Category Archives: Denham Library

Notebook 13: Three Lost Sections Recovered

It is a great pleasure to announce that three previously misplaced sections of Notebook 13 have been posted in the Robert D. Denham Library here.  The material includes notes for the Alexander lectures which eventually became Fools of Time, notes for Frye’s book on T.S. Eliot, as well as a miscellaneous set of reflections on the imagination, false gods, Romanticism, Poe and other topics.

This is unpublished material, so that makes it especially remarkable.

A Note on “Northrop Frye and Critical Method”


Northrop Frye and Critical Method is now posted in the Robert D. Denham Library here

As I explain in the headnote to the Preface, Northrop Frye and Critical Method was written when I was operating in an Aristotelian mode.  It focuses on Anatomy of Criticism.  Almost forty years of hindsight––what Frye calls the “rear‑view mirror”––enables one to see things in somewhat different contexts.  Some of these contexts I have attempted to examine in the Introduction to the Collected Works edition of the Anatomy (available in the Library here).  In the early 1970s the Anatomy was from my perspective the central book by Frye that needed to be accounted for.  Numerous books and essays, of course, followed in its wake, and the considerable body of writing Frye did in the last decade of his life has a decidedly different emphasis from what he wrote thirty years earlier.  I have tried to account for this emphasis in Northrop Frye: Religious Visionary and Architect of the Spiritual World.  Still, the Anatomy catapulted Frye from being a recognized authority among the small circle of Blake scholars to someone with an international presence.  And most of what continues to be written about takes its cues from the Anatomy.  If Northrop Frye and Critical Method helps to illuminate what that book was all about, I will naturally be most pleased.

I express my deepest thanks to Jonathan Cox, whom I had the good fortune of teaching and learning from in the undergraduate classroom, for his devoted labor in formatting the electronic text.  Thanks are also due to Michael Happy, the indefatigable webmaster of “The Educated Imagination,” which has its first birthday celebration today, for suggesting that the book, long out of print, be made available to a wider audience, and to the Pennsylvania State University Press, for releasing the copyright back to me.

Robert D. Denham: “Northrop Frye and Critical Method”


Admittedly, not everyone cares that it’s Madonna’s birthday — compelling archetypes of ascent and descent notwithstanding — so we have another much more interesting treat in store.

Thanks both to Bob Denham and our very handy administrator Jonathan Cox, we have just posted Bob’s first book, Northrop Frye and Critical Method, in the Robert D. Denham Library.  We’ll have more to say about that as part of our official launch tomorrow.  But go and have a peek at it here.

Glenna Sloan: “Northrop Frye in the Elementary Classoom”


We are very pleased to add to the Denham Library Glenna Sloan’s “Northrop Frye in the Elementary Classroom,” a speech she gave to the Canadian Literature Symposium on Northrop Frye in 2007.  You can link to it directly here.

Glenna brings what we very much need here: a consideration of Frye as a teacher, which, of all the remarkable roles he played, he considered the most important.

Here’s a sample:

I begin with indoctrination. I preach the gospel according to Frye in an effort to save teachers from the false teachings of the reading industry. These include the notion that how children read is more important than what they read, that fragmenting the reading experience through inane drills of so-called sequential skills is the way to develop literacy. The reading pundits insist that suitable early reading material must be dumbed down or, as they say, leveled, an unfortunate word which means written in limited vocabulary deemed appropriate for the reader’s age. I refer to Professor Frye’s blistering critique of Harcourt’s Adventure series of basal readers when I insist that genuine literature is far and away the most effective reading program ever devised.

In an interview with me, Professor Frye said: “As you read and write from the basis of literature, eventually you realize that there is a difference between learning to read and write at the minimum standards of literacy and being able to write with some power of articulateness and to read with some sense of direction. So the teaching of literature is the teaching of reading and writing. And what you’re aiming for here is the transfer of imaginative energy from literature to the reader” (University of Toronto, February 23, 1970).

Visit Glenna’s website, Children’s Literature and Literacy

Denham Library Update


I would like to let our readers know about the work going on behind the  scenes to improve and expand the Denham Library.

As some of you already know, the initial attempt to publish the text documents in the  library was plagued by formatting problems.  We are very fortunate that Jonathan Cox has offered us his time and considerable energy, and has been working hard,  along with me, to fix the formatting problems in the existing files and to ensure that new documents are in good condition before they are published. Bob Denham himself has gone through most of the existing files and enumerated the formatting issues making our task much easier.  Many of the problems have been fixed, but there is still much to do.

As Michael has reported, we recently published many images of Frye, and in the pipes are not only more documents, but books, Frye newsletters, and audio and video recordings.

Jonathan and I have been talking about the best way to ensure that this  material, along with all the content of the blog, is preserved for the ages.  I am in discussions with McMaster Library about the possibility of their hosting a file and web server that will have a three-fold purpose:

  1. To make file sharing easier among blog administrators,
  2. To make publishing files to the web easier,
  3. And to act as a permanent archive.

We are extremely fortunate to have access to all of this Frye-related material,  thanks largely to the extraordinary efforts of Bob Denham, and so we are taking seriously the pleasant and satisfying responsibility of ensuring that  it survives and remains publicly available long into the future.

New Additions to the Denham Library


First, Bob has provided us with his delightful 1985 correspondence in the persona of Frye with two colleagues then teaching at the University of North Carolina, William Harmon and Louis D. Rubin.  It can be read here.

Second, a collection of images of Frye, some photographs (particularly of the young Frye, like the lovely photo above of Helen and Norrie taken in 1937), but mostly caricatures, including those done by the recently deceased David Levine of the New York Review of Books.  You can see them here.

This is a good time to remind you that we are slowly but surely digitizing a collection of Frye audio and video, some of which has never been made public before.  We hope to begin posting it in the spring.

Latest Addition to the Denham Library


Thanks to the never ending efforts of the indefatigable Bob Denham, we have posted our latest addition to the Denham Library: a set of class notes for Frye’s English Literature 1500-1600, taken by Peter Evans in 1952-1953.

You can read them here.

(We remind you that our equally indefatigable tech wiz Clayton Chrusch is working his way through our growing library collection to correct incidental anomalies in the formatting of charts and columns.)

New Additions to the Journal and Library


Bob Denham (or “the human Pez-dispenser,” as Joe Adamson calls him, thanks to his uncanny ability to turn out new work for us) has provided our latest additions to the journal and the Denham Library.

First, a biography of Frye’s early years in Moncton, New Brunswick, posted in the journal here.  He’s also provided us with two previously unpublished talks given at Victoria College, “Who Is This Guy Frye?” and “The Significance of ‘Beyond’ in Frye’s Visionary Poetics”, both now posted in the Library.

And here’s a heads up: we will soon be posting in its entirety Bob’s first book on Frye: Northrop Frye and Critical Method. Given that is advertising new copies of the book at 175 bucks a pop, that’s quite a coup for us — and we’re passing on the savings directly to you.

Jean O’Grady: Re-Valuing Value


This is Jean O’Grady’s first post — and the first paper to be added to our new Frye Festival Archive in the Frye Journal.  Jean is the associate editor of the Collected Works of Northrop Frye, published by University of Toronto Press.  She gave this paper at the Frye Festival in Moncton in 2007. An expanded version of it appears in Northrop Frye: New Directions From Old, published by University of Ottawa Press.

Sir Edward Elgar, composer of sublime symphonies, concertos, and choral works, found it infuriating to be almost universally identified as the author of the Pomp and Circumstance marches. I suspect that Frye found it similarly irksome, after the publication of his Anatomy of Criticism in 1957, to be known, not for having mightily mapped the literary universe, but as the critic who said that critics shouldn’t make value judgments. Of course he had made it clear that he was talking about the academic critic, the theorist of literature, and not the reviewer in the local newspaper, but still his assertion had been found highly controversial. The polemical introduction to the Anatomy had actually made two points which kept coming back to haunt Frye: first, that criticism was, or should be, a science; and second, that the critic’s function was not to say whether a work of literature was good or bad, successful or unsuccessful, but to tell us what sort of work it was. The two points are in fact related, since Frye was trying to move away from the stereotype of the critic as a gifted amateur of exquisite discrimination who journeyed among the masterpieces, poking disdainfully at the second-rate with his gold cane. Instead, he proposed a survey of all the literature that has been written, highbrow or popular, in fashion or out of fashion, in order to map out its genres, types, and archetypes: this was a structure of knowledge that, just like the sciences and social sciences, could be taught and that each scholar could help to build up. As Frye said in The Well-Tempered Critic, “Without the possibility of criticism as a structure of knowledge, culture . . . would be forever condemned to a morbid antagonism between the supercilious refined and the resentful unrefined” (136).

I first read the Anatomy as a student, in 1962, and I can hardly tell you how exciting and liberating this notion was, along of course with the Anatomy‘s actual demonstration of archetypal patterns, of plot shapes that repeated themselves from Spenser to Harlequin romances, and of the unsuspected interrelations among works. Literature was so much richer and more fascinating when one could start to make connections rather than worrying about one’s possibly bad taste! The book opened up wide vistas of intellectual adventure in my chosen field, and made me feel like a participant in and contributor to a glorious endeavour.

The inclusiveness of the Anatomy, its openness to works of popular literature or of dubious morality, should surely endear Frye to the various types of postmodernist, feminist, or postcolonial critics, who complain that the dominant group or class has defined a “canon” that unfairly excludes some works or makes them marginal. Frye was precisely against singling out what he called a “selected tradition” of great works, which would inevitably turn out to have been written by dead white males. No narrow moral criteria apply in the Anatomy, which contends that “morally the lion lies down with the lamb. Bunyan and Rochester, Sade and Jane Austen, . . . all are equally elements of a liberal education” (14). As Frye told Imre Salusinsky in an interview, “The real, genuine advance in criticism came when every work of literature, regardless of its merit, was seen to be a document of potential interest, or value, or insight into the culture of the age”.

Value, as Frye expressed it in this early stage, resides in literature as a whole. As we read, we absorb an imaginative pattern of apocalyptic or demonic imagery and of narratives that fall into the four basic types of comedy, tragedy, romance, or irony; each individual poem or work helps to fill in or reinforce the overall pattern. As Frye put it in The Educated Imagination, “Whatever value there is in studying literature, cultural or practical, comes from the total body of our reading, the castle of words we’ve built, and keep adding new wings to all the time” (39). This total pattern, “the range of articulate human imagination as it extends from the height of imaginative heaven to the depth of imaginative hell” (EI, 44), is what Frye calls “the revelation of man to man”. Such a verbal universe, built up equally by Biblical epics and the most run-of-the-mill adventure stories, provides a model or goal for humankind’s work, thus giving literature a vital role in the building up of civilization.

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