Category Archives: Anniversaries

Courtly Love


The deaths of Romeo and Juliet in Baz Luhrman’s 1996 film adaptation

Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II of England on this date in 1152. She was the famed architect of the Court of Love at Poitiers, and the themes and conventions that grew up around it prevailed in love poetry for centuries.

Frye in The Myth of Deliverance on Courtly Love and the Eros cult in Shakespeare:

But while some forms of Courtly Love were highly sublimated, others were not, as we can see if we turn from Dante or Petrarch to The Romaunt of the Rose or the story of Tristan and Iseult. By Shakespeare’s day love is normally, in comedy, a heterosexual attachment leading to marriage. The tragic form of such love is the Liebestod, as we have it in Romeo and Juliet, where the heightened energy of love, which transforms Juliet into the most articulate thirteen-year-old in history, meets with an equally heightened catastrophe. We can see in this play how the medieval Courtly Love conventions are still operating as a parallel to Christian doctrines. Strictly speaking, from a Christian point of view, Romeo’s suicide might involve him in damnation, but not many in his audience would want to speak as strictly as that. The audience would recognize that Romeo has his own religion: it does not conflict with Christianity or prevent him from going to Friar Laurence for confession, but when he says, “My bosom’s lord sits lightly in his throne” [5.1.3], he is speaking of the god to whom he really is committed and who really does run his life, who is Eros. Romeo and Juliet die as saints and martyrs in this god’s calendar, just as the “good women” of Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women include Dido and Cleopatra, who were also erotic saints and martyrs. (CW 28, 389-90)

Sir Thomas More


The trial of More in the 1966 film adaptation of A Man for All Seasons (parts 2 and 3 after the jump)

Sir Thomas More resigned as Lord Chancellor of England on this date in 1532.

Frye relates More’s Utopian outlook to Castiglione’s Courtier:

It is, I think, the latent Utopian tone of Castiglione’s dialogue, its implicit reference to hidden perfection in society itself, that makes it still relevant to us. Among the great educational books of that very fertile period, we have to place Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) in the first rank. In More’s book there is a collision of views between Hythloday, the traveller who has been to Utopia and has returned a convinced Communist, and More himself, who listens to his narration. Hythloday is now a revolutionary who feels that nothing can be done for Europe until private property is abolished and the various principalities replaced with something more like the Utopian republic. More represents himself, in contrast, as feeling rather that Hythloday should use his knowledge of Utopia to act as a counsellor to European princes, trying to inform their policies with something in the Utopian spirit. Castiglione’s courtier has no Utopia to go to, but he has a similar informing vision to communicate. (CW 28, 351)

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H. Rider Haggard


A clip from the very cheesy Hammer Films 1965 adaptation of She, with the imperious Ursula Andress playing “She who must be obeyed”

H. Rider Haggard died on this date in in 1925 (born 1856).

Frye in The Secular Scripture on the archetype of the earth-mother and Haggard’s She:

In the theme of the apparently dead and buried heroine who comes to life again, one of the themes of Shakespeare‘s Cymbeline, we seem to be getting a more undisplaced glimpse of the earth-mother at the bottom of the world. In later romances there is another glimpse of such a figure in Rider Haggard’s She, a beautiful and sinister female ruler, buried in the depths of a dark continent, who is much involved with various archetypes of death and rebirth. In the Xenophon of Ephesus the hero meets an old man who continues to love and live with his wife even though she has been embalmed as a mummy: similar themes are also in Haggard’s story. Embalmed mummies suggest Egypt, which is preeminently the land of death and burial, and largely because of its Biblical role, of descent to a lower world. (CW 18, 75-6)

Nazi Book Burning

Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels oversees a book burning rally in front of the Berlin Opera House. A translation of Goebbles’ speech to the students assembled there after the jump.

On this date in 1933, the Nazis engaged in nationwide public book burnings. The Hitler regime had drawn up lists of scholars and writers unacceptable to the New Order as decadent, materialistic, and representative of “moral decline” and “cultural Bolshevism.”  These included: Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Döblin, Erich Maria Remarque, Carl von Ossietzky, Kurt Tucholsky, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Erich Kästner, and Carl Zuckmayer.

Frye in Anatomy:

The only way to forestall the work of criticism is through censorship, which has the same relation to criticism that lynching has to justice. (CW 22, 6)

In “The Only Genuine Revolution”:

Historical imagination is a difficult thing to develop, and I’m not surprised that people shrink from trying to do it. But I’m always terrified when I hear the word “relevance” applied to education, because I can never forget that it was one of the jargon terms of the Nazis, and particularly the Nazi youth, around 1933 to 1934. That is, the professors around the universities that were being shouted down and hounded out of the place because they didn’t like Hitler were the people who didn’t understand the relevance of everything that was being studied to the Nazi movement. (CW 24, 167)

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Group of Seven

Fred Varley, “Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay”

The Art Gallery of Ontario opened its first exhibition featuring the Group of Seven on this date in 1920.

From “Canadian Scene: Explorers and Observers”:

[T]he primary rhythm of Canadian painting has been a forward-thrusting rhythm, a drive which has its origin in Europe, and is therefore conservative and romantic in feeling, strongly attached to the British connection but “federal” in its attitude to Canada, much possessed by the vision of the national motto, a mari usque ad mare. It starts with the documentary painters who, like Paul Kane, have provided such lively and varied glimpses of so many vanished aspects of the country, especially of Indian life. A second wave began with Tom Thomson, continued through the Group of Seven, and has a British Columbia counterpart in Emily Carr. (The romantic side of the movement is reflected in the name “Group of Seven” itself: there were never really more than six, in fact there were effectively only five, but seven is a sacred number, and the group had a strong theosophical bent.) One notices in these paintings how the perspective is so frequently a twisting and scanning perspective, a canoeman’s eye peering around the corner to see what comes next. Thomson in particular uses the conventions of art nouveau to throw up in front of the canvas a fringe of foreground which is rather blurred, because the eye is meant to look past it. It is a perspective that reminds us how much Canada developed as a passage or gateway to somewhere else, being merely an obstruction in itself. Further, a new world is being discovered. There is an immense difference in feeling between north and south Canada, but as north Canada is practically uninhabited, it exists in Canadian painting only through southern eyes. In those eyes it is a “solemn land” as frightening and fantastic as the moon. (CW 12, 423)

John Wyclif, Heretic

The opening of the Gospel of John from the Wyclif Bible (completed 1385): “In the beginning was the Word”

John Wyclif was declared a heretic by the Council of Constance on this date in 1415, twenty-nine years after his death. His books were burned, his body exhumed and burned, and his ashes scattered in the River Swift.

Despite this effort at obliteration, he remains The Morning Star of the Reformation.

Frye in “Symbolism in the Bible”:

Already in the Middle Ages, the question had arisen of translating the Bible into the vernacular (or modern) languages. It was resisted by authorities of the Church establishment, partly because the issue very soon got involved with reform movements within the Church. One of these reform movements was led in England by John Wyclif, a contemporary of Chaucer in the fourteenth century. His disciples, working mainly after his death, produced an English translation of the entire Bible, which of course was a translation of the Vulgate Latin text, not of the Greek and Hebrew. Nevertheless, the Wyclifite Bible became the basis for all future English translations. (CW 13, 420)


Capture of York

The barracks at Fort York, ca. 1812

On this date, American troops captured York (now Toronto) during the War of 1812.

From “Canadian Culture Today”:

The United States had a War of Independence against a European power in the eighteenth century, and a civil war on its own soil a century later. Canada had a civil war of European powers on its own soil in the eighteenth century, and a movement of independence against its American partner in the nineteenth. This started with the invasion of 1775 and continued in the War of 1812, which had very little point as a war with Britain, but was in many respects a war of independence for Canada. I discover that Americans, while they know about the bombardment of Washington and the battle of New Orleans, are often hardly aware, that this war involved Canada at all, much less that the bombardment of Washington was a reprisal for the burning of what is now Toronto. (CW 10, 515-16)



A feature length documentary on the disaster, the whole thing available at the above link

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster in Pripyat, Ukraine.

Frye refers to it to illustrate a point about primary concern in The Double Vision:

What we accept as beautiful or attractive or in accord with the way we want things to be has some connection, however indirect, with the satisfying of these concerns, and what we call ugly or dehumanized–air choked with pollution, land turned into waste land by speculators, infernos created by technological idiocies from Chernobyl to Exxon Valdez–with the frustration of them. For a long time the established powers in society looked at their civilization and said, “Probably much of it is very ugly, but that doesn’t matter as long as we make profits out of it, and certainly nothing is going to be done about it.” When it becomes clear that ugly is beginning to mean dangerous as well, however, the point of view may slowly change. (CW 4, 191)

Lucy Maud Montgomery


Anne recites Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott” in the television adaptation of Anne of Green Gables

Lucy Maud Montgomery died on this date in 1942 (born 1874).

From the “Conclusion to the First Edition of Literary History of Canada“:

The nostalgia for a world of peace and composure, with a spontaneous response to the nature around it, with a leisure and composure not to be found today, is particularly strong in Canada. It is overpowering in our popular literature, from Anne of Green Gables to Leacock’s Mariposa, and from Maria Chapdelaine to Jake and the Kid. It is present in all the fiction that deals with small towns as collections of characters in search of an author. (CW 12, 362)