Category Archives: Denham Library

Happy Birthday, Bob Denham

Bob with his wife, Rachel

Today is Bob Denham’s birthday.

We do not have to say much about Bob’s extensive work as a scholar because anyone who knows him knows about it. However, we do have much to say about Bob’s contribution here. Bob, more than anyone else, has made this website what it is. It was easy enough to set it up in its present form: a daily blog, a library of resources, and a journal of articles about Frye. But all of these would have been shells without Bob’s extraordinarily generous contribution. This generosity is worth detailing.

Bob has so far submitted more than 200 posts to the daily blog portion of the site in the two years since we first went online, which is a remarkable effort in itself. The blog is put together daily on the fly, and Bob’s posts provide the best that can be accomplished on such short notice; and they are, not surprisingly, the most widely read. As a very modest birthday present to him, we have designated a new Bob Denham category, which means that anyone wanting to search out and read his archived posts can now do so without having to scroll through the daily entries looking for them.

Bob has also kindly archived six articles in our journal, including papers he delivered at three Frye Festivals in Moncton.

His greatest contribution, however, that makes this site a significant scholarly resource, is his patronage of the library we established under his name, and which currently holds more than 100 items, virtually every one of them bequeathed to us by Bob. These include:

* An archive of all ten volumes of Bob’s Northrop Frye Newsletter, which he published between 1988 and 2007.

* Several “Previously Unpublished” items, including two notebooks, and a number of letters, among other treasures.

* Ten sets of class notes, as well as some exams, from a number of Frye’s courses between 1947 and 1955. This is a singular resource to provide insights to Frye as a teacher.

* All nine of the introductions to the editions of the Collected Works Bob has edited, which make up a third of the Collected Works as a whole.

* Four lectures.

* A large sampling of reviews of a number of Frye’s works.

* Thirteen “Miscellaneous Compilations” on various subjects, including chess, Islam and the Koran, and movies Frye had seen and refers to throughout the Collected Works.

If it ended here, this would constitute an exceptional contribution to the Frye scholarship to be found here. But it does not, of course, end here. Bob has also allowed us to post in their entirety two books: his first comprehensive study, Northrop Frye and Critical Method, as well as his latest collection, Essays on Northrop Frye, which includes seven new essays on Frye’s relation to a number of thinkers and writers, from Aristotle to Lewis Carroll.

It is not just a courtesy to say that without him this site would not be much more than a hobby shop of Frye enthusiasm. We therefore offer our warmest thanks, and wish him a very happy birthday.

Frye on “the tension between concern and freedom”

Former Florida congressman Alan Grayson pushes back against self-described “Republican reptile” P.J. O’Rourke on last week’s Real Time with Bill Maher.

Here is a quote from Frye cited in Bob Denham’s essay, “Frye and Soren Kierkegaard,” in his new collection Essays on Northrop Frye, posted in our library this week. The quote is particularly relevant to the rise in the last few weeks of what is now an international “Occupy” movement.

The basis of all tolerance in society, the condition in which a plurality of concerns can coexist, is the recognition of the tension between concern and freedom. . . . Concern and  freedom both occupy the whole of the same universe: they interpenetrate, and it is no good  trying to set up boundary stones. Some, of course, meet the collision of concern and freedom from the opposite side, with a naive rationalism which expects that before long all myths of concern will be outgrown and only the appeal to reason and evidence and experiment will be  taken seriously. . . . I consider such a view entirely impossible. The growth of non-mythical  knowledge tends to eliminate the incredible from belief, and helps to shape the myth of concern according to the outlines of what experience finds possible and vision desirable. But the growth of knowledge cannot in itself provide us with the social vision which will suggest what we should do with our knowledge. (233)

Robert D. Denham, “Essays on Northrop Frye”

We are delighted to be able to link you at last to Bob Denham’s new collection, Essays on Northrop Frye, the latest addition to our library. They are posted in PDF, making them paginated and searchable and more accessible to students, teachers, and scholars..

We will not be posting again till next week. With twenty-two essays from Bob available to you, you don’t need to hear from us for a while. Enjoy.

Update: The ebook is still a relatively new thing, but like the scholarly texts of old, it is still prone to errata. We’ve picked up a couple of typos, and they will be corrected shortly. We wanted to have this wonderful book up for the holiday long weekend, and, like anything squeezed in on a tight deadline, one or two slipped past the goalie.

Bob Denham’s New Book Coming Soon

We are just applying the final touches before posting Bob Denham’s latest collection of essays on Frye, including eight new titles: “Frye and Aristotle,” “Frye and Giordano Bruno,” “Frye and Henry Reynolds,” “Frye and Robert Burton,” “Frye and Soren Kierkegaard,” “Frye and Mallarmé,” “Frye and Joachim de Floris,” and “Frye and Lewis Carroll.”

I think we can safely say that this is an event. And it should (fingers crossed) occur by Friday.

Until then, be sure to check out Bob’s other work in our library. It’s a remarkable collection, including all ten volumes of his Northrop Frye Newsletter; his classic Northrop Frye and Critical Method (in its entirety, we are very pleased to say: that’s an earlier print edition pictured above); all nine introductions to the volumes of the Collected Works he edited; four previously unpublished lectures; a number of indispensable compilations of Frye on topics like chess, Islam and the Koran; some miscellaneous Frygiana, and a remarkable collection of all of the movies that Frye saw up until at least 1955.

Let’s put it this way: the library collection is comprised almost completely of bequests from Bob, which is only one reason that we call it the Robert D. Denham Library. The other is that he is and always will be one of the greatest Frye scholars we can ever hope to see. So go in and browse. There’s treasure in there. We promise that you will find something you’ve never seen before.

And, as long as you’re browsing, maybe peek in on our journal as well.

Query Regarding Frye Marginalia in Dante’s “Divine Comedy”

Nicholas Graham sent us this email a couple of days ago:

Here is one of the many highlights to be found among Frye’s Dante annotations.

I would like to share it with anyone who is able to throw some light on Frye’s distinctions.

I have asked some of my theologian friends to explain Frye’s distinction between “the Maritains & the Barths”. Also I would like to know a little more about each of the types of visions that Frye presents here.

Maybe you could start an annotations corner on your wounderful blog?

You can see Graham’s transcript of the annotation here. Please have a look, and if you have anything to add, leave us a comment.

The answer to Nick’s question is, yes. We will set up a dedicated space for annotations.  We’ll let you know once we get it up and running.,

And, of course, queries of any sort are welcome.  We are always glad to post them.

Here are two responses to Graham’s query.

From Bob Denham:

Isn’t the Maritain/Barth distinction simply that Maritain accepted the analogia entis and Barth rejected it.  See Barth’s Church Dogmatics, vol. 3, pt..2, trans. Knight et al. (Edinburgh: Clark, 1960), 220.  See also Keith L. Johnson, Karl Barth and the Analogia Entis (2010).

I have a brief discussion of Frye and the analogia entis in “Frye and Giordano Bruno,” which has been posted on the Frye blog.  In a “General Note: Blake’s Mysticism,” Fearful Symmetry, CW 14:415–16, Frye contrasts Blake’s analogia visionis with “the more orthodox analogies of faith and being.”

Frye’s aligning the four forms of analogia with Dante’s four levels of meaning is a pretty ingenious schematic.  Of course Frye’s ultimate commitment is to anagogy, where the principle of identity, as opposed to analogy, operates.

From Michael Dolzani:

My knowledge here is highly limited, despite growing up Catholic; I thought analogia was a girl I went to high school with. However, I think Bob is basically right. The Catholic Maritain accepts the analogia entis and is thus trapped in reason; the Protestant Barth rejects it and manages thereby to open a path to the analogia visionis, to vision, via the Logos. I wonder when these notes were written:  this all seems an outbreak of Norrie’s visceral antipathy to Catholicism, which I’ve never really understood.

I know that the Catholic Church of his youth was extremely reactionary, and that he disliked the potential authoritarianism of the neo-Thomist movement, which he saw as parallel to something like Eliot’s Anglo-Catholic insistence on “orthodoxy,” but Catholicism really seems to have been a sore spot. After all, Aquinas may be dryly Scholastic, but I find Augustine’s obsession with sin, damnation, predestination, and the like as repellent as anything in the Inferno. When Benedict recently abolished half of Limbo (the unbaptized infants), there were a lot of articles talking about the historical background; I don’t know if it’s true that where Aquinas said the souls of unbaptized infants were merely denied heaven, Augustine went further and said that they shared to a degree the punishments of the damned–but it sounds like something he’d say.

In short, Norrie saw the shadow side of Catholicism, but seems to minimize the shadow side of Protestantism. It was the Augustinian tradition of obsession with sin and guilt and the corruption of the human will that led to Luther’s tormented ferocity; to Calvinism’s making predestination practically the whole of the Christian message; to the burning of witches; and, after all, Barth’s theology was itself called “neo-orthodox.” Hardly a line of vision. If you wanted to be unfair in the other direction, you could counterpoise all this against enlightened Catholics like Erasmus and Nicholas Cusanus and Rabelais. Norrie knows all this–in fact, he says some of it in Fearful Symmetry. But when he gets emotional he tends to think only of the bad side of Catholicism and the good side of Protestantism.

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Frye in Chinese

Cross-posted in the Denham Library here.

Frye’s books continue to be translated into Chinese.  The most recent is a translation of The Secular Scripture (Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 2010).  Trans. Xiang-Chun Meng.  The other Chinese translations are:


Anatomy of Criticism

Piping de Pouxi.  Trans. Chen Hui, Yuan Xianjun, and Wu Weiren.  Tianjin: Baihua Literature and Art Publishing House, 1998.

Piping de Jiepou.  Trans. Chen Hui, Yuan Xianjun, and Wu Weiren; revised by Wu Chizhe and annotated by Wu Chizhe and Robert D. Denham.  Tianjin: Hundred-Flower Literary Press, 2000.

The Educated Imagination, Creation and Recreation, and The Well‑Tempered Critic

Fulai Wenlun Sanzhong [Three of Frye’s Critical Monographs]: Xiangxiangli de Xiuyang, Chuangzhao yu Zai Chuangzhao, Wenlian de Pipingjai (Trans. Xu Kun et al., rev. with a preface and annotations by Wu Chizhe.  Hoh‑Hot: University of Inner Mongolia Press, 2003.

The Modern Century

Xian dai bai nian.  Trans. Sheng Ning.  Shenyang: Liaoning Educational Press; Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1998.

The Critical Path

P’i ping chih lu: Lo-ssu-lo pu Fu-lai chu.  Trans. Wang Fengzhen and Min-li Chin.  Beijing: Peking University Press, 1998.

The Great Code

Wei da de dai ma: Shengjing yu wen xue. Trans. Hao Zhengyi, Fan Zhenguo, and He Chengzhou.  Beijing: Peking University Press, 1998.

Words with Power

Shenlide Yuyan: Shengjin yu Wenxue Yanjiu xubian.  Trans. Wu Chizhe.  Preface by Ye Shuxian. Beijing: Social Sciences Documentation Publishing House, 2004.

Selected Essays

Nuosiluopu Fulai Wen lun xuan ji [Northrop Frye: Selected Essays].  Ed. Wu Chizhe.  Beijing: China Press of Social Sciences, 1997.

Contents: “The Responsibilities of the Critic” / “Criticism, Visible and Invisible” / “The Search for Acceptable Words” / “Literature as Therapy” / “The Archetypes of Literature” / “Forming Fours” / “Myth, Fiction, and Displacement” / “Design as a Creative Principle in the Arts” / “Expanding Eyes” / “Literature as a Critique of Pure Reason” / “The Koine of Myth: Myth as a Universally Intelligible Language” / “The Symbol as a Medium of Exchange” / “The Mythical Approach to Creation” / “Conclusion” to Literary History of  Canada” (1965), / “Criticism and Environment” / “The Cultural Development of Canada” / “The Stage Is All the World” / “Literature as Context: Milton’s Lycidas” / “Blake after Two Centuries” / “Yeats and the Language of Symbolism”

Frye on Islam and the Koran

A page from the Koran, ca. 800

Further to an earlier post, Bob Denham has compiled a collection of quotes on Islam and the Koran which can be found in the Denham Library here.

Below is a selection on Judaism, Christianity and Islam:

[69]  In my R.K. [Religious Knowledge] course is a clever & plausible remark about the Koran: suras arranged in order of length only means that if the Koran is the Word of God, God doesn’t give a damn about narrative sequence.  Hence the rise of narrative literature and of causality structures (science) in the Christian culture founded on the Bible.  There may be still something in this; but it may be balls too.  After sura 1, an obvious opening invocation, sura 2 outlines the same old fall-exodus recapitulation, sura 3 adds Xy [Christianity] to it; sura 4 deals with points of law like Leviticus, and so on.  It’s just possible that the length-order is the right one, moving from a sort of East Coker laying down of the law, in roughly continuous prose, toward a shower of lyrical apocalyptic sparks, charms, riddles, curses, etc. (Northrop Frye’s Notebooks on the Bible, CW 13, 85)

[310]  Sex books in a bookshop are not there to tell you anything you don’t know; they’re there to keep your mind on the subject.  Similarly with devotional literature, Christian & Marxist.  Myths of concern [?]-clouds.  This is an extension of the dissociation-by-repetition principle (95–6 on the Koran [par. 294]) that repetition charges the emotional batteries & suspends the critical faculties.  What I tell you three times is true.  What I tell you three hundred times is profoundly true. (Northrop Frye’s Notebooks on the Bible, CW 13, 198)

[349]  Just as in the Bible we cannot distinguish the voice of God from the voice of the Deteronomic redactor, so in the Koran we cannot distinguish the voice of the angel Gabriel from the voice of Mohammed in a bad temper. (Northrop Frye’s Notebooks on the Bible, CW 13, 205)

[353]  Resurrection, the opposite of rebirth, is the genuine form of reincarnation.  In accepting incarnation Xy establishes the pattern of resurrection which (for instance) Islam doesn’t have. (Northrop Frye’s Notebooks on the Bible, CW 13, 206)

[22]  Xy absorbed so much that Judaism (like Islam later) excluded.  The internalized imagery of the ancient cave returned in the cathedral, whereas the Holy of Holies remained dark: the Mother returned in far greater force, along with the dying god: the totemic identification of human & animal victim is kept separate in the Akeda [binding of Isaac] and Passover: the blood sacrifice is similarly absorbed into the harvest-vintage ones.  In short, there’s a real catholicity that gives it the resources of a world religion.  It has the power to transcend itself: Judaism hasn’t.  More accurately, and gratefully, it did transcend itself in the Christian Word & Spirit (NOT the Church). (Northrop Frye’s Notebooks on the Bible, CW 13, 370)

So the narrative unity of the Bible, which is there in spite of the miscellaneous nature of its content, was something that I stressed.  And that concern for narrative seems to me to be distinctive of the Bible among other sacred books.  In the Koran, for example, the revelations of Mohammed were gathered up after his death and arranged in order of length, which suggests that revelation in the Koran pays no attention to narrative continuity—that’s not what it is interested in.  But the fact that the Bible is interested in it seems to be significant for the study of literature and for many other reasons. (“Symbolism of the Bible,” Northrop Frye’s Notebooks on the Bible, CW 13, 418)

The New Testament was written in Greek by writers whose native language probably was not Greek.  The kind of Greek they wrote was called koine, the popular Greek which was distributed all through the Near Eastern countries as a kind of common language.  The writers of the New Testament may have been familiar to differing degrees with the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, but when they quoted from the Old Testament they tended to use the Septuagint.  And that is the beginning of a principle which is rather important for the history of Christianity.  In any sacred book, there is enough concentration in the writing, and enough attention paid to it by those who accept it as sacred, for the linguistic characteristics of the original language to be of great importance.  Any Jewish interpretation or commentary on the Hebrew Old Testament inevitably takes great care to study the linguistic nuances of the Hebrew original, and similarly with the Koran, which is so bound up with the linguistic characteristics of Arabic that in practice the Arabic language has had to go everywhere that the Islamic religion has gone. (“Symbolism of the Bible,” Northrop Frye’s Notebooks on the Bible, CW 13, 419)

The Exodus gives to the Biblical religions that curiously revolutionary quality which Judaism and Christianity and Islam all have to some degree: and we saw that a nation which has gone through that kind of revolutionary experience becomes a nation with a very strong sense of its own corporate unity because of the experience which its people have shared.  Thus, law becomes really the antitype of the birth of Israel at the deliverance from Egypt, or the reality to which it points. (“Symbolism of the Bible,” Northrop Frye’s Notebooks on the Bible, CW 13, 584–5)

Frye-Welch Correspondence, 1968-1970

We have posted in the library letters written by Frye to Jane Welch (later Widdicombe) at the beginning of her long tenure as his devoted secretary: she began working for Frye in 1968. Frye’s travels during these three years took him to Ireland and London; Berkeley; Bellagio, Italy; Islamabad, Pakistan; and Merton College, Oxford.  During this time he was working on The Critical Path, which, he tells Jane Welch in one of his letters from Merton College, “is the first book since the Anatomy of Criticism that I’ve actually written, i.e., that hasn’t been a series of public lectures.  It’s also a very important book.  I probably won’t live to see it recognized as such, but you may” (no. 16).  Then there are the usual Frye quips, such as “I’m not all that anxious to read the Blake Newsletter, and I never believe anything I see in such things anyway, as a matter of principle” (no. 11), and “A big research library is wasted on me, too bad I never learned to read, and I’m getting itchy feet again” (no. 17).

You can read them all here.