Denham Intro: CW 22, Anatomy

Preface and Introduction to Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism

Robert D. Denham

[from Anatomy of Criticism. Ed. Robert D. Denham. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006. Collected Works of Northrop Frye, 22. Click an image to view a larger version.]

Editor’s Preface

The copy-texts of this edition of Anatomy of Criticism are the paperback editions published by Atheneum in 1965 and by Princeton University Press in 1971. Both editions, which are identical except for the covers and title-page rectos and versos, made two minor changes in the text of the first edition, published by Princeton in 1957: the correction of “as” to “at” and “critics” to “critic.” These changes appear in all of the reprintings to date—ten by Atheneum, fifteen by Princeton, and the reprintings by Penguin (1990). They appear as well in Princeton’s reissue of the book in 2000 with a preface by Harold Bloom.

No manuscripts for the Anatomy, which Frye himself typed, are extant. While there are holograph drafts of portions of the theory of modes in Frye’s Notebook 30d and the theory of symbols in Notebook 30e, we know very little about the process of revision the book went through before he sent it to Princeton. None of the changes to the manuscript that are mentioned in the subsequent correspondence with Benjamin F. Houston, the literary editor at Princeton, is substantive, so whatever revisions the book might have undergone appear to have been before Frye submitted the manuscript. Frye’s later practice was to make holograph changes to his own typescripts, which he then gave to his secretary Jane Widdicombe to type. The revised typescript would then itself be revised and retyped, often more than once. But as Frye did not have a secretary in the early 1950s, whatever revisions he made to his own typescripts, which he most certainly made, are unknown. On the other hand, we can infer a great deal about the process of composition before the typing stage from the sixteen notebooks that are devoted in whole or part to the Anatomy—some 130,000 words of holograph material that are the workshop from which he crafted his books. The composing process is an issue too large and complicated to address here, though certain of its features will be glanced at in the introduction. A full account cannot be made in any event until the publication of the Anatomy notebooks—an absorbing body of material that will appear in due course.

The text used in the present volume includes the original page numbers, italicized within square brackets. The pagination for all subsequent editions and reprintings remained unchanged. When a page break occurs in the middle of a word, the page number has been placed after the originally hyphenated word. When references to Frye’s books include two citations, the second, preceded by “CW and a volume number,” is to the page number in Collected Works edition of the text. References to Frye’s still unpublished notebooks are cited by notebook number, followed by a period and the paragraph number (as in 7.250).

The editorial principles of Frye’s Collected Works require regularized punctuation and spelling. Frye’s practice of hyphenating such prefixes as “non-” and “anti-” before words beginning with vowels have, for example, been modified, and many of his spellings have been changed from his general preference for American forms to British ones. Such tinkering may seem curious, but from an editorial point of view consistency is to be preferred in a Collected Works over the differences found in Frye’s own practice and in the diverse requirements of his publishers. Several spelling errors and nonsubstantive misquotations have been silently corrected, and the few places where the text has been emended are listed following the Notes.

Frye’s own notes, which have occasionally been expanded, are followed by “[NF].” The other notes are devoted mostly to providing the sources of Frye’s references or to explaining some point in the text. They occasionally expand Frye’s own citations. The line numbers of poems are generally given in square brackets within the text.

Anatomy of Criticism has been translated into fifteen languages. The title pages of fourteen of these (the Hebrew one has proved impossible to obtain), including two translations each in Chinese and Serbo-Croatian, are reproduced in the Appendix.


In the commonplace manner of speaking, things well known need no introduction, and Anatomy of Criticism, being republished now in the year of its golden anniversary, is as well known as any critical text of the last century. Its arguments have been with us for a long time, and its ends and means have been repeatedly anatomized by countless readers, sympathizers as well as detractors. Its influence has been widespread in the Anglo-American critical world and beyond. In the English Institute volume devoted to Frye’s work less than a decade after its publication, Murray Krieger advanced the bold opinion that because of the Anatomy Frye “has had an influence—indeed an absolute hold—on a generation of developing literary critics greater and more exclusive than that of any one theorist in recent critical history. One thinks of other movements that have held sway, but these seem not to have developed so completely on a single critic—nay, on a single work—as has the criticism in the work of Frye and his Anatomy.”[1] This claim was echoed by Lawrence Lipking six years later: “More than any other modern critic, [Frye] stands at the center of critical activity.”[2] In 1976 Harold Bloom declared that Frye had “earned the reputation of being the leading theoretician of literary criticism among all those writing in English today,”[3] and a decade later Bloom had not changed his opinion: Frye, he wrote, “is the foremost living student of Western literature” and “surely the major literary critic in the English language.”[4]

Fearful Symmetry (1947), Frye’s pioneering study of William Blake, established his preeminence within the relatively limited confines of Blake scholarship, but Anatomy of Criticism was the book that launched his international reputation and, considering the widespread attention it still receives, continues to guarantee it. Frye’s writing career spanned some sixty years, beginning in the early 1930s and concluding with his two books on the Bible and The Double Vision (1991). Some thirty books followed in the wake of the Anatomy, and each book has an integral place in Frye’s grand achievement.[5] Interest in the Anatomy is said by many to have waned in the 1980s and 1990s, as Frye was displaced from his position near the centre, at least in graduate programs of literary study, where poststructural modes of inquiry came into fashion. And in the last two decades of his life, a large measure of the interest in Frye was directed more toward his literary interpretation of the Bible than his early theoretical work. The Anatomy, however, did not so much disappear as enter into the critical tradition. In his first edition of The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends (1989), David Richter placed Frye’s “The Archetypes of Literature” in the section of his anthology devoted to “contemporary trends,” and the particular trend he was said to be a part of was, somewhat reductively, psychological criticism. In Richter’s view, Frye was a member of the camp that included Freud, Jung, and Lacan. But in the second edition of The Critical Tradition (1998), “The Archetypes,” along with the essays by Freud and Jung, had become a “classic text.” A classic text is one that has become a significant part of the critical tradition.

The reputations of critics, like those of poets and novelists, wax and wane, as we can see in the changing contents of the three editions of a widely used anthology of literary criticism more than a half-century ago, Smith and Parks’ The Great Critics. Where now are Antonio Sebastian Minturno (ca. 1500–74) and Henry Timrod (1829–67), both anthologized in the third edition of The Great Critics?[6] Although the major status of, say, Aristotle and Sidney seems assured, no one can predict with any certainty the extent to which those closer to us will remain in the critical canon. Critical fashions come and go. By the beginning of the present century, even Harold Bloom began to express some ambivalence about his earlier judgments, recorded above. In his foreword to the reissue of the Anatomy in 2000 Bloom remarks that he is “not so fond of the Anatomy now” as he was when he reviewed it forty-three years earlier.[7] Bloom’s ambivalence springs from his conviction that there is no place in Frye’s myth of concern for a theory of the anxiety of influence, Frye’s view of influence being a matter of “temperament and circumstances.”[8] Bloom’s foreword, however, is devoted chiefly, not to the Anatomy, but to his own anxieties about Frye’s influence, presented in the context of Bloom’s well-known disquiet about what he calls the School of Resentment—the various forms of “cultural criticism” that take their cues from identity politics. In the 1950s, Bloom says, Frye provided an alternative to the New Criticism, especially Eliot’s High Church variety, but today he is powerless to free us from the critical wilderness. Because Frye saw literature as a “benignly cooperative enterprise,” he is of little help with its agonistic traditions. His schematisms will fall away: what will remain is the rhapsodic quality of his criticism. In the extraordinary proliferation of texts today, according to Bloom, Frye will provide “little comfort and assistance”: if he is to afford any sustenance, it will be outside the universities. Still, Bloom believes that Frye’s criticism will survive not because of the system outlined in the Anatomy, but “because it is serious, spiritual, and comprehensive.”[9] We will return to Bloom’s characterization of the Anatomy as spiritual, as well as to his relation to Frye.

If Frye is no longer at “the center of critical activity,” he is certainly very much present at the circumference as a containing presence. While it is true that graduate courses in critical theory often exclude his work, it is no less true, as a glance at current university catalogues and course descriptions reveal, that both undergraduate and graduate students continue to read his works at a number of major universities.[10] And if Bloom’s claim is true that Frye will disappear from the universities, the decline appears to have not yet begun, to judge by the relatively large number of people who continue to write dissertations in which Frye figures importantly. In 1963 Mary Curtis Tucker wrote the first doctoral dissertation on Frye. The period 1964 through 2003 saw another 185 doctoral dissertations devoted in whole or part to Frye, “in part” meaning that “Frye” is indexed as a subject in Dissertation Abstracts International.[11] The number of dissertations for each of the decades falls out as follows: 1960s = 5; 1970s = 28; 1980s = 63; 1990s = 67; 2000–2003 = 23. These data indicate that during the twenty-year period following the height of the poststructural moment interest in Frye as a topic of graduate research has increased rather than diminished. During the 1980s and 1990s he figured importantly in more than six dissertations per year and for the years 2000–2003, eight per year. In 2003, Frye was indexed as a subject in twelve doctoral dissertations, which was the highest number for any year, and eight of these have to do with topics treated in the Anatomy—Menippean satire, romance, myth, genre theory, typological imagery.[12]

Other indicators also suggest increased academic attention to Frye. When Northrop Frye: An Annotated Bibliography was published in 1987, there were eight books devoted in their entirety to his work. Since that time another twenty-four have appeared.[13] The bibliography recorded 588 essays or parts of books devoted to Frye, written over the course of forty years. Since that time, more than 900 additional entries (excluding the hundreds of news stories about Frye and reviews of his books) have been added to the bibliography. In other words, during the past seventeen years a great deal more has been written about Frye than in the previous forty or so years. Of the seventeen symposia and conferences devoted to his work, which have taken place on four continents, thirteen have occurred since 1986: two have been held in China, two in Australia, two in the U.S., five in Canada, one in Italy, and one in Korea.[14] The Anatomy has been continuously in print for forty-eight years (the fifteenth printing by Princeton University Press appeared in 2000), and it has been translated into fifteen languages (see Appendix 1). The last six, two of which are in Arabic, were published after 1990.[15] It appears, then, that for a large number of readers the Anatomy has not faded away. Graham Good remarks that “[t]his is a wintry season for Frye’s work in the West” and that “the once-great repute of the Wizard of the North is now maintained only by a few Keepers of the Flame,”[16] the Keepers of the Flame being apparently the editors of the Collected Works of Frye. But as the Frye bibliography indicates, there are a number of readers beside the Keepers of the Flame who continue to find Frye worthy of attention.[17] Even a poststructuralist like Jonathan Culler has come around to granting that Frye’s vision of a coherent literary tradition is something devoutly to be wished for literary studies.[18] As for Frye’s status outside the universities, Frye is “the only critic,” according to A.C. Hamilton, who addresses a wide reading public.”[19]

The ends and means of the Anatomy have been widely examined and debated, and it is not necessary to review here the scope of the commentary that the book has generated over the years, a large part of which has been recorded.[20] It might be useful, however, to consider some of the less well-known contexts in the history of the Anatomy—its genesis, its initial reception, and its relation to Frye’s earlier and later work, particularly Fearful Symmetry at the beginning of Frye’s career and the religious themes that emerge so clearly in the writings of the last decades of his life. Along the way we will glance at the diagrammatic way of thinking that characterizes Frye’s brand of structuralism and the meaning of the word “anatomy.” We will also consider the relationship of the Anatomy to the critical tradition out of which it emerged (the New Criticism, Neo-Aristotelianism, and comparative anthropology) and its relation to some of the movements in criticism that appeared after the waning of structuralism—largely deconstruction and cultural studies. A full account of these historical contexts is beyond the scope of an introduction, but there may be some value in glancing at the intellectual milieu of the Anatomy‘s birth and the first fifty years of its life.

Frye as Bricoleur

Anatomy of Criticism was many years in the making, and much of it was assembled from the extensive inventory of Frye’s previous writing, published and unpublished. Some of its principal arguments can even be traced back to the essays Frye wrote as student at Victoria and Emmanuel Colleges (1929–1936). The Anatomy, then, can be seen as what Claude Lévi-Strauss calls a bricolage. In The Savage Mind Lévi-Strauss explains that mythical thought is a kind of intellectual bricolage, the bricoleur being one who draws from a “heterogeneous repertoire” and always makes do with “whatever is at hand,” part of which is “the remains of previous constructions.”[21]

Anatomy of Criticism is a book derived from a large heterogeneous repertoire, made from whatever had been left over from Frye’s other jobs, and built at least in part from the residue of previous constructions. The “heterogeneous repertoire” needs little commentary. All readers of the Anatomy are aware of its richly allusive texture and its wide-ranging references to the Western literary and cultural tradition: the book names some 400 poets, novelists, playwrights, philosophers, and artists and refers to more than 430 titles of works, alluding to many more. The extent to which Frye is a bricoleur is suggested in the “Prefatory Statements” to the Anatomy where he lists fourteen essays, written over a twelve-year period, that he revised, expanded, and incorporated into the Anatomy (vii–viii).[22] He was adept at using, in Lévi-Strauss’s phrase, “whatever is at hand.”[23] He not only borrowed liberally from the fourteen published articles but also “transplanted a few sentences from other articles and reviews” (viii).[24] Moreover, he cribbed from his own unpublished papers. One example is “The Literary Meaning of “Archetype,'” a talk presented in 1952 at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association but which remained unpublished for fifty years.[25] Because each paragraph of this talk made its way into the Second Essay of the Anatomy, there can be little doubt that Frye had the paper in front of him when he was writing his “Theory of Symbols.” It served the same blueprint function as the well-known “The Archetypes of Literature” (1951) served for the Second and Third Essays.[26] The earliest of the previously published essays that Frye adapted for the Anatomy are both from 1942, “Music in Poetry,” which he lists in his preface, and “The Anatomy in Prose Fiction,” [27] which he does not, no doubt because this essay, written before he turned thirty, was incorporated into another of his self-pirated pieces, “The Four Forms of Prose Fiction” (1950).

Revealingly, in The Great Code Frye associates bricolage with the anatomy as a prose genre, and Frye says that both the Bible and his own book on the Bible are works of bricolage.[28] He writes that “myth-making has a quality that Lévi-Strauss calls bricolage, a putting together of bits and pieces out of whatever comes to hand. Long before Lévi-Strauss, T.S. Eliot in an essay on Blake used practically the same image, speaking of Blake’s resourceful Robinson Crusoe method of scrambling together a system of thought out of the odds and ends of his reading. I owe a great deal to this essay.”[29] Frye goes on to say that bricolage is the typical poetic procedure, one used not just by Blake and Eliot, but by Dante as well. As it relates to criticism rather than poetry, the focus of bricolage is not on the bits and pieces themselves, but on the system or structure that is built from whatever is at hand. This process, for Lévi-Strauss, is what distinguishes mythical from scientific thought,[30] and the interest in the structure provides the link for Frye between the bricoleur and the anatomist. “Both the scientist and the ‘bricoleur,'” writes Lévi-Strauss,

might . . . be said to be constantly on the look out for “messages.” Those which the “bricoleur” collects are, however, ones which have to some extent been transmitted in advance—like the commercial codes which are summaries of the past experience of the trade and so allow any new situation to be met economically, provided that it belongs to the same class as the other one. . . . [T]he characteristic feature of mythical thought, as of “bricolage” on the practical plane, is that it builds up structured sets, not directly with other structured sets but by using the remains and debris of events.[31]

If we were to substitute “literary conventions” for “codes” and “events” in Lévi-Strauss’s account of the bricoleur, we would describe a process quite similar to the one undertaken by Frye in constructing the Anatomy.

In the preface to the Anatomy Frye indicates that his theoretical interests displaced what he had originally planned to write following Fearful Symmetry (1947), a work of practical criticism on Spenser’s Faerie Queene. The Spenser book was to be one of two volumes he proposed to complete during his Guggenheim fellowship year at Harvard (1950–51). This was all part of an anticipated three-volume project: a study of the Renaissance epic with special attention to Spenser, a study of Shakespearean comedy, and a third volume that, Frye says, “does not enter into my plans at present.”[32] The third volume would emerge eight years later as Anatomy of Criticism. In Fearful Symmetry Frye had shown that Blake was a typical poet, and he had claimed that if we follow Blake’s “own method, and interpret this in imaginative instead of historical terms, we have the doctrine that all symbolism in all art and all religion is mutually intelligible among all men, and that there is such a thing as an iconography of the imagination” (420; CW.14, 407). But, as we learn in Frye’s Guggenheim application, Blake proved to be too isolated a poet for Frye to complete his larger theoretical ambition,[33] and it proved difficult, as Frye says in an interview, to disentangle the “various pieces of insight” about the structure of literature as a whole from his study of Blake.[34] As it turned out, he abandoned his plans for the first two volumes, turning his attention more exclusively to analyzing the features of the “iconography of the imagination.” In the preface to the Anatomy he remarks that the Spenser book began expanding into a theory of allegory, which was connected with larger theoretical issues, and he adds: “I soon found myself entangled in those parts of criticism that have to do with such words as ‘myth,’ ‘symbol,’ ‘ritual,’ and ‘archetype,’ and my effort to make sense of these words in various published articles met with enough interest to encourage me to proceed further along these lines” (3).

By 1950 Frye had already made some headway with these articles, and even in 1949 he was already looking beyond Spenser.[35] As he noted in his Guggenheim application, submitted in October 1949:

Implicit in my study is an attitude to criticism which is being explicitly stated in a series of essays I am now engaged in writing. I regard literary criticism as a science temporarily deprived of its scientific status by a deficiency of theory. Attempts at critical theory have usually relied on philosophy instead of on an inductive survey of literature itself. My present project contains, first, a theory of verbal meaning which tries to unite traditional theories of meaning, such as Dante’s scheme of four levels, with modern ideas about symbolism. Second, a theory of literary symbolism which will present all the essential possibilities of literary symbols in a single form, in other words a kind of grammar of symbolism.[36]

At the time, Frye had already written his essays on “The Four Forms of Prose Fiction,” “The Nature of Satire,” “The Argument of Comedy,” and “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time.”[37] Before leaving for Harvard he had written “Levels of Meaning in Literature” at the request of the Kenyon Review. On the basis of this article, Philip Rice, managing editor of the Kenyon Review, wrote to Frye in June 1950, asking for the third time if he would submit an article on the forms of poetry. Frye obliged by writing, shortly after arriving in Cambridge to begin his Guggenheim year, another article, not on the forms of poetry, but “The Archetypes of Literature.” In his diary entry for 15 May 1950 he noted, I “just hope to God I can work out a conspectus of archetypes,” adding that the book on Spenser would be “sunk if I can’t work out a general theory of archetypes” (D, 350). He was beginning to realize that the Guggenheim project was transforming itself into a more theoretical work. “The Archetypes of Literature,” which was written over the course of two or three days, appears to be the impetus he needed:

I’ve started drafting out a tentative plan for my next Kenyon Review paper, assuming they’d be interested in one on archetypes. The opening stages are a fairly beaten track: ritual is pre-conscious & animal, myth conscious & human. Ritual is the vestigial human form of synchronization, & myth begins as an effort to explain it. Ritual eventually finds its rationale in the yearly cycle, & so myth becomes cyclic too. Working along these lines I think I can get to the narrative archetypes, & from there to the cycles, the approximation of the day-night cycle to the sleep-waking one being the entering wedge. That’s fairly standard, but it’s fairly well known too. What isn’t so well known is my famous demonstration of the anatomy of the spiritual world that I astonish my kids [students] with every January. Well, when I’ve got that done, & gone from there to the narrative archetypes of epic, I have another job, & possibly a second article, in hand, namely the working out of my essential thesis that archetypes are the informing powers of poetry. If I can make a passable article out of that the book will be all over but the footnotes.[38]

Frye’s vision for the Anatomy was not “all over but the footnotes” by any means, but by the time he had completed “A Conspectus of Dramatic Genres,” also for the Kenyon Review during his Guggenheim year, he had written eight of the essays incorporated in the Anatomy. The other six followed over the course of the next three years, so that by 1955 the bricoleur had built up the other half of his “structured sets.” It did not take many months to complete the project: Structural Poetics: Four Essays was sent to Princeton in June 1955 and accepted for publication four months later.[39] Princeton asked Frye to consider changing the title and adding a conclusion and a glossary, and he assented.[40] He later changed the title Structural Poetics to Structure as Criticism, but after the editorial staff at Princeton registered its strong opposition to that, he eventually settled on Anatomy of Criticism, one of the thirteen titles that Benjamin Houston, literary editor at Princeton, suggested as possibilities.[41] The book went to press in February 1957 and was released three months later.

Frye as Structuralist

Lévi-Strauss notes that the scientist creates particular objects or events by means of structures and that the bricoleur creates structures by means of particular objects or events,[42] which is another way of distinguishing between the deductive and inductive methods. Frye works both ways. In “The Archetypes of Literature,” he says, “We may . . . proceed inductively from structural analysis, associating the data we collect and trying to see larger patterns in them. Or we may proceed deductively, with the consequences that follow from postulating the unity of criticism. It is clear, of course, that neither procedure will work indefinitely without correction from the other. Pure induction will get us lost in haphazard guessing; pure deduction will lead to inflexible and over-simplified pigeon-holing” (FI, 10). In the Polemical Introduction to the Anatomy Frye writes that he had proceeded deductively and that he has “been rigorously selective in examples and illustrations,” the examples and illustrations coming of course from the extensive inductive survey he had been engaged in from the time he was a young man.

The inductive and deductive methods are analogous in their goals to the practical and theoretical criticism that Frye saw as separate parts of his ogdoad, an eight-book vision that he used as a heuristic device for his life’s work. As with all of his organizing patterns, the ogdoad was never a rigid outline, but it did correspond to the chief divisions in Frye’s conceptual universe over the years, and throughout his expansive notebooks he repeatedly uses a symbolic code to refer to the eight books he planned to write.[43] In Notebook 7, which Frye began writing as the workshop for the book on Spenser, he says that the three books of his Guggenheim project have both an inductive and deductive form. The inductive form will issue in critical commentary on Spenser and Shakespeare and a study of prose. The deductive form, as Frye goes on to project it for the entire ogdoad, will be “a general discussion of the structure of literature and the grammar of criticism. It takes the salient points of structure . . . & outlines the verbal universe, inserting the essential point of the One Word into the stage represented at present by my colloquium paper” [“The Function of Criticism at the Present Time”]. The deductive form is also, in Frye’s plans at this point, “the mythology of literature & the rhetoric of criticism, an integration of the Word,” as well as “the dialectic of literature & the logic of criticism, expounding metaphysics as a part of the verbal universe & the verbum as the λόγος [logos], or the verbal universe as the logical universe” (7.156). All of this is one of the early formulations (1948) of what Frye would systematically pursue in the Anatomy, and he gives the impression, even in the late 1940s, that the structural principles of literary theory—what he calls ” first-level criticism” (7.173)—are what interest him most. “The deductive approach,” he writes, begins with the conceptions of narrative and meaning” (7.183), which conceptions were to become the omnipresent mythos and dianoia of the Anatomy. By the time he had completed about two-thirds of the entries in Notebook 7, it becomes clear that the book on Spenser had receded into the background and that he was forging full steam ahead on his deductive theoretical book. Here is the way he projects it in 1950 or 1951 in Notebook 7:

In the foreground is the new theory, of which the parts are as follows. First, a general introduction, as in my UTQ “Function” article [“The Function of Criticism at the Present Time”]. Second, an analysis of the four levels of meaning, as in the first KR article [“Levels of Meaning in Literature”]. Third, an analysis of the four levels of criticism, an article I am doing now [“The Literary Meaning of ‘Archetype”’]. Fourth, an outline of the problem of archetypes, as suggested by the “Credo” article [“The Archetypes of Literature”]. From here on it’s vaguer . . . . There should be an analysis of scripture. . . . There should be an article on the four major genres, outlining their inter-relationship. How much systematic grammar of symbolism I need to complete this I dunno. . . . I don’t quite see how my “First Essay” [“Towards a Theory of Cultural History”] works out on so small a scale. But it sure would be a bombshell if it did. Can it be that I am only just now writing the opening chapter? This criticism article should logically end in a discussion of narrative meaning: that is, structure & symbolism, the precipitates of my literary anthropology & psychology respectively. If I do this I’m all set. (7.196)[44]

The “structured sets” that Frye had completed in his essays of the 1940s and 1950s were discrete parts, but they had not become a whole. The struggle he went through to organize these various parts so as to achieve a whole, to fill in the blank spaces, and to develop new material, especially the theory of genres, can be traced in the notebooks for the Anatomy and in his diaries from 1950 to 1955. By the beginning of 1952 he had settled on the title of Essay on Poetics (D, 462), and both his 1952 diary and his notebooks of the time are filled with various schemes and outlines, revealing his preoccupation with the shape of the whole that would take, as already said, another three years to complete. Experimenting with numerous ways to organize the book, he had arrived at this table of contents by early 1953:

Polemical Introduction
Part One: Table of Literary Elements.
Chapter One: Symbols. Modes
Chapter Two: Modes. Symbols
Chapter Three: Archetypes.
Part Two: Episodic Forms.
Chapter Four: Specific Forms of Drama. Encyc. Forms
Chapter Five: Specific Forms of Lyric. Genres
Part Three: The Sequence of Continuous Forms.
Chapter Six: Scripture, Romance and Epic. Rhet.
Chapter Seven: Prose Fiction
Chapter Eight: Satire & the Comminution of Forms.
Tentative Conclusion (35.69)

The right-hand column, added later, is close to what finally emerged, the separate chapters on encyclopedic forms, genres, and rhetoric (or chapters 4 through 8 in the left-hand column) eventually being collapsed to form the Fourth Essay.

Toward the end of Notebook 7, in an entry dated 1957, Frye wrote, “Anatomy of Criticism has finally been excreted, or crystallized, from these hunches” (7.252), these hunches being the previous seventy or so entries where he experiments with other plans, constructs seven diagrams, and begins to fill in the substance of the various parts of the book—at which point he immediately begins planning his next project. But these seventy entries in Notebook 7 amount to less than one-quarter (about 10,000 words) of the notebook material. There are seventeen notebooks devoted to the Anatomy, written during the ten years after the publication of Fearful Symmetry (1947), and they amount to some 130,000 words altogether, which is almost as many words as in the Anatomy itself.[45] They represent an incessant mental fight to mould the “structured sets” into a whole, which required numerous strategic regroupings of his material and numerous containing forms.

No one reads the Anatomy and most of Frye’s other work without an awareness that he proceeds from what we have been calling the deductive frameworks—hypothetical sets of principles that are often schematic or diagrammatic. Seen from this perspective, his work has moved beyond bricolage: deductive frameworks always assume the sense of the whole. These frameworks, often dialectical, take many forms in the Anatomy: they are based on such oppositions as space and time, mythos and dianoia, melos and opsis, fictional and thematic. Other schema are tripartite, such as the beauty–goodness–truth triad at the beginning of the Fourth Essay, the implications of which Frye began to develop when he was twenty-three.[46] Still others form a vertical hierarchy: the great chain of being or axis mundi. As Frye says in the Anatomy, “Very often a ‘structure’ or ‘system’ of thought can be reduced to a diagrammatic pattern—in fact both words are to some extent synonyms of diagram. A philosopher is of great assistance to his reader when he realizes the presence of such a diagram and extracts it, as Plato does in his discussion of the divided line. We cannot go far in any argument without realizing that there is some kind of graphic formula involved” (314). In his notebooks Frye drew scores of such graphic formulas. The notebooks for the Anatomy contain fourteen diagrams and ten charts or tables. Some of Frye’s schema are quite simple, like the personal/intellectualized and extroverted/introverted set of principles that yields the four forms of prose fiction (288-9). Others are mind-bogglingly complex, such as the one underlying the phases of the mythoi in the Third Essay, a diagram that Frye himself sketched on several occasions in his notebooks. Here are three examples of his diagrams of the four mythoi:

One of Frye's mythoi diagrams.

One of Frye's mythoi diagrams.

One of Frye's mythoi diagrams.

Except for the table of apocalyptic categories in the Third Essay (134) the Anatomy contains no diagrams or summarizing charts, although Frye did include two diagrams and one table in the manuscript he originally submitted to Princeton.[47] But the Anatomy contains dozens of implicit diagrams, and many of Frye’s readers, the present one included, have tried to represent these diagrammatically. Some commentators have protested that the diagramming of Frye’s thought freezes it into a rigid pattern and does not permit the deeper comprehension to emerge. The protest is legitimate if the various schema are taken to be something other than spatially represented summaries of what Frye’s prose presents in a continuous linear form, functioning as aids to comprehension. Yet for Frye himself diagrams were more than this. They were, first, a part of the discovery process for him and, second, a way of representing what he held in his memory theatres. They served, moreover, as a shorthand method for signifying patterns of literary conventions, and they were as well a teaching device, as the countless students who watched Frye draw his patterns on the blackboard can attest. Critical thinking is schematic because poetic thinking is, a point he repeatedly makes in Fearful Symmetry and elsewhere. In his early efforts to understand Blake’s system of thought Frye writes, “the schematic, diagrammatic quality of Blake’s thought was there, and would not go away or turn into anything else”—this coming from an essay that has five diagrams itself.[48] As Frye says in connection with the ingenious diagrams that people sent him over the years, a mandala is not something to stare at but “a projection of the way one sees” (SM, 117). In this respect, Frye’s diagrams, whether implicit or actually drawn, are no different from Plato’s divided line or the implict Linnaenean chart in the first five chapters of Aristotle’s Poetics.

Frye used several large diagrammatic frameworks to structure his imaginative universe. One he called the Great Doodle, a schematic representation of the cyclical quest with its quadrants, cardinal points, and epiphanic sites, as well as the vertical ascent and descent movements along the chain of being or the axis mundi. A part of the Great Doodle was the Hermes-Eros-Adonis-Prometheus (HEAP) scheme that begins in Notebook 7, an Anatomy notebook from the late 1940s, and that dominates the notebook landscape of Frye’s last decade. The HEAP scheme in its half-dozen variations is used to define the quadrants of the Great Doodle, and there are countless other organizing devices, serving as Lesser Doodles, that Frye draws from alchemy, the zodiac, musical keys, colors, the chess board, the omnipresent “four kernels” (commandment, aphorism, oracle, and epiphany), the shape of the human body, Blake’s Zoas, Jung’s personality types, Bacon’s idols, the boxing of the compass by Plato and the Romantic poets, the greater arcana of the Tarot cards, the seven days of Creation, the three stages of religious awareness, and numerological schemes.[49] Frye used these frameworks to organize and structure his imaginative universe. Structure is an architectural metaphor, and the building that emerges from the structure is a literary theory, as Frye reminds us in the final sentences of the Polemical Introduction.[50] There Frye also says, in an apparent rhetorical appeal to those not given to schematics, that he attaches no importance to the schematic form itself, adding that much of it “may be mere scaffolding, to be knocked down when the building is in better shape” (30). It is difficult to take Frye seriously here and no less difficult to imagine what Anatomy of Criticism would look like without its schematic form.[51]

Frye as Anatomist

Schema, of course, spring from analysis or dissection, which is one meaning of the word “anatomy.” As already indicated, Frye associates the technique of bricolage with the form of fiction he called anatomy: “In a way I have tried to took at the Bible as a work of bricolage, in a book which is also that. I retain my special affection for the literary genre I have called the anatomy, especially for Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, with its schematic arrangements that are hardly those of any systematic medical treatment of melancholy, and yet correspond to something in the mind that yields a perhaps even deeper kind of comprehension” (The Great Code, 13). In connection with representing these schema visually, Frye goes on to say that in The Great Code he has “been more liberal with charts and diagrams than usual” (ibid.). In that book he inserts eleven charts, diagrams, and tables and in Words with Power five more. Anatomizers do not simply dissect; they name and arrange the parts. In this respect, they become taxonomists, and Frye is of course our greatest literary taxonomist, one who, in the literal sense of the word, develops a method of arrangement. But for Frye anatomizing involves synthesis as well as analysis, or rather analysis in the service of a “synthetic overview.”

The word anatomy in Shakespeare’s day and a little later meant a dissection for a synthetic overview. One of my favorite books in English literature—there are times when it is actually my favorite—is Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. Of course, there were four humors then, but for Burton there was only the one, melancholy. That was the source of all mental and physical diseases in the world. So he writes an enormous survey of human life. It ranks with Chaucer and Dickens, except the characters are books rather than people. It was both an analysis of the causes and cures and treatment of melancholy and a kind of synthetic overview of human nature before it gets melancholy. On a much smaller scale there was Lyly’s Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit, which has given us the word euphuism, meaning that if you’re too bright and don’t know enough you can get into trouble. That use of the term anatomy was one that I thought exactly fitted what I was doing.” (Northrop Frye in Conversation, 69)

If Frye intended his anatomy to be like Burton’s in combining analysis and synthesis, he also intended it to be comprehensive.[52]

The word “anatomy” in Frye is of course a pun, referring both to a form of prose fiction and to his own work of criticism. “The Anatomy in Prose Fiction” (1942), already mentioned, was his first major published essay. But the possibility of the anatomy as a separate class of prose had been entertained by Frye at least five years earlier. In a 1937 letter, he wrote to Helen Kemp that he had read his “anatomy paper” to his Oxford tutor Edmund Blunden” (The Correspondence of Northrop Frye and Helen Kemp, 2:693). This may have been, or been a version of, one of Frye’s student essays that has survived, “An Enquiry into the Art Forms of Prose Fiction” (Northrop Frye’s Student Essays, 383–400). In any event, the paper we have, which dates from the late 1930s, is the earliest of his several accounts of the anatomy before the publication of Anatomy of Criticism, and is clearly the blueprint for “The Anatomy in Prose Fiction.”

In Frye’s student essay the anatomy is seen as related to fiction and drama but differing from them in its effort to build up an argument or attitude. It is similar to the essay in its interest in ideas: the essay develops an idea, while the anatomy interweaves a number of ideas. Because anatomy is a literary term, it can apply to any kind of writing in any field that has survived because of its literary value. Anatomies reveal the interests or outlooks of the author, as in satires and Utopias or other abstract, conceptual, or generalized attitudes to human personality or society. Such interests are prior to the strict requirements of philosophy or psychology. Anatomies always reveal an intellectual interest, and they display their authors’ erudition. They begin, Frye writes, in the Renaissance with Cornelius Agrippa’s Vanity of the Arts and Sciences, followed by Erasmus’s Encomium Moriae, More’s Utopia, and Castiglione’s Courtier. On the continent, the culminating development is Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel, and in England Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (Northrop Frye’s Student Essays, 390–1).

Many of Frye’s insights came to him early, and his “discovery” of the anatomy is one example. He was in his mid-twenties when he wrote “An Enquiry,” and the features of the anatomy outlined there were not substantially altered in his subsequent treatments of the form, culminating in his expanded definition of the genre in the Fourth Essay of the Anatomy. What does appear in his subsequent treatments is an effort to trace the beginning of the anatomy back beyond the Renaissance to the Classical Mennipean satire, which is a subspecies of the anatomy.[53]

The question naturally arises, What does it mean to say that Frye’s Anatomy is itself an anatomy? It is obviously not a work of prose fiction, but it does contain a number of characteristics of the anatomy as a literary form: it is an intellectualized form and thus focuses on dianoia rather than ethos; it builds up integrated patterns; it has a theoretical interest; it embraces a wide variety of subtypes; it displays considerable erudition; its schematic form is an imaginative structure, born of an exuberant and creative wit; and whatever dramatic appeal it has comes from the dialectic of ideas. Frye’s Anatomy is of course not satire, which combines fantasy and morality often with the deprecating quality as found in, say, Lyly’s The Anatomy of Wit, but embedded in its Utopianism is a clear moral attitude. If Frye, as an implied author, might appear to be obsessed with his entire intellectual project, he does not qualify as a philosophus gloriosus or a learned and pedantic crank—often the object of satire in the anatomy.

The main difference between the Anatomy and other anatomies, however, is in their differing final causes. Frye always insisted that the lines between the critical and the creative should not be sharply drawn, and he remarks in one of his Anatomy notebooks, “In poetics we often have to speak poetically” (35.51). But for all of its aesthetic appeal—its creativity and ingenuity, its wit and stylistic charm, its inventive taxonomies—the Anatomy remains a work of criticism, in spite of those, such as M.H. Abrams and Frank Kermode, who claim otherwise, mistaking the means for the end.[54] The Anatomy comes to use primarily in what Frye would later call second-phase language, the continuous prose of abstraction and reason and of analogical and dialectical thinking. Its aim, as suggested above, is the analysis of literary conventions and the synthesis of these into comprehensive order.

Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy was ostensibly a medical discourse. Today it is read less for instruction into the cures of the psychiatrically sick than for its delight. Posterity will determine whether Frye’s Anatomy follows the course of Burton’s. So far, fifty years after its publication, it is still read primarily as a work of literary theory, and most of its applications have been in the interest of description, explanation, and interpretation. This is not to gainsay its wit and eloquence, the aesthetic appeal of its formal structure, and its engendering of delight. But none of these things is the final cause of a book Frye saw as a new criticism that went beyond the New Criticism.

Frye and the New Criticism

In his diary entry for 14 March 1950 Frye reports on a party he attended at the home of A.S.P. Woodhouse, where M.H. Abrams, who had been lecturing in Toronto, and Marshall McLuhan, among others, were in attendance. The gossip of the evening included the news that Woodhouse was to deliver a paper on Milton at an upcoming session at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association and that his historical perspective was to be opposed on the program by Cleanth Brooks, who, Frye writes, “apparently belongs to a group called the ‘New Critics’ who are supposed to ignore historical criticism & concentrate on texture, whatever texture is.” Frye, whose “Levels of Meaning in Literature” appeared in the Spring 1950 issue of the Kenyon Review, then adds, “I asked Abrams if being in the Kenyon Review would make me a new critic: I certainly can’t claim to be au courant in such matters” (Northrop Frye’s Diaries). Three months later he learns that people in the United States are referring to him as a new critic.[55] These are the earliest references in Frye’s work to the New Criticism.

Although later in the year (June 1950) Frye refers to a Toronto master’s thesis as “a new critical analysis,”[56] he nevertheless appears at this time to have been genuinely naive about the burgeoning critical orthodoxy known as the New Criticism. John Crowe Ransom had founded the Kenyon Review in 1939 and had published The New Criticism two years later. Cleanth Brooks, in collaboration with Robert Penn Warren, had published his Understanding Poetry in 1938 and Understanding Fiction in 1943, both of which, for literary studies, turned out to be the most influential teaching manuals of the next several decades.[57] W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley had published “The Intentional Fallacy” (1946) and “The Affective Fallacy” (1946), arguing the centripetal and formalist position that it is misleading for the critic to assume that poetry is, respectively, a record of the private experience of the poet and an account of the private experience of the reader. Brooks’s “The Heresy of Paraphrase” had appeared in 1947. At the time of his diary entry Frye seems to have been innocent of these new critical beginnings, and innocent as well of the work of I.A. Richards and R.P. Blackmur and of René Wellek and Austin Warren’s New Critical bible, Theory of Literature (1949).[58] But it did not take him long to discover the ball park in which the game was being played.

In 1950 John Crowe Ransom, the editor of the Kenyon Review, invited a group of well-known critics to contribute to a series of essays called “my credo.” William Empson’s “The Verbal Analysis” was the first of the series. In 1951 Cleanth Brooks contributed “My Credo: Formalist Critics.” Whether Frye ever read Empson’s essay is uncertain. He had read Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity in the 1930s, though without associating it with an identifiable critical practice (RW, 180). But he certainly would have been familiar with Brooks’s “credo,” which appeared in the same issue of Kenyon Review as “The Archetypes of Literature.”[59] During the next four or five years, Frye came to understand what the New Critical enterprise was all about, though there is no evidence that he read any of the major New Critical documents except Richards’s Practical Criticism and some unnamed essays by Blackmur.[60] His knowledge of the New Critics came primarily from R.S. Crane, who gave the Alexander Lectures at the University of Toronto during the Easter term of 1952. These lectures were published as The Languages of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry (1953), and Frye reviewed the book for the University of Toronto Quarterly in 1954, having critiqued the collection of essays by the Chicago Aristotelians— Critics and Criticism—several months earlier.[61] Frye’s designation of the New Critics as “rhetorical critics” came from Crane, who saw the New Critics as the latest incarnation of the rhetorical tradition in Western criticism that began with Horace. Frye’s understanding of these critics derived in considerable measure from chapter 4 of The Language of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry and from the appraisals, largely negative, of Richards, Empson, Brooks, Robert B. Heilman, and Robert Penn Warren by Crane, Elder Olson, and W.R. Keast in Critics and Criticism.[62]

What then was the position of the New Critics who were fairly well established before they were discovered by Frye about halfway through his writing of the Anatomy? The New Criticism was more a movement than a school—a body of ideas about the nature of literature and a method of reading literary texts. Among its more immediate forebears was T.S. Eliot, with his impersonal theory of poetry and his dictum that literature was autonomous—poems should be read as poems and not something else. The notion that poetry is an organic whole that reconciles opposite or discordant qualities was a New Critical tenet, one that can be traced back to chapter 13 in Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria.[63] The word “organic” tended to drop out of the New Critics’ vocabulary, but the idea of unity persisted, as in Brooks’ formulation: “the primary concern of criticism is with the problem of unity—the kind of whole which the literary work forms or fails to form, and the relation of the various parts to each other in building up this whole.”[64] In addition to the principles of autonomy and unity, the New Critics privileged the literary qualities of irony, paradox, and ambiguity, and they saw the literary work as a unique object for rapt attention. This led to their emphasis on the close reading of texts, as in Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity, Brooks’s The Well-Wrought Urn, and Robert Penn Warren’s reading of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.[65]

By the mid-1950s Frye had picked up on these new New Critical doctrines and practice, and they shortly came to inform the background of his theory of symbols in the Anatomy. In the Second Essay he develops a taxonomy of the phases of symbolism, each phase having an affinity to both a certain kind of literature and a typical critical procedure. This relation for the descriptive and literal phases of literature (Dante’s literal level in the medieval scheme) can be represented by a continuum running from documentary naturalism at one pole to symbolisme and “pure” poetry at the other. Although every work of literature is characterized by both these phases of symbolism, there can be an infinite number of variations along the descriptive-literal axis, since a given work tends to be influenced more deeply by one phase than the other. Thus when the descriptive phase predominates, the narrative of literature tends toward realism, and its meaning toward the didactic or descriptive. The limits, at this end of the continuum, would be represented by such writers as Zola and Dreiser, whose work “goes about as far as a representation of life, to be judged by its accuracy of description rather than by its integrity as a structure of words, as it could go and still remain literature” (73). At the other end, as a complement to naturalism, is the tradition of writers like Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Rilke, Pound, and Eliot. Here the emphasis is on the literal phase of meaning: literature becomes a “centripetal verbal pattern, in which elements of direct or verifiable statement are subordinated to the integrity of that pattern” (ibid.). Criticism, says Frye, was able to achieve an acceptable theory of literal meaning only after the development of symbolisme (ibid.).

In a similar fashion, the literal and descriptive phases are reflected in two chief types of criticism. Frye’s classification of the forms of criticism, in relation to the entire schema of his theory of symbols, can be represented diagrammatically, as follows:

The Phases of Symbolism
TYPE OF SYMBOL Motif Sign Image Archetype Monad
Rhythm or movement of words; flow of particular sounds Relation of order of words to life; imitations of real events Typical event or example

Shaping principle

Ritual: recurrent act of symbolic communication Total human ritual, or unlimited social action
Pattern or structural unity; ambiguous and complex verbal pattern Relation of pattern to assertive propo-sitions; imitation of objects, propositions Typical precept

Containing principle

Dream: conflict of desire and reality Total dream, or unlimited human desire
RELATED KIND OF ART Symbolisme Realism and naturalism Neoclassical literature Primitive and popular writing Scripture, apocalyptic revelation
RELATED KIND OF CRITICISM “Textural” or New Criticism Historical and documentary criticism Commentary and interpretation Archetypal criticism (convention and genre) Anagogic criticism (connected with religion)
MEDIEVAL LEVEL Literal or historical Allegorical Moral or tropological Anagogic
PARALLEL MODE FROM FIRST ESSAY Thematic irony Low mimesis High mimesis Romance Myth

Here we see that Frye relates the descriptive aspect of a symbol to the various kinds of documentary criticism that deal with sources, historical transmission, the history of ideas, biographical study, and philological investigation. Such Wissenschaft approaches assume that a poem is a verbal document whose “imaginative hypothesis” can be made explicit by assertive or propositional language. Documentary criticism is the form of criticism that dominated literary studies before the arrival of the New Criticism. What such criticism tended to document were moral and philosophical topoi in the history of ideas or biographical and historical causes. The limitations faced by documentary critics, as Frye would later write, were three:

In the first place, they do not account for the literary form of what they are discussing. Identifying Edward King and documenting Milton’s attitude to the Church of England will throw no light on Lycidas as a pastoral elegy with specific Classical and Italian lines of ancestry. Secondly, they do not account for the poetic and metaphorical language of the literary work, but assume its primary meaning to be a nonpoetic meaning. Thirdly, they do not account for the fact that the genuine quality of a poet is often in a negative relation to the chosen context. To understand Blake’s Milton and Jerusalem it is useful to know something of his quarrel with Hayley and his sedition trial. But one also needs to be aware of the vast disproportion between these minor events in a quiet life and their apocalyptic transformation in the poems. (The Critical Path, 19–20)

A literal (first phase) criticism, as opposed to descriptive (second phase) criticism, would find in poetry “a subtle and elusive verbal pattern” that neither leads to nor permits simple assertive statements or prose paraphrases. As Frye’s language here suggests, this tendency is represented by New Criticism, an approach based

on the conception of a poem as literally a poem. It studies the symbolism of a poem as an ambiguous structure of interlocking motifs; it sees the poetic pattern of meaning as a self-contained “texture,” and it thinks of the external relations of a poem as being with the other arts, to be approached only with the Horatian warning of favete linguis, and not with the historical or the didactic. The word texture, with its overtones of a complicated surface, is the most expressive one for this approach. (75)

Frye’s indebtedness to the terms and distinctions of the New Critical poetics is obvious here. In fact, he says in a note that his account of ambiguity derives from I.A. Richards, R.P. Blackmur, and William Empson, of literal irony from Cleanth Brooks, and of texture from John Crowe Ransom.[66] The principal assumption underlying Frye’s analysis of the descriptive and literal phases of symbolism is one he shares with these critics—that the meaning of poetry is found in the nature of its symbolic language. Frye’s distinction between assertive and hypothetic meaning is closely akin, for example, to opposition in Brooks between factual and emotional language; to I.A. Richards’s emotive-referential dialectic; to the distinction in John Crowe Ransom between rational and poetic meaning, or in Philip Wheelwright between steno-language and depth-language; to the opposition in Empson between clarity and ambiguity; or, finally, to the procedure running throughout contemporary criticism, which attempts to separate poetic language from that of either ordinary usage or science on the basis of the more complex, ambiguous, and ironic meaning of the former. The characteristic method of inference in each of these procedures is based on a similar dialectic; for they all, Frye included, employ a process of reasoning to what the language and meaning of poetry are from what assertive discourse and rational meaning are not.[67]

Frye refused to accept the semantic analysis of logical positivism, that is, the reduction of all meaning to either rational or emotional discourse.

Some philosophers who assume that all meaning is descriptive meaning tell us that, as a poem does not describe things rationally, it must be a description of an emotion. According to this the literal core of poetry would be a cri de coeur, . . . the direct statement of a nervous organism confronted with something that seems to demand an emotional response, like a dog howling at the moon. . . . We have found, however, that the real core of poetry is a subtle and elusive verbal pattern that avoids, and does not lead to, such bald statements. (74–5).

While it is true that the subtlety and the range of reference in Frye’s discussion of the literal phase will not permit a simple equation between the meaning expressed by symbols in this phase and the nondescriptive meaning of the analytic philosophers, it is no less true that he still remains within the framework of the theory he opposes; what he does is to convert his denial of the principles of linguistic philosophy into the principles of his own poetic theory. The primary assumptions remain the same: poetry, in the literal and descriptive phases, is primarily a mode of discourse, and there is a bipolar distribution of all language and thus all meaning.

The first section of Frye’s theory of symbols, as shown in the chart above, requires an expansion and rearrangement of Dante’s medieval scheme of four levels of interpretation, according to which literal meaning is discursive or representational meaning. Its point of reference is centrifugal. When Dante interprets scripture literally, he points to the correspondence between an event in the Bible and a historical event, or at least one he assumed to have occurred in the past. In this sense, literature signifies real events. The first medieval level of symbolism thus becomes Frye’s descriptive level. His own literal phase, however, has no corresponding rung on the medieval ladder. The advantage of rearranging the categories, Frye believes, is that he now has a framework to account for a poem literally as a poem—as a self-contained verbal structure whose meaning is not dependent upon any external reference. This redesignation is simply one more way that Frye can indicate the difference between a symbol as motif and sign. As a principle of Frye’s system, it reveals the dialectical method he uses to define poetic meaning. He is not satisfied, however, with the dichotomy, calling it a “quizzical antithesis between delight and instruction, ironic withdrawal from reality and explicit connection with it” (76).

It is against the backdrop of the literal and descriptive phases of symbolism that Frye moves beyond the New Critical position by positing the existence of three additional phases: the formal (Dante’s allegorical level), the mythical (Dante’s moral or tropological level), and the anagogic (Dante’s fourth level). As Frye’s central interest in the Anatomy is archetypal criticism, he devotes almost all of his attention in the last two essays to those topics summarized in the fourth and fifth columns of the chart above. He does not consider his analysis of myth and archetype as replacing either historical criticism or the New Criticism. All forms of serious critical inquiry are legitimate: they fall under the umbrella of his conception of a pluralism of critical methods, including anagogic criticism, to which, as we will see, Frye devotes a great deal of attention toward the end of his career. Our focus here has been on the first two phases of symbolism. Later we will consider the theory of phases in a broader context.

To summarize Frye’s indebtedness to the New Critics: he accepts their assumptions of literary autonomy and poetic unity,[68] and he accepts the view that the poetic use of language is different from its other uses. Yet Frye was aware of the excesses and limitations of the New Criticism, as we see from his several retrospective accounts of the movement. First, the New Critics deprived the literary work of any sense of context, even the historical context of the documentary critics. Second, it failed to build up any connecting links among the poems it explicated. Third, in its emphasis on the poetic object worked against the ideal goal of literary study, which is the reader’s possession of the literature. Fourth, its approach to explication in terms of the lyric qualities of a work, whatever its genre, tended to limit its focus by elevating the writers of discontinuous intensity, such as Keats, Hopkins, Rimbaud, and Hölderlin, above the great tradition of continuous writers, such as Spenser, Milton, Goethe, and Hugo. And fifth, the emphasis on poetic texture tended to exclude poetic structure.[69] While Frye is thus indebted to the New Critical currents of the time, he sees their limitations, and the Anatomy seeks to go beyond them with its emphasis on literary structure and on the larger context of literature as a whole, the conventions of which link literary works to each other. Without this larger view, the critical task is reduced to adding more and more explications to the critical tradition with nothing to connect the separate commentaries.

Frye and the Chicago Neo-Aristotelians

What was Frye’s relation to the Neo-Aristotelians, a group of critics centred at the University of Chicago who had begun to receive considerable attention during the time Frye was writing the Anatomy? As already indicated, Frye was familiar with their essays and with R.S. Crane’s The Languages of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry, and he was invited to lecture in the English department at Chicago two years before the Anatomy was published. The Anatomy, for all of its Platonic sense and sensibility, appears to owe a considerable debt to Aristotle. Frye conceives of his project as developing a new Poetics, and its chief organizing principles derive from Aristotle’s terms for the six qualitative parts of tragedy: mythos, ethos, dianoia, melos, lexis, and opsis. Frye greatly expands the meanings of these terms from their very specific meaning in Aristotle (much to the chagrin, no doubt, of the literal-minded Aristotelians), but they served him well as a tool for organizing his material.[70] Mythos, which Frye generalized to mean any kind of temporal movement, and dianoia, which came to represent any form of spatial organization, served as primary deductive principles for the rest of his career. As one might expect, Frye had a long-standing interest in Aristotle: his first reference to the Poetics appears in a student essay he wrote in 1936 (Northrop Frye’s Student Essays, 333). But it is clear from his notebooks for Anatomy of Criticism that Frye’s knowledge of the Poetics is significantly indebted to his reading of the Chicago critics, even if he sometimes takes an oppositional stance to their views.

In a 1953 notebook Frye remarks that he derived his original idea about the formal phase of symbolism (the third level) from listening to Crane’s 1952 Alexander Lectures at Toronto (NB 36.2). In the same notebook Frye writes, “Aristotle left the way open for Crane & his school to deduce that in its aspect as imitation of thought (dialectic) poetry is rhetorical & not strictly poetic at all” (NB 36.102). The position of the Chicago critics was that for Aristotle poetry had to do with making and the other “sciences” with knowing (e.g., metaphysics, dialectic) or doing (politics, ethics). Although Aristotle was careful to separate verbal structures according to their final causes, Frye wants to combine them. He therefore takes issue with Crane’s absolute separation of rhetoric and poetics: “as long as you’re dealing with words all verbal structures are imitations of thought, & therefore to that extent even dialectic is rhetorical” (ibid.).

Frye’s reviews of both The Languages of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry and Critics and Criticism are generally sympathetic, and it is clear that his understanding of poetic wholes, the catharsis of pity and fear, imitation, the rhetorical tradition descending from Horace and Cicero through Quintilian, the four-cause method of definition, and the differences between inductive (literal) and deductive (a priori) critical methods is enriched by his having read the Chicago critics on these matters. He calls Critics and Criticism “indispensable for the serious student of criticism” (Reading the World, 127), even though he is not always convinced by their assumptions, principles, and methods. He does not accept, for example, the Chicago school’s unconditional separation of all literature into mimetic and didactic categories, and he does not believe that the Aristotelian concept of action (praxis) should be so favoured as to exclude thought (dianoia): “A well-constructed imitation of an action . . . has a dianoia or thought-form as well as an event-form, or rather, these are two aspects of the same thing. The dianoia is the total internal idea of the poem, and it exists both in mimetic and didactic poetry” (ibid., 128–9). Frye is skeptical as well about any unconditional separation of rhetoric and poetics, and he believes Crane’s method promises more than it delivers (ibid., 133–4).

In the final analysis Frye’s debt to Aristotle, whether based on his own reading of the Poetics or filtered through the Neo-Aristotelians’ interpretation, does not turn out to be constitutive as a first principle in the Anatomy. The influence is fundamentally a matter of the efficient cause, to use the Aristotelian tag. Aristotle’s language is omnipresent, even though, as already said, Frye redefines and adapts it to his own ends. Terms such as dianoia and ethos begin to appear in Frye’s notebooks for the Anatomy only after 1953, the year before his reviews of the Chicago critics appeared. In writing the Anatomy, therefore, Frye seems often to have had the Neo-Aristotelians in the background of his consciousness and sometimes in the foreground. Their work, begun in the 1930s, had emerged in the early 1950s, and without Frye’s awareness of their essays and Crane’s book the shape and the language of the Anatomy would have been considerably different.

Frye between Frazer & Freud: The Grammar of Symbolism

Conspicuous in the summary chart of Frye’s theory of symbols are the words “myth,” “ritual,” “dream,” and “archetype.” These central concepts in the Anatomy were drawn from intellectual currents of thought much broader than those from the world of literary criticism and earlier than those of the New Criticism—comparative anthropology (Frazer and the Cambridge Hellenists), history of cultures (Spengler), mythography (Cassirer), and psychoanalytic theory (Freud and Jung). In one of his notebooks for the Anatomy Frye writes, “This last [chapter] begins with the threefold pattern of art as between action & thought, history & philosophy, law & science, music & painting, & works out all these implications: in fact it strettoes the whole book, & puts Frye between Frazer & Freud (ritual & dream, society & the individual)” (NB 38.85). In what respects did Frye see Frazer and Freud and other mythographers, some of whom he read more than thirty years before the Anatomy was published, as bookends between which his own position took shape?

Frye began to read Frazer toward the end of 1934, when he was studying theology at Emmanuel College. On 19 October of that year he wrote to Helen Kemp, “I’ve started to read the Golden Bough for my Old Testament, which is all about magic in religion, the development of vegetation rites, the symbolic killing and eating of the god, bewailing the death of the god of fertility in the winter and his resurrection in the spring—the Adonis, Osiris, Dionysus and Demeter cults which all synthesise and coalesce in the Passion from Palm Sunday to Easter. It’s a whole new world opening out, particularly as that sort of thing is the very life-blood of art, and the historical basis of art.”[71] Frye immersed himself particularly in four of Frazer’s twelve volumes, The Dying God (vol.4), Adonis, Attis, Osiris (vols. 5 and 6), and The Scapegoat (vol. 9).[72] In one of his autobiographical notes Frye writes, “Theology, to me, meant mostly The Golden Bough.”[73] As it turned out, seven of the essays he wrote for his theology and Bible courses show the imprint of Frazer. In one of those papers he calls The Golden Bough “perhaps the most important and influential book written by an Englishman since The Origin of Species” (Northrop Frye’s Student Essays, 140). What attracted Frye to Frazer was the positive value the latter attached to myth and the implications of The Golden Bough for the study of symbolism. The notebooks for the Anatomy reveal that Frazer, who is referred to more than thirty times, was much on Frye’s mind during the ten years he spent writing the book. Ford Russell has provided the most extensive account of Frazer’s influence on Frye,[74] and in addition to the scores of places in Frye’s own work where Frazer gets mentioned in passing, his 1959 CBC Radio talk on Frazer contains a lively account of Frazer’s importance.

In order to consider what Frye means by placing himself between Frazer and Freud, we need to reflect more broadly on the ends and means of the Anatomy‘s “Theory of Symbols.” In The Critical Path, Frye remarks that his theory of literature was developed from an attempt to answer two questions: What is the total subject of study of which criticism forms a part? and, How do we arrive at poetic meaning? (The Critical Path, 14–15). The latter question is addressed in Second Essay, “Ethical Criticism: Theory of Symbols.” Frye’s starting point is to admit the principle of “polysemous” meaning, which is, as already indicated, a modified version of Dante’s fourfold system of interpretation. Once the principle is granted, he claims, “we can either stop with a purely relative and pluralistic position, or we can go on to consider the possibility that there is a finite number of valid critical methods, and that they can all be contained within a single theory” (66). Frye develops his argument by first placing the issue of meaning in a broader context:

The meaning of a literary work forms a part of a larger whole. In the previous essay we saw that meaning or dianoia was one of three elements, the other two being mythos or narrative and ethos or characterization. It is better to think, therefore, not simply of a sequence of meanings, but of a sequence of contexts or relationships in which the whole work of literary art can be placed, each context having its characteristic mythos and ethos as well as its dianoia or meaning. (67)

Context, then, rather than meaning becomes the organizing principle, and the term Frye uses for the contextual relationships of literature is “phases,” a word we have already encountered, phases being contexts within which literature has been and can be interpreted or perspectives from which to analyze meaning. The word “ethical” in the title of the Second Essay does not derive from the meanings which ethos had in the First Essay: Frye is not concerned here to expand the analysis of “character” found there. The word refers rather to the connection between art and life which makes literature a liberal yet disinterested ethical instrument. Ethical criticism, Frye says in the Polemical Introduction, refers to a “consciousness of the presence of society. . . . [It] deals with art as a communication from the past to the present, and is based on a conception of the total and simultaneous possession of past culture” (25). What provides the connection between the past and the present is the archetype.

Referring to the terms in our chart above, “symbol” is the first of three basic categories Frye uses to differentiate the five phases, the other two being mythos and dianoia. Like many of Frye’s terms, “symbol” has a broad range of reference. In the Second Essay it is used to mean “any unit of any literary structure that can be isolated for critical attention” (65). This broad definition permits Frye to associate the appropriate kind of symbolism with each phase and thereby to define the phase at the highest level of generality. The symbol used as a sign results in the descriptive phase; as motif in the literal phase; as image in the formal phase; as archetype in the mythical phase; and as monad in the anagogic phase.

In an early essay on the nature of symbolism, Frye says that “wherever we have archetypal symbolism, we pass from the question ‘What does this symbol, sea or tree or serpent or character, mean in this work of art?’ to the question ‘What does it mean in my imaginative comprehension of such things as a whole?’ Thus the presence of archetypal symbolism makes the individual poem, not its own object, but a phase of imaginative experience.”[75] Archetypal symbolism works in two directions for Frye. On the one hand, because the language of myth and symbol enters and informs all verbal culture, Frye often used what he learned about symbolism as a literary critic to interpret texts in philosophy, psychology, history, and comparative religion. On the other hand, he sees these disciplines as informing literary criticism itself. Thus, he can approach Toynbee’s Study of History from the centrifugal perspective, seeing it as “an intuitive response based on an imaginative grasp of the symbolic significance of certain data” (Northrop Frye on Culture and Literature, 80). Toynbee’s book can be read, then, not as a factual chronicle that is trying to prove something by its massive accumulation of data but as a grand imaginative vision. Similarly, with Frazer’s Golden Bough, Frye approaches it as if it were an encyclopedic epic or a continuous form of prose fiction. Its subject, he says, is really “about what the human imagination does when it tries to express itself about the greatest mysteries” (ibid., 89). But Frye also works in a centripetal direction. Frazer and a number of other mythographers (Cassirer, Spengler, Jung, and Eliade) are themselves students of symbolism, whose works provide us with a grammar of the human imagination. Cassirer’s symbolic forms, like those found in literature, take their structure from the mind and their content from the natural world. And Frazer’s expansive collections of material, because they give us a grammar of unconscious symbolism on both its personal and its social sides, will be of greater benefit to the poet and literary critic than to the anthropologist. Thus, The Golden Bough, like Jung’s Psychology of the Unconscious, becomes primarily a work of literary criticism. Similarly, Eliade’s studies in Religionsgeschichte are especially important for the literary critic because they provide a grammar of initiatory and comparative symbolism.

The two perspectives—the centrifugal and the centripetal—do not finally move in opposite directions in Frye’s work. They interpenetrate, to use his familiar metaphor. In his review of Jung’s Psychology of the Unconscious, Frye develops a view of criticism which makes its way later, some of it verbatim, into his account of the archetypal phase of symbolism in the Anatomy. But this is not to say that Frye is a Jungian. His view has always been that criticism needs to be independent from externally derived frameworks, what he calls “determinisms” in the Anatomy. “Critical principles cannot be taken over ready-made from theology, philosophy, politics, science, or any combination of these” (8). Yet Frye himself, of course, has appropriated a number of concepts from other disciplines, especially from psychology and anthropology. In the second essay of the Anatomy they appear as ritual and dream. Frye appropriates terminology as well. Three of the four aspects of the monomyth (agon, pathos, and anagnorisis), for example, are borrowed from Gilbert Murray’s account of Greek ritual.[76]

Ritual and dream represent the mythos (narrative) and dianoia (meaning) of archetypal symbolism. The archetypal study of narrative, Frye says, deals with “the generic, recurring, or conventional actions which show analogies to rituals: the weddings, funerals, intellectual and social initiations, executions or mock executions, the chasing away of the scapegoat villain, arid so on”; whereas the archetypal study of dianoia treats the generic, recurring, or conventional “shape” of a work, “indicated by its mood and resolution, whether tragic, comic, ironic, or what not, in which the relationship of desire and experience is expressed” (97). Frye treats archetypal criticism in the Third Essay. In the Second, his aim is to show the relationship between ritual and dream, neither of which, of course, is literary, to a single form of verbal communication. This form is myth, which explains the title of the fourth phase, and ” The Golden Bough is of immense importance in showing the positive importance of myth” (Northrop Frye on Culture and Literature, 90). From the perspective of the mythical phase, we see the same kinds of processes or rhythms occurring in literature that we find in ritual and dream. There are two basic patterns, one cyclical, the other dialectical. Ritual imitates the cyclical process of nature: the rhythmic movement of the universe and the seasons, as well as the recurring cycles of human life; and literature in the archetypal phase imitates nature in the same way. The dialectical pattern, on the other hand, derives from the world of dream, where desire is in constant conflict with reality. Liberation and capture, integration and expulsion, love and hate are some of the terms we apply to this moral dialectic in ritual and dream. The same pattern, when it is expressed hypothetically, is to be found in poetry. Archetypal criticism, Frye concludes, is based upon these two organizing patterns (97–9).

Frye’s indebtedness to contemporary anthropology and psychology is apparent in these distinctions, resonating as they do with the language of Frazer, Freud, and Jung. Freud’s influence is found chiefly in Frye’s ideas on the dream-world of desire, the concept of displacement, the difference between private and public symbolism, the sinister and emancipated characters of the quest romance, and the theory of wit. Frye is careful to emphasize the distinction between the aims of criticism and those of psychology and other disciplines. The critic, he says, “is concerned only with the ritual or dream patterns which are actually in what he is studying, however they got there” (101). Some archetypal critics, he adds, do not recognize this, having been misled into searching for the origins of the ritual elements of literature. His point is not that such studies have no place in criticism but that they belong on the descriptive rather than the archetypal level. What is at stake here is distinguishing clearly between the history of literary works and the genre to which they belong. Frye has his eye on such Classical scholars as Gilbert Murray, who maintained that in tragedy there survives an ancient ritual involving a combat between the old year-spirit and the new; or F.M. Cornford, who extended Murray’s thesis to Greek comedy, arguing that the basic pattern of the Aristophanic play can be directly traced to primitive seasonal rituals, such as the Combat, Sacred Marriage, and Beanfeast. Frye is not saying that Murray and the Cambridge anthropologists were wrong, even though it may be incorrect to assume that a given Greek play actually descends from a ritual libretto. He is saying, rather, that for the archetypal critic the question is irrelevant. On the other hand, Frye would not deny that a Greek play could have been conditioned by standard patterns of ritual or that its conventions were determined by actual performances. What is at issue, in other words, is not the dependence of a given play upon an actual performance, but simply a parallelism between narrative and ritual patterns, or between the conventions and genres of literature and those of ritual ceremony. As Frye says in his CBC Radio talk,

To appreciate The Golden Bough for what it is we have to see it as a kind of grammar of the human imagination. Its value is in its central idea: every fact in it could be questioned or reassessed without affecting that value. We don’t have to assume that once upon a time everybody everywhere used to eat their kings, and then gradually evolved slightly less repulsive customs. Frazer’s ritual is to be thought of as something latent in the human imagination. (Northrop Frye on Culture and Literature, 89)

Frye’s position on the application of psychology to literature is similar: the archetypal critic will not want to confuse biography with criticism. The repetition of a certain pattern in Shakespeare’s plays may be studied in various ways. “If Shakespeare is unique or anomalous, or even exceptional, in using this pattern, the reason for his use of it may be at least partly psychological” (103); and critics may, at the descriptive level, resort to psychological theory in attempting to explain it. The archetypal critic, however, can pursue the problem only when the same pattern is recognized in Shakespeare’s contemporaries or in the dramatists of different ages and cultures, in which case convention and genre become the important considerations (103).

To see archetypal criticism as concerned with the social aspects of poetry is to emphasize the relationship of the individual poem to other poems. But this is only half of what should properly be emphasized, for a poem is also a “part of the total imitation of nature that we call civilization” (98). What does it mean to say that civilization is a total imitation of nature, an idea which recurs frequently in Frye’s work? He himself refers to it metaphorically as “the process of making a total human form out of nature” (98, 104). He means that as civilization develops, the natural world is transformed from the nonhuman into something with human shape and meaning. This process is given direction by desire. Because we are not satisfied, for example, with roots and caves, our civilization creates “human forms of nature” in farming and architecture.[77] This kind of desire, Frye say

is thus not a simple response to need, for an animal may need food without planting a garden to get it, nor is it a simple response to want, or desire for something in particular. It is neither limited to nor satisfied by objects, but is the energy that leads human society to develop its own form. Desire in this sense is the social aspect of what we met on the literal level as emotion, an impulse toward expression which would have remained amorphous if the poem had not liberated it by providing the form of its expression. The form of desire, similarly, is liberated and made apparent by civilization. The efficient cause of civilization is work, and poetry in its social aspect has the function of expressing, as a verbal hypothesis, a vision of the goal of work and the forms of desire. (98)

Criticism on the archetypal level, therefore, is concerned not just with genre and convention. Because it views the symbol as a natural object with a human meaning, its scope is expanded to include civilization. And from this perspective, poetry becomes a product of a vision of the goals of human work.

This broad conception of criticism depends upon Frye’s broad view of verbal culture. “Is it true,” he asks, “that the verbal structures of psychology, anthropology, theology, history, law and everything else built out of words have been informed or constructed by the same kinds of myths and metaphors we find, in their original hypothetical form, in literature?” (328). His answer is—indirectly in the Anatomy and directly in much of his other work—that it is true. But even in the Anatomy Frye steps back from the details of his literary theory to sketch the broad outline of his metacritical universe. It does not come until the Fourth Essay, and it has a special purpose at this point in the book: Frye wants to indicate the place which his own form of rhetorical criticism (not that of the New Critics) has in his system as a whole. It recapitulates the broad view of verbal culture that appears throughout his writing, a notebook version of which was cited above—a view based on the age-old division of reality into three categories, described variously as thought, action, and passion, or as truth, goodness, and beauty. In this division, Frye says, “the world of art, beauty, feeling, and taste is the central one, and is flanked by two other worlds. One is the world of social action and events, the other the world of individual thought and ideas. Reading from left to right, this threefold structure divides human faculties into will, feeling, and reason. It divides the mental constructs which these faculties produce into history, art, and science and philosophy. It divides the ideals which form compulsions or obligations on these faculties into law, beauty, and truth” (225). The special terms Frye uses throughout the Anatomymythos, ethos, and dianoia—fit neatly into the triadic schema. Ethos, as Frye defines the term, stands at the centre, flanked on one side by the verbal imitation of action (mythos) and on the other by the verbal imitation of thought (dianoia). Similarly, the poetic symbol finds its place in the framework midway between event and idea, example and precept, ritual and dream—all of which are used in the Second Essay to define the phases of symbolism.

Such a broad view of verbal culture explains why Frye can say that Frazer and the other mythographers provide us with a “grammar of the imagination.”[78] “As the archetypal critic is concerned with ritual and dream, it is likely that he would find much of interest in the work done by contemporary anthropology in ritual, and by contemporary psychology in dreams. Specifically, the work done on the ritual basis of naive drama in Frazer’s Golden Bough, and the work done on the dream basis of naive romance by Jung and the Jungians, are of most direct value to him” (101). Such views are the culmination of intuitions that Frye had in the mid-1930s when, as he said later, Frazer provided him with the “key to drama,”[79] and when he wrote, as a twenty-four-year-old:

Anthropology, starting from the investigations of Mannhardt and Frazer, has similarly shown that there are certain archetypal patterns running through primitive myth: ideas of a universal deluge, of a dying and reviving god of vegetation, of an incarnation of a god in the form of a man, and that as a result primitive rituals take on the same symbolic significance as dreams, the same potentiality of logical interpretation. Freud interpreted art as the dreams of unsatisfied sex neurotics. But investigators with a wider point of view have felt convinced that there is a less negative approach to art possible, and from the work of Jung on, we shall probably turn more and more to this idea of archetypal pattern in art, following from a universal subconscious language of symbolism. (Northrop Frye’s Student Essays, 326–7)

Initial Reception

To account for the massive commentary the Anatomy has received and the extensive number of practical applications it has engendered would require a major study in itself, but we can glance at the dozen or so major reviews the book received shortly after its publication. What was the book’s initial reception? And were its first readers aware that it would become the phenomenon it in fact became?

Thirty-three reviews of the Anatomy appeared within a year or two of its publication. About two-thirds of these were substantial, ranging in length from 900 to 3500 words.[80] Many of the reviewers were dubious about the bold program for criticism that Frye had laid out. Their critiques sprang from three main questions, which would be repeatedly asked in the responses that began shortly to accumulate: Can there be a science of criticism of the kind Frye proposed? Is it wise to ban value judgments from the critical enterprise? And do not Frye’s schema, which exist at a high level of generality, violate or at least ignore the details of literary experience and the concrete particularities of literary texts? There were other demurrals: the schema are labyrinthine and overcomplicated, the book recognizes no principle of proportion, the conceptual universe it posits is neither valuable nor possible, the theory tends to become an end in itself, the synoptic goal betrays a denial of differences among critical positions, the book risks substituting religion for literature, the method is ultimately reductive, the taxonomies are overly ingenious, its morphology is static and abstract, and it dismisses the relationship between literature and experience.[81]

But for all of the problems raised by the book for the reviewers, only a few do not recognize it as an uncommon achievement, and the reviewers offer all manner of superlatives in lavishing their praise. One reviewer believes that the Anatomy will be one of the five or six volumes from the Age of Criticism that will survive into the next century;[82] another, that it is “one of the very few important critical productions of my time. Its influence, I suppose, will almost inevitably be gradual, but is likely to prove eventually one of those turning-points of which no art or science can expect to boast more than two or three or four in a century.”[83] Still another feels tempted to say “that this is the first contribution to critical theory that liberates and opens up possibilities since Aristotle.”[84] Frank Kermode began his review by remarking, “For this extraordinary book, as for how few works of critical theory, one confidently predicts long life.”[85] The most frequent superlative for describing Frye’s book is “brilliant”: eleven reviewers use that word.

Even those who are not sympathetic with Frye’s overall aim nevertheless pay tribute to what they see as his exceptional achievement. Thus, one of Frye’s severer critics, Robert Martin Adams: “Professor Northrop Frye has written a brilliantly suggestive and encyclopedically erudite book to prove that [criticism needs a conceptual universe]; and he has done his impressive best to provide a framework for this universe. His book is a signal achievement; it is tight, hard, paradoxical, and genuinely witty.” Frye “is simply brilliant in his command of the material” and “one of the strangest and most interesting literary minds in existence; like a whirling dervish, he incorporates somehow a Thomistic rigor, a prophetic vigor, and the diabolical persuasiveness of the Ancient Mariner. Unlike most of the archetypal fellows, he has a sense of literary structure and discipline; unlike most of the disciplined fellows, he has a burnished and brilliant imagination.”[86]

M.H. Abrams, in perhaps the best-known review of the Anatomy, faults Frye for producing a great deal of pseudoscience (its claims cannot be confirmed by independent observation), and concludes that whatever does not fall into that category remains only a form of “wit criticism.” Moreover, Abrams asks rhetorically, “to what extent are the inevitable sequences of repetitions, variations, parallels, and antitypes genuine discoveries, and to what extent are they artifacts of the conceptual scheme?” Still Abrams grants that the Anatomy “is a strikingly original achievement, of bewildering scope and complexity. And it raises a host of questions which will provide topics of literary debate for years to come; the book will be attacked and it will be defended, but it will not be ignored.” The Anatomy, he adds, is a “notable book,” providing “as large and varied a body of critical insights as any book in recent years.” Abrams concludes his review with the judgment that the Anatomy is “a remarkable instance of that free and delightful play of ideas around literature which has always been a distinction of the urbane and civilized mind.”[87]

Many other reviewers were generous in their praise, even unrestrained in their admiration, as we can see from this sampler:

Anatomy of Criticism is simply overpowering in the originality of its main concepts and dazzling in the brilliance of its application of them. Here is a book fundamental enough to be called Principia Critica.[88]

Frye looks at the whole body of literature with a rare breadth of knowledge and imagination.[89]

[T]he present book is an event of real importance and excitement.[90]

Anatomy of Criticism is indeed a remarkable book. The author’s incidental critical judgments, it ought to be stressed, are frequently brilliant. He is not merely a system builder but a critic of real power. But he is certainly a most resourceful system builder. And the system itself, considered simply as an intellectual feat—a critical tour de force—is astonishing. One predicts that Anatomy of Criticism will have an emphatic impact upon our literary studies, and, for good or ill, will exert a continued influence.[91]

Frye’s powers of systematization are of an altogether extraordinary kind, the kind that, while providing perfectly definite and applicable and mutually excluding criteria, succeeds astonishingly not in killing the subject of the dissection off but in bringing it startlingly and freshly alive.[92]

This is a brilliant and provocative book—brilliant because it is an original, learned, and witty introduction to “a synoptic view of the scope, theory, principles, and techniques of literary criticism,” the product of fresh and hard thinking; provocative because its classifications, categories, terminology, and encyclopedic cross-referencing constitute a challenge to all modern ways of thinking about criticism known to this reviewer.[93]

Anatomy of Criticism may become as seminal for the next decade as the pronouncements of Eliot, Pound, and Richards were for the 1920s and 1930s, and the Brooks and Warren textbooks and Ransom’s The New Criticism for the 1930s and 1940s. . . . It is destined, I think, to become a book constantly referred to, at least as a point of departure for literary discourse.[94]

Anatomy of Criticism is a work of utmost importance. . . . here we have one of those seminal works which is bound to be of enormous influence; it cannot be ignored.[95]

This is a brilliant but bristling book. . . . Mr. Frye has wit, style, audacity, immense learning, a gift for opening up new and unexpected perspectives in the study of literature.[96]

The consensus of the early reviewers, then, is that the Anatomy was a monumental work, not simply an engaging and controversial book but one that would have widespread and continuing influence. Spurred by its positive early reception, countless readers began turning to the Anatomy, and it did not take long for the cataract of commentaries, critiques, and practical applications, now numbering well over one thousand, to begin pouring forth. The book began shortly to make its way onto university reading lists. Within two decades Anatomy of Criticism would become the most frequently cited book in the arts and humanities by a writer born in the twentieth century.[97]

The Anatomy and Poststructuralism

But how was the Anatomy judged by the poststructural movements that dominated critical inquiry in the last three decades of the twentieth century? Observers of the contemporary critical scene have speculated about Frye’s relation to poststructuralism, Joseph Adamson’s “Northrop Frye and Contemporary Literary Theory,” which introduces a special issue of Semiotic Inquiry, being a case in point.[98] The best survey of the relation between Frye and poststructuralism—its attitude toward him and his toward its—is A.C. Hamilton’s “Coda” to his Northrop Frye: Anatomy of His Criticism.[99] In spite of all his talk about “theory,” a word which with its cognates appears 150 times in the Anatomy, Frye never suspected that the book would come to be seen as a theoretical watershed, as important as any other critical text in ushering in the age of what is now called “critical theory.” Even though “theory” today has in fundamental ways turned upside down Frye’s centripetal notion of “criticism” with its exclusion of external “determinisms,” the Anatomy nevertheless did prove to be pivotal, just as Fearful Symmetry was in the study of Blake and as A Natural Perspective would turn out to be in the study of Shakespearean comedy and romance. A full account of the role played by the Anatomy, as an object of opposition or otherwise, in the proliferation of critical theories since the mid-1960s would require a separate study. Here we can indicate only the broad outlines of the latter-day reception, beginning with several recognizable theorists who have taken measure in more recent years of the standing of the Anatomy—Paul Ricoeur, Julia Kristeva, Tzvetan Todorov, Frank Lentricchia, Fredric Jameson, Terry Eagleton, Linda Hutcheon, Harold Bloom, Frank Kermode, Edward Said, Hayden White, and J. Hillis Miller.

In Paul Ricoeur’s view the Anatomy is based on a narrative understanding that depends upon both tradition and innovation, or what he calls “sedimentation and change.” Frye’s approach, Ricoeur argues, takes precedence over the “semiotic rationality” of the French structuralists: there can be no deconstruction if there is not a prior paradigm, in Frye’s case a paradigm of the order of words. The question for Ricoeur, however, is whether or not Frye’s transhistorical theory can account for the phenomena of schism, deviance, and the death of paradigms, which are also a part of the literary tradition.[100] Ricoeur focuses on the mythos of the order of words to the neglect of its dianoia, but he nevertheless credits Frye for developing the idea of a narrative order from his “great familiarity with the works of which we are the inheritors.”[101] What is not clear, for Ricoeur, is whether the Anatomy can accommodate the death of the narrative function as it has been announced, for example, by Walter Benjamin. This seems to be a genuine question on Ricoeur’s part, not a rhetorical one, and what he calls schism, deviance, and the death of paradigms is a version of “absence,” “difference,” “erasure,” and similar key terms in the agenda of deconstruction. The issue, then, is whether or not Frye’s commitment to the idea of order—a version of Derrida’s “metaphysics of presence”—permits any room for the contrary.

Almost a quarter-century after the publication of the Anatomy Frank Lentricchia located the book at the head of a line of “-ologies” and “-isms” that marched onto the scene “after the new criticism”—existentialism, phenomenology, structuralism, and poststructuralism.[102] Lentricchia worried about Frye’s attack on subjectivity, individuation, and the romantic conception of the self—”Frye dismantles (he ‘deconstructs’) the more naive versions of expressive theory which value (‘valorize’) originality and locate it in the unique self”—and he noted that Frye’s conception of the centre of the order of words “anticipates and, then, crucially rejects” Derrida’s notion that such metaphors of centre, origin, and structure close off the possibility of “freeplay.”[103] Moreover, Frye is said to have privileged spatial over temporal conceptions, centripetal over the centrifugal movements, the romantic over the ironic modes of literature, and Utopian desire over contingent, historical reality, Lentricchia’s assumption being that in each case the latter are to be preferred to the former. He later claimed that his essay “tried to point up the structuralist and poststructuralist moment in Frye,”[104] but that is hardly an accurate characterization of the aim of his chapter, which is to debunk all Frygean assumptions that do not conform for his arm-chair view of historical consciousness and antifoundational awareness.

Lentricchia notes that Frye continued to “water down” the positions taken in the Anatomy through a series of books,[105] but he gives no evidence of having read, say, The Critical Path (1971), where Frye addresses the forms of ideology (“secondary myths of concern”) that underlie the program for criticism that Lentricchia prefers. He concludes that by the mid-1960s “Frye . . . was unceremoniously tossed ‘on the dump’ . . . with other useless relics”[106]—a dubious claim, given what has already been said about the books and the hundreds of essays about Frye written since the mid-1960s. Some of these, of course, are oppositional, but even they do not take Frye’s work to be a worthless corpse flung on the critical garbage dump. In any event, there is a curious irony in Lentricchia’s devoting his opening chapter to a book that fifteen years earlier, he alleges, was consigned to the pile of “useless relics.” Certainly the Anglo-American critical world had a different view, and the international community did not look upon Frye’s work as either useless or a relic. To take only one example, since the mid-1960s eighteen of Frye’s books have been translated into Italian, and fifty-seven essays about his work, along with seventy reviews of his books, have appeared in Italian. In spite of Lentricchia’s dismissal of Frye, he does at least see the Anatomy as a large accomplishment he must go through to account for what followed in the wake of the New Criticism.

A similar version of Lentricchia’s critique, though more highly developed and complex, is in Fredric Jameson’s The Political Unconscious, two chapters of which feature Frye. In one he sets out to historicize Frye’s theory of romance as wish-fulfilment or Utopian fantasy. He is skeptical of a number of features in Frye’s paradigm of romance, including the importance he assigns to the hero, his assumption that the assimilation of the world of the hero to nature is “natural” in any sense other than a social phenomenon, the binary structure in his outline of the features of the genre, and his privileging of historical identity at the expense of historical difference.[107] Jameson believes that the version of romance in the Anatomy (he ignores The Secular Scripture) needs to be problematized (Jameson’s word) by historical understanding, which means to be questioned and completed by a Marxist ideology that encompasses all other methods of interpretation. Jameson gets a helping hand for his Marxist critique from Nietzsche and Derrida.[108]

In a second chapter Jameson locates “the greatness of Frye, and the radical difference between his work and the great bulk or garden-variety myth criticism . . . in his willingness to raise the issue of community and to draw basic, essentially social, interpretative consequences from the nature of religion as a collective representation.”[109] Jameson is referring to the social dimension of myth that Frye emphasizes in the mythical and archetypal phases of his theory of symbols, and it is here that Jameson sees Frye as having laid the groundwork for a genuine Marxist theory of literature. But regrettably, from Jameson’s perspective, in the anagogic phase, with its figure of Blake’s absolute man, Frye replaces the social or collective principle with an individual or personal one. This replacement is achieved by what is said to be Frye’s reversing of the moral and anagogic levels of interpretation in medieval exegesis. This last point, which has no warrant in Dante’s version of polysemous meaning, nevertheless causes consternation in Jameson, for whom the social and collective are always prior.[110] Although Frye does say in the Anatomy that both poetry and criticism are ethical instruments and so participate in the social order (AC, 349), he does not develop the point, and the Anatomy does represent a largely centripetal view of criticism. This is, of course, not the case in a large portion of Frye’s later work, where the social function of criticism comes centre stage.[111]

Terry Eagleton has also faulted the Anatomy for being ahistorical, claiming that Frye’s system is more rigorously closed to history than the New Critics were and that literature in Frye’s theory, far from yielding knowledge about “reality,” is only a form of Utopian dreaming.[112] Hayden White has shown that Lentricchia, Jameson, and Eagleton do not necessarily have the last word on the issue of historicity in Frye. Thus, against those who claim that the Anatomy is ideologically impure because it is ahistorical, White argues that Frye’s theory of modes in the First Essay of the Anatomy serves as the counterideological foundation of the entire book. He demonstrates that by linking historical criticism with a theory of modes Frye moves beyond the categories of quantity, quality, and relation—categories that have characterized positivist views of history. His understanding of history, rather, is rooted in an awareness, similar to Kant’s, that modal relationships are those of possibility-impossibility, existence-nonexistence, and necessity-contingency. Thus, Frye understands that history “is graspable as history only insofar as it appears as a system in process of change”; and only the notion of modality as developed by Frye in the First Essay can do justice to both the data of history and our understanding of those data. Because Frye insists that modality is the ultimate goal of a specifically historical understanding of history, he is able to see history as a system undergoing constant changes in both its form and its contents.[113] Frye’s theory of modes is subtitled “Historical Criticism,” and as we might expect, the New Historicists, like White, have shown an interest in this aspect of the Anatomy. Frye’s relation to the New Historicism has been most effectively examined by Brook Thomas and A.C. Hamilton.[114]

The reactions to Frye’s work just glanced at stem from two mains strands of poststructuralism—deconstruction and a form of cultural studies in which ideology forms the base of some critical superstructure. These two forms of criticism have taken very different directions, but they are not unrelated. In cultural studies, forms of criticism have emerged that feature some form of identity politics based primarily on race, class, and gender. Identity politics of whatever form is, somewhat ironically, based upon difference, and difference, along with deconstruction’s critiques of totalizing systems, its emphasis on what lies in the margin rather than the centre, and the prominence it accords absence rather than presence are all rooted in the space opened up by Derrida’s powerful critique of what had previously been accepted unquestioningly in Western critical and philosophical thought. It might seem, then, that there would be little room for dialogue between Derrida and Frye, for whom identity as a principle of structure, a centre to the order of words, a “metaphysics of presence,” and a “transcendental signified” were fundamental assumptions.[115] But not all postructuralists saw an absolute separation between Derrida and Frye.

In Julia Kristeva’s homage to Frye, for example, the Anatomy is said to have opened up

the field of literary criticism to an ambition which may appear excessive but which, only in this way, can ever hope to approach the extraordinary polysemy of literary art and take up the challenge it permanently poses. The modalities of criticism, designated or hoped for by Frye . . . can be disputed; others can be added. But it is undeniable that these types of critical approaches allow us, once they are linked, to decompartmentalize the technical enclosures in which contemporary literary theory habitually delights and to aspire to a capable interdisciplinarity. The particular emphasis that Frye puts on the archetype as symbol which links one poem to another and allows us to unify and integrate our literary experience seems to me indeed an ethical requirement—not to lose sight of the content conveyed by rhetorical play, and to anchor this content in the Western metaphysical tradition.[116]

Kristeva, then, sees the value of the Anatomy in its synoptic scope and in the framework it provides for placing the sometimes narrow and technical features of contemporary theory into a wider interdisciplinary context. By “approaches” Kristeva means the four kinds of criticism in the Anatomy—historical, ethical, mythical, and rhetorical. Given her own interest in semiology and the unconscious, Kristeva is not convinced that the archetype “is the final level of analysis.” But for her “the desire for meaning and the infinite power of interpretations” do not displace the importance Frye attaches to the symbol. Rather they “enrich” and “revitalize” it: the “trans-symbolic lucidity” that is the goal of Kristeva’s own critical vision could not have been undertaken without what Frye did achieve with an “erudition and wisdom, which not one of us has yet equalled.”[117]

One of the more astute observers of the recent critical scene, Linda Hutcheon, defines it as a reaction that emphasizes provisionality, contingency, and the situational nature of morality and knowledge. In her “Eruptions of Postmodernity: The Postcolonial and the Ecological” she considers Frye’s influence on the understanding and expression of these concepts in Canada.[118] In another essay, “Frye Recoded: Postmodernity and Its Conclusions,” Hutcheon illustrates, with special reference to Frye’s Canadian writings, how the either/or distinctions used to differentiate the modern and the postmodern do not always apply to Frye. There are moments in his work, Hutcheon argues, “in which the postmodern erupts into the systematic and rational order of modernity—moments in which both/and thinking is the only way to explain (without explaining away) the paradoxes and contradictions . . . the tensions between autonomy and historical/social context, between evaluation and explication, between detachment and engagement, between the universal and the local, between the international and the national.”[119] Hutcheon’s aim is not to make Frye out to be a clandestine postmodernist but to illustrate that the labels we often use to characterize critical positions are often facile and inaccurate.[120]

In Imre Salusinszky’s Criticism in Society, an exemplary collection of interviews with Frye, Derrida, and seven others in the pantheon of the literary establishment (Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman, Frank Kermode, Edward Said, Barbara Johnson, Frank Lentricchia, and J. Hillis Miller), it is clear that Frye remained an informing critical presence in the late 1980s in the consciousness of most of these critics.[121] The interviews begin with Derrida and Frye, and those that follow often play off against the two grand masters. Each critic read the previous interviews and thus had the opportunity to comment on what had come before. The first is Harold Bloom, whose influence of Frye is substantial and longstanding.

Bloom read Fearful Symmetry shortly after it was published, and he reports that it “ravished my heart away. I thought it was the best book I’d ever read about anything. I must have read it a hundred times between 1947 and 1950, probably intuitively memorized it, and will never escape the effect of it.” Bloom adds that he “wouldn’t want to go read it now because I’m sure I would disagree with all of it.” [122] In his foreword to the Anatomy, Bloom remarks that Frye’s view of poetic influence was, as mentioned earlier, a matter of “temperament and circumstances.” This is a reference to correspondence the two had in 1969 about Bloom’s theory of “the anxiety of influence.” Bloom had written Frye: “I can understand why you do not see Poetic Influence as an anxiety or melancholy, as I do, because of what you call the myth of concern.”[123] Frye replied: “If you mean influence in the more literal sense of transmission of thought and imagery and the like from earlier poet to later one, I should think that was simply something that happens, and might be a source either of anxiety or of release from it, depending on circumstances and temperament. But of course it is true that the great poet’s maturity brings with it a growing sense of isolation, of the kind one feels in Yeats’ Last Poems, Stevens’ The Rock, and perhaps even Blake’s Job series.”[124] Bloom then replied, “I don’t, as you say, mean influence in any literal sense, since I agree that it simply happens, and temperament alone governs whether it causes anxiety or not. I think that I am studying what your other remark indicates, the deepening isolation of the strong poet’s maturity, particularly as one feels it in the later stages, in Paradise Regained & Samson, in Wordsworth from 1805 on, in Jerusalem, as well as in late Stevens and Yeats.”[125] These remarks suggest that Frye did not at all reject Bloom’s theory of the anxiety of influence because influence was a matter of “circumstances and temperament”: they agree that anxiety has something to do with the mature poet’s isolation. Bloom is, therefore, very selective in his Foreword to the Anatomy about what Frye had conveyed to him in their correspondence.

In A Map of Misreading Bloom remarks that Frye’s myths of freedom and concern are a Low Church version of Eliot’s Anglo-Catholic myth of Tradition and the Individual Talent, but that such an understanding of the relation of the individual to tradition is a fiction. “The fiction,” Bloom says, “is a noble idealization, and as a lie against time will go the way of every noble idealization. Such positive thinking served many purposes during the sixties, when continuities, of any kind, badly required to be summoned, even if they did not come to our call. Wherever we are bound, our dialectical development now seems invested in the interplay of repetition and discontinuity, and needs a very different sense of what our stance is in regard to literary tradition.”[126] This remark contains more than a hint of the anxiety of influence. But regardless of whether one agrees with Bloom’s projection about what our development “seems” to involve, it is mistaken to suggest that Frye has failed to observe the “interplay between repetition and discontinuity.” In words that could stand as a motto for theories of misprision, he says that “the recreating of the literary tradition often has to proceed . . . through a process of absorption followed by misunderstanding.”[127] Even if Frye’s ultimate allegiances are to a continuous intellectual and imaginative universe, to order rather than chaos, to romance rather than irony, he cannot be accused of having turned his back upon the discontinuities in either literature or life. Nor should we let Bloom’s remark deceive us into thinking that in the 1960s Frye began suddenly to summon continuities as a bulwark against the changing social order. The central principles in Frye’s universe remained constant over the years.

The history of Bloom’s relationship to Frye is one of attraction and repulsion. Bloom can say, on the one hand

To compare lesser things with greater, my relation to Frye’s criticism is Pater’s relation to Ruskin’s criticism, or Shelley’s relation to Wordsworth’s poetry: the authentic precursor, no matter how one tries to veil it or conceal it both from oneself and from others. Frye is surely the major critic in the English language. Now that I am mature, and willing to face my indebtedness, Northrop Frye does seem to me . . . a kind of Miltonic figure. He is certainly the largest and most crucial literary critic in the English language since the divine Walter [Pater] and the divine Oscar [Wilde]: he really is that good. I have tried to find an alternative father in Mr Burke, who is a charming fellow, but I don’t come from Burke: I come out of Frye.[128]

On the other hand, Bloom never abandoned his quarrel with his critical father. In the Salusinszky interview, he reaffirms the statement he made about Frye’s “myth of concern” being a Low Church version of Eliot, though he says he would “phrase it a little more genteelly now, out of respect for Mr. Frye.”[129] Moreover, Frye was never agonistic enough for Bloom (“Frye may be the first great critic in English literature whose pugnacity is diverted to other purposes”),[130] and Frye’s view of the common reader and of democratizing the critical process always grated against Bloom’s elitist sensibility:

Mr Frye has, thank heavens, nothing in common with the Marxists, pseudo-Marxists, neo-Marxists, und so weiter, but like them he has idealized the whole question of what might be called—to use his own trope for it—the extension of the franchise in the realm of literature and literary study. Idealization is very moving: it is also very false. It allows profound self-deceptions, at both the individual and the societal level. Literature does not make us better, it does not make us worse; the study of it does not make us better, it does not make us worse. It only confirms what we are already, and it cannot authentically touch us at all unless we begin by being very greatly gifted.[131]

The history of criticism, like that of literature, is a history of the anxiety of influence. Few questions remain to be asked after Aristotle, Horace, and Longinus, even if they are oppositional questions: we are still carried along on the shoulders of these giants. The burden of the past—Walter Jackson Bate’s less Freudian version of the issue—remains a heavy burden. This means that any critic’s forebears are difficult to throw off, Bloom’s relationship to Frye being a good example.

Salusinszky’s interview with Geoffrey Hartman touches only briefly on Frye: the “schematic and skeletal” nature of Frye’s later work is declared to be thinner than what came before; what remains attractive about Frye is his verbal wit and aphoristic play.[132] Hartman, who thinks that the divide between pre- and post-Derrida is exaggerated,[133] wrote one of the major early essays on Frye in which he suggested that Frye’s power as a critic descended from his universalism and unlimited reach, his effort to democratize criticism, and his recovery of the role of romance in the imagination.[134] He confronted Frye’s work in a number of later essays, pointing out what he saw as limitations in Frye’s approach: his “creative” approach to literature actually accommodates its power, ignores the discontinuity of myth, and neglects historical consciousness.[135]

In the fifth interview in Salusinszky’s Criticism in Society, Frank Kermode, like Bloom, discloses his difficulty with Frye’s wanting to ban value judgments from both the beginning and end of the critical process. In 1965, the year that Lentricchia declared that Frye had become a “useless relic,” Kermode was asked which book published in the past ten years he found himself returning to most often. He replied that Frye’s Anatomy was the book “because of the amount of positive thinking I had to do in order to resist it. Frye offers you the choice of thinking him entirely right or entirely wrong. I choose the second alternative, but pay my respects to the best mind in the business except for William Empson’s.”[136] Kermode grants that Frye “is certainly the finest prose writer among modern critics,” but he finds little in Frye that is new since the Anatomy and he thinks that Frye’s approaching literature from a middle distance can never capture the immediacy of the reading process.[137]

Edward Said’s comments on Frye in the Salusinszky interview are mainly a critique. He sees no reason for Frye’s continual effort to define what is literary, draws back from his “clerical attitude,” and wishes Frye had developed “the relationship between the scheme of the Anatomy and tonal music.”[138] Similarly, with J. Hillis Miller, who thinks Frye’s centrality in American criticism is overstated. Miller resisted the paradigmatic forms of criticism Frye advocates in the Anatomy because they do not facilitate reading.[139]

It is difficult to find a common thread in the opinions about Frye scattered throughout Criticism in Society, but it is not difficult to conclude that Frye has not disappeared from the consciousness of these major critical voices, most identified with one form or another of poststructuralism. There are, of course, numerous centres of interest in literary studies, many of which do not have “de-” or “post-” attached to them. The Anatomy often figures in these more traditional forms of inquiry, which would include Hayden White’s use of Frye’s mythoi in his studies of the shapes of historical narratives[140] and Jan Gorak’s astute assessment of Frye and canon formation.[141] On the vexing question of whether or not literature can be distinguished from nonliterature, Paul Hernadi has argued that “The Rhetoric of Non-Literary Prose” in the Fourth Essay does not permit the question to be answered unambiguously: in Frye’s view “all texts are somewhat literary and somewhat nonliterary . . . and the same texts can be both produced and received with more or less literary attitudes.”[142] Ratio thus both contains and is contained by oratio. Hernadi then distinguishes Frye’s both/and position, first, from that of the formalists (New Critics, Czech Structuralists, and Russian Formalists) who have distinguished literariness on the basis of some criterion (irony and paradox, defamiliarization, self-referentiality); and, second, from the positions of Paul de Man and Terry Eagleton. Frye’s relation to the French structuralists is also addressed by Tzvetan Todorov: he is more interested in substance; they, in form; he writes an encyclopedia; they, a dictionary.[143]

Frye’s criticism of Shakespeare’s comedies and romances, though embodied more fully in A Natural Perspective than in the Anatomy, has been seen as a major achievement by several recent commentators. Robert Merrill argues that both books develop a generic approach to Shakespearean comedy and romance that charts and entirely new direction[144] Similarly, Wayne Rebhorn’s examination of the work of dozens of Shakespeareans concludes that Frye’s criticism of the comedies provides the starting point of almost all subsequent commentary.[145] There have been demurrers: Malcolm Evans maintains that deconstruction has undermined Frye’s structural and thematic reading of the comedies.[146]

Earlier, we noted that Frye continues to be read and translated and that in the graduate study of literature and increasing number of students have turned to his work, especially to the Anatomy.

In the present survey we have been considering several examples of Frye’s having entered into the critical debates of recent years, noting the judgments made about the Anatomy by those who align themselves with one or another of the poststructual movements. Again, Frye has not disappeared from the purview of contemporary theorists. Most, as we have seen, have registered opposition, but the fact that that they have seen Frye as a critic worthy of engagement is sufficient evidence of his latter-day influence to counter the “useless relic” scenario. Frye himself was not unaware of this influence. In one of his notebooks from the late 1980s, he says with uncharacteristic immodesty,

If there’s no real difference between creation & criticism, I have as much right to build palaces of criticism as Milton had to write epic poems. My whole and part interchange works here too: inside the Anatomy, everyone is a disciple & to some degree a captive of Frye—every writer has a captive audience—but surely one can finish the book & then do as one likes, with something of me inside him. If he doesn’t have something of me inside him, he won’t, at this time of history, have anything of much use to say as a critic. (LN, 1:123).

As already indicated Frye devoted little energy to keeping abreast of contemporary critical movements in any detailed way, but he was not innocent about what was going on. He read Derrida’s Of Grammatology, wrote an essay on Lacan, reviewed Paul de Man’s The Rhetoric of Romanticism, and read number of books of structural and poststructural theory.[147] To reverse the question we have been asking, so as to discover Frye’s attitude was toward cultural criticism and deconstruction, is beyond the scope of this introduction, but, for those interested in the issue, it should not go unremarked that the essays, books, and notebooks from the last decade of his life have a great deal to say about poststructuralism.[148]

The Anatomy and the Contour of Frye’s Career

Frye’s critical world is of course expansive enough to accommodate a number of different approaches to it. Thus we have had studies of Frye’s vision of the new world, his theoretical imagination, his poetics of process, his typological understanding of the Bible, and his connection with the Romantic tradition, among numerous others. It should be noted, moreover, that Frye’s influence has spilled over into a number of other disciplines—archaeology, advertising, consumer research, nursing, geography, communications theory, economics, history, political science, psychoanalysis, jurisprudence, music, and public administration.[149] But what might be said by way of conclusion about the connection of the Anatomy with what Harold Bloom referred to as its “spiritual” staying power? Bloom, we recall, predicted that the Anatomy would survive, not because of its systematic schema, but because it is “serious, spiritual, and comprehensive.” “Serious” and “comprehensive” are easy enough to understand, but what does Bloom mean by characterizing the Anatomy as “spiritual”? Is there a connection between the Anatomy, with its formal thrust and its insistence on maintaining critical autonomy, and the rest of Frye’s work, which begins with the study of a deeply religious poet, William Blake, and ends forty-four years later with The Double Vision: Language and Meaning in Religion?

Let us consider first what Frye says in the Anatomy itself about the forms of criticism treated in each of its essays. It is clear from the Tentative Conclusion to the Anatomy that he neither endorses the view that criticism is finally autonomous nor accepts the idea that literature is aesthetically self-contained. He speaks of the necessity for critics becoming “more aware of the external relations of criticism as a whole with other disciplines” (318) and of the obligation of criticism to recover the social function of art (321). It is “hardly honest,” he says, for criticism “to shrink altogether from [these] larger issues” (319). In confronting the “larger issues,” he examines a number of alternatives the critic might take, rejecting some, trying to reconcile others to his Romantic view of the imagination, and suggesting a way that each of the four kinds of criticism in the Anatomy (historical, ethical, archetypal, and rhetorical) is related to a wider area of humanistic concern.

First, Frye expands the reference of “historical criticism” to mean not just the codification of the heritage of the past but the recreation of the past in a new context. “The preoccupation of the humanities with the past,” he says,

is sometimes made a reproach against them by those who forget that we face the past: it may be shadowy, but it is all that there is. Plato draws a gloomy picture of man staring at the flickering shapes made on the wall of the objective world by a fire behind us like the sun. But the analogy breaks down when the shadows are those of the past, for the only light we can see them by is the Promethean fire within us. The substance of these shadows can only be in ourselves, and the goal of historical criticism, as our metaphors about it often indicate, is a kind of self-resurrection, the vision of a valley of dry bones that takes on the flesh and blood of our vision. The culture of the past is not only the memory of mankind, but our own buried life, and study of it leads to a recognition scene, a discovery in which we see, not our past lives, but the total cultural form of our present life. It is not only the poet but his reader who is subject to the obligation to “make it new.” (321)

Therefore a historical criticism which sees art only in terms of the past must be balanced by a sense of the contemporary relevance of the past. Such an approach, Frye claims, can lead to an expansion of our perspective in the present. This view has been anticipated in the Polemical Introduction where he maintains (1) that in historical criticism, we study literature “as we do the stars, seeing their interrelationships but not approaching them”; and (2) that historical criticism therefore “needs to be complemented by a corresponding activity growing out of tropical criticism” (25). He does not mean that the critic should use art to support social or political causes; at least criticism cannot be based on these ends, for they lead to a moral or revolutionary perspective which slights the present in favor of the future. “As soon as we make culture a definite image of a future and perhaps attainable society, we start selecting and purging a tradition, and all the artists who don’t fit (an increasing number as the process goes on) have to be thrown out” (322). Thus, just as an uncorrected historical criticism can lead to a deadening reverence for the archaic, so an uncorrected ethical criticism can lead to a futurism based on indoctrination. Both approaches are provincial, and neither, according to Frye, is anchored in the present in any positive way.

This leads him to reconsider the implications of ethical criticism as he has defined it in the Second Essay. There, in his discussion of fourth-phase symbolism, he maintains that art in its archetypal aspect is an ethical instrument. That is, it becomes more than an object of aesthetic contemplation because, archetypically, it is a product of civilization, “a vision of the goals of human work” (105). “In terms of his moral significance,” Frye says in the Second Essay, “the poet reflects, and follows at a distance, what his community really achieves through its work. Hence the moral view of the artist is invariably that he ought to assist the work of his society by framing workable hypotheses, imitating human action and thought in such a way as to suggest realizable modes of both.”[150] As attractive as this view is for Frye, he finally rejects it because it represents art as “useful and functional,” serving the external goals of truth and goodness (104–7). Thus he is led (in the Second Essay) from the archetypal phase, where poetry is related to civilization, to the anagogic phase, where it is “disinterested and liberal, and stands on its own feet” (107).

In the Tentative Conclusion, Frye raises the issue again, and his solution turns out to be the same, though it is formulated in somewhat different terms. Beginning with Arnold’s axiom that “culture seeks to do away with classes,” he writes:

The ethical purpose of a liberal education is to liberate, which can only mean to make one capable of conceiving society as free, classless, and urbane. No such society exists, which is one reason why a liberal education must be deeply concerned with works of imagination. The imaginative element in works of art, again, lifts them clear of the bondage of history. Anything that emerges from the total experience of criticism to form a part of liberal education becomes, by virtue of that fact, part of the emancipated and humane community of culture, whatever its original reference. Thus liberal education liberates the works of culture themselves as well as the mind they educate. . . . No discussion of beauty can confine itself to the formal relations of the isolated work of art; it must consider, too, the participation of the work of art in the vision of the goal of social effort, the idea of a complete and classless civilization. This idea of complete civilization is also the implicit moral standard to which ethical criticism always refers. (325)

There are two poles of reference in this passage, the imagination and society, and Frye is unwilling to let either of them be his ultimate norm. If society becomes the goal of criticism, then art becomes subservient to morality or one of the practical sciences, and the detachment of the imaginative vision Frye seeks is lost. Thus, he adds, “the goal of ethical criticism is transvaluation, the ability to look at contemporary social values with the detachment of one who is able to compare them in some degree with the infinite vision of possibilities presented by culture” (324). On the other hand, if the aesthetic norm is given priority, the social function of criticism withers. Thus he appeals to archetypal criticism to right the balance. “We tried to show in the second essay,” he says, “that the moment we go from the individual work of art to the sense of the total form of the art, the art becomes no longer an object of aesthetic contemplation but an ethical instrument, participating in the work of civilization. In this shift to the ethical, criticism as well as poetry is involved” (325).

But Frye also argued in the Second Essay that both ethical and aesthetic norms must ultimately give way, at the anagogic level, to a self-contained literary universe where the critic is a model of Arnold’s disinterestedness, freed from all external goals. Reflecting on this leap, however, he remarks (in the Conclusion) that he was perhaps merely restoring “the aesthetic view on a gigantic scale, substituting Poetry for a mass of poems, aesthetic mysticism for aesthetic empiricism” (325). Thus, to right the balance once more, he appeals to the critical approach of his Fourth Essay, the argument of which, he says, “led to the principle that all structures in words are partly rhetorical, and hence literary, and that the notion of a scientific or philosophical verbal structure free of rhetorical elements is an illusion. If so, then our literary universe has expanded into a verbal universe, and no aesthetic principle of self-containment will work” (325).

These are sweeping generalizations, yet they illustrate Frye’s concern to establish, on the one hand, an autonomous conceptual universe while insuring, on the other hand, that this universe is not isolated from culture, society, and humane letters. “I am not wholly unaware,” he says, “that at every step of this argument there are extremely complicated philosophical problems which I am incompetent to solve as such” (325). Not the least of these is how criticism can be both disinterested and engaged at the same time. Or, we might ask Frye, what is criticism really, the study of self-contained literary form or the relation of literature to social value? His system, of course, will not easily permit these kinds of questions to be asked, for he conceives of criticism as a dialectical axis, having “as one pole the total acceptance of the data of literature, and as the other the total acceptance of the potential value of those data” (26). This dyadic framework permits him to pursue practically any critical problem he wants, depending on whether his gaze is centripetal or centrifugal—to use the terms of the Second Essay. His primary interest in the Anatomy is centripetal, the inward gaze toward the structure of literature itself. Much of his other work, however, is directed outward toward the social context of literature. The fact that the Anatomy makes space for such study has been conveniently ignored or forgotten by those who caricature Frye as a purely formal theorist.

One dimension of the social context of literature is religious or spititual. In the Tentative Conclusion Frye speaks of the “revolutionary act of consciousness” involved in the response to culture, and part of this revolution is in “spiritual productive power” (320). Drawing on Kierkegaard, he adds that the task of the reader is always recreation, a process that “redeems or awakens” our experience into an “apocalyptic promise” and leads to the “self-resurrection” already mentioned. At first glance this kind of religious language seems far removed from the primary thrust of the Anatomy with its elaborate formal structures and with Frye’s insistence on the autonomy of both literature and criticism. Such language is generally muted in the Anatomy, but it is there nevertheless, even in the face of Frye’s caveat that critics should avoid determinisms of all sorts—”whether Marxist, Thomist, liberal-humanist, neo-Classical, Freudian, Jungian, or existentialist, substituting a critical attitude for criticism” (8). The fact that the Anatomy concludes with a religious accent suggests that the telos of his entire enterprise is something other than developing a poetics of literary conventions.

The most decidedly obvious religious category in the Anatomy is anagogy, the highest level of meaning in Dante’s polysemous scheme or, in Frye’s development of the theory of meaning in the Second Essay, the fifth level. The goal to be reached at the end of the ladder of meaning is the vision of apocalypse. The second and third levels of meaning, corresponding to the quid credas (what to believe) and quid agas (how to act), terms that Frye appropriated from a fourth-century jingle, move eventually to the anagogic level, the quo tendas (where to go) vision of reality or the spiritual world toward which we are directed.[151] “Anagogic criticism,” Frye writes,

is usually found in direct connection with religion, and is to be discovered chiefly in the more uninhibited utterances of poets themselves. It comes out in those passages of Eliot’s quartets where the words of the poet are placed within the context of the incarnate Word. An even clearer statement is in a letter of Rilke, where he speaks of the function of the poet as revealing a perspective of reality like that of an angel, containing all time and space, who is blind and looking into himself. Rilke’s angel is a modification of the more usual god or Christ, and his statement is all the more valuable because it is explicitly not Christian, and illustrates the independence of the anagogic perspective, of the poet’s attempt to speak from the circumference instead of from the center of reality, from the acceptance of any specific religion. (113)

“Apocalypse,” Frye adds, “means revelation, and when art becomes apocalyptic, it reveals. But it reveals only on its own terms, and in its own forms: it does not describe or represent a separate content of revelation. When poet and critic pass from the archetypal to the anagogic phase, they enter a phase of which only religion, or something as infinite in its range as religion, can possibly form an external goal” (116).

Frye teases us into thinking that he will develop the theory of anagogy in the Anatomy. But after introducing it in the Second Essay, he drops it, choosing instead to focus the rest of the book on his theories of myths and genres, both of which are elaborations that descend from Dante’s third or Frye’s mythical and archetypal level. But Frye did not so much abandon anagogy as postpone his treatment of it. The thesis has been recently advanced that the underlying form of Frye’s entire critical enterprise is at bottom a religious form that manifests itself as a spiritual quest.[152] The argument is that both Frye’s language and his ultimate aim become more insistently religious as his career develops. Thus, the language that dominates the writings of his last two decades is either explicitly religious (revelation, kerygma, purgatory, apocalypse, anagogy) or implicitly so (interpenetration, identity, vision, recognition, love, intensified and expanded consciousness). His effort to move beyond the subject–object world is a process that follows a Hegelian Aufhebung, a process that both cancels and preserves the dialectical pairs that always underlie Frye’s speculations and then raises them to another level. Frye says that he is an architect not of the literary world but of the spiritual one (Northrop Frye’s Late Notebooks, 1:414), and he remarks that “the dialectic of belief and vision is the path I have to go down now” (ibid., 1:73). He took the initial steps along this path in Anatomy of Criticism.


[1] “Northrop Frye and Contemporary Criticism: Ariel and the Spirit of Gravity,” in Northrop Frye in Modern Criticism: Selected Papers from the English Institute, ed. Murray Krieger (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966), 1–2. Even before the English Institute volume, the book had established its authority, as Frye himself was well aware. The Anatomy, he writes in an application for a Canada Council grant, “is now regarded, I think I can say, as one of the most authoritative works of criticism in our time, and although it still meets with fierce resistance here and there, as a controversial book should, it has in general established its authority” (letter to Albert Trueman, 7 February 1964). And two years earlier in an effort to persuade Princeton University Press not to let Fearful Symmetry and the Anatomy go out of print, Frye wrote to Princeton: “It seems to me they have established their position as classics of contemporary criticism, and should not be allowed to go out of print as Fearful Symmetry did before Beacon took it up” (letter to Gordon Hubel, 20 September 1962). So six years following the publication of the Anatomy Frye himself recognized that he had produced a “classic.” The letters to Trueman and Hubel are in the Northrop Frye Fonds, 1988, box 62, file 2.

[2] “Northrop Frye,” in Modern Literary Criticism, 1900–1970, ed. Lawrence I. Lipking and A. Walton Litz (New York: Atheneum, 1972), 180.

[3] Harold Bloom, “Northrop Frye Exalting the Designs of Romance,” New York Times Book Review, 18 April 1976: 21. Cf. Gregory T. Poletta: “Northrop Frye . . . is the foremost theorist of literature writing in English since the 1950s” (Issues in Contemporary Criticism [Boston: Little, Brown, 1973], 6).

[4] “Harold Bloom,” an interview with Imre Salusinszky, in Criticism in Society: Interviews with Jacques Derrida, Northrop Frye, Harold Bloom, Geoffrey Hartman, Frank Kermode, Edward Said, Barbara Johnson, Frank Lentricchia, and J. Hillis Miller (New York: Methuen, 1987), 58, 62.

[5] There are different ways of calculating the number of books Frye wrote. If we count the collections of essays edited by him and others, plus two volumes of interviews, the total is thirty-five. This excludes The Harper Handbook to Literature, which he wrote with two others, and Biblical and Classical Myths: The Mythological Framework of Western Culture– –a transcript of his lectures on the Bible, published with Jay Macpherson’s lectures on Classical myths. The Collected Works of Northrop Frye will contain thirty-two large volumes, exclusive of Frye’s professional correspondence.

[6] The Great Critics: An Anthology of Literary Criticism, ed. James Harry Smith and Edd Winfield Parks, 3rd ed. (New York: Norton, 1951). Smith and Parks include texts from twenty-nine “greater critics” and an additional thirty-nine “supplementary” texts. This compares with eighteen “greater critics” in the first edition, which anthologized nineteen in the supplement (New York: Norton, 1932). The second edition (1939) is similar in its contents to the 1951 edition, though in twelve years between the second and third editions Sir Walter Scott, William Dean Howells, Emile Zola, Joseph Conrad, Anatole France, and George Moore entered the circle of greatness. None of these critics is included by the editors of three widely used anthologies at present: David Richter The Critical Tradition , 2nd ed. (Boston: Bedford Books, 1998), Hazard Adams, Critical Theory Since Plato, rev. ed. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992), and Vincent Leitch, et al., The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (New York: Norton, 2001).

[7] Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, fifteenth printing with a new foreword, 2000), vii. For Bloom’s review of the Anatomy, see n. 80, below.

[8] Harold Bloom, “Foreword,” Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000), vii.

[9] Ibid., xi.

[10] A cursory search of recent catalogues and course descriptions turned up these current or recent courses in English (E), comparative literature (CL), and other fields in which Frye is read: Harvard University (E193); Yale University (E463b), Berkeley (CL100, CL155) Stanford (E166/266A, E302A, CL369, C 172), University of Chicago (E47200), University of Virginia (E255, E481), University of North Carolina (E027.003), Vanderbilt University (E337a, E105W, CL312, CL314 [course on Frye’s central texts]), University of Pennsylvania (CL360.401), University of Notre Dame (E510), York University (E4109), McMaster University (E798), University of Texas, Austin (E5360), Concordia University (Religion 365). Outside of North America, one can find courses where Frye is being read at the University of Bucharest; University of Oslo; University of Rome; L’Université Libre de Bruxelles; Eurpoa Universitat Viadrina, Frankfurt; Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest; Charles University, Prague; University of Stuttgart; Università Iuav di Venezia; University of Lecce; Syddansk University, Denmark; Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal; Université de Rennes; University of Mainz; Palacký University, Olomouc, Czech Republic; Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Brasil; Aalborg University, Denmark; Nanjing Normal University; University of Freiburg; Institute for Canadian Studies, Ville de Harbin, Heilongjiang , China; Universidad de Oviedo, Spain; University of Toulouse; Inner Mongolia University; Hoh-Hot; and the University of Copenhagen. Similar courses can be found in numerous college catalogues.

[11] These data include five ED.D. and two D.L.S. dissertations. While it is difficult to get an accurate count of M.A. theses, forty-four have been recorded from 1967 to 2003.

[12] Within the past dozen years the one-hundred or so universities where students have completed dissertations in which Frye is a subject include Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Penn, Chicago, Toronto, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio State, Virginia, NYU, McMaster, Oxford, and Stockholm.

[13] The twenty-four books are Ian Balfour, Northrop Frye (Boston: Twayne, 1988), John Ayre, Northrop Frye: A Biography (Toronto: Random House of Canada, 1989); Agostino Lombardo, ed., Ritratto de Northrop Frye (Rome: Bulzoni Editore, 1989); A.C. Hamilton, Northrop Frye: Anatomy of his Criticism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990); Robert D. Denham and Thomas Willard, ed., Visionary Poetics: Essays on Northrop Frye’s Criticism (New York: Peter Lang, 1991); David Cayley, Northrop Frye in Conversation (Concord, Ont.: Anansi, 1992); Caterina Ricciardi, Northrop Frye, o, delle finzioni supreme (Rome: Empirìa, 1992); Joseph Adamson, Northrop Frye: A Visionary Life (Toronto: ECW Press, 1993); Krishnamoorthy Aithal, ed., The Importance of Northrop Frye (Kanpur, India: Humanities Research Centre, 1993); Jonathan Hart, Northrop Frye: The Theoretical Imagination (London: Routledge, 1994); Alvin Lee and Robert D. Denham, ed., The Legacy of Northrop Frye (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994); Wang Ning and Yen-hung Hsü, ed., Fu-lai yen chiu: Chung-kuo yü hsi fang [ Frye Studies: China and the West] (Beijing: Social Sciences Press of China, 1996); Ford Russell, Northrop Frye on Myth: An Introduction (New York: Garland, 1998); David Boyd and Imre Salusinszky, ed., Rereading Frye: The Published and Unpublished Works (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999); Monique Anne Gyalokay, Rousseau, Northrop Frye et la Bible: Essai de mythocritique (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1999); Caterina Nella Cotrupi, Northrop Frye and the Poetics of Process (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000); Wang Ning and Jean O’Grady, ed. New Directions in N. Frye Studies (Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press, 2001); Jean O’Grady and Wang Ning, ed. Northrop Frye: Eastern and Western Perspectives (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003); James M. Kee, ed. Northrop Frye and the Afterlife of the Word. Semeia 89 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2002); Jeffery Donaldson and Alan Mendelson, ed., Frye and the Word: Religious Contexts in the Criticism of Northrop Frye (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003); János Kenyeres, Revolving around the Bible: A Study of Northrop Frye (Budapest: Anonymus, 2003); Robert D. Denham, Northrop Frye: Religious Visionary and Architect of the Spiritual World (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004); Ed Lemond, ed., Verticals of Frye/Les verticales de Frye: The Northrop Frye Lectures and Related Talks Given at the Northrop Frye International Literary Festival (Moncton, NB: Elbow Press, 2005); and Daniela Feltracco, Northrop Frye: Anatomia di un metodo critico (Udine: Forum, Editrice Universitaria Udinese, 2005).

The bibliography is my Northrop Frye: An Annotated Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Sources (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987). The latest bibliography is my Northrop Frye: A Bibliography of His Published Writings, 1931–2004 (Emory, Va.: Iron Mountain Press, 2004).

[14] The Asian conferences were “Northrop Frye and China,” 12–17 July 1994, Peking University, Beijing; “The International Symposium on Northrop Frye Studies,” 15–17 July 1999, Inner Mongolia University in Hoh-Hot, China; “The Legacy of Northrop Frye in the East and West,” 22 May 1992, Sookmyung Women’s University, Seoul, Korea. Frye seems often to have generated more public response abroad than at home. On his 1979 lecture tour of Italy he spoke to capacity crowds in Milan, Florence, Rome, Venice, and other cities, and the tour was reported in all the major newspapers. See William French, “Frye the Conqueror Wows Them in Italy,” Globe and Mail, 14 June 1979: 15. The Frye conference at the University of Inner Mongolia was covered by China’s largest national television network (CCTV), as well as by Beijing TV, the Xinhua News Agency, Beijing Cable TV (International Canadianist, Fall–Winter 1997–98).

[15] In 1964 Princeton leased the paperback rights for the Anatomy to Atheneum, which brought out its edition in December 1965, printing 15,000 copies. Ten reprintings followed, and when the last of these sold out, the rights were returned to Princeton, which then issued its own paperback, printing another 1000 copies of the hardcover edition at the same time. By 1978, twenty-one years after publication, the Anatomy had sold well over 100,000 copies (The World in a Grain of Sand, 169). By 2004, the Princeton edition alone had sold more than 150,000 copies. The other English editions of the Anatomy were published by Penguin (Markham, Ont., 1990), United Publishing (Seoul, Korea, 1984), and Bookman Books (Taipei, Taiwan, 1987). (Various catalogues and web sites show a 2002 reprinting of the Anatomy in the Penguin Modern Classics series, but this is a phantom edition: it was never published.) The translations are in German (1964), French (1969), Italian (1969), Romanian (1972), Portuguese (1973), Spanish (1977), Serbo-Croatian (1979), Japanese (1980), Korean (1982), Arabic (two translations, both 1991), Greek (1996), Hungarian (1998), Chinese (1998), and Czech (2003). The French, Italian, Serbo-Croatian, and Chinese translations were issued in revised or reprinted editions in, respectively, 2004, 1972, 2000, and 2000. See Appendix 1. To judge by the increasing number of translations of all of Frye’s books, the interest in reading him in other languages has been increasing steadily: of the 104 translations into twenty languages, almost three-quarters (76) have appeared since 1980.

[16] Graham Good, “Frye in China,” Canadian Literature, 183 (Winter 2004): 156–8.

[17] Pockets of Frye scholars exist in what might at first seem unlikely places. In Budapest, for example, Sára Tóth has recently completed a dissertation on Frye, in 2003 János Kenyeres published Revolving around the Bible: A Study of Northrop Frye, Péter Pásztor has translated The Great Code and Words with Power into Hungarian, Tibor Fabiny continues to lecture and publish on Frye, and courses on Frye have recently been offered at two universities in Budapest. In Italy, Korea, and China Frye is frequently taught as part of Canadian Studies Programs. From 1997 to 2004 the late Professor Wu Chizhe of Hoh-Hot University in Inner Mongolia translated six of Frye’s books into Chinese.

[18] Jonathan Culler, “Imagining the Coherence of the English Major,” ADE Bulletin, 133 (Winter 2003): 6–10; rpt. in Profession 2003, 1 (December 2003): 85–93. Culler recommends that we can recover coherence by turning back to such formal concerns as those outlined in Frye’s theory of modes. Culler had earlier attacked Frye for promoting a dogmatic religious ideology. See his “A Critic against the Christians,” TLS, 23 November 1984: 1327–8.

[19] “Northrop Frye Remembered by His Students,” Journal of Canadian Poetry, 6 (1991): 6. As for the question of Frye’s canonical status, Hamilton’s judgment is unqualified: “the major critic of the twentieth century” and “the only critic with a world-wide reputation” (ibid.). Frye is still quoted regularly in the popular press and without identifying footnotes. In the 1980s The Great Code sold 17,000 copies in Canada, which was enough to put it on the best-seller list and which would be comparable, given the difference in the populations of the two countries, to sales of 150,000 in the U.S.

[20] Two books devoted to the Anatomy are my own Northrop Frye and Critical Method (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1978) and A.C. Hamilton, Northrop Frye: Anatomy of his Criticism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990). For the commentary on Frye, see part 2 of my Northrop Frye: An Annotated Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Sources and the updates that appeared in the Northrop Frye Newsletter. A large portion of the more than 900 secondary sources that have appeared since 1987 focus on the Anatomy.

[21] Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), 16–17.

[22] The bits and pieces that Frye appropriated from his previously published material amount to 53% of the total number of words in the Anatomy. “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time,” University of Toronto Quarterly, 19 (October 1949): 1–16, became the skeleton for the Polemical Introduction. The longest of his earlier essays, “Towards a Theory of Cultural History,” University of Toronto Quarterly, 22 (July 1953): 325–41, formed the basis of the First Essay. The other twelve articles were distributed rather evenly throughout the rest of the book: (1) “Levels of Meaning in Literature,” Kenyon Review, 12 (Spring 1950): 246–62. (2) “Three Meanings of Symbolism,” Yale French Studies, 9 (1952): 11–19. (3) “The Language of Poetry,” Explorations: Studies in Culture and Communication, 4 (February 1955), 80–90. (4) “The Archetypes of Literature,” Kenyon Review, 13 (Winter 1951): 92–110. (5) “The Argument of Comedy,” English Institute Essays: 1948, ed. D.A. Robertson, Jr. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1949), 58–73. (6) “Characterization in Shakespearean Comedy,” Shakespeare Quarterly, 4 (July 1953): 271–7. (7) “Comic Myth in Shakespeare,” Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, series 3, 46, section 2 (June 1952): 47–58. (8) “The Nature of Satire,” University of Toronto Quarterly, 14 (October 1944): 75–89. (9) “Music in Poetry,” University of Toronto Quarterly, 11 (January 1942): 167–79. (10) “A Conspectus of Dramatic Genres,” Kenyon Review, 13 (Autumn 1951): 543–62. (11) “The Four Forms of Prose Fiction,” Hudson Review, 2 (Winter 1950): 582–95. (12) “Myth as Information,” Hudson Review, 7 (Summer 1954): 228–35.

[23] Bricolage is also a term appropriated by François Jacob, the 1965 Nobel Prize winner in physiology, to characterize his view of evolution—the assembling and constructing from whatever elements are available. See his “Evolution and Tinkering,” Science, 196 (10 June 1977): 1161–66. The usages of both Lévi-Strauss and Jacob are more or less sophisticated versions of Mae West’s quip, “You gotta learn to use what you got lying around the house.”

[24] These transplants came from “Toynbee and Spengler,” Canadian Forum, 27 (August 1947): 111–13; rpt. in Northrop Frye on Modern Culture, 202–8; and as “The Shapes of History” in Northrop Frye on Culture and Literature, 76–83. “Sir James Frazer,” Architects of Modern Thought, 3rd and 4th series, Twelve Talks for CBC Radio (Toronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corp., 1959), 22–32; rpt. as “Symbolism of the Unconscious” in Northrop Frye on Culture and Literature, 84–94. “Forming Fours,” Hudson Review, 6 (Winter 1954): 611–19; rpt. in Northrop Frye on Culture and Literature, 117–29. “Ministry of Angels,” Hudson Review, 6 (Autumn 1953): 442–9. “Quest and Cycle in Finnegans Wake,” James Joyce Review, 1 (February 1957): 39–47; rpt. in Fables of Identity, 256–64. “Phalanx of Particulars,” Hudson Review, 4 (Winter 1952): 627–31; rpt. in Northrop Frye on Culture and Literature, 197–203. “The Church: Its Relation to Society,” in The Living Church, ed. Harold Vaughan (Toronto: United Church Publishing House, 1949), 152–72; rpt. in Reading the World, 203–19, and in Northrop Frye on Religion, 253–67.

[25] The MLA session—on Comparative Literature—was chaired by Renato Poggioli of Harvard University. See PMLA, 68 (April 1953): 125–6. The paper was published fifty years later in Northrop Frye on Literature and Society, 182–9. The headnote in that book lists the passages that parallel those in the Second Essay of the Anatomy.

[26] Frye’s “Prefatory Statement” indicates that portions of “The Archetypes of Literature” made their way into the Second Essay. But portions were adapted as well for the Polemical Introduction and the Third Essay.

[27] Manitoba Arts Review, 3, no.1 (Spring 1942): 35–47.

[28] In “An Enquiry into the Art Forms of Prose Fiction” Frye conceived of the Bible as “the archetypal anatomy” (Northrop Frye’s Student Essays, 391). But in “The Four Forms of Prose Fiction” and in the Anatomy itself the Bible became one of the quintessential or fifth forms of prose. See “The Four Forms of Prose Fiction,” 595, and AC, 295.

[29] GC, xxi. The Eliot reference comes from his essay “William Blake”: “We have the same respect for Blake’s philosophy (and perhaps for that of Samuel Butler) that we have for an ingenious piece of home-made furniture: we admire the man who put it together out of the odds and ends around the house. England has produced a fair number of the Robinson Crusoes” (Selected Essays [New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1950], 279). In an interview, Frye even calls the left-over material he used in the Anatomy “bits and pieces” (Northrop Frye in Conversation, 69).

[30] The Savage Mind, 21.

[31] The Savage Mind, 20, 21–2.

[32] Guggenheim Application, unpublished typescript, p. 5–1 (Northrop Frye Fonds, 188, box 38, file 4).

[33] Ibid., p. 5–3.

[34] Naše Novine, 30 January 1980. Response to questions by Branko Gorjup, published in the newspaper of the Yugoslavian community in Toronto. Forthcoming in a collection of interviews with Frye in the Collected Works, ed. Jean O’Grady.

[35] In late January 1949 Frye entertained the notion of doing a series of eight critical studies, the first three of which would be “a grammar of verbal structures or narratives, giving the linear sense of all forms of verbal expression”; “a rhetorical encyclopedia or ordered presentation of the definitive myth”; and “a logic identifying the logical & verbal universes” (Diaries, 98). These anticipated studies are one of the earliest blueprints for the Anatomy. In March 1949 he wrote in his diary of his intent to make a “big initial assault” on the first of these studies (Diaries, 289).

[36] Guggenheim application, p. 5–3.

[37] See n. 22, above.

[38] Diaries, 389. “The Archetypes” was part of a series—”My Credo: A Symposium of Critics”—John Crowe Ransom had initiated for the Kenyon Review. The first four installments, appearing in the Autumn 1950 issue, were by Leslie Fiedler, Richard Chase, William Empson, and Herbert Read. Frye’s appeared the following year, along with contributions by Cleanth Brooks, Douglas Bush, Stephen Spender, Austin Warren, and Arthur Mizener—a complete all-star team, if we add Ransom as a playing manager.

[39] Frye’s contract for the book was issued on 11 October 1955.

[40] See letter from Benjamin F. Houston to Frye, 14 October 1955, in the Northrop Frye Fonds, 1988 accession, box 61, file 1. Regarding the conclusion, Houston indicated that the “reader who referred to you as ‘one of the most informed and acute minds now engaged with literature’ also wrote the following:

Although the introduction especially seems to say that all critical efforts hitherto have been one-sided or mistaken, and that only now are critics being provided with a new orientation and a new and adequate instrument, it is not at all clear, when one has finished the book, what the new instrument is or what the critic’s role is to be. Having been supplied with a set of definitions and labels, does he now proceed to apply these to literature as it appears, to keep on filling the pigeon-holes, or where does he go from here? It seems to me that a conclusion is needed in which the author will draw together his complex argument and make clearer the purpose and utility of his analysis. Otherwise, in spite of the constant cerebration that has gone on, the book may seem to be more inert than dynamic.

There was general agreement about this need for some kind of conclusion to the book, and I do hope that you will give this matter some thought.” The reader whom Houston quotes was Douglas Bush, a Canadian by birth and professor of English Renaissance literature at Harvard.

[41] See the correspondence with Houston in the Northrop Frye Fonds, 1988 accession, box 61, file 1. John Ayre reports that Frye’s earliest working title for the book was A Defense of Poetics (253), though this is not a title Frye ever uses in his notebooks or diaries of the time. Neither Frye nor Princeton University Press was apparently aware that Henry Hazlitt had already used an almost identical title, The Anatomy of Criticism (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1933). Hazlitt (1894–1993), a well-known public intellectual, wrote his own Anatomy when he was literary editor of The Nation. In spite of the differences between the sensibilities and approaches of the two critics, some passages from Hazlitt sound almost Frygean. Here are three examples: “The handicaps he labors under are too serious. He cannot stand far enough back from the book he is criticizing to see it in its proper perspective” (72); “It follows inescapably that the more we know of the past the more we know of the present. As T.S. Eliot . . . said, the poet is not likely to know what is to be done unless he lives in what is not merely the present, but the present moment of the past, unless he is conscious, not of what is dead, but of what is already living” (155); “When we come to Dickens, few persons would care to deny that he unfailingly misrepresented the life he pretended to portray. But what of it? He depicted a world infinitely more pleasant than the real world. . . . I sometimes think with Oscar Wilde that lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of art” (239). A few stylistic adjustments could transform Hazlitt’s demotic prose into Frye’s hieratic.

[42] The Savage Mind, 18, 22.

[43] Frye’s notebooks, which constitute more than one fourth of the material in the Collected Works, must now be seen as a major part of his critical achievement. Five of the eight notebook volumes have been published to date. For an explanation of the ogdoad, see Michael Dolzani’s “The Book of the Dead: A Skeleton Key to Northrop Frye’s Notebooks,” in Rereading Frye: The Published and Unpublished Works, ed. David Boyd and Imre Salusinszky [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999], 19–38, as well as Dolzani’s introduction to The “Third Book” Notebooks of Northrop Frye. See also my introduction to Northrop Frye’s Late Notebooks, xli–xlv.

[44] By “criticism article” Frye means “The Literary Meaning of ‘Archetype,” and he did conclude his article in exactly this way. Frye never produced the article on the four major genres or on the analysis of scripture, if in fact he intended the latter to be a separate essay. As for the “systematic grammar of symbolism,” he did write an article “Three Meanings of Symbolism” (see n. 22, above), eventually incorporated into the Second Essay. A bit later in Notebook 7, the outline of the book—now twelve chapters—has become more detailed: “The shape looks like this at present: 1. The Scope of Criticism (UTQ). 2. Levels of Meaning (KR). 3. Levels of Criticism (HR). 4. Theory of Archetypes (KR+). 5. Theory of Genres (the big weak spot). Part Two, chaps. 6-9, deal with the four (as I think) specific forms, epic, drama, prose fiction & lyric (the last the minor weak spot). Part Three begins with a conspectus of rhetorical techniques (10), goes on to a conspectus of the history of ideas (literature as the hypothesis of history, philosophy or verbal law) (11) & concludes (11 is the horizontal axis) with the vertical axis, art in relation to the two communities of religion & politics (aligning of Thomist & Marxist ideas) (12). That looks like it” (7.210). UTQ = University of Toronto Quarterly, KR = Kenyon Review, HR = Hudson Review, although “The Literary Meaning of ‘Archetype'” was never published in that quarterly.

[45] The Anatomy notebooks, currently being prepared for publication, vary in length from fewer than 1000 to more than 53,000 words. Eleven of the notebooks are in Frye called “sermon books,” thin 8½ x 5½-inch notebooks bound in Manila paper wrappers with a green cloth spine. In a diary entry for 11 February 1951 he wrote, “I’ve bought sermon books for chapters two to five, the last preparatory stage before actual writing” (Diaries, 506). The preparatory stage extended itself for three or four more years.

[46] See Northrop Frye’s Student Essays, 299, 314–15. See also 7.187.

[47] Letter from Benjamin F. Houston to Frye, 14 October 1955: “Beyond some disparaging remarks by one reader [of the manuscript of the Anatomy] who found himself ‘depressed and even benumbed’ by your ‘continual schematizing’ (the kind of reaction we must learn to expect from some people), no comments were made about the diagrams. You mentioned in a letter that you felt that the diagrams ‘are expendable, or, alternatively, I can add more if you think desirable.’ I will leave the decision up to you—though I will say that I do not think that more diagrams would add much to the book, and they might even arouse greater hostility in prejudiced readers. We will plan to have linecuts made for the two diagrams; the table will be regular type composition.” Here are the two diagrams and table Frye sent, but which, whether at Frye’s decision or Princeton’s, were excluded from the book:

Frye's 'Diagram illustrating the relationship of the specific forms of drama.'

Frye's 'Diagram illustrating the relationship of the structures of plot and imagery.'

FIRST PHASE Morning New Moon Spring Rain, Fountains, Pools Childhood Pastoral
SECOND PHASE Noon Full Moon Summer Fountains, Brooks Youth Urban
THIRD PHASE Evening Old Moon Autumn Rivers Maturity Imperial
FOURTH PHASE Night Moonless Night Winter Sea, Snow, Desert Age or Death Ruins, Tyrannies
Table of Cyclical Symbols

[48] “The Keys to the Gates,” The Stubborn Structure, 176.

[49] On the Great Doodle, see Michael Dolzani’s introduction to The “Third Book” Notebooks of Northrop Frye. In Northrop Frye: Religious Visionary and Architect of the Spiritual World I examine throughout a number of Frye’s schematic structures.

[50] Lévi-Strauss’s brand of structuralism, which has parallels to Frye’s Anatomy, did not make its way into French intellectual life until the next decade. Most of his structuralist writings, along with those of Roland Barthes, Jean Piaget, and others associated with the movement, were not translated into English until the 1970s and 1980s. Frye remarks, understandably, that he had “no idea what structuralism was” when the Anatomy was published (Northrop Frye in Conversation, 92).

[51] “The opening sentence of AC [ Anatomy of Criticism] said I attached no particular importance to the construct qua construct. I think I’ve got past that now, and that it’s only by means of such dizzily complex constructs that one can ever get anything substantial out of criticism. Those who appear not to have such a construct, like Johnson, are attached to an ideology: those who do often don’t get it worked out, like Coleridge” (Northrop Frye’s Late Notebooks, 121). The sentence actually appears in the last paragraph of the Polemical Introduction.

[52] In the seventeenth century, Frye says in an interview, “anatomy” was used “to summon up the idea of something analytic yet at the same time comprehensive,” adding that that was what he had in mind when writing the Anatomy (“Acta Interview: Northrop Frye” [conducted by John Cargill and Angela Esterhammer], Acta Victoriana, 106 [Fall 1981]: 65). The movement of an anatomy, as Frye says in an as yet unpublished notebook, is “from a cutting-up to an encyclopedia” (35.70).

[53] See “The Four Forms of Prose Fiction,” 589–92 (“The Educated Imagination” and Other Writings on Critical Theory, 83–6) and Anatomy of Criticism, 289–92.

[54] Abrams: Although the Anatomy “is not science, it is a thing no less valid or rare—it is wit, ‘a combination of dissimilar things, or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike’ [Aristotle]. . . . Such criticism is animating; though only so, it should be added, when conducted with Frye’s special brio, and when it manifests a mind that, like his, is deft, resourceful, and richly stored. An intuitive perception of similarity in dissimilars, Aristotle notes, is a sign of genius and cannot be learned from others. Wit criticism, like poetic wit, is dangerous, because to fall short of the highest is to fail dismally, and to succeed, it must be managed by a Truewit and not by a Witwoud” (University of Toronto Quarterly, 28 [January 1959]: 196. Kermode: “I should call Anatomy of Criticism a work of sixth-phase Symbolism placed on the frontier of a purer Aristotelianism. Certainly it would be reasonable to treat this as a work of criticism which has turned into literature, for it is centripetal, autonomous, and ethical without, I think, being useful. As literature it has, if I may be permitted to say so, great value” (Review of English Studies, 10 [August 1959]: 323). The most extensive case for the Anatomy as an anatomy is argued by Louis Mackey, “Anatomical Curiosities: Northrop Frye’s Theory of Criticism,” Texas Studies in Language and Literature, 23 (Fall 1981): 442–69. Similar arguments can be found in Hazard Adams, “Essay on Frye,” in Visionary Poetics, 41–6; Minna Castrén, “Northrop Fryen Anatomy of Criticism anatomiana” [“Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism as an Anatomy”]; Heteroglossia—Kirjallisuustieteellisä tutkielmia. Helsingin yliopiston yleisen kirjallisuustieteen, teatteritieteen ja estetiikan laitoksen monistesarja, ed. Pekka Tammi. No. 22 (1993): 16–31; Eleanor Cook, “Anatomies and Confessions: Northrop Frye and Contemporary Theory,” Recherches sémiotics/Semiotic Inquiry 13, no. 3 (1993): 13–22; Bert O. States, “Northrop Frye: The Anatomy of Wit,” Hudson Review, 40 (l988): 457–79; Harry Levin, Why Literary Criticism Is Not an Exact Science (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), 52–6; and George Woodcock, “Diana’s Priest in the Bush Garden,” boundary 2, 3 (Fall 1974): 185–96.

[55] So Malcolm Ross reported to Frye. “Evidently I’m now classed as a ‘new critic’ across the line, so some old goat who thinks all new critics are psychopaths is letting off a blast at English Institute Essays 1948” (Diaries, 392). Frye had contributed “The Argument of Comedy” to the 1948 volume of the English Institute Essays, but the “new critic” tag doubtless resulted primarily from the Kenyon Review essay on levels of meaning.

[56] “Nothing happened today except Mrs. Mallinson’s M.A. oral, which was painless. Her thesis was a ‘new criticism’ analysis of some religious poems of Donne, & [Norman J.] Endicott & [William H.] Clawson read it. Norman sure doesn’t care for the new criticism, though, as he doesn’t go for the history of ideas either, I don’t quite know what he does want” (Diaries, 371).

[57] Understanding Poetry went through four editions, the last in 1976; the fourth edition was still being reprinted as late as 1988. Similarly with Understanding Fiction, the third edition of which appeared in 1979. Somewhat less popular was Understanding Drama (1945), which Brooks wrote in collaboration with Robert B. Heilman.

[58] M.H. Abrams’s lectures in Toronto in June 1950—lectures that Frye wrote about admiringly in his diary (D, 287–9)— were on material that appeared three years later in Abrams’s influential The Mirror and the Lamp. The authoritative first chapter of this book, “Orientation of Critical Theories,” contained a section on objective or formal theories of art, including those of the New Critics, but Frye is silent on whether this material was a part of Abrams’s lectures. Frye did own a later edition (1956) of Theory of Literature, which he annotated.

[59] Cleanth Brooks, “The Formalist Critics, ” Kenyon Review, 13 (Winter 1951): 72-92; Frye, “The Archetypes of Literature,” ibid., 92–100, which was no. 7 in the “My Credo” series.

[60] Reading the World, 135–6. Frye seldom read books on the ends and means of literary criticism, and he reviewed very few. Of the some 120 books that he reviewed only five fall into this category: two volumes by the Chicago Aristotelians, Allen Tate’s The Forlorn Demon, René Wellek’s History of Modern Criticism, vols. 1 and 2, and Paul de Man’s The Rhetoric of Romanticism.

[61] “Content with the Form,” University of Toronto Quarterly, 24 (October 1954): 92–7, and the review of Critics and Criticism, by R.S. Crane et al., Shakespeare Quarterly, 5 (January 1954): 78–80.

[62] Critics and Criticism, ed. R.S. Crane (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952), 27–144.

[63] There were, of course, other antecedents. Wellek and Warren sought to locate the origins of the New Criticism in Kantian aesthetics (Theory of Literature, chap. 18). Even Plato in one sense was a “new” critic, as Frye himself points out in Notebook 36.30 and in Northrop Frye’s Writings on Education, 34.

[64] “The Formalist Critics,” 92.

[65] “A Poem of Pure Imagination: An Experiment in Reading,” Kenyon Review , 8 (Summer 1946): 391–427; rpt. in Selected Essays (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1964), 233–50.

[66] See Anatomy of Criticism, 384, n. 10. Notebook 36.105 contains a very similar statement.

[67] This observation is indebted to R.S. Crane’s The Languages of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1953), 100–2.

[68] Poetic unity for Frye turns out to be much larger than the unity of single works. He argues for the unity of the entire poetic tradition—Eliot’s “order of words.”

[69] These critiques of the New Criticism come from Frye’s “Sign and Significance,” Claremont Reading Conference: Thirty-Third Yearbook, ed. Malcolm P. Douglass (Claremont, Calif.: Claremont Graduate School, 1969), 1–8; The Critical Path, 20–2; “Approaching the Lyric,” in The Eternal Act of Creation, 130–6; interview with Maja Herman-Sekulič, Northrop Frye Fonds, 1988, box 39, file 10. For Frye’s relation to both historical criticism, largely as it was practiced in England, and the New Criticism, see also A.C. Hamilton, Northrop Frye: Anatomy of his Criticism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), chaps. 1–2.

[70] For a more extensive consideration of Frye’s Aristotelian debt, see my Northrop Frye and Critical Method (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1978).

[71] The Correspondence of Northrop Frye and Helen Kemp, 1:354–5. On 1 January 1935 he wrote to Kemp: “”I am doing some work in Old Testament for [Professor Richard] Davidson that should knock his eye out—connecting it with Frazer’s Golden Bough” (1:384).

[72] Sir James Frazer’s classic study of myth, ritual, and folk customs was originally published in two volumes in 1890; it eventually expanded to twelve (1911–15), followed by a supplementary Aftermath.

[73] Typescript in the Northrop Frye Fonds, 1991, box 36, file 1.

[74] Ford Russell, Northrop Frye on Myth: An Introduction (New York: Garland, 1998). In an appendix Russell provides a useful index of the more than fifty references to Frazer in Frye’s books from Fearful Symmetry (1947) through The Double Vision (1991).

[75] “Three Meanings of Symbolism,” 18.

[76] “Excursus on the Ritual Forms Preserved in Greek Tragedy,” in Jane Ellen Harrison, Epilegomena to the Study of Greek Religion and Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion (Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1962), 343–4. Frye’s source was the 2nd ed. of Themis, published in 1927.

[77] Frye develops the complete scale of the “human forms” of nature in the Third Essay.

[78] On some of the similarities between Frye and Frazer, see Marc Manganaro, “Northrop Frye: Ritual, Science, and ‘Literary Anthropology,'” in Myth, Rhetoric, and the Voice of Authority: A Critique of Frazer, Eliot, Frye, & Campbell (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992), 111–50.

[79] Typescript in the Northrop Frye Fonds, 1993, box 50, file 1.

[80] Ninety-three reviews of the Anatomy have been recorded, many of which are of translations and reprinted editions. The most substantial reviews are these: M.H. Abrams, ” Anatomy of Criticism,” University of Toronto Quarterly, 28 (January 1959): 190–6; Hazard Adams, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 16 (June 1958): 533–4; Robert Martin Adams, “Dreadful Symmetry,” Hudson Review, 10 (Winter 1957–1958): 614–19; Anonymous, “Literary Dissection,” TLS 14 February 1958: 1–2; Harold Bloom, “A New Poetics,” Yale Review, 47 (September 1957): 130–3; Cleanth Brooks, Christian Scholar, 41 (June 1958): 169–73; Kenneth Burke, “The Encyclopaedic, Two Kinds of,” Poetry, 91 (February 1958): 320–28; Hilary Corke, “Sweeping the Interpreter’s House,” Encounter, 10 (February 1958): 79–82; David Daiches, Modern Philology, 56 (August 1958): 69–72; Frank Kermode, Review of English Studies, 10 (August 1959): 317–23; Frederick P. W. McDowell, “After the New Criticism,” Western Review, 22 (Summer 1958): 309–14; E. W. Mandel, “Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism,” Canadian Forum, 38 (September 1958): 128–9; Thomas Vance, “The Juggler,” Nation, 188 (17 January 1959): 57–8; and George Whalley, “Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism,” Tamarack Review, 8 (Summer 1958): 92–8, 100–1. For one of the inconsequential reviews, see Second Essay, n. 8.

[81] These critiques come, respectively, from Edwin R. Clapp, Western Humanities Review, 13 (Winter 1959): 109–11; Margaret Stobie, “Mr. Fry[e] Stands Well Back,” Winnipeg Free Press, 26 July 1958: 43; Robert Martin Adams, 614; Anonymous reviewer, TLS, 82; Harold Bloom, 133; Cleanth Brooks, 170; David Daiches, 70; Frederick P. W. McDowell, 311; and George Whalley, 101, 98.

[82] Guy A. Cardwell, Key Reporter, 23 (July 1958): 7.

[83] Hilary Corke, “Sweeping the Interpreter’s House,” 9.

[84] Leo F. Raditsa, ” Anatomy of Criticism,” The Griffin, 6 (August 1957): 18.

[85] Frank Kermode, Review of English Studies, 317.

[86] Robert Martin Adams, “Dreadful Symmetry,” 614, 616.

[87] M.H. Abrams, ” Anatomy of Criticism,” 194, 191, 196. Abrams predicted “that the storm center of debate about the Anatomy of Criticism will be its adoption of the medieval doctrine of four-level meaning, regarded as applicable to all works of literature, no matter how literally the poet may have intended his work to be read” (192–3). This turned out not to be the case: Frye’s theory of symbols, developed in the second essay, has received much less attention than the theories set forth in the other three essays—the theories of modes, myths, and genres.

[88] Vivian Mercier, “A Synoptic View of Criticism,” Commonweal, 66 (20 September 1957): 618.

[89] Alexander Saxton, Criticism, 1, no. 1 (Winter 1959): 74.

[90] Hazard Adams, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 16 (June 1958): 533.

[91] Cleanth Brooks, Christian Scholar, 173.

[92] Hilary Corke, “Sweeping the Interpreter’s House,” 81.

[93] David Daiches, Modern Philology, 69.

[94] Frederick P.W. McDowell, “After the New Criticism,” 309, 314.

[95] E.W. Mandel, “Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism,” 129.

[96] Thomas Vance, “The Juggler,” 57.

[97] See Current Contents 32 (6 August 1979): 5-10, for Eugene Garfield’s list of the one-hundred most-cited authors in the Arts & Humanities Citation Index for 1977 and 1978 (rpt. in Garfield, Essays of an Information Scientist [Philadelphia: ISI Press, 1981], 4:238–43). The list reveals that in the more than 900,000 entries in the AHCI only Marx, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Lenin, Plato, Freud, and Barthes were more frequently cited than Frye. A second list published by Garfield in the same article shows that for 1978 and 1979 Anatomy of Criticism was the most frequently cited book written by an author born in the twentieth century. Eight years after his initial survey Garfield updated and expanded the list, publishing the results in “The 250 Most-Cited Authors in the Arts & Humanities Citation Index, 1976–1983,” Current Contents 48 (1 December 1986): 3-10. Marx remained in first place, followed by Aristotle, Shakespeare, Lenin, Plato, Freud, Barthes, Kant, Cicero, Chomsky, Hegel, and Frye. At the time, then, Frye was the third most-cited author born in the twentieth century. Such surveys, of course, reveal nothing qualitatively, but they do indicate how widespread Frye’s presence was for the two or three decades following the publication of the Anatomy.

[98] Recherches sémiotics/Semiotic Inquiry, 13, no. 3 (1993): 7–9. This issue of RSSI contains articles by Eleanor Cook, Eva Kushner, Alvin A. Lee, Patricia Parker, A.C. Hamilton, and Joseph Adamson.

[99] Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990, 216–23. On Frye’s relation to contemporary trends, see also “Part Three: Frye and Literary Criticism,” in János Kenyeres, Revolving around the Bible: A Study of Northrop Frye (Budapest: Anonymus, 2003), 127–89; and chap. 5 of Daniela Feltracco, Northrop Frye: Anatomia di un methodo critico (Udine: Forum, Editrice Universitaria Udinese, 2005), 127–82.

[100] Paul Ricoeur, ” Anatomy of Criticism and the Order of Paradigms,” in Centre and Labyrinth: Essays in Honour of Northrop Frye, ed. Eleanor Cook, et al. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983), 1–13.

[101] Ibid., 13.

[102] Frank Lentricchia, After the New Criticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

[103] Ibid., 13–14.

[104] Criticism in Society, 186.

[105] After the New Criticism, 30. The Frye canon was by no means complete when After the New Criticism was published in 1980. A dozen more books by Frye would appear in the years following.

[106] Ibid.

[107] Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1981), 110–19, 130.

[108] On Jameson’s appropriation of Frye, see Hayden White, “Getting out of History,” Diacritics, 12 (Fall 1982), 2–13; rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism: Modernism through Post-structuralism, ed. Robert Con Davis (New York: Longman, 1986), 146–60.

[109] The Political Unconscious, 69.

[110] For a critique of Jameson’s rejection of religious “continuity” in Frye’s work, see Christopher Wise, “Jameson/Frye/Medieval Hermeneutics,” Christianity and Literature, 42 (Spring 1992): 313–33.

[111] In this regard, see Imre Salusinszky, “Frye and Ideology,” in The Legacy of Northrop Frye, 76–83; Douglas Long, “Northrop Frye: Liberal Humanism and the Critique of Ideology,” Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d’Études canadiennes, 34, no. 4 (Winter 2000): 27–51; Joseph Adamson, “The Treason of the Clerks: Frye, Ideology and the Authority of Imaginative Culture,” in Rereading Frye, 72–102.

[112] Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 91–6.

[113] Hayden White, “Ideology and Counterideology in the Anatomy,” in Visionary Poetics, 101–11.

[114] Brook Thomas, “The New Historicism and the Privileging of Literature,” Annals of Scholarship, 4 (Summer 1987): 23–48. A.C. Hamilton, “Northrop Frye and the New Historicism,” Recherches sémiotics/Semiotic Inquiry, 13, no. 3 (1993): 73–83, and “Northrop Frye as a Cultural Theorist,” in Rereading Frye, 103–121. On Frye’s view of history, see Hayden White, “Frye’s Place in Contemporary Cultural Studies,” in The Legacy of Northrop Frye, 28–39.

[115] “Metaphysics of presence” and “transcendental signified” have become catch phrases for the object of Derrida’s critique, which appeared less than a decade following the publication of the Anatomy—”Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” (1966), in Richter, 959–71. In this celebrated essay Derrida argued that all forms of “presence”—form, origin, purpose, energy, being, essence, truth, transcendentality, and the like—are totalizing forms that should be replaced by a concept of infinite freeplay. For Derrida there really was no “metaphysics of presence” or “transcendental signified.”

[116] Julia Kristeva, “The Importance of Frye,” in The Legacy of Northrop Frye, 335–6.

[117] Ibid., 336–7

[118] Essays on Canadian Writing, 51–52 (Winter–Spring 1993): 146–54.

[119] Linda Hutcheon, “Frye Recoded: Postmodernity and Its Conclusions,” in The Legacy of Northrop Frye, 116.

[120] On Frye and postmodernism in a Canadian context, see also Barbara Goddard, “Structuralism/Post Structuralism: Language, Reality and Canadian Literature,” in Future Indicative: Literary Theory and Canadian Literature, ed. John Moss (Ottawa: University Ottawa Press, 1987), 25–51. As background for looking at the poststructuralist critical practice in Canada, Goddard traces the differing perceptions that Canadian critics have had of Frye, as well as their differing critiques (pp. 27–33). See also the astute study by Michael Happy, “The Reality of the Created: From Deconstruction to Recreation,” in Frye and the Word, 81–96. Happy demonstrates that for all their differences Frye and Derrida have several things in common: “Both place significant emphasis on the role of rhetoric in the generation of meaning, and both reveal the radically metaphorical condition of language.” A similar position is argued by Ross Woodman, “Frye, Psychoanalysis, and Deconstruction,” in The Legacy of Northrop Frye, 316–25.

[121] Outside if Derrida, Barbara Johnson is the only interviewee who does not refer to Frye.

[122] Criticism in Society, 62.

[123] Harold Bloom to Frye, 16 January 1969. Northrop Frye Fonds, 1988, box 8, file B13.

[124] Frye to Harold Bloom, 23 January 1969. Ibid.

[125] Harold Bloom to Frye, 27 January 1969. Ibid. For additional correspondence between Frye and Bloom, see Northrop Frye Fonds, 1990, box 1, file 1; 1993, box 3, files 5 and 6.

[126] Harold Bloom, A Map of Misreading (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), 30. Bloom echoes Geoffrey Hartman’s comment about Frye: “What we need is a theory of recurrence (repetition) that includes a theory of discontinuity” (Beyond Formalism [New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1970], 17).

[127]The Secular Scripture, 163. As Frye points out (The Secilar Scripture, 193), these words were written before the appearance of Bloom’s A Map of Misreading. On Frye’s discussion of continuity in another context, see “The University and Personal Life,” in Higher Education: Demand and Response (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1970), 35–51; reprinted in Spiritus Mundi, 27–48. This essay examines the positive and negative features resulting from the meeting of continuous and discontinuous views of the world. There can be no doubt about Frye’s indebtedness to Eliot’s ideas about the order of literature and about tradition and the individual talent, but The Modern Century (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1967), to cite another example, is an entire book about the interplay between continuity and discontinuity.

[128] Criticism in Society, 62.

[129] Ibid., 63.

[130] Ibid.

[131] Ibid., 58.

[132] Ibid., 87–8.

[133] Ibid., 80.

[134] Geoffrey Hartman, “Ghostlier Demarcations,” in Northrop Frye in Modern Criticism, 109–31.

[135] For Hartman on Frye, see “The Culture of Criticism,” PMLA, 99 (May 1984): 387–91; “Reading Aright: Keats’s ‘Ode to Psyche,'” in Centre and Labyrinth, 210–11; “The Sacred Jungle 3: Frye, Burke, and Some Conclusions,” in Criticism in the Wilderness: The Study of Literature Today (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1980), 87–90, 95, 113; “Structuralism: The Anglo-American Adventure,” Yale French Studies, 36–7 (1966): 148-68; “Toward Literary History,” Daedalus, 99 (Spring 1970): 359–62; and “War in Heaven,” Diacritics, 3 (Spring 1973): 26–32.

[136] Reply to a questionnaire, American Scholar 34 (Summer 1965): 484.

[137] Criticism in Society, 104, 107.

[138] Ibid., 138, 140, 141.

[139] Ibid., 238–40. Another major figure in the camp of deconstruction, Paul de Man, had little to say about Frye, other than a passing remark here and there that his theories are static and wearisome (Critical Writings, 1953–1978, ed. Lindsay Waters [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press], 107, 110). He does offer a brief critique of Frye’s view of intentionality in Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), 25–6.

[140] See especially White’s Metahistory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), 7–11, 231–3; “Interpretation in History,” New Literary History, 4 (Winter 1973): 290–6; “The Historical Text as Literary Artifact,” Clio, 3 (June 1974): 278–81; and “The Structure of Historical Narrative,” Clio, 1 (June 1972): 5–20.

[141] Jan Gorak, “Northrop Frye and the Visionary Canon,” in The Making of the Modern Canon: Genesis and Crisis of a Literary Idea (London: Athlone, 1991), 120–52. This study of Frye’s concept of the canon is a perceptive and intelligent study of the entire shape of his career.

[142] Paul Hernadi, ” Ratio Contained by Oratio: Northrop Frye on the Rhetoric of Nonliterary Prose,” in Visionary Poetics, 144.

[143] Tzvetan Todorov, “Knowledge and Concern: Northrop Frye,” in Literature and Its Theorists: A Personal View of Twentieth-Century Criticism, trans. Catherine Porter (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1987), 89–105.

[144] Robert Merrill, “The Generic Approach to Recent Criticism of Shakespeare’s Comedies and Romances,” Texas Studies in Language and Literature, 20 (Fall 1978): 474–84. The work of eight major Shakespeareans, Merrill notes, all respond to, clarify, or expand some aspect of Frye’s idea about comic form.

[145] Wayne Rebhorn, “After Frye: A Review Article on the Interpretation of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance,” Texas Studies in Language and Literature, 21 (Winter 1979), 553–82.

[146] Malcolm Evans, “Deconstructing Shakespeare’s Comedies,” in Alternative Shakespeares, ed. John Drakakis (London: Methuen, 1985), 67–94; on Frye, see pp. 76–85.

[147] Annotated copies of the following books are in the Northrop Frye Library: Roland Barthes, Writing Degree Zero and A Barthes Reader; Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, Dissemination, and Writing and Difference; Jacques Lacan, Écrits and The Language of the Self; Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things and Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings; Paul de Man, Blindness and Insight and The Rhetoric of Romanticism; Robert Magliola, Derrida on the Mend; Jonathan Culler, On Deconstruction; Fredric Jameson, The Prison-House of Language; Jacques Ehrman, ed., Structuralism; Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays; Jürgen Habermas, Communication and the Evolution of Society; Michael Lane, ed., Structuralism: A Reader; Howard Gardner, The Quest for Mind: Piaget, Lévi-Strauss, and the Structuralist Movement; Jean Piaget, Structuralism; Josue V. Harari, ed., Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post-structuralist Criticism; and Terence Hawkes, Structuralism and Semiotics. Frye owned copies of Jacques Derrida’s Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles; Roland Barthes’s Mythologies; Michel Foucault’s The Archaeology of Knowledge; William Ray’s Literary Meaning: From Phenomenology to Deconstruction; the collection of essays by the Yale school, Deconstruction and Criticism; Christopher Butler’s Interpretation, Deconstruction, and Ideology; Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory; Fredric Jameson’s Marxism and Form, Murray Krieger’s Theory of Criticism; Jonathan Culler’s Structuralist Poetics, Georges Poulet’s Studies in Human Time; Simone de Beauvoir’s The Prime of Life; five books by Tzvetan Todorov; Robert Scholes’s Structuralism in Literature; Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato, ed., The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man: The Structuralist Controversy; James A. Boon, From Symbolism to Structuralism: Lévi-Strauss in a Literary Tradition; and Stanley Fish’s Self-Consuming Artifacts.

[148] The chief documents for such a study are “Auguries of Experience,” in The Eternal Act of Creation, 3–8, David Cayley, Northrop Frye in Conversation (Concord, Ont.: Anansi, 1992), Words with Power, Myth and Metaphor, and Northrop Frye’s Late Notebooks. For the latter two, see especially the index entries for “deconstruction,” “Derrida,” and “ideology.” For Cayley, see pp. 52, 63–4, 91–4, 142–3.

[149] See James L. Peacock, Comment on M. Pluciennik’s “Archaeological Narratives and Other Ways of Telling,” Current Anthropology, 40, no. 5 (December 1999): 670 ff.; G.V. Johar, Morris B. Holbrook, and Barbara B. Stern, “The Role of Myth in Creative Advertising Design: Theory, Process and Outcome,” Journal of Advertising, 30, no. 2 (Summer 2001): 1–25; Barbara B. Stern, “Consumer Myths: Frye’s Taxonomy and the Structural Analysis of Consumption Text,” Journal of Consumer Research, 22 (September 1995): 165–85; Rebecca Hagey, “Codes and Coping: A Nursing Tribute to Northrop Frye,” Nursing Papers/Perspectives en nursing, 16 (Summer 1984): 13–39; Jonathan M. Smith, “Geographical Rhetoric: Modes and Tropes of Appeal,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 86, no. 1 (1996): 1–20; Robert Babe, “Foundations of Canadian Communication Thought,” Canadian Journal of Communication, 25, no. 1 (2000): 19–37; Metin M. Coşgel, “Metaphors, Stories, and the Entrepreneur in Economics,” History of Political Economy, 28, no. 1 (1996): 57–76; Lynn Hunt, Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984); David Cook, “‘Double Vision’: The Political Philosophy of Northrop Frye,” Ultimate Reality and Meaning, 15 (September 1992): 185–94; Roy Schafer, A New Language for Psychoanalysis (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1976); Robin West, “Jurisprudence as Narrative: An Aesthetic Analysis of Modern Legal Theory,” New York University Law Review, 60 (May 1985): 145–211; P. Baker, “‘Night into Day’: Patterns of Symbolism in Mozart’s The Magic Flute,” University of Toronto Quarterly, 49, no. 2 (Winter 1979): 95–116; and Kaj Sköldberg, “Tales of Change: Public Administration Reform and Narrative Mode,” Organization Science, 5 (May 1994): 219–38.

[150] Anatomy of Criticism, 105. This position is anticipated in the Polemical Introduction: “Ethical criticism [is based on] the consciousness of the presence of society. As a critical category this would be the sense of the real presence of society. Ethical criticism, then, deals with art as a communication from the past to the present, and is based on a conception of the total and simultaneous possession of past culture. An exclusive devotion to it, ignoring historical criticism, would lead to a naive translation of all cultural phenomena into our own terms without regard to their original character. As a counterweight to historical criticism, it is designed to express the contemporary impact of all art (25).

[151]Litera gesta docet,/Quid credas allegoria,/Moralis quid agas,/Quo tendas anagogia” (The letter teaches what was done, allegory what to believe, morals teach how to act, anagogy where you will go), attributed to Augustine of Denmark (354–430).

[152] See my Northrop Frye: Religious Visionary and Architect of the Spiritual World. See also Alvin A. Lee, “Secular and Sacred Scripture(s) in the Thought of Northrop Frye,” in Frye and the Word, 23–42, and Lee’s introduction to Northrop Frye on Religion, xvii–xxxvii.

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