Category Archives: Diaries

Frye on Drinking

Photo from Macallan Scotch

Here’s a followup on Clayton’s earlier post on Victoria University’s Northrop Frye Gold Medal wines. One of Frye’s diary entries from 1950 recounts drinking at a dinner party with James Thurber that did not go well. On most days through a long working career, however, he liked to drink according to the accepted social standards of the time. Here are some of his observations on and accounts of drinking. (An earlier posting of his Canadian Forum editorial in support of the repeal of Sabbath drinking laws here.)

I knew an old man once who settled for drinking straight Scotch, and he said, “I find it agrees with me.” I find the same thing. (“Chatelaine’s Celebrity I.D.,” Chatelaine 55, no. 11 (November 1982), 43.

Claude Bissell had a few drinks ready for us afterwards before Clawson’s dinner. Very typical of Clawson that his dinner should come on a day when congratulations were being showered on Blissett & me.  I drank Scotch very hard & fast & was quite high until I had my dinner.  (Diaries, 11 April 1950)

There’s getting to be too damn much God in my life.  After lunch I went over to hear Crane’s paper on the history of ideas, but instead of staying for the discussion after tea I went off and had three Martinis—Carpenter doesn’t drink and I decided against giving him the handicap of a slug of Scotch, so it was the first drink I’d had in three days.  (Diaries, 23 February 1952)

We had dinner at Jean’s hotel and I went along with the two girls to the theatre: they had tickets to Shaw’s Caesar & Cleopatra but I couldn’t get one, as it was the last performance.  I waited until the man said it was a waste of time to wait longer, then went home and had a couple of Scotches & went to bed early. (12 April 1952)

Felt very sleepy after Woodhouse’s whisky & didn’t make much out of Vaughan or Traherne.  The kids didn’t cooperate either: the final Huxley lecture was brilliant—Freudian slip again—I meant to write wasn’t brilliant.  (Diaries, 15 March 1950)

So I sneaked off to collect Helen from some women’s meeting at Wymilwood, and we went down to the Oxford Press to a cocktail, or rather a whisky, party, given for Geoffrey Cumberlege.  I couldn’t get much charge out of Cumberlege, but enjoyed the party.  (Diaries, 17 May 1950)

In the evening the Macleans had a supper party for the Cranes, and a very good party it was.  (Very good of Ken too, as Crane wrote one of his typically slaughterous reviews of Ken’s book). The Grants, the Loves, the Ropers, and Ronald Williams (I suppose because of the Chicago connection) were there (I suppose Mrs. Williams is pregnant again).  Martinis to begin with, and whisky afterward, so what with a very late dinner I got sick again afterward.  My own damn fault.  I was well into my fifth drink before I realized that I’d had practically no lunch.  The party did a men-women split, unusual for the Macleans [MacLeans], and we gossiped about jobs and they about curtains.  We were, as I faintly remember, beginning to get slightly maudlin about Eliot and Auden just at the end.  Douglas Grant of course talked very well, and remained sober enough to drive us home.  I suppose a car, to say nothing of children and sitters and things, does make one very temperate.  Crane is a very charming man, but remains a most elusive one. (Diaries, 22 March 1952)


It is not hard to ridicule the fallacy of the distinctive essence, and to show that it is really a matter of looking for some trade mark in the content.  A satirical revue in Toronto some years ago known as Spring Thaw depicted a hero going in quest of a Canadian identity and emerging with a mounted policeman and a bottle of rye.  If he had been Australian, one realizes, he would have emerged with a kangaroo and a boomerang.  One needs to go deeper than ridicule, however, if one is to understand the subtlety of the self-deceptions involved. (“Criticism and Environment”)

I suppose they must have a disease for lies, as they have kleptomania for stealing.  This chap had “spent years in the South Seas”: rubber plantations and trading vessels were at the top of the whisky bottle, waving palm-trees and pounding surf around the middle, and island paradises and brown-eyed mistresses near the bottom.  It bored me a bit, I must say, and after we’d finished the whisky and he started looking inscrutable over a lighted cigar butt I thought I was in for some pretty involved brooding.  (opening paragraph, “Face to Face”) [Frye’s Conrad‑imitation phase]

Marked a few essays & took Helen, who had just finished writing an article for the Star Weekly, out for a cocktail.  I had a sidecar, which, I’ve been told, works on the backfire principle: you swallow down one lemonade after another trying to get a faint alcoholic taste in your mouth, when suddenly there’s a dull boom in your stomach, a sudden ringing in the ears, crimson clouds before the eyes, & there you are as drunk as a coot.  I had only one, so I don’t know.  A businessmen’s dinner was in the dining room, and as I came out I heard the hostess say to the waiter, “How are they getting along with eleven bottles among twelve men?” (Diaries, 5 January 1949)

Ran into Ned [Pratt] & told him my woes.  He says Markowitz tells him that evening drinking is the best way to ward off heart disease.  He went to the liquor store with me & bought me a bottle of rye.  Promised him faithfully I would not have a heart attack in ten years.  (Diaries, 11 January 1949)

On the way back [from the library at Harvard] I stopped at a liquor store & asked if there were any formalities about purchasing liquor.  He said the formality consisted only in the possession of cash.  Even so I didn’t know what to buy, and Canadian rye is $5.75 a bottle—though I think a larger bottle than what we’re allowed to buy.  I got a cheaper rye for $3.75, a Corby’s.  I must investigate California wines.  We came home & had dinner in, after speculating about going out & deciding to renounce the gesture. (Diaries, 14 July 1950––Frye’s 38th birthday)

[Frye tells this story in several places]:  In the year of his retirement he [Ned Pratt] turned up unexpectedly at a meeting of the Graduate Department of English (he hated graduate teaching), and sat through three hours and a half of petitions and what not, and then, under “further business,” announced that this was undoubtedly his last meeting of the Graduate Department, and therefore–at which point he produced a bottle of rye. It was a typical gesture, but he was also reminding us of a certain sense of proportion. (“A Poet and a Legend”)

Samuel Pepys


From Peter Ackroyd’s documentary series, London: A Biography (based upon the terrific book by the same name), Pepys describes the Great Fire of London, 1666

Yesterday was the anniversary of Samuel Pepys‘s death (1603-1703). Frye, in his 1942 diary, makes some observations on perhaps the most famous diarist in the language. Bob Denham’s remarks in the Introduction to the Diaries volume offers commentary that deserves to be included:

Frye placed a high priority on privacy, and after he became a name, his secretary Jane Widdicombe did succeed in protecting him from most of the countless potential invasions of that privacy. He was fond of telling interviewers that he had unconsciously arranged his life to be without incident, the result being, he claimed, that no biographer would have the slightest interest in him as a subject. John Ayre’s biography is, of course, evidence to the contrary. And however much we might like to agree in theory with Eliot’s principle that there is a difference between the man who suffers and the mind which creates, in practice the principle is very difficult to maintain. When one becomes a public figure, there is a natural curiosity on the part of the public to learn about his or her life. Frye was also fond of insisting that his life was his published work, just as he was fond of quoting Montaigne’s remark that his life was consubstantial with his book. One can understand what he meant by that, and yet this opposition between life and work, at the deepest level, cannot finally be sustained, as Michael Dolzani has shown.[14]

Frye is aware, of course, that whatever aims the diarist might have, what will emerge from all diaries is necessarily self-revelation. The self-revelation may be minimal, but it is there. The absence of sufficient self-revelation is what worried Frye about Samuel Pepys’s Diary:

I’ve been reading in Pepys, to avoid work. I can’t understand him at all. I mean, the notion that he tells us more about himself & gives us a more intimate glimpse of the age than anyone else doesn’t strike me. I find him more elusive and baffling than anyone. He has a curious combination of apparent frankness and real reticence that masks him more than anything else could do. One could call it a “typically English” trait, but there were no typical Englishmen then and Montaigne performs a miracle of disguise in a far subtler & bigger way. Pepys is not exactly conventional: he is socially disciplined. He tells us nothing about himself except what is generic. His gaze is directed out: he tells us where he has been & what he has done, but there is no reflection, far less self-analysis. The most important problem of the Diary & of related works is whether this absence of reflection is an accident, an individual design, or simply impossible to anyone before the beginning of Rousseauist modes of interior thought. (42.67)

A few entries later Frye writes that Pepys’s ” genre, the diary, is not a branch of autobiography, as Evelyn’s is. . . . When I try to visualize Pepys I visualize clothes & a cultured life-force. I have a much clearer vision of the man who annoyed Hotspur or Juliet’s Nurse’s husband. . . . He does not observe character either: I can’t visualize his wife or my Lord. Even music he talks about as though it were simply a part of his retiring for physic” (42.69). Frye, on the other hand, engages in a great deal of character observation—the character of his colleagues, his students, his family, his wife, and, most of all, himself. His diaries provide a rich and extensive psychological portrait. He does not set out to write a confession, but by the time we have come to the end of the diaries, he has confessed more than he perhaps realized.

But the diaries are also a chronicle. We peer over Frye’s shoulder as he trudges to his office, teaches his classes, attends Canadian Forummeetings, reflects on movies, socializes with neighbours and other friends, discusses Blake with his student Peter Fisher, works on his various commissions, eyes attractive woman, records his dreams, plans his career, judges his colleagues and his university, registers his frank reactions to the hundreds of people who cross his path, travels to Chicago, Wisconsin, and Cambridge, plans his fiction projects, reflects on music, religion, and politics, shovels his sidewalk, suffers through committee meetings, describes his various physical and psychological ailments, practises the piano, visits bookstores, frequents Toronto restaurants, reflects on his reading, and records scores of additional activities, mundane and otherwise. As a chronicle, Frye’s diaries are like Virginia Woolf’s, putting the most inconsequential event, such as cutting the grass, alongside the most sober reflection, such as the nature of the contemporary church or the unspeakable uselessness of war. His speculations on a wide range of critical and social and religious issues are not unlike those in a typical notebook entry. His notebooks occasionally become quite personal and thus move in the direction of the diary. His diaries very often become quite impersonal and thus move in the direction of the notebook. The context of the speculative passages is sometimes a contemporary event, as when the Korean War triggers his prescient views on the path that Communism will take during the last half of the century. Most often, however, the contexts for Frye’s speculations are the courses he is teaching or his writing projects. (CW 8, xxiv)

January 1st 1949: “Overeating and underthinking”

On New Year’s Eve 1948 Frye started his first new diary since 1942 because he felt he was “not working hard enough” and a diary, as he puts it in an extensive statement of purpose, would provide “more machinery” to get him working harder — which proves just how relative “working hard” really is.  That afternoon he went to see Laurence Oliver’s Hamlet, which, he says, suffers from a typical “subjective fallacy” to which this play is particularly prone, including “slash[ing] the soliloquies to pieces” and cutting Ophelia’s role to make her “just the ‘anima’ of Hamlet,” to the extent that “her mature intensity of feeling & her sharp sly humor” are no longer apparent.

On New Year’s Day, a Saturday, he makes this observation about the holiday itself: “New Year’s is a dull holiday: Christmas provides a definite ritual of things to do, but New Year’s is just a day to dither & dawdle through, overeating and underthinking.”  Given the ambitions Frye laid out for that year — including becoming more fluent in German, Italian and Latin — it must have been an especially dull day.

Osbert Sitwell

Osbert with his sister Edith

Today is Osbert Sitwell‘s birthday (1892-1969).  Sitwell’s sister, Edith, provided a warm review of Fearful Symmetry in the Spectator (10 October 1947).

Here’s Frye’s diary entry for January 4, 1949:

Lunch with Osbert Sitwell at the University Club–Lionel Massey gave the party, & Doug LePan & Paul Arthur & a man I didn’t know were there.  Sitwell was a high-coloured solid-looking aristocrat with iron-grey hair, who until he opened his mouth could have been either a cultivated man or a barbarian.  Wonderful lunch–oysters & a fine dry red Portuguese wine.  The conversation was commonplaces, though highly cultivated commonplaces.  He is deeply impressed by my book–says he’s recommended it to a lot of people including the painter John Piper.  Edith [Sitwell] is at the St. Regis on East 50th St, New York.  He’s Jung’s sensation type, not a thinker primarily.  (CW 8, 62)

Henry Purcell


“An Evening Hymn”

Today is Henry Purcell‘s birthday (1659-1695).

Frye in his 1950 diary records listening to some Purcell on the radio and suddenly encountering something he did not expect to hear:

Stayed around indoors all day, listening to the radio, hearing some good music — a program from Halifax of recorded music featuring Purcell, Boyce & Arne.  At six I heard a most curious noise over the radio purporting to come from some Professor named Frye who was talking about books.  It’s the first time I’ve heard my voice, except for a few remarks in that Infeld programme.  I would never have recognized it as my own voice: that nasal honking grating buzz-saw of a Middle-Western corncrake.  I need a few years in England.  The reading wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, but Clyde Gilmour on movies was a hell of a lot better. (CW 8, 293)

Frye and Obscenity (2)


Here is a selection from the diaries and notebooks referencing obscenity.

Anatomy Notebooks.

[118] The conception of semniotes is beginning to take shape.  Primitive tribes distinguish serious tales & less serious ones; this distinction appears later as the distinction between myth & legend or folktale.  One has to distinguish between an intensive encyclopaedic tendency, which selects & expurgates & builds a canon, from the extensive one that we find in satire & in prose fiction generally.  The latter is exploratory of the physical world: hence satire & irony are “obscene,” just as painters are forever poking into women’s bedrooms & toilets (the actual process of changing a menstrual pad or cacking on a pot is, however, considered unpaintable).  Hence literature expands through satire & through the genre of fiction (cf. Shaw’s preface to The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet on the “Eliza in her bath” problem in drama).  Folktales expand the original quest-archetype, which is forever collapsing into semniotes.  Cf. The Egyptian masturbating god with Jesus’ clay & spittle.  Semniotes is connected with abstraction was well as morality—we often speak of “pure” abstraction, & the purifying of myth is like the purifying of mathematics. (CW 23, 241)

[The issue Shaw examines is the difference between impropriety in books and in plays.  He reports that Sir William Gilbert remarked, “I should say there is a very wide distinction between what is read and what is seen.  In a novel one may read that ‘Eliza stripped off her dressing-gown and stepped into her bath’ without any harm; but I think that if it were presented on stage it would be shocking.”  Shaw proceeds to demolish the illustration as an argument for censorship on stage (Preface, The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet [New York: Brentano’s, 1928], 69).]

[Semniotes appears to be NF’s coinage, derived from σεμνός, decent, modest.  On the Egyptian myth, see AC, 156.]

In the circle of myths, I must work out some more oppositions between romance and irony.  Irony-satire is always what is called “obscene,” & hence is the exact opposite of the element in romance which is the release of erotic fantasy.  Sadist fantasies (Romantic Agony, Spenser’s Amoret & whosit in 6—not Seven, though she fits, but the C of L [Court of Love] one—Mirabell, I think, & my William Morris stuff), masochist ones (I think less common, but cf. the C of L) & other erotica (in Freud’s sense of Eros) are found.  I’ve just been reading an admirable piece of science fiction: [John Wyndham’s] “The Day of the Triffids.”  Catastrophe blinds all the human race except the merest handful of survivors—Flood archetype.  Brought on by human folly—Atlantis archetype.  (The writer is intelligent enough to note both).  Heroine makes her appearance being whipped.  Harem (two extra girls) introduced, but censored out.  Little girl often picked up—erotic archetype censored out.  The flood archetype is the transference of an infantile fantasy: suppose everybody died except me & the people I could boss, or at least play (i.e. work) with.  The comfortable good [?] & the world shut out feeling, the sense of holiday, turns up early when they loot a Picadilly flat: I don’t know if this kind of erotica, which turns up in the dismissal of catechumens theme in ghost stories (Turn of the Screw) has a name, but it’s linked with the regression to the family unit which is a part of the Flood archetype.  Several important things have to be worked out.  Pr. ph. 4. (ibid., 246)

Late Notebooks.

[222] Rimbaud again: “Venus Anadyomene” is a deliberately “shocking” poem, but not obscene: no hatred is expressed for the poor creature.  “Mes Petites Amoureuses” I thought obscene at first, because of the hatred (“Que je vous haïs!”) and sadistic wishes to break their hips.  Yet the real context of this poem is the Lettre du Voyant, in which it is included, and the letter prophesies a new age of poetry where women will have a leading part.  The “amoureuses” are not girls but false Muses.  He says the poem isn’t part of the argument, but (a) it is (b) one can take that remark both ways. (CW 5, 39)

[715]  For mother’s generation Scott was the pinnacle of serious secular reading: no one realized that he inverted a popular formula, and isn’t “serious” in the way Jane Austen or Balzac are.  This point has been confusing me: it’s involved me in one of those “revaluation” antics I detest so much, and which invariably appear when there’s a confusion of genres.  If Scott had been allowed in his day to be, if not “obscene,” at least as sexually explicit as Fielding, he’d have been more centrally in the Milesian tales tradition. (ibid., 247)

[197]  The whole section on the Spirit and the transition to kerygma needs [sic] more careful expression.  Of the chaos of myths waiting for the Spirit to brood on them, ranging from the profound to the frivolous, the reverent to the obscene, which can be “believed”?  Belief here means the creative use of a recognized fiction.  Myths that cannot be “believed” remain in the imaginative corpus, as possibilities only. [See WP, 129.] (ibid., 294)

[593]  I think, with a modicum of that horrible obscene four-letter word (ugh) WORK, these four chapters will come off all right.  Eight will simply extend the ascending ladder into evolutionary & other views that start with nature & end with man.  The intensifying of consciousness bit & the four levels of time & space will fit into the end.

[594]  Now what do I do?

[595]  Well, first you finish the fucking book. (ibid., 377)

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Northrop Frye: “There are bigger fools in the world”


Frye and Helen: the expression on his face is sweetly suggestive of his impassioned letters to her during the 1930s

Today is Frye’s birthday (1912-1991) and an opportune moment to hear what Frye has to say about himself.

His intermittent diaries between 1942 and 1955 contain just two birthday entries.

From his 1942 diary:

Thirty today.  Many good resolutions, most broken already.  (CW 8, 6)

From his 1950 diary while staying at Harvard and writing his seminal “Archetypes of Literature“:

Today was my thirty-eighth birthday.  Helen & I went down to the Harvard Co-operative Store (they call & pronounce it the “Harvard Coop”) & got me a summer suit & a lot of miscellaneous things, socks & tie & so on . . . On the way back I stopped at a liquor store & asked if if there were any formalities about purchasing liquor.  He said the formality consisted only in the possession of cash…

It’s important for me to get along on a concentrated job as soon as possible, because travel, which is said to broaden the mind, only flattens mine.  The exposure of my naturally introverted mind to a whole lot of new impressions confuses me, because I’m more at home with ideas, I’m not naturally observant, and what impressions I do get are random & badly selected.  Also they’re compared with the more familiar environment back home and, as I don’t know the new environment, the comparison is all out of focus. (ibid., 406)

We get much more of this sort of autobiographical detail in his letters, written between the ages of 19 and 24, to Helen Kemp.

Postmarked 14 June 1932:

The Muse is still stubborn.  I have a good idea but no technique.  I have a conception for a really good poem, I am pretty sure, but what I put down is as flat and dry as the the Great Sahara.  I guess I’m essentially prosaic.  I can work myself up into a state of maudlin sentimentality, put down about ten lines of the most villainous doggerel imaginable, and then kick myself and tear the filthy thing up.  However, I got out the book of twentieth-century American poetry from the library and that cheered me up.  There are bigger fools in the world.  (CW 1, 19-20)

Postmarked 25 August 1932:

What I am worried about is my own personal cowardice.  I am easily disheartened by failure, badly upset by slights, retiring and sensitive — a sissy, in short.  Sissies are very harmless and usually agreeable people, but they are not leaders or fighters.  I would make a very graceful shadow boxer, but little more.  I haven’t the grit to look the Wedding Guest in the eye.  “Put on the armor of God,” said a minister unctuously to me when I told him this.  Good advice, but without wishing to seem flippant, I don’t want armour, divine or otherwise — snails and mud-turtles are encased in armour — what I want is a thick skin.  (ibid., 63)

11 October 1933:

You say I am necessary to your existence.  Does that mean:

a) That I am 135 pounds of mashed turnip; something necessary in the way of companionship — somebody to tell one’s troubles to — somebody who will pet you and spoil you and cuddle up to you when things go wrong?

b) That I am a condiment, bringing a sharp tang and new zest to existence, reminding you of the world, the flesh and the devil, and so humanizing you?

c) That I am a stimulant, helping to correlate your activities, encouraging your talents and spanking you for your weaknesses?

d) Or, that I am a narcotic, a drug, very powerful, to be taken, as you say, in small doses, temporarily relieving you, like a headache powder, from your ethereal worries by plunging you into an orgy of physical excitement which leaves you exhausted and silenced?

e) Or that I am an insufferable bore who stays too late?

f) Or a combination of the above?

You see, being a man, I’m so densely stupid.  I haven’t any sort of intuitive tact.  I am your typical male — whenever you get depressed I don’t know anything except what I personally want to do — that is, take you in my arms and strike solicitous and protective attitudes.  If there’s any crying to be done, I want it done on my shoulder.  I want to be present and look helpful whenever you are in difficulties.  (ibid., 90)

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Paul Verlaine


Portrait of Paul Verlaine by Gustave Courbet

Today is Paul Verlaine‘s birthday (1844 – 1896).  We hate to chuckle at his expense on today of all days, but this entry from Frye’s 1942 diary is too good to pass up:

About this Rimbaud-Verlaine idea: I’d have to make something more exciting out of Verlaine than he actually was.  I get fed up with those people who act like bad little boys & finally collapse into the bosom of Mother Church, with a big floppy teat in each ear, and spend the rest of the time bragging about what bad little boys they used to be and how pneumatic the bliss is.  Rimbaud stayed tough. (Diaries, 18)

Frye and Fairley


From Barker Fairley: Portraits (Toronto: Methuen, 1981): 48–9

Further on Barker Fairley and the refusal of U.S. customs to grant him a visa to lecture on Goethe at Bryn Mawr because of his leftist sympathies (he had supported a Soviet friendship organization), these passages from Frye’s Diaries:

“Poor old Barker still feels pretty blue: he was just beginning to start exploring U.S.A. & get some real recognition when they slammed the door on him & he has to pick up a trip to England as consolation prize, & of course he knows all about England.”  (20 March 1950)

“Barker [Fairley] is taking the C.P.R. [Canadian Pacific Railway] train to St. John that goes across Maine, so he says he’ll have a chance to piss on the United States.  Just the same Barker has been deeply hurt by his exclusion.  I wish the Americans didn’t do all the silly things the Communists expect them to do and know in advance how to take advantage of.”  (9 April 1950)

The lectures that Fairley was to give at Bryn Mawr were later published as Goethe’s Faust: Six Essays (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953).  Fairley incidentally painted Frye’s portrait in 1969, which is reproduced above.

About his subject, Fairley has this to say:

I first ran into the name of Northrop Frye when, returning to Canada in 1936, I read an article by him in The Canadian Forum about that delightful dance troupe “The Ballet Joos.”  They acted, or rather danced, scenes from social life.  I remember particularly “The City,” which conveyed both gregariousness and loneliness and gave me a pleasure greater than any I got from classical dancing.  Does he remember this too with the same vivid pleasure, I wonder?

He now switches my mind back to the University of Toronto as it was then.  It seemed to me in those days that University College with its undenomina­tional freedom was carrying the torch of the humanities ahead of the other colleges.  This was a pardonable illusion, which any of the four colleges was entitled to.  But what with Northrop Frye and his mastery of the whole field of literature as we know it and his colleague, Kathleen Coburn, with her com­mand of the Coleridge battalion — to say nothing of her very special autobiog­raphy In Pursuit of Coleridge — it appears now that I was wrong and that Victoria is in the lead as taking the University’s name more effectively abroad than I ever expected.

My portrait of Northrop Frye is a third attempt after two ignominious failures.  I was with Aba Bayefsky the first time.  He succeeded — more than succeeded — and I collapsed.  After a second collapse I said, “Norrie, let me try again.”  He agreed.  And sure enough, that inscrutable face of his yielded at last, and his gentle nature came through to my great delight.

Frye on the New Yorker


For the article that Michael Happy surely intends to write about Frye’s love affair with The New Yorker, here are the references—at least most of them—plus a few from Helen.

I have been rather handicapped by the lack of money, but that doesn’t matter so much this first term. But if you really want to do something for me, my own self‑sacrificing little girl—WHEN THE HELL ARE YOU GOING TO COME THROUGH WITH SOME NEW YORKERS? (Frye‑Kemp Correspondence, CW, 2, 620-1)

To switch the subject to civilization for the moment. Thank you very very much for the New Yorkers. You are a sweet little girl. It was just pure nerves that made me bark for them in my last letter [above]. The idea that you might have forgotten to buy them owing to pressure of work or something nearly made me collapse. I spent a marvellous weekend with them. It was just as well they came when they did, as the boots took my shoes Saturday morning to repair them and didn’t return them till Sunday morning—I had to go to Hall in my tennis shoes. (ibid., 630)

The poet may change his mind or mood; he may have intended one thing and done another, and then rationalized what he did. (A cartoon in a New Yorker of some years back hit off this last problem beautifully: it depicted a sculptor gazing at a statue he had just made and remarking to a friend: “Yes, the head is too large. When I put it in exhibition I shall call it ‘The Woman with the Large Head.’”) (Anatomy of Criticism, 87)

The dandy attitude survives in the early (twenties) essays of Aldous Huxley, whose epigrams are mainly inverted clichés, in Yeats’ association of dandyism & heroism, in Lytton Strachey, & in the contemporary New Yorker—see its Knickerbocker figure and again the inverted melodrama clichés of its cartoons. (Notebooks for Anatomy of Criticism, CW 23, 265)

Many years ago Edmund Wilson, in a New Yorker review, connected the Houdini situation with the dying & reviving god. [“And the magician who escapes from the box: what is he but Adonis and Attis and all the rest of the corn gods that are buried and rise?  This is quite plain in the case of Houdini” (Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1950), 151.  Wilson’s review appeared in New Yorker, 11 March 1944.]  (ibid., 294)

As I see it now, there are two main themes: the relation of literature to the other arts & disciplines, and the relation of the hypothetical to the existential: i.e., art & religion.  I call it Tentative Conclusion, & begin, possibly, with the New Yorker cartoon. [The “head is too large” cartoon, referred to above].  (ibid., 202)

Don’t assume that the intentional fallacy is always a fallacy, i.e. that you can judge a satire without taking account of a humorous or ironic intention.  The answer “but it’s supposed to be that way” is valid for many objections—cf. the New Yorker “large head” problem. [The “head is too large” cartoon, referred to above].  (ibid., 237)

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