Frye-Welch Correspondence

Compiled by Bob Denham

Frye’s Letters to His Secretary, 1968–70

The following letters were written by Frye to Jane Welch (later Widdicombe) at the beginning of her long tenure as his devoted secretary: she began working for Frye in 1968. Frye’s travels during these three years took him to Ireland and London; Berkeley; Bellagio, Italy; Islamabad, Pakistan; and Merton College, Oxford.  During this time he was working on The Critical Path, which, he tells Jane Welch in one of his letters from Merton College, “is the first book since the Anatomy of Criticism that I’ve actually written, i.e., that hasn’t been a series of public lectures.  It’s also a very important book.  I probably won’t live to see it recognized as such, but you may” (no. 16).  Then there are the usual Frye quips, such as “I’m not all that anxious to read the Blake Newsletter, and I never believe anything I see in such things anyway, as a matter of principle” (no. 11), and “A big research library is wasted on me, too bad I never learned to read, and I’m getting itchy feet again” (no. 17).


Rubens Hotel                                                                                                                    Sept. 1/68

Buckingham Palace Road


Frye was in London after having presented a paper on Yeats at a conference in Sligo in 12 AugustHolograph letter.

Dear Jane:

We’re still at the Rubens until the 5th: they’ve filled up for the weekend, so we may have to move.  If not, we’ll stay here and hold our room for the Stratford visit.  It’s not too bad a hotel, and the room we finally got is quiet: the worst feature is the housekeeping and the dishwashing in the dining room.

Quiet weekend: I never ran into a September Bank holiday before, that I remember.  I got hold of Tomarken and fed him lunch and gave him back his thesis: also I wrote his boss.[1] Nothing else seems too urgent.  I don’t care what Queen’s does, and the Quail Roost people should have answered my letter back in June.[2] If there’s no letter from Max Black, you can send my Indiana paper on to Stallknecht.[3]

Everything fine so far: the two papers seem to have been successful enough.[4] We’re enjoying London, seeing how the City has been all built up and how things are much the same in most places.  We tramped all over Kew Gardens today.

Love from us both,

Northrop Frye


University of California, Berkeley                                                                                 April 7 [1969]

Frye was spending the spring term at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught an undergraduate course in literary symbolism and delivered the Beckman Lectures, entitled “The Critical Path” (“The Search for the Path,” 23 April, and “Following the Path,” 30 April)Holograph letter.

Dear Jane:

As you see, my typewriter hasn’t come yet.  I start teaching tomorrow––my lecture hours are 10–12 Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I didn’t start last Thursday because of Eisenhower’s funeral.  We move to 2634 Le Conte Ave., Berkeley 94709, c/o Professor Anne Middleton, but I think you’d better address me here, c/o Department of English, Wheeler Hall.

I think the texts you’re typing[5] should be sent air mail, and perhaps special delivery, so I’ll have something to start on.  My office phone number is (415) 642–2033: the Middleton number will probably be changed.

We’ve had three days of rain, but got into S.F. [San Francisco] for one day.  The auditorium in the English building was burned out by rioting students last term.  Everybody hopes for quieter times.

I’m sending the paper bill and two receipts for income tax.  The State of California takes a bit out of me, so I’ll have to keep receipts like this hotel bill.

Blessings: will write again when my typewriter arrives.



University of California, Berkeley                                                                                                            April 9/69

Jane, dear, thanks so much for all your good work: the exams (ugh) have arrived, and I’ll send along the marks as soon as possible.  Perhaps you’d better ask Connie Blewett in the Registrar’s Office at Victoria for the list (I don’t think I have it: I have another list), and then send it along to me because I have to sign it.

As you see, my typewriter has come: it makes a hell of a noise, but otherwise it’s fine, and the same kind I’m used to.  Jill Gilliland’s paper went to Jay [Macpherson], and Jay will return it when she returns, which should be by the time you get this.  I don’t suppose Jay will give it a mark, so it’ll have to come along to me too.  By all means send Virginia Brass two more copies of the Queen’s address:[6] she’s earned them with all those sweet words.  And of course I’d be glad to write for Peter Allen.  I think the cheques might best be held until I come back.  That, so far as I can see now, will be around the beginning of May.  I lecture May 1; I imagine I’ll be leaving, for Toronto on May 2, and will stay in Toronto as long as I can.  Could you get an Air Canada return ticket to Halifax for me, for some time in the late afternoon of May 5, and returning late on May 6 if possible?  President Beveridge of Acadia, whose letter you sent on, says Convocation is at 10 on the morning of May 6, so these times ought to be possible.  I don’t know that I’ll have much time to stop in Toronto on the way back, but I’ll need a Toronto-San Francisco ticket (economy this time, I think), leaving probably on May 7 and with an open return (I’ll use the return part coming back to the York-Western-Victoria junket).[7]

Re the stencils: as I said, Spenser, Milton and Dante should come first—and would you add one Spenser, Faerie Queene, Book I, Canto i?  After that, the Shakespeare, Donne, Vaughan and Marvell; after that, the Blake and the other Romantics; then the Moderns, omitting T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats.  I’m going to ask them to bring copies of those two.

I suppose California’s all right, but, oh God, I’d rather live in Canada.  My students look as though they’d all slept in ash cans (maybe they have), and a lot of them seem to want to make political speeches.  I started out with about 350, but will doubtless lose about half that number––they do a lot of shopping around during the first week.

Blessings, again,



University of California, Berkeley                                                                                                  14–4–69

Jane, you are a dear sweet girl, and it was an immense relief to come in this morning and find all those Renaissance texts in my postbox.  I know it was a lot of work for you, but it will certainly make a big difference at this end.

I hope you got my first letter along with the envelope containing the receipts and the Globe and Mail bill.  What I am sending back in this is:

1.  Signatures to two copyright releases, Hudson Review and ERIC, to be forwarded to them.

2.  Letter from the Office of Education in Washington.  Would you write Engel and say I’m in California until June, but would be pleased to act as field reader or consultant.

3.  Letter from Virginia Lee.  Would you (a) send the letter on with a covering note to whoever the Chairman of Fine Art at Toronto is (it used to be Stephen Vickers, but I think it’s changed now), saying that if he knows of any assistance she could get I be obliged if he would write her, and that if it’s possible for her to come I’d be willing to serve on her thesis committee if they wanted me.  And (b) write to Miss Lee saying I’m away, etc., but that you are forwarding her letter to the Fine Art Department here, and she should be hearing from them, as they are more closely in touch with the available sources of assistance than I can be away out here.  A copy of the letter to her goes to the Fine Art Department.

4.  Letters from Rensselaer Polytech and the College Center, accepting tentatively the latter’s invitation.  And could you work out the time tables?

5.  Fred Sandercott has confused me with Professor F.E.J. Fry of the Department of Biology, University of Toronto.  Would you send his letter on to that Fry, and write to Sandercott saying you’ve done so?

6.  Essays marked “this student wishes to graduate in the spring” that have arrived so far are from:

Isabelle Robinson

Elsie Chin

Phyllis Angel

Brian McDermott

M. Ritts

Malcolm de Vis Delph

Manmohan Bakshi

and, not so marked: Louis A. Montrose.

Angels guard your bed.



Holograph postcard from Bellagio, Italy, where Frye was attending a conference, 31August–10 September, sponsored by the journal Dædalus.  Undated but written on 1 September 1969

Got our hotel all right: an immense room looking across the lake[8] to the mountains.  Nice little town, all two streets of it.  Have had one day of conference: the afternoon was devoted to my paper,[9] which seemed to be very well received.  Helen was invited to dinner at the Vista[10] last night and is to be shown around the place today.  We’ve been to other places around the lake, including this Vista Carlotta.[11]

All the best.



Holograph postcard, dated Sept. 12 from Islamabad, Pakistan, where the Fryes had flown following the conference in Bellagio, Italy, to attend still another conference––the eleventh triennial congress of the Fédération Internationale des Langues et Littératures Modernes, 10–28 September 1969.

Dear Jane: Arrived safely after a very smooth trip.  The Bellagio experience was really wonderful, and I was sorry to leave even though it was $50 a day.  This place is a big new synthetic capital, with buildings miles apart, mostly hotels and embassies.  Rawalpindi is the airport and the next town, and looks very picturesque: we’re going to shop today.  The plane stopped in Cairo, which is why I had to get a yellow fever shot.  Love.


7 [September 1969]

Undated holograph postcard from Islamabad, Pakistan,

Have had a wonderful week seeing Pakistan: archaeological sites, scenery, villages, schools, bazaars, and generally the works.  I think my paper[12] was a reasonable success, but it was a very hard job: so many divergent interests in the audience.  Now I can relax a bit, although I go on television Thursday.[13] Love from us both.




Holograph letter from the time of Frye’s 1970 visit to Merton College, Oxford, where he taught a seminar on twentieth‑century poetic imagery and lectured on Blake––March–July.

Dear Jane:  Thanks so much for all your good work so far.  We had a quiet trip and a pleasant stay in London, and are settled in at 192 Headington, a small flat but we’ll squeeze in.

1.  I suggest a donation of $50, $25 from each of us, for the Moore Fund.  We were both graduated in 1933 and Helen’s maiden name was Kemp.[14]

2.  The Bate permission is O.K. and so is any other that is approved by the publisher.[15]

3.  Lorenzini has not expressed any interest in the Romanticism book, so it’s O.K. for the Texas girl to go ahead if Random House approves.  The first chapter has already appeared in Italian in Strumenti Critici (copies in Massey office).[16]

4.  What you did was all right.

Professor Barker Fairley is having an exhibition of his pictures at the St. Lawrence centre, and wants to of ours, the portraits of Pratt and of Blodwen Davies.  This is just to let you know.  I don’t think there’s anything you need do about it, as we’re writing the Haddows next door.


Northrop Frye


[Merton College]

Undated holograph letter, the first part of which is missing.

. . . I think I will ask you after all to look after Barker Fairley’s pictures.  The Haddows, our next door neighbors, who normally live at 125 Clifton Road, have their house rented and are living in our house at 127 until April 15.  Barker Fairley wants to borrow two portraits he did that we own, for exhibition.  He lives at 90 Willcocks St., and has probably already got in touch with you.  The pictures he wants are a portrait of E.J. Pratt and one of Blodwen Davies.  The Pratt is on the dining room wall, west side; the Davies is in the attic storeroom.  (Don’t tell Barker that.)  It’s a very blue picture of an old lady with white hair.[17]

Blessings and thanks.


[Helen Frye’s addition]

Easter Sunday

Dear Jane:   Barker did not say how long he wants these for, but possibly you could have them returned to Massey College when the show is over so that you could keep track of arrangements yourself.  Valuations for insurance are on the back I think.  Otherwise I forget what they were valued at.



Monday, April 27 [1970].

[Merton College]

Dear Jane:

I’ve finally acquired a hired typewriter, and it’s horrible, like wading through mud.  I’m sending back the copies of the contract with this: you might fill out the top part.  Also strike out Clause 10: I’m explaining why in my letter to Perry.[18]

I think with all North American correspondence I’ll send you drafts of letters; then you can copy the letter, sign it for me, and file the carbon.  I think that’s the best way to keep our files straight.  It would silly to send letters from U.K. across the ocean twice, so I’ll look after them.

Seminars begin Wednesday and lectures Thursday.


I’ll send the marks of the graduate essay by Friday.


Merton College,


Jane, sweetie, PLEASE don’t send me ANY more papers: having those come dribbling in when I’m trying to get my courses here in shape has me climbing the wall.  Hold on to everything else and turn them over to Jay [Macpherson] for a preliminary reading as soon as her undergraduate marking slackens off a bit.  Tomorrow I’ll send you the marks I have: students should be told that the marks are in but that I have still to reread them and send them back with comments, and am not sure when that can be.  If there should be one missing, I have a horrid notion that it got thrown out with all the CRTC stuff in my hotel room.  Give it 74 and keep very quiet about it.

Could you send me Mr. Hubbard’s initials and address?[19] I should write him.  Permission for Mrs. Pierce is all right: The Forum doesn’t pay and has no rights.  You can send on Janet Warner’s paper any time: I’m not all that anxious to read the Blake Newsletter, and I never believe anything I see in such things anyway, as a matter of principle.

I’ll send my ticket along tomorrow: I seem to have left it home.




[Merton College] [30 April 1970]

Jane, dear, here are the marks.  Tell the secretary that I’d prefer the letter marks if legal, but if not the Arabic ones will do, except that they’re on the old system of marking, where 75 is the A.  I think there’s a new system in which the A is 80: if he won’t take them like this, send the list back and I’ll try to alter it.  (Or rather, let me know: I have a copy.)

My first seminar was yesterday (April 29), and about 25 turned up.  First lecture today.  I’ve been asked by the BBC to do a talk on communications, and may accept.[20] Also a wire from York asking t« for a keynote speech on February 17 at some damn educational powwow: not anxious, but I suppose the date’s clear. It would be.[21]




[Merton College]                                                                                                                                3-5-70

Jane, dear, would you send me the carbon of The Critical Path, so I can work on it here?  A good deal of what ‘‘m trying to write seems to be turning out to be it, so I’d better have it and keep things clear.  In this country you can send things “air parcel” cheaper than first class, with a customs declaration attached: maybe you can the other way too.




[Merton College] 8–5–70

Jane, dear, I’ll write you a proper letter when I hear from you; but could you send me the Blake slides?[22] They’re in the drawer on the left-hand side of my desk, lowest drawer, at Victoria.  Plastic red and yellow cases.  There’s also a blond wood box at the end of the window ledge designed to hold them, but I don’t know if there’s any point transferring them. Blessings,



[Merton College]                                                                                                                                               [1970]

Jane, my pet, I think that brings us all up to date for the moment.  My opening seminar and lecture seemed to go all right.  Today there’s something bright up in the sky that I’d say was the sun if I weren’t in Oxford.  Otherwise the place seems to have nothing but rain on its mind.  The news about the income tax was a bit hard to take: much harder to take than my money seems to be for the government.  I hope Trudeau will spend it on something better looking than Barbra Streisand.[23]



[Merton College]                                                                                                                                               [1970]

Letter regarding the manuscript of The Critical Path.

Dear Jane:

As I half expected, my slight rearrangement of material has amounted to a complete rewriting of the book.  Here’s the manuscript as far as halfway through section six: the end of six and the few pages of seven are to come.  I think you can follow it all right: you know my sign ¶ which means start a new paragraph.

It’s quite a nuisance, but this is the first book since the Anatomy of Criticism that I’ve actually written, i.e., that hasn’t been a series of public lectures.  It’s also a very important book.  I probably won’t live to see it recognized as such, but you may.




Merton College,


Dear Jane: if you get this before you leave, send Henry Langford a cheque for £50—hell, I mean dollars: this is a British typewriter and it’s got the wrong sign on it—and send in a mark of 70 for Paul Wilson.  One thing I’d like to know is when you expect to be back in Toronto, on account I’d like to be back on your heels as soon as possible.  A big research library is wasted on me, too bad I never learned to read, and I’m getting itchy feet again.  So’s Helen: she’s only reconciled to staying here because the chestnuts are still in bloom.

All the best,



[Merton College]

Letter regarding the sermon Frye delivered in the Merton College Chapel, 7 June 1970.   The sermon, “All Things Made Anew,” was first published in Reading the World, 254–6.

Jane, sweetie, this here is me sermon.  They wanna distribute it, natch.  Could you stencil it, and send the stencils back to me?  I have an idea that single space is better than double.  But there are several parallel passages, so proof-read it carefully to make sure there isn’t a line left out.

Love (surprise),



[1] Frye took his student Edward Tomarken to lunch at the Rubens Hotel where he told him that his thesis––Critical Perspectives: A Study of “Rasselas” and Other Works of Samuel Johnson––was acceptable.  Tomarken received his Ph.D. the following year.  His “boss” was Edmund Volpe, chair of the English department at City University of New York.

[2] The references here are to papers that Frye was scheduled to present: “The Ethics of Change” at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, in November 1968, and “The Relevance of Higher Education” at the Quail Roost Seminar, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, in December 1968.

[3] The paper was “Mythos and Logos,” which Frye had given at Indiana University in June 1968.  Max Black was professor of philosophy at Cornell University.  The reference to Black is uncertain but it may relate to the disposition of a paper, “The Social Context of Literary Criticism,” that Frye had given at Cornell University on 18 April 1968, portions of which were eventually expanded into several sections of The Critical Path. Newton P. Stallknecht was chair of the philosophy department at Indiana University, director of the School of Letters there, and professor of comparative literature.  The paper was published in The School of Letters, Indiana University: Twentieth Anniversary, 1968 (Bloomington, IN: N.p., 1968), 27–40, and reprinted in Yearbook of Comparative Literature 18 (1969): 5–18.

[4] The first paper, which Frye read on 12 August at the Sligo, Ireland, conference on Yeats, was “The Top of the Tower: A Study of the Imagery of Yeats.”  The second paper is uncertain.

[5] Jane Welch was typing one of the several versions of The Critical Path.

[6] “The Ethics of Change: The Role of the University.”  A Symposium: The Ethics of Change (Toronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corp., 1969), 44–55.

[7] All of these trips were in connection with Frye’s receiving honorary degrees––from Acadia University (D.Litt.), 9 May; University of Western Ontario (D.Litt.), 27 May; York University (D.Litt.), 30 May; and University of Victoria, B.C. (LL.D.), 31 May.

[8] Lake Como.

[9] Frye’s paper was one of the several versions of “The Critical Path,” the revised form of which was published in Dædalus 99 (Spring 1970): 268–342.

[10] La Vista is the main piazza in Bellagio.

[11] The photo on the postcard was of the Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo, one of the many villas along the shore of Lake Como.

[12] “Tradition and Change in the Theory of Criticism.”  The paper was published thirty‑three years later in Northrop Frye on Literature and Society, 1936–1984

[13] On 1 December 1969 Frye wrote to Carolyn Kizer, who had been at the Pakistan conference, “The Pakistan visit was a particularly rewarding one for a Canadian, I should think, because it gave me some perspective of what a country gets out of separatism and a cornball ideology, which seems to be damn little.”

[14] Victoria College had established a scholarship fund in honor of A.B.B. Moore, who had been president of Victoria since 1950.

[15] This almost certainly was in reference to Walter Jackson Bate’s request to reprint selections from Frye’s work in his Criticism: The Major Texts, enlarged ed. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970).

[16] Amleto Lorenzini had assisted Carla Plevano Pezzini and Francesca Valente with the Italian translation of Fearful Symmetry, and he had helped with the Italian translation of Anatomy of Criticism.  He would later translate, or assist in translating, four of Frye’s other books.  Someone from Texas apparently had inquired about translating A Study of English Romanticism, a book that so far has not appeared in Italian.

[17] The portraits of Davies and Pratt are included in Barker Fairley: Portraits, ed. Gary Michael Dault (New York: Metheun, 1981), 52, 65.

[18] The contract is no doubt with Indiana University Press for The Critical Path.  Bernard B. Perry was director of the press.

[19] This may be R.H. Hubbard, who edited the book containing Frye’s “Canadian Scene: Explorers and Observers.”  See Canadian Landscape Painting 1670–1930 (Madison: University of Wisconsin, Elvehjem Art Center, 1973), 1–4.

[20] Frye did give the talk, which aired on BBC on 20 June 1970.  It was published as “Communications” in the Listener 84 (9 July 1970): 33–5.  Portions of the talk appeared in a somewhat different version in The Critical Path.

[21] Frye did give the keynote address at York University, Downsview, Ontario, on “Education and the Rejection of Reality,” 18 February 1971.

[22] Frye wanted the slides for the lectures on Blake he was giving at Merton College.

[23] Prime Minister Trudeau had been dating Barbara Streisand.

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