Category Archives: Frye Diaries August

Today in the Frye Diaries, 24 August


Today is the Fryes’ wedding anniversary: their fifth in 1942 and their thirteenth in 1950.


A bad double feature at the movies (Through Different Eyes and Rings on Her Fingers) — complete with annoying gender stereotypes — leaves Frye in a mood to address “the war of the sexes”:

 [77] People are human beings first and men and women afterwards. Their bodily functions are different; their environments are different, though the difference in this century has been greatly decreased. So there may be generalizations of the ‘men are like this whereas women are like that’ kind which may have some hazy and approximate truth. I don’t know. Men’s conversation is more abstract & less personal than women’s, but whether that’s an accident of training or an essential sexual trait I don’t know. I do know that the kind of mind that thinks along these lines of facile anitheses is a dull & tiresome mind. It betrays a fixation on sex-differences which is mere adolescence, & in an adult unhealthy.

1950: A very hot day of shopping in Boston. Then an anniversary dinner:

[570] We went to the Bella Vista for dinner, which Dick Ellmann had recommended as the best place in town, but it wasn’t any hell — not nearly as good as the Viennese place. However, it was all right, though we were outdoors on a roof under an umbrella, and I’d have done better in an air-conditioned interior [because of hay fever]. Beside us was a young man who’d just got his Ph.D and was celebrating. His conversation got louder with his drinks & was a mixture of of cultural & personal remarks that, considered as a pattern, gave me quite an insight into the Harvard level of student sophistication, though it’s difficult to say just what it was.

Tomorrow: an enigmatic reference to the Vicar of Bray; hay fever as psychosomatic illness?

Today in the Frye Diaries, 23 August


1942: In bed with hay fever and thinking about Jane Austen:

[75] Stayed in bed all day: even so not a good night. Read Jane Austen’s Love and Friendship, a skit which proves to me, as none of her novels prove, that she is an important & not merely an intelligent & amusing writer. Jane is a blind spot to me: I enjoy reading her for relaxation and I admire her skill and ingenuity, but I never feel much sense of cultural infusion, of the kind I require from a great writer. This boils down to the fact that I have nothing to say or discover about her, & and so take her merits on faith… I can’t forgive Jane for the vulgarity and Philistinism of Mansfield Park: if she hadn’t written that absurd book I could enjoy her without reservations. But her explicit preference for her dim-witted Fanny to her intelligent and sensible Mary Crawford means that in the long run she accepted her county families, and had no positive basis for her satire of Lady Catherine or Collins or Sir whatsisname [Walter Eliot] in Persuasion. In the long run she stands for the “dismal and illiberal,” for the exclusion of the free air of culture and intelligence. Mansfield Park gives her away–well, it gives the whole 19th c. away.

Note: Compare what he says here with his extended examination of Austen in The Secular Scripture more than thirty years later. (See Chapter 3, “Our Lady of Pain: The Heroes and Heroines of Romance,” which can be read in its entirety at the above link: pull down the “Contents” menu and hit the link for chapter 3.)

1950: Local gossip in Massachusetts with an old Oxford acquaintance, Rodney Montgomery Baine: the difficulties in landing a permanent academic post, the increasing necessity to complete a PhD to do so, the breakup of a friend’s marriage.  Then, finally:

[568]… He said he liked my book [Fearful Symmetry], though, again very typically of Rodney, he prefaced this by saying he’d found some errors in it, & almost wrote me about them.  That leaves me a bit up in the air, as he’s forgotten what they were: however, Rodney’s criticized my stuff before now, & what he calls error I don’t invariably recognize as such.

Tomorrow: the Fryes’ wedding anniversary

Today in the Frye Diaries, 22 August



[74] Cool weather, thank God, but I made the fatal mistake of going to the Kings’ [Harold and Marjorie] at night. I paid for it with an asthmatic night. I wish I could develop the art of automatically avoiding the echoes which are the major source of revision in my writing: why couldn’t I have said “Kings in the evening”?

1950: Frye’s account of the day after the night before of drinking with the Thurbers (it involves still more drinking).  He then describes a visit to a Catholic church a couple of days earlier, which in turn leads to some observations that anticipate the emerging Updikean vision of America in the 1950s.

[564] Sunday we nursed our hangovers and some people came in for yet another drink before lunch. Their neighbors the Lansings came: Mrs. [Elisabeth Hubbard] Lansing, who’s called City, is a writer of children’s books [pictured above], & breezed in surrounded with her own kids, like a Sistine Madonna. She was at the party last night, and I liked her.

[566] I forgot to say that on Friday Ken took us into one of the most beautiful modern churches I’ve ever seen. A little Catholic parish church dedicated to St. Thomas More, with clear glass windows and designs etched on them… [T]he whole effect was completely serene. I suppose the great appeal of Catholicism in the States today has a lot to do with the sense that the degenerate pseudo-Protestants who ought to be leading the country’s culture are shaking their nerves to pieces with indiscriminate drinking and fucking and chattering.  Well, we got on the train & went home to Boston. We went into the buffet car for a snack. Mem: don’t ever go again into a buffet car for a snack. Swindling the public on food has really got to be a fine art: all eating places are getting assimilated to the supper-dance clip joints.

Tomorrow: in bed with Jane Austen

Today in the Frye Diaries, 21 August




[73] [Peter] Fisher claims the reason Westerners can’t get any charge out of Buddhist monks is that the average scholar to them is not a seeker of wisdom but a scribe: it’s a question of class.


Still in Massachusetts, Frye attends a cocktail party where he relays a greeting from Ned Pratt to Mark van Doren.  He then gets into an unpleasant conversation with a “mural painter named Bradford” who claims Blake “was a fourth-rate painter” with appeal only to “li’erary people.”  Although he eventually manages to slip away, Frye’s evening, while interesting, seems to go from bad to worse with drink:

[562]…Well, I drank several Manhattans & we moved on to the Thurbers. There I had a lot more drinks & dinner — well, supper — wasn’t served until very late, so I got horribly sick and had two long agonizing sessions in the can puking my guts up… Apart from that I enjoyed talking to James Thurber [pictured above], who told me all about Harold Ross, who seems to be a strange and attractive mixture of toughness and innocence — possibly a much stronger character than Thurber himself, who seems to me to have the insecurity of someone from central Ohio, who’s still trying to adjust himself to the big, bad city.  Now how in God’s name — I’m not drunk now — did I manage to compose a sentence like that, plopping one clause after another like horse turds and who-whoing like an owl?

The party goes on till five and “the conversation turns bawdy and often abusive.” Even so, Frye finds Thurber “completely charming and appealing.”

Tomorrow: dealing with a hangover

Today in the Frye Diaries, 19-20 August


Frye occasionally quipped that some undertakings are as short-lived as a new year’s resolution. He may have had his own diaries in mind. Frye started seven separate diaries between 1942 and 1955.  Five of them dutifully commence in January and, of those, only one makes it to September; one lasts till March, one till April, and one till May. Another doesn’t make it past January 13th. His diary for the entire year of 1953 consists of four entries in March. His first diary, begun in the summer of 1942, he manages to maintain till mid-November, making it the latest month of any year that Frye records to any significant extent. Which is to say that drawing on anniversary occasions from the diaries is a haphazard endeavor at best. Still, while we find our footing here and build our readership and contributor base, this kind of exercise promises nutritious tidbits. What Frye says in a throwaway observation often reveals more than many people manage with their best shot. We’ll make this first entry a two-fer, covering both the 19th and the 20th of August.

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