Author Archives: Ed Lemond

The Bob Denham Collection at the Moncton Public Library


I am posting to give an update on the Bob Denham Collection at the Moncton Public Library. The wonderful donation that Bob made in July, 2012, is housed in a special room – The Heritage Room. The “primary” materials (Frye’s books and the many translations thereof, as well as many books about Frye) have been on display and available to the public almost from the beginning, but now library staff have completed the somewhat more difficult task of cataloging and presenting the “secondary” materials (photocopies of contemporary reviews and essays, offprints, funeral notices, etc.). I visited the library this past Friday and was delighted to see many drawers of a built-in cabinet neatly filled with labeled folders containing these secondary materials. So I think now the Moncton Library is really ready to present itself as a destination for Frye scholars and students.

I should also mention that the display includes many artifacts, as well as original portraits and caricatures, that Bob collected over the years.

For more on the collection, go here and here.

Frye at the Frye Festival

[The photo shows Cassie Frye’s headstone, which the Frye festival gathered funds for and saw to completion in 2004. Her burial place had been very poorly marked, something Frye observed with chagrin when he was here in the fall of 1990.]

Frye-centered activities at the Frye Festival, Moncton, New Brunswick

Note: Most of the early lectures are printed in a book I edited, “Verticals of Frye,” 2005.

Several lectures can be found here at the blog: click “Articles on NF” under “Journal.”

U-Tube has an interesting selection of Frye Festival lectures, conversations, and round tables.

The Frye Festival archive includes video cassettes of some lectures and round tables.

April, 2000 (year one of the festival)

Lecture: David Staines, “Northrop Frye and Canadian Culture”

Round Table: “The Regional Is the Real Source of the Poet’s Imagination”

Participants: Ann Copeland, Louise Desjardins, David Adams Richards, France Daigle, David Lonergan, George Elliott Clarke

Video: Northrop Frye’s Talk at the Université de Moncton, October, 1990. Introduced by Serge Morin

April, 2001

Lecture: Branko Gorjup, “Northrop Frye and His Canadian Critics”

Round Table: “The Way We See Nature and the Creative Imagination”

Participants: Sharon Butala, Gérald Leblanc, Alistair MacLeod,Louise Fiset, Daniel Paul, Emmanuel Adely

 April, 2002

Lecture: Nella Cotrupi, “Process and Possibility: The Spiritual Vision of Northrop Frye”

Round Table: “Translation: Collaboration or Betrayal” (traduttore, traditore)

Participants: Alvin Lee, Francesca Valente, Antonio D’Alfonso, Jo-Anne Elder, Susanna Licheri, Robert Dickson

 Discussion: “Remembering Frye”

 Participants: Alvin Lee, Serge Morin, Francesca Valente, Robert Denham

 Reading – Play: “Dear Norrie … Darling Helen” with Don Harron and Catherine McKinnon

 April, 2003

Lecture: Robert Denham, “Moncton, Did You Know?”

Round Table: “From History to Fiction: When Fact Meets Fancy”

Participants: Bernhard Schlink, Zachary Richard, Ursula Hegi, Roberto Mann, Joyce Hackett, Lise Bissonnette

Round Table with Moderator John Ralson Saul: “Mythology and National Identity”

Participants: Bernhard Schlink, Fance Daigle, André Roy, Joyce Hackett, Naïm Kattan

Northrop Frye Conference with Naïm Kattan: “La réception de l’oeuvre de Northrop Frye dans la Francophonie” (“Frye’s Reception in the French-Speaking World”)

Conference Round Table: “History, Myth, and the Concept of Truth in Northrop Frye”

Participants: Naïm Kattan, Robert Denham, Ross Leckie, Serge Morin

 April, 2004

Lecture: John Ayre, “Into the Labyrinth: Northrop Frye’s Personal Mythology”

Round Table: “Imagining Other Times, Other Places: Fiction and Historical Accuracy”

Participants: Alan Cumyn, Claude Le Bouthillier, Simone Poirier-Bures, Alain Dubos, Douglas Glover, Madeleine Gagnon

Northrop Frye Conference with Michael Dolzani: “The View from the Northern Farm: Northrop Frye and Nature”

Conference Round Table: “There Are No Gods in Nature: Frye’s Spiritual Vision of Nature”

Participants: Michael Dolzani, Joe Velaidum, Jean O’Grady, Paul Curtis

Conference Lecture: Robert Denham, “Northrop Frye and Medicine”

Tribute to Robert Denham: With Guest Speaker Alvin Lee

Video: Northrop Frye’s Talk at the Université de Moncton, October, 1990. Introduced by Serge Morin

November, 2004

Unveiling of the Cassie Frye Headstone in Moncton’s Elmwood Cemetery    A joint project of the Frye Festival and Friends of the Festival                 Poetry readings by Alan Cooper and Hélène Harbec

April, 2005

Lecture: B. W. Powe, “Northrop Frye and Marshall McLuhan: Northern Mystics”

Round Table: “What Is the Most Difficult Subject to Write About?”

Participants: Russell Smith, Jacques Savoie, Nikki Gemmell, Catherine Cusset, Louise Bernice Halfe, J. Roger Léveillé

Round Table: “The Oral / Written Tension in Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Cultures”

Participants: Elisapie Isaac, Witi Ihimaera, Gérald Leblanc, Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Yves Sioui-Durand

 Northrop Frye Conference with Alvin Lee: “What The Great Code Is and Does”

Conference Round Table: “Myth and Identity: The Role of Myth in Forming a Sense of Identity”

Participants: Glen R. Gill, Yves Sioui-Durand, Jean O’Grady, Maurizio Gatti

Video: Northrop Frye’s Talk at the Université de Moncton, October, 1990. Introduced by Serge Morin

 April, 2006

 The Antonine Maillet – Northrop Frye Lecture: Neil Bissoondath, “The Age of Confession”

 Round Table: “Is There a Future for Poetry?”

 Participants: Nadine Fidji, Wesley McNair, Huguette Bourgeois, Wendy Morton, Roméo Savoie, Kwame Dawes

 Round Table: “Let My People Go: The Power of Myth, with Special Reference to the Myth of Deliverance”

Participants: Jeffery Donaldson, Patrick Chamoiseau, André Alexis, Michel Tétu

Round Table: “History: A Burden or a Gift?”

Participants: Patrick Chamoiseau, Zakes Mda, Monique Ilboudo, George Elliott Clarke, Gil Courtemance

Play, with Peter Yan and Frank Adriano: “Northrop Frye High: A Play Remembering Frye”

April, 2007

The Antonine Maillet – Northrop Frye Lecture: David Adams Richards, “Playing the Inside Out”

 Round Table: “Ways of Understanding Popular Culture”

 Participants: Brecken Rose Hancock, Serge Morin, Tony Tremblay

Round Table: “The Graphic Novel Grows Up”

Participants: Bernice Eisensteir, Dano LeBlanc, Harvey Pekar, Michel Rabagliati

Frye Symposium Lecture: Jean O’Grady, “Revaluing Values”

Frye Symposium Lecture: Robert Denham, “Frye’s Magnum Opus: Fifty Years After”

Tribute to Jean O’Grady: With Guest Speaker Bob Denham

April, 2008

The Antonine Maillet – Northrop Frye Lecture: Alberto Manguel, “Why Homer Must Be Blind”

Dialogue: Nancy Huston in Conversation with Alberto Manguel

Frye Symposium Lecture: Glenna Sloan, “Northrop Frye Applied to the Classroom”

Symposium Round Table: “The Eros of Reading: Why Do Some Students Fall in Love with Reading and Others Don’t”

Participants: Glenna Sloan, Peter Sanger, J. Andrew Wainwright

April, 2009

The Antonine Maillet – Northrop Frye Lecture: Monique LaRue, “Entre deux romans: le temps de l’écrivain” (“Between Two Books: The Writer’s Time”)

10th Anniversary Celebrations: A conversation between John Ralston Saul and Antonine Maillet

Lecture: John Ralston Saul, “A Fair Country: Telling Truths about Canada”

Frye Symposium Lecture: Germaine Warkentin, “Poetry and the Writing Life”

Symposium Round Table: “How Might The Educated Imagination Lead Us Into the 21st Century?”

Participants: Jean Wilson, Serge Patrice Thibodeau, Germaine Warkentin, Serge Morin

April, 2010

The Antonine Maillet – Northrop Frye Lecture: Noah Richler, “What We Talk About When We Talk About War”

Frye Symposium Lecture: Craig Stephenson, “Reading Frye Reading Jung”

Symposium Round Table: “Voyaging into the Unknown in Folk Tales and in Dreams”

Participants: Craig Stephenson, Kay Stone, André Lemelin, Ronald Labelle

April, 2011

The Antonine Maillet – Northrop Frye Lecture: Margaret Atwood, “Mythology and Me: The Late 1950s at Victoria College”

Round Table: “New Technology and the Changing Face of Reading”

Participants: Michael Happy, Daniel Dugas, B. W. Powe, Serge Patrice Thibodeau

Pop & Frye: Michael Happy, “Frye for Beginners”

Frye Symposium Lecture: B. W. Powe, “Visions of Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye: Lecture in Honour of Marshall McLuhan’s 100th Birthday”

 April, 2012

 The Antonine Maillet – Northrop Frye Lecture: Antonine Maillet, L’écrivain, ce farfouilleur des fonds de tiroirs de l’imaginaire.” (“The Writer : Rummager in the Stuff at the Bottom of the Drawer of the Imagination”)

Round Table: “Culture and the Critic”

Participants: Terry Fallis, John Doyle, David Gilmour, Nora Young

Play / Conversation: “Temps perdu in the Maple Leaf Lounge”  A live conversation betweenMarshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye, as played by Marshall Button and Sandy Burnett

Frye Centenary Lecture: Ian Balfour, “Northrop Frye Beyond Belief”

Launch: Special edition of ellipse magazine, marking Frye’s centenary

July, 2012

Centenary Celebration: Unveiling of a bronze statue of Northrop Frye, seated on a bench in front of the Moncton Public Library. Darren Byers and Fred Harrison, artists, in collaboration with Janet Fotheringham.

Centenary Celebration: Announcement of the Robert D. Denham donation to the Moncton

Public Library, with speeches by various city and provincial officials, and by Robert Denham himself.

Frye, Leviathan, and The Jonah Paradigm

The following was inspired by Bob Denham’s post of December 15, 2012.

 Janice Kulyk Keefer is a Canadian writer of Ukranian-Polish descent, born in Toronto in 1952. She studied at University of Toronto, and took her Ph.D. at the University of Sussex, England. From 1982-1989 she lived in Nova Scotia, where she taught at the University of Sainte Anne. Following her Nova Scotia sojourn she returned to Ontario, and now teaches at Guelph Unversity. She is a poet, novelist, short story writer, and critic, and the winner of many awards.

In 1987 she published, with UofT Press, Under Eastern Eyes: a critical reading of Martime fiction. In her “Polemical Introduction” she tells the story of the unfortunate neglect that Maritime writing has suffered, the cause of which is Central Canada’s self-absorption and arrogance. The villain in the story she tells is Northrop Frye.

Central Canada has also dominated our literary history, thanks largely to the magisterial myths set down by Northrop Frye. Invoking the Laurentian Drang nach Westen “that makes the growth of Canada geographically credible,” Frye fashions his own paradigm of Canada as discovered by the literary imagination.

The garrison mentality, the “Laurentian paradigm” of Canada, the “looking-glass land of The Anatomy of Criticism” – it all comes under attack. Keefer goes on to quote (though not in its entirety) the Jonah and the whale passage from Frye’s “Conclusion to a Literary History of Canada,” the final essay in The Bush Garden.

Canada began as an obstacle, blocking the way to the treasures of the East, to be explored only in the hope of finding a passage through it. English Canada continued to be that long after what is now the United States had become a defined part of the Western world. One reason for this is obvious from the map. American culture was, down to about 1900, mainly a culture of the Atlantic seaboard, with a western frontier that moved irregularly but steadily back until it reached the other coast. The Revolution did not essentially change the cultural unity of the English-speaking community of the North Atlantic that had London and Edinburgh on one side of it and Boston and Philadelphia on the other. But Canada has, for all practical purposes, no Atlantic seaboard. The traveller from Europe edges into it like a tiny Jonah entering an inconceivably large whale, slipping past the Straits of Belle Isle into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where five Canadian provinces surround him, for the most part invisible. Then he goes up the St. Lawrence and the inhabited country comes into view, mainly a French-speaking country, with its own cultural traditions. To enter the United States is a matter of crossing an ocean; to enter Canada is a matter of being silently swallowed by an alien continent.

“Canada has, for all practical purposes, no Atlantic seaboard” is the bee that stings. It’s not just wrong, but offensive, to Keefer’s thinking. Though Frye seems to be stating the obvious, that the United States has ten of millions up and down its Atlantic coast, including major cultural centres, while Canada has a few hundred thousand, Keefer doesn’t see it that way.

The Jonah paradigm betrays the strength of Frye’s commitment to fictions of the centre, and hence his distrust of, or at least ambivalence towards, regions and margins. Though Frye’s most recent remarks on regionalism in Canadian letters are collected under the heading “From Nationalism to Regionalism: The Maturing of Canadian Culture,” he seems to have come to prize regionalism not as a good-in-itself, but as a means of depoliticizing culture: “the conception of Canada doesn’t really make all that much sense. ‘Canada’ is a political entity; the cultural counterpart that we call ‘Canada’ is really a federation not of provinces but of regions and communities … What Frye ends up talking about is a kind of metaregionalism which has little to do with the specific political, social, and economic realities which give to the various regions of Canada their significance and vitality.

In the end, after several more pages of this, what the reader is faced with seems more like a rant than thought-out criticism. Something about Frye annoys her, so much so that she has trouble seeing him clearly, or wanting to see him clearly. Perhaps it’s the fact that he grew up in Moncton. Nova Scotians, as I learned from experience living in Halifax for 24 years, find it hard to conceive that much of anything of value could come out of New Brunswick, especially out of Moncton.

For a more balanced reading of Frye’s Canadian criticism and of Frye’s thoughts on the regional nature of literary works, it’s helpful to turn to Branko Gorjup’s introduction to Mythologizing Canada: Essays on the Canadian Literary Imagination. Gorjup does not see the “ambivalence” towards regions and margins that Keefer sees; rather, he sees an evolution in Frye’s thinking. In the early phase Frye was interested in the “unity of tone” in Canadian poetry that showed a distinctly Canadian “attitude of mind” and “a recognizable Canadian accent,” both, in Gorjup’s words, “relating to and emanating from a specific environment or context.”

 At this phase of Frye’s thinking, that specific environment implied the concept of nation. A Canadian poet who consciously tried to “avoid being Canadian” would have sounded “like nothing on earth” because “poetry is not a citizen of the world: it is conditioned by language, and flourishes best within a national unit.” Because of Canada’s specific historical, political and cultural development, a Canadian poet had to choose his creative locus from among three possible environments – the imperial, the national and the provincial. The imperial, because of its abstract nature, and the provincial, because of its narrowness and inwardness, were both, according to Frye, “inherently anti-poetic environments,” and the poetry they inspired was conditioned by “the colonial in Canadian life.

 However, Frye would soon abandon this tripartite concept of the Canadian context and replace it with a binary one – the regional versus the national, whereby the regional was regarded as the real source of the poet’s imagination. While the imperial and the provincial were altogether dismissed, the national fell into the category of opposition to the regional.

In his reading of Frye, Gorjup traces the development of this binary concept (national versus regional) and shows how it frees Frye to understand and value the genius of Canadian literature.

 In 1954, by the time he published his essay significantly entitled “Preface to an Uncollected Anthology,” Frye believed that the only imaginative space for the poet was not the nation but the poetic “environment.” This change of view had to do with another idea Frye was beginning to develop, which would take into account the cultural and political differences between Canada and the United States. Unlike the States, Canada had grown, Frye argued, in “one dimension”: it was a nation founded on “the stops on two of the world’s longest railway lines.” Each stop represented a small community separated from the next by space, such that the nation’s frontier consisted of a series of circumferences rather than a single boundary line. Its unity was, therefore, purely conceptual and maintained only by political will. Eventually Frye came to believe that it was not “a nation but an environment” that influenced poets, and that poetry could “deal only with the imaginative aspects of that environment.” If a cultural development were to follow a political one – which, Frye observed, had already occurred by the time he wrote this article – the result would be an “anonymous international art.”

 Gorjup concludes his introduction with these words:

 The region, as Frye frequently repeated in these essays, was the only true home for the imagination, although many writers from various parts of Canada would produce a body of literature that would be felt by both Canadian and non-Canadian readers as “distinctive of the country.” At the heart of this distinctiveness was the link between context and text or, as Frye called it, an “imaginative continuum” that would keep both defining and redefining the representation of the writer’s experience of Canada as a physical and cultural environment.

It would be difficult for a student of Canadian literature to grasp fully the complexity of contemporary Canadian writing without exposure to Frye’s illuminating inquiry into its earlier stages of development, when the writer’s key preoccupation was still with the conception of feeling genuinely at home in a new country. And to feel genuinely at home, Frye observed, the writer had to humanize or – mythologize – the environment; he had to transform it imaginatively through cultural representation. And writing was the most compelling way to do so. The interfacing of context and text, as Frye saw it in Canadian writing, generated a distinctive literary production, which facilitated the first major step toward a national literature and, eventually, toward the liberating realization that literary standards can only be made, not met.

More on Frye and Melville: The Petitcodiac, Pinocchio, and James Wood

“Jonah Spewed Forth from the Whale,” Gustav Doré

“Tell me, who gives a good goddamn?
You’ll never get out alive!
Don’t go dreaming, don’t go scheming
A man must test his mettle
In a crooked ol’ world
Starving in the belly, starving in the belly
Starving in the belly of a whale!”
— Tom Waits, “Starving in the Belly of a Whale”

The following comments are in response to the previous posts on Frye and Melville, here and here:

Frye lived in Moncton, New Brunswick from about 1919 (there is a bit of uncertainty as to when the family settled here permanently) until 1929, when he left for Toronto and his life-long attachment to Victoria College. John Ayre, in his 1989 biography, states that “Frye once confessed that it [the Petitcodiac river that runs through Moncton] had given him the visual sense of Leviathan.” The Petitcodiac is a tidal river at the upper reaches of the Bay of Fundy. The Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world, registering 40 to 45 feet difference between low and high tide. The Petitcodiac fills and empties out twice a day and when empty it becomes, in Ayre’s words, “a monstrous deep trough of glistening mud which looks like an intestine split open.” The beauty of it, as people who live here discover, is in the way it continually recreates itself and becomes new again. Perhaps Frye too, looking into the monstrous depths of it, saw, with a sort of double vision, the beneficial power and beauty of it in its double pulsing of sea flood.

My own first visual (or perhaps more accurately, aural) sense of Leviathan came with reading Pinocchio at a very early age, probably in some abridged version. Pinocchio has the knack of getting into one scrape after another, and barely escaping with his life. Toward the end of the book he’s transformed into a donkey and made to perform by a cruel circus master. When he injures himself the circus master sells him for what he’s worth, which is next to nothing. The new buyer throws him into the ocean to drown him, so that he can then at least harvest his skin. A school of fish comes along and eats away at Pinocchio until there’s nothing left but his bones, which are “hard as wood.” What’s left is the wooden puppet body of Pinocchio, his true self. So he swims off, still looking for the ‘Blue Fairy’ who will save him. But before he can reach her, the giant sea monster (called the Dogfish in my present translation) comes after him and swallows him. “Suddenly he was in darkness as black as ink.” He was “a prisoner inside the stomach of the dreadful giant Dogfish.”

But all is not lost. Inside the monster he makes friends with Tunny, who will later help him swim to safety. Most amazingly, he stumbles along until he sees a light in the distance. “An old man with a flowing white beard and long gray hair sat on a chair at one end [of a table] eating a meagre meal. Pinocchio was overwhelmed to realize the old man was his father, Geppetto,” who has been imprisoned in the monster for two years. With joy and renewed energy Pinocchio plots their escape. In the depths of despair hope is reborn. Pinocchio, like Pip in Moby-Dick, 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.”

James Wood’s essay (collected in The Broken Estate), called “The All and the If: God and Metaphor in Melville,” is a fascinating examination of Melville’s “growing infatuation with metaphor, an obsession which bursts into the love affair of Moby-Dick.” Toward the end of the essay Wood has this to say, which warrants scrutiny if not assent:

Moby-Dick is the great dream of mastery over language. But it also represents a terrible struggle with language. For if the terror of the whale, the terror of God, is his inscrutability, then it is language that has made him so. It is Melville’s abundance of language that is constantly filling everything with meaning, and emptying it out, too. Language breaks up God, releases us from the one meaning of the predestinating God, but merely makes that God differently inscrutable by flooding it with thousands of different meanings. I think that language and metaphor were a great torture as well as a great joy to Melville. Melville saw – and Moby-Dick is the enactment of this vision – that language helps to explain God and to conceal God in equal measure, and that these two functions annul each other. Thus language does not help us explain or describe God. Quite the contrary, it registers simply our inability to describe God; it holds our torment. Yet language is all there is, and thus Melville follows it as Ahab follows the whale, to the very end.

The Robert D. Denham Collection at Moncton

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

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

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

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

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

Some Very Rare and Valuable Books

In a letter to his future wife, Helen Kemp, dated 10 August, 1936, Frye gives an account of his journey from the Kemp family cottage on Gordon Bay to Montreal, and from Montreal to Moncton, to visit his parents for a month before leaving to begin his studies at Oxford. The trip to Montreal was “pretty bloody” with an open door behind and “an oxygen-and-cinders addict in front with an open window, so I caught a hay feverish cold which kept me sneezing like a threshing machine for a day or two.” Plus a fretful two-year-old “whose mother was working on a theory that she could stop her from crying by slapping her.” The trip from Montreal to Moncton was more pleasant.

From Bathurst down to Moncton I talked to the trainman, whose name is Cormier, a next-door neighbor of ours who is quite a friend of Dad. He probably has the best library in Moncton, and has been collecting and reading standard works on anthropology, comparative religion and evolutionary theory for twenty years. He undoubtedly knows far more about comparative religion than anyone in Emmanuel College. Very dogmatic and violently anti-clerical, full of Haeckel and Frazer type of materialism and rationalism. Somewhat narrowed by a profound conviction that all theological writers are either fools or deliberate liars, and quite surprised that I had read or even heard of any of the books he had read. The Acadian Frenchman is naturally a liberal free-thinker on good terms with the English, in contrast to the Quebec habitant, who is nationalist and obscurantist. The latter are gaining ascendancy through their superior spawning faculties, and are trying to foment racial quarrels here. Cormier is part of the vanguard of an agnostic tendency which I think will absorb eventually most of the urban population of French Canada. He made me feel ……. that he, a mere trainman, should ……. while I, who had been to University ……. Fill up the blanks with something pious and patronizing.

The month of August was a difficult month for Frye, as the letters back and forth between Frye and Kemp (collected in The Correspondence of Northrop Frye and Helen Kemp, 1932-1939, edited by Robert Denham) testify and as John Ayre’s brief summary (Northrop Frye: A Biography) also suggests. He was concerned about his lack of money, worried about his rapidly aging mother, and unhappy at the prospect of being separated from Helen for such a long time. Sometime just before August 20, in a letter from Helen that has gone missing and is not included in the Correspondence, he learned (but wanted not to believe) that she was pregnant, and in turmoil trying to decide what to do. But in the midst of these very tumultuous few weeks he did take time to visit and be entertained by his next-door neighbour, Cormier. There are two such occasions recorded in the Frye-Kemp Correspondence. In a letter dated August 20 (the same letter in which he asks Helen not to “jump to conclusions quite so quickly this time”) he writes:

I went over to see Cormier the other night. He takes a magazine called the Literary Guide, run by a group of people called Rationalists, a sort of anti-clerical cult. There’s a Rationalist club in Toronto which meets every Sunday. I was very much disappointed in it (he lent, or rather gave, me a few copies) – it’s a snuffling, canting, self-righteous, priggish little magazine, incredibly sectarian and narrow-minded. The magazine itself is one of those publisher’s rackets – its review section designed to advertise their books and knock other publishers’. However, I got a good bibliography from him, as he has some really good things, and some very rare and valuable books.

At the end of a long letter postmarked 29 August he writes:

I think I forgot to mention in my last letter that I saw Cormier again – he took me to see a pig-headed old fool of about 70 who reads his rationalist magazine and much the same books – deaf, and uses his deafness as an excuse for his pig-headedness. Rationalists seem to have only two ideas, that Jesus never lived and that the church has always persecuted. So I got Sun myths and public school history bellowed at me – or rather across me, as I took little part in the conversation – all evening long.

It’s clear that Frye was fascinated and repelled by his neighbour Cormier, with his collection of “very rare and valuable books,” his openness to new ideas, his anti-clericalism, and his narrow-mindedness. In the midst of Helen’s (and his) agony over her unwanted pregnancy, his worries about money, and the excitement of his imminent departure for England, he can’t stop talking about the trainman next door. I don’t know much about this Cormier, other than what Frye gives us in his letters. But I do know that his collection of books survived intact, handed down from generation to generation. In my capacity as a dealer in used and rare books I bought the entire collection from Cormier’s granddaughter, in September, 1994.

He penciled his name very neatly into all his books – Robert J. Cormier, or sometimes just R. J. Cormier. I don’t know if he continued living in the house near Frye’s, and I don’t know when he died. The books came into the possession of his son Wilfred J. Cormier, and when Wilfred died in 1992 his widow, Florence, kept possession. Two years later, in the spring or early summer of 1994, Jean Beers, Florence’s daughter, called me to come and look at the books and to make an offer. My offer seemed low to Jean Beers, but it was all that I could afford, and all that made sense to me, with my known clientele. I suggested she contact a book dealer in Halifax, who might offer more. I thought that was the end of it. I felt sick, because I had seen the books and recognized the treasure I had let slip through my hands.

But several months later Jean Beers called me again and asked if my offer still stood. I don’t know if she ever contacted the dealer in Halifax. I had the feeling she just wanted me to take them away. I made the cheque out to Florence Cormier, whom I don’t think I ever actually met. (Florence Cormier, as I discovered from a recent google search, died July 23, 2002, at age 82.)

Continue reading

Why Moncton? Or Culture As Interpenetration

[Paulette Theriault, founder of the Frye Festival]

Frye’s 100th birthday, on July 14, came and went without too much fuss anywhere, except here at the Frye Blog and in Moncton, where a statue of Frye, in brilliant bronze, was unveiled in front of the public library, Bob Denham’s donation of Frye books and related items (valued at over $40,000) was announced and showcased, and there were speeches followed by a barbecue and a birthday cake. Oh, the CBC rebroadcast the Cayley conversation, the  Toronto Star featured a laudatory article, and The Globe and Mail printed a dismissive, ill-informed article by Bruce Meyers. Otherwise, not much. Throughout the year there have been and will be conferences and celebrations, but on the actual birthday, Moncton may have been the only place in Canada, the only place on the planet, to go out of its way. (I stand to be corrected.) So, the question is, Why Moncton?

In the early years of the Frye Festival, about 10 years ago, I remember Alvin Lee asking the same question, Why Moncton? Why is there a festival in Moncton and not in Toronto, where Frye lived, taught, and did his great work? Moncton seems (or seemed) an unlikely place to do justice to Frye. He lived here fewer than 10 years, graduated from high school in 1928 (at 16 years of age), left as soon as he could, and only came back a few times during the 1930s, to visit his parents. When his mother died in 1940, he returned to Moncton to see her one final time. As far as I know he did not return until fifty years later, in November, 1990, two months before his death, at the invitation of the Université de Moncton. Part of the answer is that Moncton is where Frye grew up and for that reason holds an importance in his life proportionally greater than the number of years he lived here. John Ayre, in his 1988 biography, paints a fairly detailed picture of Frye’s years in Moncton, which he calls “Moncton Exile” – a term that applies more to Frye’s mother than to Frye himself, though he admits he picked up some of the feeling from his mother. In 2003 Bob Denham gave a talk at the festival called “Moncton, Did You Know? Northrop Frye’s Early Years” in which he makes it clear that

[a]lthough Moncton was a place that Frye wanted to escape from, as with most things in life, there is always an “on the other hand,” and Frye’s experience there during a formative decade – from about 1920 to the time he went off to college in 1929 – was in many ways crucial to what “grew” him, in George Johnston’s phrase.

Bob makes use of newly discovered Frye material to show that “Frye’s experience in this place during his early years did bring into focus a number of key features in his imaginative and critical life.” I’ll mention just three of the points that Bob makes. (For the complete text of his remarks, search the title, Moncton, Did You Know?, on the blog website, or purchase of copy of “Verticals of Frye,” a collection of Frye festival talks I edited in 2005.) In one of his notebooks from the 1960s Frye says “that I cannot really get at the centre of a problem unless something in it goes back to childhood impressions.” And he reports that some of his “most vivid dream settings have been on Moncton streets. Streets are, of course, a labyrinth symbol, full of Eros: they recapture not past reality but my reality, reality for me.” His experience of Moncton, then, continued to give shape to his interior life for decades. Continue reading

The Broken Estate

[Wesley Memorial United Church, Moncton, NB]

In his book Northrop Frye: Religious Visionary and Architect of the Spiritual World, Bob Denham lists the half-dozen spiritual illuminations that Frye experienced during his lifetime, and quotes Frye from the late notebooks: “I have spent the greater part of seventy-eight years in writing out the implications of insights that occupied at most only a few seconds of all that time.”

“Moments of intensity,” Frye called them. Epiphanies. Insights. Illuminations. Intuitions. The first occurred in Moncton, one day when he was walking from his home on Pine Street to Aberdeen High School, a distance of about 10 blocks. In an interview with Robert Sandler (recorded Sept. 20, 1979, and quoted in John Ayre’s biography), Frye

remembered walking along St. George St. to high school and just suddenly that whole shitty and smelly garment (of fundamentalist teaching I had all my life) just dropped off into the sewers and stayed there. It was like the Bunyan feeling, about the burden of sin falling off his back only with me it was a burden of anxiety. Anything might have touched it off, but I don’t know what specifically did, or if anything did. I just remember that suddenly that that was no longer a part of me and would never be again.

In April, 2011, when Michael Happy was in Moncton to give a talk at the Frye Festival, he and I spent an afternoon exploring the various Frye sites that mark the city, sites that go back to his time here in the 1920s and new sites created by the festival in the last 13 years. From his house at 24 Pine Street and the Wesley Memorial Church on Cameron we drove and walked along St. George Street, trying to imagine where it was exactly that the albatross was lifted. A likely spot seemed to be at the corner of St. George and Lutz, where the Roman Catholic Cathedral towers above all else and is suitably massive, dark, and forbidding. (Though I know from experience it houses one of the great organs in Canada, and is central to Acadian culture and history.) We snapped pictures of the near-by gutter, thinking we’d surely found the spot. Unfortunately, it turns out that the Cathedral, a fact I should have known, was only built in 1939. So we still do not know where it happened. The important thing, for Frye and for us, is that it did happen.

Yet looking back on the Moncton illumination, Frye realized, as he said to David Cayley in December, 1989 (having said something similar in the Sandler interview):

I wasn’t really brought up with that garment on me at all. Mother told me a lot of nonsense because her father had told it to her, and she thought it must be true and that it was her duty to pass it on. But something else came through, and you know how quick children are at picking up the overtones in what’s said to them rather than what is actually said. I realize that Mother didn’t really believe any of this stuff herself… She thought she did believe it. She thought she ought to believe it. But I can see now that as a child I picked up the tone of common sense behind it. Mother had a lot of common sense in spite of all that stuff.

It’s easy to hear in these words a great affection for his mother, who is the one after all who got him going at the age of 3 or so, with reading and music and much else. It’s one of the reasons no doubt, this affection, that brought him to Moncton in Nov., 1990, two months before his death, to lecture at l’université de Moncton, give a talk at Moncton High School, and in general receive a hero’s welcome. This may have been his only visit to Moncton since the 1940s, when his mother died. One of his primary wishes was to visit her gravesite in Elmwood Cemetery. Continue reading

Frye Festival Wrap Up

Atwood at the Capitol Theatre, Moncton, Thursday night (photo, Times-Transcript)

I love this story which I picked up this morning through the Globe & Mail, about a man named Sohaib Athar, a resident of Abbottabad, Pakistan, who inadvertently tweeted the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound as it unfolded. What follows are the exact words of the article, with a few sentences omitted for brevity. It all leads to an amazing last sentence. We’re all one big human race, that sentence tells us.

His first tweet was innocuous: “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).”
As the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden unfolded, Mr. Athar “liveblogged” what he was hearing in real time, describing windows rattling as bombs exploded.
He questioned whose helicopters might be flying overhead. “The few people online at this time of the night are saying one of the copters was not Pakistani,” he tweeted.
Mr. Athar then said one of the aircraft appeared to have been shot down. Two more helicopters rushed in, he reported..
Throughout the battle, he related the rumours swirling through town: it was a training accident. Somebody was killed.. The aircraft might be a drone. The army was conducting door-to-door searches in the surrounding area. The sound of an airplane could be heard overhead.
Mr. Athar did not respond to media requests for comment — he explained in another tweet that a filter he set up to stop his email box from flooding could be culling out requests for interviews.
Soon, however, the rumbling of international events far beyond the confines of this quiet upscale suburb began to dawn on Mr. Athar, and he realized what he might be witnessing.
“I think the helicopter crash in Abbottabad, Pakistan and the President Obama breaking news address are connected,” he tweeted.
Eight hours and about 35 tweets later, the confirmation came: “Osama Bin Laden killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan,” Mr. Athar reported. “There goes the neighbourhood.”

The Frye Festival, at least for organizers, always has a sense of let-down when it’s over, like postpartum depression I suppose. We wish it didn’t have to end and we didn’t have to return to the real world. This year, with the election and Bin Laden’s death all happening the day after the festival, there’s even more a sense that what we’ve created is slipping fast into memory. Maybe, though, at the end of the day it will not be a down feeling, but joy as the results come in. We can always hope, prematurely or not.

As we fully expected, the festival ended with a bang, with Margaret Atwood’s lecture Saturday evening, followed by a Q & A Session that lasted 40 minutes, instead of the allotted 20.  The Capitol Theatre was filled to capacity, a little worried because she was AWOL until the last moment, returning from a trip to Sackville, where her grandmother had attended university. Her talk was entitled “Mythology and Me: The Late 1950s at Victoria College.”  She was thoroughly entertaining (local CBC reporter Bob Mersereau blogged her as the best stand-up comic he’s seen in a long time) and richly informative about her own life, her years at U of T, her interactions with Frye as well as McLuhan, and her reading of Frye’s Anatomy, Educated Imagination, and Great Code. She read a long and irreverent piece she had written under the nom de plume ‘Shakesbeat Latweed’ while at Victoria College, making fun of the ideas of both Frye and McLuhan. She analyzed the ‘poetry’ of advertising spots for Coke, Pepsi, and other products of the 40s and 50s, making the (tongue in cheek) case that in the days when everyone was lamenting the aridity of the Canadian literary scene, here, right under our noses, a great oral tradition, calling for its own horde of specialists, was unfolding via the new media, radio and television. There was much on myth, not meaning true or false, as she tried continuously to emphasize, but story, and her presentation of the Great Code in a nutshell was a tour de force. As Rhonda Whittaker, host and interviewer, said afterward, “I think everyone was surprised by how wry and witty she was.” Even when we were not surprised we laughed a lot. After the talk and after the Q & A, she sat at a table on stage and signed books, generously greeting everyone in a long line of at least 250 people. The talk, by the way, should be available as an e-book sometime in the fall.

Saturday was jam-packed with other activities, many of them focused on children, including Kidsfest in the morning, which attracted several hundred kids and parents. There were writing workshops for kids and an event called ‘Budding Writers’ where students in grade 5 to 8 read their own works. A Brunch & Books event with Fereshteh Molavi, Melvin Gallant, Shandi Mitchell, and Hélène Vachon was a quiet oasis for lovers of the written word. The final event of the festival, called Frye Jam, brought together 7 authors, French and English, as well as several musical guests, for a late night celebration of words and music. A tough crowd sometimes, for the authors, with some people doing more talking than listening, but Mark Anthony Jarman found an answer when he pulled his harmonica out of his pocket toward the end of his reading and fronted our favourite local band, Les Païens. And with skill, as his CV had forewarned us.

I’ve left Friday out of my account, but it’s getting late and the election results are beginning to come in. As a purely (or not so purely) English speaker at a bilingual festival, it was a pleasure for me to meet Prix Goncourt winner, medical doctor, and ambassador (among many other things) Jean-Christophe Rufin. Friday evening Rufin engaged in a one-hour conversation with host Jean Fugère, which kept the crowd of 150 in absolute thrall. Rufin also took part in a noontime roundtable on “Writers as Readers” along with Fereshteh Molavi, Mark Anthony Jarman, and Hélène Vachon. Friday afternoon belonged to Sylvia Tyson. A well-attended ‘Book Club’ event featured a discussion of her new novel, “Joyner’s Dream,” with Sylvia answering all our questions. Two hours later she was part of a ‘Beer and Books’ event that ended with Sylvia reading extensively from her novel and, to conclude her reading, she performed one of the songs she had written as integral to the novel. As I said to someone leaving the venue, “It was worth the wait!”


Frye Festival, Day Four

To fill the void left with Michael’s departure I’m gathering a few thoughts about yesterday’s exciting fourth day of the festival. It’s early Friday morning as I write, and the wedding is happening. On the local CBC station Sylvia Tyson is talking about her debut novel, Joyner’s Dream. Next half hour Charles Foran will talk about his great biography of Mordecai Richler and his more recent short biography of Rocket Richard. Sylvia is still in town for her main events today, whereas Charles is moving on to Montreal and that other festival.

Last night close to 800 people filled the Capital Theatre for our annual Soirée Frye. Hosted by Festival Chair and ambassador extraordinaire Dawn Arnold and newly crowned Poet Flyé Gabriel Robichaud, the event featured readings by poet Dyane Léger, novelist Shandi Mitchell, novelist and Prix Goncourt winner Gilles Leroy, and Margaret Atwood. Throughout the evening Marie-Jo Theriault and Joe Grass provided a magical musical background, and sometimes foreground. Very strong performances by all four readers! Margaret Atwood opened by saying that she was a student of Frye, and that she would talk more about that time in her life when she delivers the Antonine Maillet-Northrop Frye lecture Saturday evening. (It’s at the Capital Theatre at 8 pm, and will again no doubt be packed to the rafters.) If Frye could see what is happening in Moncton in his name, he would be, Atwood said, “bemused, delighted, or … something.” (That ‘something’ was quintessential Atwood, I think everyone felt. I did.) She read from Oryx and Crake, in four perfectly modulated voices, demonstrating a dramatic flair that surprised me and left all of us wishing for more. The reception afterwards, in the lobby, lasted an hour, with everyone feeling they had just witnessed, or taken part in, something special.

The word ‘witness’ crept in above, because earlier in the day, at a noontime roundtable, the topic was ‘The Writer as Witness.’ The three panellists were Gilles Leroy, Johanna Skibsrud (winner of the 2010 Giller Prize), and Melvin Gallant, one of Acadie’s most important writers. I found Leroy’s talk about the many ways writers can be false witnesses, as well as true witnesses, especially interesting. We have a great moderator for this roundtable, and others, in Jean Fugère, who has been coming to our festival for many years now from Montreal.. Besides hosting two or sometimes three roundtables, he invariably engages one of the festival’s leading French authors in conversation. (This year that author is Jean-Christophe Rufin.)

I musn’t forget to mention the thoroughly enjoyable ‘Book Club’ event with Shandi Mitchell at 2pm Thursday, featuring her wonderful novel “Under This Unbroken Sky.” And at 5 pm, at Navigator’s Pub (scene of Michael Happy’s successful ‘Frye for Beginners’ presentation), the Iranian writer-in-exile Fereshteh Molavi talked with Thomas Hodd, a new member of the Frye Festival team, and gave us much insight into the immigrant experience, from the point of view of a single woman trying to make her way as a writer. Not easy! To say the least.

Thursday was a great day, as we reached the halfway point of the 12th annual Northrop Frye Festival. Our intense program of authors in the schools is going very well, from what I hear, with one or two exceptions – when a classroom is perhaps not prepared to receive the author. Today, Friday, promises to give us much more to ‘feed the imagination.’ Saturday, ending with Margaret Atwood’s talk (entitled ‘Mythology and Me: The Late 1950s at Victoria College”), will bring it all to a very high, even exhilarating pitch I’m sure. My only regret is that Michael is not still here to record and observe it all.