, Ontario, friends drove him and Helen to see what he calls “the famous public library,” noting that the public library was “also an art gallery, a film & record library, & a community center generally.  It is a most pleasant little building, & I’d have liked to see more of it.”  Here Frye is getting at one difference between the academic and the public library.  Academic libraries tend to be detached and impersonal and sometimes not very user friendly.  Public libraries, on the other hand, are the focus of a community.  I like to think that having the Frye papers here at the Moncton Public Library will help to foster that sense of community.

I wouldn’t expect that there will be a long queue next week of people elbowing their way into the Frye Collection, but it could be that over time the Collection will serve as a magnet to draw Frye scholars and others to the library.  Moncton may not yet have a Northrop Frye Street, as Sherbrooke, Quebec, does, but it does have its Northrop Frye School and its terrific Northrop Frye Festival and now a Northrop Frye sculpture and a collection of Northrop Frye books and papers and other Frygiana––all of which serve to honor the city’s most famous son, the one who Don Harron says possessed “the finest literary mind in the Western world.”

I should say how pleased I am that the Frye Collection is now in Moncton, and to say what a pleasure it has been to working with Dawn Arnold and Danielle LeBlanc of the Frye Festival, and with the library representative, Tina Bourgeois, and with my old friend Ed Lemond who spent five days in Emory, Virginia, appraising the collection.  And thanks too to Léon Cormier and Victor Gautreau who hauled it all safely across the border.  Everyone I’ve worked with has been a model of efficiency and, like Frye himself, supplied with a generous measure of good will.

As it’s a great deal more fun to hear Frye talk rather than me, let me close with the opening of a letter to Helen written exactly eighty years ago, on Frye’s twentieth birthday:

My dear Helen:

I have recently completed another decade of my alleged career and feel quite old-fashioned.  My birthday, which is the same as that of France, has been signalized by a pouring rain on the last sixteen occasions of its celebration, which is as far back as my memory—or at least the pre-Freudian part of it—goes.  This time the day dawned clear as a mirror; no vestige of a cloud anywhere. It stayed that way until eight o’clock at night, when suddenly and without warning a horrible-looking black thundercloud leered up over the horizon, like the devil coming for the soul of Faust, and for an hour the world was a stringy mass of water.  I got a present too—a tie, from an aunt.  I shall keep it as a souvenir of that aunt, but as an adornment for the neck it would rank approximately with the Ancient Mariner’s albatross, I should think.

Kind thanks for inviting me to Moncton on this grand occasion.