Category Archives: Frye Trivia

Frye on Hooch

Here’s some seasonal cheer, one of a number of gifts we’re rolling out for the Holiday Season.  Today it’s Frye on scotch, whiskey and martinis.


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 [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”)

It’s Sunday afternoon, and there is a bag-pipe parade in Queen’s Park.  A Scotchman blowing at a bag-pipe with great earnestness and concentration, and producing nothing but a dispirited sterile wailing squeal, like a hungry shoat or a sick banshee, seems to me the profoundest symbol of Scotland I know. All the red-faced humorless energy and superfluous wind that went into their forgotten and ferocious theologies, and no permanent result but their shrill squeaking poetry that sounds like a degenerate piccolo on top of the English orchestra. Now how much Scotch poetry have I read?  Burns, of course. All that dog-trot verse about whisky and whores and preachers and democracy and mice and lice and the devil. What’s the rest of Scotch poetry about?  Sheep, mostly, I think.  Bleat.  Baa.  (Frye‑Kemp Correspondence, 30 June 1935)

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”)

Llar Eggub: “Is Northrop Frye a Sun-Myth?”

This erudite article was found in the Frye Fonds at the Victoria University Library.  The identity of “LLAR EGGUB” is unknown.  Spelled backwards, it is “Bugger All.”  “Llareggub” is the small Welsh village in Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood.  (Cross-posted in the Denham Library here.)

Scholarship in the humanities and social sciences has this century turned its attention to the function of man as a myth-maker.  A great deal of scholarly energy and vast tracts of B.C. forest have been expended in explorations of the nature of man and his myths and rituals.

I see no absurdity in extending the critical principles of mythopoeia to examine individuals themselves.  Let’s start with Northrop Frye.  Is he a myth as well?

First, what evidence do we have that he really exists?  Eyewitness reports are highly suspect, even inadmissible.  Preppies who claim to have “experienced” his “lectures” are likely brainwashed.  It wouldn’t require much washing either.

Second, Frye is reputed to have a “tabernacle” at Massey College.  But who’s ever been in there?  Don’t even pretend you have, or will.

Let’s face it, there’s no use trying to extricate a “kerygma” from this myth.  There is no real evidence for the existence of an “historical Frye”.

But if we turn from biographical and empirical approaches to the mythopoeic, these pseudo-critical “problems” disappear.  Frye’s “reality” is irrelevant.  Evidence which is indisputable points conclusively to an understanding of Frye as a sun-god, “displaced” by “romantic” Vic “students” to the level of a “culture hero”––a figure of “enlightenment”!

We have only to turn to world mythologies for analogous processes.  For instance, in Polish mythology, the sun-god wears rimless glasses.  So does Frye, according to reliable sources.

As if that wasn’t enough, in Greek mythology, the sun does not sit in a chair.  And in the devotional icon of him in Pratt library, Frye does not sit in a chair either.

And in all primitive cultures (such as South House), the dazzling presence of the sun can provoke the sacred awe, the “religio,” as does the sun reflected from rimless glasses.  This was prevalent in Egypt, where until the Hashish dynasty rimless glasses were sacred and expensive.

Similarly, ancient Sumerian postcards often depict the deity Shamash-ole with a pet aardvark.  Frye’s liturgical connections with aardvarks are too well known to reproduce here.  Suffice it to say that in Swahili, “Frye” means “aardvark”.

Then, Frye, like the sun, is said to be extremely, if not perilously, “bright.”

The sun, in almost all mythologies, rises in the morning, showers, and traces his course across the heavens, to sink in the evening .  (The exception is in Irish mythology, where the sun is mistaken for a civilian every evening and blown up.)  In a startling parallel, Frye’s apostles admit that he, too, “rises” in the morning, brushes his teeth, writes a book, and traces his way to Vic.

In an even stronger parallel, apocryphal texts infer that Frye ate a baloney sandwich at midday.  This is surely a primitive recollection of solar flares.

And finally, Frye is said to trace a course westward in the evening.  He is said to enter the common flow of humanity at the subway, jump the turnstile, and ride the silver Ouroboros through the underworld to his mysterious “house” in the West.

The cult and influence of Frye is pervasive, with priests proselytizing everywhere, followers (“small-Fryes”) on the campus, and reviews in every second issue of Maclean’s.

“Frye-dolatry” is a vast religious movement, powerful, and feared by pagan professors everywhere.  Colonel Sanders has already received a franchise for a chicken “Myth-Bucket” (one “self-contained” piece) and a formula for removal of “Anagogic Acne” is near its “total form” of development.  Is it not time for the scholarly community to investigate beyond notions of a “literal” Frye?


Llar Eggub (signed)

Frye in Court


Frye is called on in a 2009 amicus curiae brief in a case against Frederik Coulting by J.D. Salinger, who had asserted that Coulting’s book, 60 Years Later, “infringes [his] copyright rights in . . . the character Holden Caulfield.”  (Frye’s remarks on Salinger in an earlier post here.)

In the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit


J.D. SALINGER, individually and as trustee of the J.D. Salinger Literary Trust, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v. FREDRIK COLTING, writing under the name John David California, WINDUPBIRD PUBLISHING LTD., NICOTEXT A.B. and ABP, INC., doing business as SCB Distributors, Inc.,


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York


“That ability to “build freely upon the ideas” in others’ work is essential to First Amendment protection because even the most creative or artistic activity depends on the ability to borrow from what has gone before.  “Poetry can only be made out of other poems; novels out of other novels.” Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism 97 (1957). As Frye put it, we have inherited “a literature which includes Chaucer, much of whose poetry is translated or paraphrased from others; Shakespeare, whose plays sometimes

follow their sources almost verbatim; and Milton, who asked for nothing better than to steal as much as possible out of the Bible” (p. 16 of the brief).

Jean O’Grady:


When Northrop Frye on Religion appears on Google Book Search, it is accompanied by a pop-up ad designed to appeal to the same clientele.

This one invited us to “Meet your Baptist Soul Mate at” Would Norrie have been amused or appalled, I wonder?

Perhaps the collection here should include a category for Northrop Frye Trivia.

“100 Great Books”

great books

In 1973 Frye was asked by The Franklin Mint to become a member of the advisory panel that would select one hundred great books.  In a telegram from the Franklin Mint 2 October 1973, one of several urgent messages imploring Frye to join the project, he was told that Willard Thorp of Princeton (who had recommended Frye to the advisory board), Alan Heimert of Harvard, Albert Guerard of Stanford, Frank Kermode of Cambridge, and Richard Ellmann of Oxford had already signed on.  The Mint even sent a representative, Darby Perry, to visit Frye in his office at Victoria College.  He eventually consented and was sent a checklist with certain titles already on the list and with instructions that it was possible to add alternate titles.  Along with nine others, Frye duly constructed his list.  He was paid $1000 for agreeing to participate in the venture.  Shortly after the Franklin Mint made its list of titles available, Frye began receiving mail, criticizing him for lending his name to such a cheap commercial enterprise and noting that the gimmicky advertising brochure of the Franklin Mint did not indicate the titles selected or the editions used.

Frye responded to one of his critics by saying, “My connection with the Franklin Library scheme was confined to agreeing to serve as an ‘advisor’ for their list of titles.  They sent their list of titles to me; I sent them back my own notion of what a hundred ‘great books’ might be, and they went ahead with their original selection.  In other words, consulting me was pure ritual.  If you were to say that I should have known in advance that this was the case, you would doubtless be right.”  To another he wrote, “You were quite right about the participation: I should never have lent myself to such a business, and much regret having done so.  I am not at my most perceptive on the end of a long distance telephone, and the proposal to ask for my advice in selecting a list of books, accompanied with various distinguished names who are friends of mine, looked at the time more innocent than it is, and than I should have known it would be.”

Nevertheless, Frye did take his assignment seriously and his list of recommendations was accompanied by this note of 23 October 1973 to Ron Wallace of the Franklin Mint: “I am sending with this the form sent me, marked up according to instructions.  As I considered the list, however, I found myself drafting a more analytical table of what I would consider the hundred essential books of Western culture, following your own categories closely.  I hope it will be more helpful than confusing.”

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