Author Archives: Russell Perkin

Frye and Greene (2): Graham Greene’s Criticism


There’s a silly essay by Graham Greene about H[enry] J[ames]’s view of Catholicism which is only about GG’s own obsessions: if there’s one thing HJ could do, it was separate a social institution from the essential proclamation it purported to carry.  He wouldn’t head for any god-damned ‘fold’ on his deathbed, like Wallace Stevens.  (Notebooks on Romance 356-57)

Greene’s essay “Henry James: The Religious Aspect” may approach James at rather an oblique angle, but I don’t think “silly” is really a fair description.  Edwin Fussell has written a whole book on The Catholic Side of Henry James, where he says that “Henry James is far more Catholic in print than there is any evidence for his ever having been in his private life.”  Fussell goes to work in a much more thorough way and scholarly way, but he is essentially building on Greene’s insights in order to provide an insightful and unexpected perspective on the Master.  Greene’s characteristic obsessions enabled him to identify a pattern of references to Catholicism in James, which he related to what he called in another essay on James “a sense of evil religious in its intensity” (“Henry James: The Private Universe”).  Interestingly, Frye says something similar in the same notebook in which he condemns Greene’s essay.  Frye comments that a sense of evil is lacking in Jane Austen: “while she knows what evil is, she deliberately excludes it; HJ has a sense of evil comparable to Balzac’s or Dostoievsky’s, and can’t exclude it.  It leaks through the walls constantly” (NR 353).  The comparison between James and Dostoyevsky also can be found in Greene’s essay.  With reference to the recent discussion of Frye and Harold Bloom, it’s worth pointing out that Bloom calls Greene’s essay on James “egregious” and ridicules him for comparing James and Dostoyevsky!

For me, there is a stranger moment in Greene’s criticism of James, and one more revealing of Greene’s own anxieties, when he writes in a third essay that “what deeply interested him, what was indeed his ruling passion, was the idea of treachery, the ‘Judas complex’” (“The Portrait of a Lady”).  That statement would in fact serve as a good starting point for an overview of Greene’s fiction.  From his first historical novel, The Man Within (1929), to the late political novels The Honorary Consul (1973) and The Human Factor (1978), betrayal is a major motif in Greene’s novels, and memories of his own troubled schooldays at Berkhamsted School, where his father was the headmaster, crop up everywhere.  Greene is a novelist of obsessions – David Lodge once catalogued an impressive list of them, including dreams and dentistry – and therefore it is not surprising that his criticism is also obsessive in nature.  Like the criticism of many writers, it often does illuminate his own fiction more than the ostensible subject, but in the case of Henry James he does have something to say worth listening to.  In a future post I will say something about Greene on Shakespeare, in the context of Frye’s comments on ideological criticism; there is also much more to say about Frye and James, and I hope to return to that topic as well.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle


I have just finished reading Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.  I thought I should begin to address my ignorance of Japanese literature, and I began with Murakami because I was familiar with his book on marathon running.  I chose The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle because I was intrigued with the description on the cover: “In a Tokyo suburb a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife’s missing cat.  Soon he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo.”  Murakami’s novel provides many illustrations of the stages of ascent and descent outlined in Joe’s contest, notably falling asleep and entry into dream worlds; signs, portents, and oracular dreams; descent into the unconscious, into the horror of past war crimes, and literal descent into a well: “The best way to think about reality, I had decided,” Toru Okada says, “was to get as far away from it as possible – a place like the bottom of a well, for example.  ‘When you’re supposed to go down, find the deepest well and go down to the bottom,’ Mr. Honda had said.”  Among the many recurring motifs in the novel is the use of birds, including the mysterious “wind-up bird” that features both in the main plot and in the interpolated stories known as “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles.”  I won’t try to summarize this complex novel, nor to catalogue the elaborate variety of ways in which it employs the various stages of ascent and descent.  It is a multi-layered, sometimes fantastic, always readable work, by a Japanese author who is steeped in western influences, and it was one of my more memorable recent reading experiences.  Though be warned that the descent into the wartime past is not for the squeamish: it’s absolutely an experience of horror.  Other moments have a rare lightness of touch and charm.  Put The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle on your shopping list.

Reading Graham Greene with Northrop Frye


Graham Greene is a writer whose celebrity has waned somewhat since the 1970s, when he was among the best-known and most widely read of literary figures.  In terms of the modern literature syllabus at most universities, if my anecdotal impressions are at all representative, he has been squeezed out, like some other British writers of the mid-century (remember William Golding and Iris Murdoch?) by the new generation of postmodern and postcolonial writers.  The Modernists of the early twentieth century are still going strong, and someone had to make room for Salman Rushdie, Jeanette Winterson, Ian McEwan, and Zadie Smith.  On the other hand, people must still be reading Greene, as my local Chapters usually has a good selection of his novels for sale.

Greene was one of the first serious writers I read, since he was at the height of his fame during my high school and undergraduate years.  Moreover my father had a large collection of Greene’s work, including some first editions from his middle period.  Since I am working on a paper on Greene, I have naturally thought about him in relation to Northrop Frye.  A little bit of checking turned up the fact that the two men died within a few months of each other in 1991.  Greene was born in 1904, making him eight years older than Frye.  He established himself as a writer fairly early on, but the book that consolidated his literary reputation as the most prominent British novelist of his time was The Heart of the Matter (1948), a dark story of wartime espionage and sexual rivalry that appeared the year after Fearful Symmetry.

Northrop Frye does not say a great deal about Graham Greene, whose major works are in the mode of ironic realism, and who shares the vision of extremity of the Modernists but without the overt mythic elements that attracted Frye.  The discussion of ironic comedy in the first essay of the Anatomy refers to “the kind of intellectualized parody of melodramatic formulas represented by, for instance, the novels of Graham Greene.”  Frye did allude a number of times to The Ministry of Fear (1943), one of Greene’s strangest works, which has been termed dangerously close to self-parody.  It contains a number of romance elements, and it is mentioned in Words with Power and several times in the Notebooks, where Frye remarks on its use of “Amnesia & variants of the twin theme, no less” (Notebook 11e [51]; CW 13:329).  He was impressed by the classic film noir, The Third Man (1949), starring Orson Welles, for which Greene wrote the screenplay, and he recorded his impressions of the film in his diary on 26 April 1950. (The unforgettable closing scene is featured above.)

There is a very good book on Greene’s later fiction by Brian Thomas (An Underground Fate: The Idiom of Romance in the Later Novels of Graham Greene, 1988) that makes extensive use of Frye’s work, and especially of The Sacred Scripture.  Greene’s imagination was shaped by his childhood reading of the imperial romances of the late Victorian period and early twentieth century, as a result of which Joseph Conrad became a literary influence who caused Greene much anxiety: several of his works are essentially rewritings of Heart of Darkness, and he suppressed his second and third novels, The Name of Action (1930) and Rumour at Nightfall (1932), tales of adventure that read like imitations of Conrad’s weakest fiction.  Thomas demonstrates a return to romance, though of a different kind, in Greene’s later novels, some of which bewildered their first readers and proved difficult for critics to assimilate to their pre-existing view of the writer.

He begins with Greene’s works of the 1950s, which include The Quiet American, a novel about Vietnam at the point where American involvement was in its earliest stages, and the war was still a French colonial war.  The Quiet American (1955) contains elements of a detective novel, of travel writing, and of straightforward journalistic reporting.  It can be read as a novel about sexual jealousy, or as a political novel, or both, and it was very controversial in the United States on first publication, since it expresses Greene’s deep anti-Americanism.  A. J. Liebling’s negative review in The New Yorker expressed the resentment many Americans felt when The Quiet American was published, though it also inspired war journalists like David Halberstam.  (See here for a discussion of the recent film of The Quiet American that points to some ambivalences in the novel’s portrayal of America and Americans.)  None of the standard readings that precede Thomas’s book seems to capture the reason for The Quiet American’s profound appeal: I have read it many times, and have encountered quite a few other people for whom it is likewise a favourite book.  Brian Thomas’s examination of the romance archetypes in The Quiet American provides a convincing explanation of how Greene has combined the disparate elements I have mentioned into one of the best English novels of the twentieth century, and his book is also a demonstration of how Frye’s theory of romance illuminates a writer for whom Frye himself did not have a particular affinity.

Thomas sees Greene’s later protagonists as characters who tend to be “escapists” (one of Greene’s volumes of autobiography is entitled Ways of Escape, in which he memorably describes writing as a “form of therapy”), “not merely because they are irresponsible romantics but because they need to recover a sense of identity that has somehow been lost. . . .  Escape increasingly becomes a distinctively fictive business, a heroic literary pilgrimage into the archetypal underground territory of the imagination itself.  And despite all Greene’s protestations that he represents the world as it ‘is,’ this territory is the real Greeneland.”

More on Frye and Alter

Marc Chagall, White Crucifiction

Marc Chagall, White Crucifixion

I have found several passages in an interview between Northrop Frye and the Australian scholar David Lawton entitled “Archetype and History” (1986) that are relevant to the relationship between the work of Frye and Robert Alter, the subject of a recent discussion on this blog.

Responding to a question about biblical form-criticism, Frye says “I always feel there is something getting away from me in all this, that Robert Alter and his kind know things that I don’t know—I don’t know what, I haven’t yet discovered what they are from their books.”  In relation to this rather double-edged passage, Jean O’Grady draws attention to a less polite comment in the Late Notebooks: “The Art of Biblical Narrative my ass: there’s no such thing as Biblical narrative: there’s only the Bible’s narrative with a lot of sub-narratives.”  (Robert Alter published The Art of Biblical Narrative in 1981.)

Lawton asks Frye whether he distinguishes sharply between the Christian Bible and the Jewish Bible, and Frye replies:

In imagery and in metaphor it seems to me that Judaism and Christianity are identical.  But doctrinally a religion which accepts incarnation is very different from a religion which does not, and while I think I can come to terms with the Jewish conception of the Bible, it’s just possibly the prejudices of my upbringing that I feel that the Bible is beheaded if it doesn’t have the New Testament.  I just can’t get over that. . . .

I think I managed to get over the gap in the course on the Bible I taught at Harvard, where I had something like four hundred and twenty students and a fair number of them were Jews.  I tried to explain something of the difference between the two conceptions and the way in which Christianity had used Jewish conceptions in ways that Jews would think intolerable but nevertheless did fit consistently the structure of Christianity.  They went off and held special sessions themselves to discuss the Christian interpretation of the Jewish scriptures, and they’d come out shaking their heads and saying, “Clever buggers these Christians.”

“Offprints or Offspring”: Frye and the History of Literary Studies (3)


This is the last in a brief series of reflections on the profession of literary studies prompted by passages that struck me in Bob Denham’s recent edition of Frye’s Selected Letters, 1934-1991.

In a letter to Roger Shattuck, Frye comments on various aspects of the state of the humanities in 1971.  He says, “I suppose some of the bewilderment in modern humanities comes from the false analogies to business which are made at one end of the university, and the false analogies to democracy at the other.”  The assumption of the former analogy is

that the university, instead of being a process which is, in Newman’s phrase, its own end, must be a process with a product, like all other assembly lines.  The product is assumed to be either the works of “productive scholarship,” or students in the form of “trained minds.”  The conception of a university which is not essentially committed either to offprints or offspring is a difficult one to take in.

The business analogy is of course still with us, and still a major bone of contention.  It is even more pervasive because students have largely abandoned what Frye calls the false analogy of democracy.  He was writing to Shattuck in the midst of the student protest movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s (the Kent State Massacre had taken place in the previous year).  My sense is that the business analogy has now been adopted by many students as well as administrators (with the encouragement from universities that promote a rhetoric of customer satisfaction which students, used to completing product surveys in the hope of winning an iPod, are quite willing to respond to).

In terms of the scholarly product, the pressure to publish has only increased since the 1970s.  As for the “student product,” there have recently been efforts to quantify the “value-added” in a university education.  This is often characterized as a conservative initiative that attempts to impose an ideological straitjacket on higher education, though in his most controversial column as MLA President (see the Spring 2008 MLA Newsletter), Gerald Graff defended the general principle of outcomes assessment, arguing that too many colleges and universities are victims of what he calls the “Best-Student Fetish”: “it is as if the ultimate dream of college admissions is to recruit a student body that is already so well educated that it hardly needs any instruction!”

Once again, Frye’s reflections on the state of the academic profession identify trends that would become more and more apparent with the passage of time.  What would a university look like today if it were not committed “either to offprints or offspring”?  Can we even imagine such an institution?  Perhaps all those involved in university education need to have at least the idea of such a university in mind, as a utopian vision and a reference point while working within the less than ideal institution where they are a teacher or student.  In “The Dialectic of Belief and Vision,” Frye argued that everyone who works at a task in society has an imagined ideal towards which his or her actions are directed: “The model so constructed is a myth or fiction, and in normal minds it is known to be a fiction.  That does not make it unreal: what happens is rather an interchange of reality and illusion in the mind.”  A good example of what he is talking about is John Henry Newman’s Idea of a University, which originated in a series of lectures in Dublin, discourses to an impoverished religious community in a colonial society who were hoping to set up some sort of college to educate their youth.  Newman responded with the most idealistic of visions of what a university could and should be.  But he then showed considerable business and political shrewdness and realism as he went about trying to create a university for Catholics in Ireland.  That combination of idealism and pragmatism is still a good model for those of us who work in higher education.

Theology and the Victorian Novel


With the kind indulgence of Michael Happy, and the pretext of continuing the discussion of the Bible and the nineteenth-century novel, I am pleased to announce the recent publication of my book Theology and the Victorian Novel (McGill-Queen’s University Press).  In it, I discuss the theological dimension of a series of mostly very well-known Victorian novels by Thackeray, Charlotte Bronte, Charlotte Mary Yonge, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Mary Augusta Ward, and Walter Pater.  The book isn’t exactly a contribution to Frye scholarship, as the primary approach is that of intellectual and cultural history.  However, it is concerned throughout with the relationship between literature and spiritual vision, and a recurrent theme is the way that the Victorians looked to literature for a supplement to or a substitute for the authority of sacred scripture, and for a sacramental revelation of the divine.

In terms of visible traces, Frye’s influence can be seen mainly in the context of genre theory, but I am sure it is more pervasive than the index and notes might suggest.  I first read extensively in Frye’s work while I was in the early stages of working on the book.  Previously I was only familiar with the Anatomy and one or two other short pieces, and I had written a review of The Double Vision when it first came out.  The combination of a sabbatical leave and the need to come to a better understanding of the relationship between the Bible and literature resulted in a prolonged immersion in Frye’s work.  It will be no surprise to those who have read any of my recent posts to learn that Frye’s influence on my book coexists with the influences of Robert Alter, historical scholars such as Stephen Prickett, and postmodern theology.  I have tried to put these together to say something about the relationship between literature and theology not only in the Victorian period, but, implicitly at least, at the present time.

Novels, as I note at the beginning of my Introduction, conventionally are not thought to have much to do with theology.  For example, Milan Kundera begins The Art of the Novel (1986) with the image of Don Quixote riding out into a world marked by the disappearance of God, “the single divine Truth decomposed into myriad relative truths parceled out by men.”  But Henry James observes, in a passage I use as one of my epigraphs, “The novel is of all pictures the most comprehensive and the most elastic.  It will stretch anywhere – it will take in absolutely anything.”  My basic argument is that the Victorians stretched the novel form to include theology, which was an important part of the cultural discourse of the time.

Robert Alter and the Bible: A Response to Joseph Adamson


Following Joe’s critique of Alter, I too went back to Alter’s essay “Northrop Frye between Archetype and Typology.”  I’ll begin with the conclusion to Joe’s post, where he writes that “Alter simply wants nothing to do with the imaginative element, with metaphor or myth in the Bible, or if it must be admitted, since it is everywhere, only as a kind of rhetorical ornamentation that is easily hedged in by a crabbed and mean-spirited descriptivism.”  I agree that Alter wants to distance himself from Frye’s way of reading the Bible – for reasons that I will get to later – but I find in his work a powerful response to the imaginative element in the Bible.  It’s just that for Alter this element exhibits itself in difference rather than identity, and in particulars rather than typological categories.  Alter ends his essay by saying that “The revelatory power of the literary imagination manifests itself in the intricate weave of details of each individual text.”  Going back to Joe’s conclusion, I would also dispute the adjectives “crabbed and mean-spirited”; Alter reads the Bible as a work of great literature, a revelation of what it means to be human, and an exploration of the way that human lives are embedded in history.  I regard Alter as a major humanist critic, not someone I would put on the same level as Frye, but certainly a literary scholar and critic whom I find in many ways exemplary. 

To reiterate a point I made in an earlier post, when teaching the Bible and literature I set up a dialectic between the approaches of Alter and Frye.  For me, both are necessary.  In looking at Milton, or aspects of Shakespeare, Frye’s visionary-typological approach is a powerful way of seeing what these poets have done imaginatively with the Bible.  On the other hand, in discussing the novel, which in the English tradition at least is profoundly grounded in the Bible, Alter’s commentaries on the Hebrew Bible are an invaluable resource, as of course they are in considering the literary qualities of the Hebrew Bible itself.  Not only do the two critics have divergent ways of reading, but for pedagogical purposes it is useful that one of them writes out of a Christian tradition and the other from a Jewish tradition. 

I have a vivid memory of Alter’s paper at the Frye and the Word conference: for me it had the kind of lucid authority that makes you feel you are in the presence of an exceptional scholar.  (You can see him lecturing for yourself here.)  That conference took place as I was getting ready to teach my course on the Bible and Literature for the first time, and I was therefore especially attentive when Alan Mendelsohn, in his introduction to Alter’s lecture, praised Alter’s translation of the book of Genesis for opening up dramatically new perspectives on that text.  In teaching the course, I have found Mendelsohn’s recommendation to be exactly right: Alter’s commentary reveals countless complexities and subtleties in the text of the Hebrew Bible, which with his knowledge of the European literary tradition he is often able to relate to later literary developments.  (He has since translated the two books of Samuel, the whole of the Torah, and the Psalms.)  I was even inspired by reading these commentaries to start learning Hebrew, in spite of the fact that I am not very adept with foreign languages.  Thus through the long hot summer of 2006, I spent several hours a week sitting down with a handful of undergraduates less than half my age, under the guidance of Wendell Eisener, a religious studies professor at Saint Mary’s who most kindly let me sit in on his class.  I would not claim to be a Hebrew scholar as a result, but I learned enough to start to see how the language works and to be able to use reference tools. 

Joe points out some of Alter’s negative language towards Frye, and I think that this language indicates a certain degree of anxiety.  At least twice, Alter uses the word “beguiling” to characterize Frye’s method of reading the Bible.  This word now has the primary meaning of “charming,” or “diverting attention in a pleasant way,” but it also retains the sense embodied in the root guile of “deluding, entangling with guile.”  Alter is clearly aware of, and wary of, the seductive power of Frye’s way of reading the Bible, which he notes is not merely a practice of worldly criticism but something that includes “a certain homiletic touch.” And Alter does acknowledge that the mythological way of reading exemplified by The Great Code is an appropriate description of the way that many poets in the Christian tradition have read the Bible. 

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Frye, Favre, and Vettel: The Place of Sports in the Mythological Universe


Last weekend I found myself re-reading The Double Vision in between intervals of watching sports on TV.  Not only were all four major North American leagues in action on the same weekend, but there were a number of sports events that I was especially interested in: Paula Radcliffe’s attempt to win her fourth New York marathon, the last race of the Formula 1 season at the futuristic new track in Abu Dhabi, the NASCAR race at the legendary Talladega circuit, a Leafs-Canadiens game, and Brett Favre’s return to Green Bay as a Minnesota Viking. 

Northrop Frye does not give the impression of being someone who was much interested in sports, and I started wondering idly about the role of sports in ideas of liberal education (Newman says in the Idea of a University that “there are bodily exercises which are liberal, and mental exercises which are not so”), and about how sports would fit into Frye’s discussion of primary and secondary concerns.  The relationship between literature and sports is sometimes problematic: often in North American culture it is typified by in a comment I once overheard at a holiday party: “I hope you had a good Christmas, with no books and lots of sports equipment.”  But St. Paul was not averse to athletic metaphors, and Tom Brown’s Schooldays inspired a tradition of fiction that continues in the games of Quidditch in the Harry Potter books.  There is also a tradition of cultivating the body as well as the mind that finds expression in the Renaissance ideal of the courtier; I like to draw students’ attention to the fact that Sir Philip Sidney begins his “Apology for Poetry” with an anecdote concerning horsemanship.  The first time I ever heard of Marcel Proust was by reading an essay about sport in The Remembrance of Things Past in Sports Illustrated  (I kid you not: check out the SI Vault, 17 December 1973). 

Unlike critics such as Stanley Fish, Frye is not given to sporting metaphors, though one does turn up in an incidental way in The Double Vision.  Illustrating the difference between a purposeless and a purposeful repetition, Frye writes that the latter “is habit or practice repetition that leads to the acquiring of a skill, like practising a sport or a musical instrument” (52).  Of course, it is the musical example that he goes on to develop.  Because I teach at a university with a strong athletics programme, I often find myself using the sports analogy that Frye employs here, saying something along the lines of “There are a few people who are natural athletes and don’t need to practice, just as there are some people who are brilliant scholars who don’t need to study much, but most of us have to work hard to achieve anything.” 

In his discussion of the fulfillment of primary concerns in human civilization, Frye talks of the necessity for both work and play.  The latter “opens up a world of freedom and leisure out of which the typically human form of consciousness comes, and it produces the creative arts.”  The creative arts, in turn “set up models of what I have been calling primary concerns” (DV 28-9).  Can we say that sports transforms activities that exist in the world of nature, such as running away from predators or fighting for survival, into forms of play such as competitive running or football?  Are such forms of play models of primary concerns?  If sport is part of the fulfilling of primary concerns, does it too often get displaced into secondary concerns by economic factors or nationalism? 

I suppose one could also view sports as a kind of mythological world of its own, with its heroes and patterns of ascent and descent.  Commentators and analysts interpret the careers of athletes in terms of triumph and tragedy, disgrace and redemption.  If one wanted to view this negatively, one could view sports fanaticism as a kind of debased substitute religion; alternatively, one could that sports are part of a wider spiritual path for many.  In any case, it is hard not to see the analogies between sports and cultural archetypes: for example, I was teaching Tennyson’s “Ulysses” (“I cannot rest from travel: I will drink / Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d / Greatly, have suffer’d greatly”) during one of Brett Favre’s “Will I retire or come back next year?” dramas. 

I wonder whether there are other Frye-reading sports fans out there, and if so what you have to say on this topic.  By the way, Paula Radcliffe came fourth in the marathon, the German whiz kid Sebastian Vettel won the Grand Prix, to place second in the World Championship, and Brett Favre beat his old team.

Before the Revolution: Frye and the History of Literary Studies (II)


When I was an undergraduate in the 1970s there was a pioneering women’s studies course on campus.  It was interdisciplinary, and I believe it was team taught.  The course was discussed among students – with the exception of those who were self-proclaimed feminists, a tiny minority – in much the same way that a Communist cell might have been discussed during the early years of the cold war.  A rumour circulated that “there is a guy taking the course.”  When I started a tenure-track job in the late 1980s, female faculty comprised about one-quarter of my department, and gender issues came up frequently, and sometimes contentiously, in discussion about the curriculum, hirings, and occasionally about the conduct of meetings.  With the sudden rise to prominence of feminist criticism and the institutional and societal concern with equity in the workplace, it was clear that a revolution was in progress.  Things have changed so much since those days that it is hard to realize that they were only twenty years ago.  In the last five years, my department (of nineteen full-time members) has hired ten new tenure-track faculty.  That is in itself a remarkable fact, but it is also noteworthy that the gender ratio of those appointments is 3 men to 7 women.  This was not the result of any conscious policy, but rather is a reflection of the feminization of English studies.  As another example of this, I noticed that at several sessions at this year’s Congress that the graduate students and junior faculty in the room were almost entirely female.

This personal reminiscing is by way of a historical preamble to a passage from Northrop Frye’s Selected Letters which provides an excellent illustration of the way things were before the feminist revolution.  Frye is writing to Robert Heilman, chair of English at the University of Washington in 1951:

Dear Robert,

Thanks very much for your letter.  If there weren’t a catch, I could recommend the best teacher of Middle English that you or any other English department is ever likely to get.  She’s a wonderful girl named Margaret Stobie, now at Winnipeg, Manitoba, Ph.D., author of a Middle English grammar and of several articles ranging from scholarly notes in PMLA to studies in the metre of Hopkins.  Excellent teacher.  It’s no doubt irrelevant to add that she’s a great pleasure to look at.  The catch is her husband Bill, a most agreeable and likeable chap, will get along in any society, probably do a good teaching job with elementary composition classes, but no scholarship and little promise of any.  The conventions of modern society don’t permit the woman to do the job and the man to wash the dishes, which is what’s appropriate here: Bill would make an excellent faculty wife.  They’ve had a lot of jobs because people hire Bill to get Peg, and then a new administration comes in that fires all married women, which is why she’s unemployed now.

Margaret Roseborough Stobie, who was a friend of Frye from graduate school days, died in 1990.  Those who want to see more details about her academic career can find information here on the University of Manitoba Archives website; it is interesting to note that she was “the first woman appointed to the academic panel of the Canada Council.”  In Frye’s comments to Heilman he clearly recognizes that the “conventions of modern society” are at odds with what is obviously appropriate and desirable, which is that Margaret Stobie should be hired for her own merit.  Superficially, by today’s standards, his letter might be considered a bit condescendingly sexist, but in the context of the time and the situation, I think it reveals his essential liberalism.

Two additional comments: 1. An anecdote in John Ayre’s biography of Frye indicates that Stobie was skeptical of Frye’s archetypal method of criticism.  2. William Stobie died in 2007, leaving the couple’s fortune of $7 million to the University of Manitoba, where they finished their teaching careers.  The money, the largest bequest ever received by the university, is specifically designated for the purchase of books in the literary humanities.  An article in the National Post observes that “The Stobies donated the money without asking that their name be placed on any building on campus – a rare move for anyone giving a multimillion-dollar gift.”

Doubling in Mad Men


Further to Archetype:

Joe, just to begin the exploration, Mad Men makes frequent use of doubling, most obviously in Don Draper’s dual identity. And in the early episodes we see him in the contrasting worlds of Madison Avenue and the Bohemian Village, and with an artist lover in the city and a family in the country. Then the show really gets into the Rebecca-Rowena pairing with the blonde Grace Kelly-like stay at home wife and the dark-haired Jewish businesswoman lover.