The July/August issue of the Walrus has a piece called “The Long Decline” by André Alexis. In it, he argues that there’s been a marked degeneration of criticism in popular fora. He suggests, strikingly, that Frye’s work was one of the principal “catalysts” against which critics reacted to move away from taxonomy to personal opinions and something more akin to the stock market of authors’ worth. The attack Alexis makes is in some ways predictable — there has been a marked decline in both the quantity and the quality of mainstream book reviewing — and in other ways fascinating. Among other questions Alexis raises, we might ask is John Metcalf really the primary culprit in the changes in Canadian criticism? Is James Wood’s How Fiction Works a way forward out of a criticism too limited to individual assessments of worth? Has Alexis captured something of what the anti-Frye reaction is all about? I think this piece might stimulate our own debate.
Today is Sir Arthur Sullivan‘s birthday (1842 – 1900).
Here is an excerpt from Frye’s student review for Acta Victoriana of the Music Club’s April 1933 production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore.
But here, in the calm hush and cloister-quiet of Gate House, the artistic conscience of the Music Club rises to defend itself. If there ever was a time when Pinafore could be well done, it argues, that time has long since passed. Considered as a whole the farce is clumsy and ill-conceived, besides being unendurably hackneyed, and it simply cannot be sustained on its own momentum. No human power can prevent that unspeakable finale from dragging painfully to a limping and inept close. All the standard actors of the Music Club are good for lots of entertainment, says the conscience, but they could do nothing with their parts; they had to kick them off the stage and substitute themselves. The cast of characters in Pinafore are all stuffed shirts and artificially bulged chemises, O critic, but those who took their places are wholesome happy youngsters who are all friends of yours, and you for one know that the fairy changelings are infinitely more attractive. (CW, 17. 233-4)
Frye’s doubts about the contemporary appeal of Gilbert and Sullivan notwithstanding, after the jump there’s a delightful version of “The Sun, Whose Rays Are All Ablaze” from Mike Leigh’s Topsy-Turvy, a wonderful film about the creation of The Mikado. Yes, and okay, there’s a performance of “Three Little Maids From School” from the same film too. (If you haven’t already seen this movie, put it on top of your list.)