Frye at the Frye Festival

[The photo shows Cassie Frye’s headstone, which the Frye festival gathered funds for and saw to completion in 2004. Her burial place had been very poorly marked, something Frye observed with chagrin when he was here in the fall of 1990.]

Frye-centered activities at the Frye Festival, Moncton, New Brunswick

Note: Most of the early lectures are printed in a book I edited, “Verticals of Frye,” 2005.

Several lectures can be found here at the blog: click “Articles on NF” under “Journal.”

U-Tube has an interesting selection of Frye Festival lectures, conversations, and round tables.

The Frye Festival archive includes video cassettes of some lectures and round tables.

April, 2000 (year one of the festival)

Lecture: David Staines, “Northrop Frye and Canadian Culture”

Round Table: “The Regional Is the Real Source of the Poet’s Imagination”

Participants: Ann Copeland, Louise Desjardins, David Adams Richards, France Daigle, David Lonergan, George Elliott Clarke

Video: Northrop Frye’s Talk at the Université de Moncton, October, 1990. Introduced by Serge Morin

April, 2001

Lecture: Branko Gorjup, “Northrop Frye and His Canadian Critics”

Round Table: “The Way We See Nature and the Creative Imagination”

Participants: Sharon Butala, Gérald Leblanc, Alistair MacLeod,Louise Fiset, Daniel Paul, Emmanuel Adely

 April, 2002

Lecture: Nella Cotrupi, “Process and Possibility: The Spiritual Vision of Northrop Frye”

Round Table: “Translation: Collaboration or Betrayal” (traduttore, traditore)

Participants: Alvin Lee, Francesca Valente, Antonio D’Alfonso, Jo-Anne Elder, Susanna Licheri, Robert Dickson

 Discussion: “Remembering Frye”

 Participants: Alvin Lee, Serge Morin, Francesca Valente, Robert Denham

 Reading – Play: “Dear Norrie … Darling Helen” with Don Harron and Catherine McKinnon

 April, 2003

Lecture: Robert Denham, “Moncton, Did You Know?”

Round Table: “From History to Fiction: When Fact Meets Fancy”

Participants: Bernhard Schlink, Zachary Richard, Ursula Hegi, Roberto Mann, Joyce Hackett, Lise Bissonnette

Round Table with Moderator John Ralson Saul: “Mythology and National Identity”

Participants: Bernhard Schlink, Fance Daigle, André Roy, Joyce Hackett, Naïm Kattan

Northrop Frye Conference with Naïm Kattan: “La réception de l’oeuvre de Northrop Frye dans la Francophonie” (“Frye’s Reception in the French-Speaking World”)

Conference Round Table: “History, Myth, and the Concept of Truth in Northrop Frye”

Participants: Naïm Kattan, Robert Denham, Ross Leckie, Serge Morin

 April, 2004

Lecture: John Ayre, “Into the Labyrinth: Northrop Frye’s Personal Mythology”

Round Table: “Imagining Other Times, Other Places: Fiction and Historical Accuracy”

Participants: Alan Cumyn, Claude Le Bouthillier, Simone Poirier-Bures, Alain Dubos, Douglas Glover, Madeleine Gagnon

Northrop Frye Conference with Michael Dolzani: “The View from the Northern Farm: Northrop Frye and Nature”

Conference Round Table: “There Are No Gods in Nature: Frye’s Spiritual Vision of Nature”

Participants: Michael Dolzani, Joe Velaidum, Jean O’Grady, Paul Curtis

Conference Lecture: Robert Denham, “Northrop Frye and Medicine”

Tribute to Robert Denham: With Guest Speaker Alvin Lee

Video: Northrop Frye’s Talk at the Université de Moncton, October, 1990. Introduced by Serge Morin

November, 2004

Unveiling of the Cassie Frye Headstone in Moncton’s Elmwood Cemetery    A joint project of the Frye Festival and Friends of the Festival                 Poetry readings by Alan Cooper and Hélène Harbec

April, 2005

Lecture: B. W. Powe, “Northrop Frye and Marshall McLuhan: Northern Mystics”

Round Table: “What Is the Most Difficult Subject to Write About?”

Participants: Russell Smith, Jacques Savoie, Nikki Gemmell, Catherine Cusset, Louise Bernice Halfe, J. Roger Léveillé

Round Table: “The Oral / Written Tension in Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Cultures”

Participants: Elisapie Isaac, Witi Ihimaera, Gérald Leblanc, Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Yves Sioui-Durand

 Northrop Frye Conference with Alvin Lee: “What The Great Code Is and Does”

Conference Round Table: “Myth and Identity: The Role of Myth in Forming a Sense of Identity”

Participants: Glen R. Gill, Yves Sioui-Durand, Jean O’Grady, Maurizio Gatti

Video: Northrop Frye’s Talk at the Université de Moncton, October, 1990. Introduced by Serge Morin

 April, 2006

 The Antonine Maillet – Northrop Frye Lecture: Neil Bissoondath, “The Age of Confession”

 Round Table: “Is There a Future for Poetry?”

 Participants: Nadine Fidji, Wesley McNair, Huguette Bourgeois, Wendy Morton, Roméo Savoie, Kwame Dawes

 Round Table: “Let My People Go: The Power of Myth, with Special Reference to the Myth of Deliverance”

Participants: Jeffery Donaldson, Patrick Chamoiseau, André Alexis, Michel Tétu

Round Table: “History: A Burden or a Gift?”

Participants: Patrick Chamoiseau, Zakes Mda, Monique Ilboudo, George Elliott Clarke, Gil Courtemance

Play, with Peter Yan and Frank Adriano: “Northrop Frye High: A Play Remembering Frye”

April, 2007

The Antonine Maillet – Northrop Frye Lecture: David Adams Richards, “Playing the Inside Out”

 Round Table: “Ways of Understanding Popular Culture”

 Participants: Brecken Rose Hancock, Serge Morin, Tony Tremblay

Round Table: “The Graphic Novel Grows Up”

Participants: Bernice Eisensteir, Dano LeBlanc, Harvey Pekar, Michel Rabagliati

Frye Symposium Lecture: Jean O’Grady, “Revaluing Values”

Frye Symposium Lecture: Robert Denham, “Frye’s Magnum Opus: Fifty Years After”

Tribute to Jean O’Grady: With Guest Speaker Bob Denham

April, 2008

The Antonine Maillet – Northrop Frye Lecture: Alberto Manguel, “Why Homer Must Be Blind”

Dialogue: Nancy Huston in Conversation with Alberto Manguel

Frye Symposium Lecture: Glenna Sloan, “Northrop Frye Applied to the Classroom”

Symposium Round Table: “The Eros of Reading: Why Do Some Students Fall in Love with Reading and Others Don’t”

Participants: Glenna Sloan, Peter Sanger, J. Andrew Wainwright

April, 2009

The Antonine Maillet – Northrop Frye Lecture: Monique LaRue, “Entre deux romans: le temps de l’écrivain” (“Between Two Books: The Writer’s Time”)

10th Anniversary Celebrations: A conversation between John Ralston Saul and Antonine Maillet

Lecture: John Ralston Saul, “A Fair Country: Telling Truths about Canada”

Frye Symposium Lecture: Germaine Warkentin, “Poetry and the Writing Life”

Symposium Round Table: “How Might The Educated Imagination Lead Us Into the 21st Century?”

Participants: Jean Wilson, Serge Patrice Thibodeau, Germaine Warkentin, Serge Morin

April, 2010

The Antonine Maillet – Northrop Frye Lecture: Noah Richler, “What We Talk About When We Talk About War”

Frye Symposium Lecture: Craig Stephenson, “Reading Frye Reading Jung”

Symposium Round Table: “Voyaging into the Unknown in Folk Tales and in Dreams”

Participants: Craig Stephenson, Kay Stone, André Lemelin, Ronald Labelle

April, 2011

The Antonine Maillet – Northrop Frye Lecture: Margaret Atwood, “Mythology and Me: The Late 1950s at Victoria College”

Round Table: “New Technology and the Changing Face of Reading”

Participants: Michael Happy, Daniel Dugas, B. W. Powe, Serge Patrice Thibodeau

Pop & Frye: Michael Happy, “Frye for Beginners”

Frye Symposium Lecture: B. W. Powe, “Visions of Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye: Lecture in Honour of Marshall McLuhan’s 100th Birthday”

 April, 2012

 The Antonine Maillet – Northrop Frye Lecture: Antonine Maillet, L’écrivain, ce farfouilleur des fonds de tiroirs de l’imaginaire.” (“The Writer : Rummager in the Stuff at the Bottom of the Drawer of the Imagination”)

Round Table: “Culture and the Critic”

Participants: Terry Fallis, John Doyle, David Gilmour, Nora Young

Play / Conversation: “Temps perdu in the Maple Leaf Lounge”  A live conversation betweenMarshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye, as played by Marshall Button and Sandy Burnett

Frye Centenary Lecture: Ian Balfour, “Northrop Frye Beyond Belief”

Launch: Special edition of ellipse magazine, marking Frye’s centenary

July, 2012

Centenary Celebration: Unveiling of a bronze statue of Northrop Frye, seated on a bench in front of the Moncton Public Library. Darren Byers and Fred Harrison, artists, in collaboration with Janet Fotheringham.

Centenary Celebration: Announcement of the Robert D. Denham donation to the Moncton

Public Library, with speeches by various city and provincial officials, and by Robert Denham himself.

中国连接: The China Connection

The popularity of Frye in Italy has been occasionally remarked.  Three or four years ago I posted on the Fryeblog an account of Frye’s Italian connection; it can be found at  The Italians have translated eighteen of Frye’s books, beginning in 1969.  It was not until almost thirty years later (1998) that the first Chinese translation of a Frye book appeared, and in the course of a dozen years since then the Chinese have translated ten of Frye’s books: Anatomy of Criticism (three different translations), The Educated Imagination, Creation and Recreation, The Well‑Tempered Critic, The Modern Century, The Critical Path, The Secular Scripture, The Great Code, Words with Power, and Selected Essays.  The growing academic interest in Frye’s work in China is a phenomenon not matched by any other country.

The late Wu Chizhe of Inner Mongolia University was involved either as a translator or annotator for six of the Chinese translations.  My sense is that he, Wang Ning, and Ye Shuxian have had more to do than anyone else in making the Chinese people aware of Frye’s work.  Wu was a participant at the first Chinese symposium on Frye’s criticism at Peking University in 1994, organized by Wang Ning, and Wu directed the second international conference held in 1999 at Inner Mongolia University, where he served as head of the Canadian Studies Center.  Ye, who has written extensively about Frye and myth‑archetypal criticism since the mid‑1980s, was a participant at both conferences.  A selection of papers from the first conference was published in Chinese, and from the second, in English.

The academic interest in Frye’s work as measured by the articles written by Chinese about his criticism didn’t really begin until the 1980s.  The indexes record seven articles during that decade.  Since then, the number of Chinese articles has increased at a geometric rate.  In the 1990s there were 38 articles, and in the first decade of the present century, 101.  That trend is continuing in the current decade: from 2010 through 2012 there have been 38 articles either about Frye’s theory or relying on it to produce essays in practical criticism.

For a number of years I have been keeping track of the M.A. theses and Ph.D. dissertations that are either about Frye or apply his principles to literary works.  These records reveal that the first Chinese theses (that is, those written in Chinese) did not appear until 2000, two years after the first translation of Frye into Chinese––Anatomy of Criticism.  During the years 2001 through 2005, 23 more appeared.  At that point a rather extraordinary increase manifests itself.  For the years 2006 to the present I have recorded 158 Chinese theses and dissertations, which represents almost 47% of all theses and dissertations written during this period.  The vast majority of these are M.A. theses, and for those devoted to practical criticism, there seems to exist, to judge from the tables of contents, a kind of template that begins with an effort to define mythical and archetypal criticism and then seeks out the archetypal characters, themes, and narratives in particular literary works, mostly Western.  Michael Sinding instructed us several weeks ago on the blog about Brian McHale’s neglecting to mention Frye’s contribution to the study of narrative.  The Chinese certainly haven’t been so remiss.  Here is a sampler of thesis titles, translated from Chinese:

The Narrative Structure of “Silas Marner.”  Hebei University

Virginia Woolf’s Feminist Subversion of the Comic Narrative Form. Xiangtan University

The Narrative and Thematic Archetypes in “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”  Northeast Forestry University

The Archetypal Characters, Themes, and Narrative of Saul Bellow’s “Herzog.”  Hebei Normal University

The Cyclical Narrative Art of “The Great Gatsby.”  Heilongjiang University

On the Biblical U‑shaped Narrative Mode on “Lord of the Rings.”  Beijing Language and Culture University

The Modern Pursuit of the Truth: Archetypal Narrative and Imagery in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Zhengzhou University

The Pursuit of the Freedom of the Road: Archetypal Narrative and Imagery in John Fowles’s “The French Lieutenant’s Woman.”  Qufu Normal University

The number of Chinese theses and dissertations on Frye since 2000 has averaged 15 per year.  It will be interesting to see whether in graduate education in China this trend continues.  In the 1990s the Chinese government began pouring money into higher education.  It was shortly after that that the academic interest in Frye began to accelerate.  Before 1990 it would not have made much sense to talk about a Chinese interest in Frye, but two decades later, as the data just summarized indicate, that is no longer the case.  There are close to 2000 colleges and universities in mainland China, and from 2002 to 2008 the number of Chinese doctoral students quadrupled.   Some 19 million students are enrolled in Chinese institutions of higher learning.   Several years back Terry Eagleton asked the rhetorical question, “Who Now Reads Frye?”  Among the Chinese the answer is a considerable and an increasing number.  Is China becoming a fertile field for Frye studies?  Or, to switch metaphors, might it be that Frye’s star is rising in the East?

Frye Scoop: On Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago

The following review by Frye, overlooked for the Collected Works, appeared under the “Turning New Leaves” column of the Canadian Forum 38 (December 1958): 206–7.  Frye reviews Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, trans. Max Hayward and Mania Harari (London: Collins and Harvill Press).

Reading this book is quite an experience; reviewing it, for one who knows no Russian, is an exercise in frustration.  It is abundantly clear that it is more of an epic poem than a novel.  The two main attributes of the conven­tional novel, vitality of character drawing and logicality of plot, are hardly present at all.  The story is a series of detached episodes connected by the most preposterous coincidences.  Characters wander in and out, or die and come back to life under other names. Only the incidental char­acters are described with much vividness, while the main figures loom up as cloudily as the heroes of Ossian.  But all the time we are aware that some different principle of unity is holding the book together, a principle based, as in most poetry, on the imagery, and on the symbolic values attached to that imagery.  It is not the picture of the revolution and civil war that organizes the narrative; it is the meaning that the author gives to such figures as the caryatids on a building, to iced rowanberries and lilacs, to the weeping face of the heroine Lara, to a waterfall that is associated with the dragon of a knight-errant romance, to the Siberian forest and its wolves, to the incessant references to the festivals of the Church, especially Christmas and Easter.  The author himself says that his hero was a poet interested in the tech­niques of symbolisme, because it is based on the principle “that communion between mortals is immortal, and that the whole of life is symbolic because the whole of it has meaning.”  A series of poems at the end, supposedly by Zhivago, provide the symbolic keys to the story.  But nobody can unravel this kind of writing except in the original language.  The translators do their best, but candidly admit that their translation has been done in a hurry and that it makes no attempt to give much more than the general sense.  What follows is consequently very tentative, and is designed only to encourage others to read the book for themselves.

The story itself is simple enough.  Yury Zhivago, whose father’s suicide starts the book off, is brought up in Czarist Russia and studies medicine.  He is also a poet, but does not regard poetry as a profession.  Drafted as a medical officer in the First World War, he sees the revolution bring unparalleled social chaos to Moscow, where he lives, and sets out with his wife and family to a village in the Urals.  There he manages, through the charity of an old friend, to live on the land for a while, though his emotional life is complicated by the reappearance of a girl he had known from childhood, Lara, now married to a non-party revolu­tionary whose new name is Strelnikov.  In the civil war Zhivago is kidnapped by the Reds because of his medical knowledge, and spends some years with the partisans in incredible hardship and misery, while his family make their way back to Moscow, whence they are exiled from the country.  Released at last, Zhivago goes back to the Ural village and has a brief and beleaguered affair with Lara, until it becomes obvious that Lara and her husband are next on the shooting list.  A middle-age roué named Komarovsky, who had debauched Lara in her youth and who is one of those greased eels that can wriggle through any society, communist or bourgeois, takes Lara off to the “Far Eastern Republic” in East Siberia, while Strelnikov shoots himself and Zhivago goes back to Moscow, a broken man.  Zhivago dies of a heart attack in a Moscow street car, and Lara, back from the Far East, disappears into “one of the in­numerable mixed or women’s concentration camps in the north.”  An epilogue, dated during the Second World War, says that “a presage of freedom was in the air throughout these post-war years, and it was their only historical meaning.”  Thus the book ends in a mood of serenity and hope.  We, of course, know that it has a second epilogue.

Doctor Zhivago is not by any means an anti-Red polemic, and it is only the terrified Soviet bureaucrats who have made it one.  In this country, where it is assumed that it is part of the job of a serious novelist to make serious criticisms of his society; it would hardly have raised a ripple or real controversy.  Zhivago was, like Pasternak himself, a grown man when the revolution began, and hence feels detached from the struggle to the extent of not accepting the official version of it as a crude melodrama of heroes and villains.  “It’s only in bad novels,” the author remarks, “that people are divided into two camps and have nothing to do with each other.  In real life everything gets mixed up.”  But he makes it clear that however brutal and savage the Reds were, the Whites were far worse, as, like all Fascists, they added sexual sadism to ordinary brutality.  Pasternak merely says what the communists themselves would say, in other and more carefully controlled contexts, that the real revolution, the bringing of freedom and equality to man, has not yet begun.  Also, like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky before him, though in a way quite different from either, he is comparing the Russian society of his time with the vision of life set out in the Christian Gospel.

Continue reading

Frye Scoop: A Newly Discovered Old Review


[Portrait of George Herbert by Robert White,  1674]

The following review by Frye of books by Rosamond Tuve and Douglas Bush was overlooked in the several bibliographies of Frye’s writing I have compiled over the years.  It is therefore not included in volume 28 of The Collected Works of Northrop Frye, Writings on Shakespeare and the Renaissance.   I stumbled across a reference to the review when I was doing a database search for something else.  The review appeared sixty years ago in Renaissance News 6, nos. 3–4 (Autumn–Winter 1953): 46-8.

Rosemond Tuve. A Reading of George Herbert, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953, 216 p., 17 pl. $5.

 Douglas Bush. Classical Influences in Renaissance Literature.  (Martin Classical Lectures, Vol. XIII) Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press (for Oberlin College), 1952. 60 p. $1.50.

 Miss Tuve’s reading of George Herbert is concerned largely with the scriptural typology in his poetry.  She shows that Herbert is unintelligible without some understanding of the tradition of allegorizing Scripture which had become incorporated in the liturgy and which can be found almost anywhere one looks in Herbert’s period: in sermons, in hymns, in the books of hours, in stained-glass windows, in patristic writings, breviaries, glosses and commentaries.  She has laid particular stress on pictorial analogues, and the book is handsomely illustrated in conse­quence.  She is not out for source-hunting: her primary aim is to explain the grammar of the language that Herbert spoke.

The assumption that the Bible is one book, rigidly unified in its sym­bolism, is primary in the typological tradition, and so is the Augustinian principle that the Old Testament is revealed in the New and the New concealed in the Old.  It follows that every significant event in the Old Testament typifies the Incarnation, notably the Exodus, the deliverance of God’s people from bondage, which is the keystone of Old Testament symbolism.  Miss Tuve shows how such an approach to the Bible clears up Herbert’s use of such images as the Jordan, Joseph’s coat, Naaman, Melchizedek, and the like, and how the use of a Biblical image echoes all the Biblical uses of that image.  Thus the vine carried out of the Promised Land typifies Christ the true vine; the cross links with the forbidden tree of Eden and the brazen serpent of the wilderness, the winepress of Isaiah with the blood of Christ, and so on.

The first half of the book deals with the poem ‘The Sacrifice,’ and takes as its starting point the relation of the poem to the liturgy of the Improperia, the ‘Reproaches’ of Good Friday.  It is also concerned with Empson’s analysis of the poem in Seven Types of Ambiguity, and illustrates the deficiencies of a criticism which deals only with the linguistic surface of a poem, without knowing its real language, the language that is rooted in convention and cultural tradition.  A good deal of Empson’s criticism, especially his remarks about ‘jokes’ and the like, springs from the clichés about the metaphysical style that we have inherited from Johnson’s Life of Cowley.  The notion that Herbert is a metaphysical poet of this type was not Johnson’s, and is not Miss Tuve’s: she shows that in many respects Herbert belongs solidly to the allegorical school.

The book is of great value for the study of Herbert, and of even greater value if taken as an introduction to the study of Scriptural typology.  One would like to see her do a companion study on Vaughan, whose imagery, for all the nonsense talked about his hermetism, is also Biblical, though less liturgical than Herbert’s.  In a way it is rather a reflection on the comprehension of the humanities by the humanists that such a study should have to be written at all.  ‘What kind of readers do we make,’ Miss Tuve asks, ‘whom circumstances have intervened to make ignorant of what every literate man once knew?’  The elementary principles of typology are data that no humanist has any excuse for not knowing.  If other scholars can be prodded into learning them in order to understand Miss Tuve’s demonstration of the inadequacy of Empson’s critique of Herbert, perhaps we have stumbled on a real function of the new criticism.

Mr. Bush’s two lectures form an excellent introduction to the spirit of Renaissance culture.  Generalization and illustration alike are made with a sense of perspective that can only come from great scholarly authority.  He knows better, of course, than to distort his subject by taking it too literally.  There certainly were Classical influences on Renaissance literature, but it is not possible to distinguish the new influences from the older ones transmitted from the Middle Ages.  No one in English criticism has done more to show this than Mr. Bush himself.  The genuinely new features—a growing secularization of learning, more knowledge of Greek, better and printed texts, a sharper historical sense, and a number of distinctive developments such as the Senecan Stoicism of Chapman—are lightly but clearly touched.  Again, it is not possible to contrast Classical with Christian influences, thereby treating Erasmus and Montaigne as though they accepted the kind of antithesis between Christian superstition and non-Christian enlightenment that one may find later in Gibbon or Shelley.  The medieval conception of pagan wisdom as a natural theology contained by the Christian revelation is substantially that of nearly all Renaissance humanists.  Hence if one says, for instance, that one Classical influence on Renaissance literature was a sense of form, a good deal of this sense turns out to be simply the medieval sense of cosmological order persisting unchanged.  These and other considerations indicate that Mr. Bush’s lucid summary of his subject is not as easy as it looks.

Frye Scoop: Northrop Frye and Finnegans Wake

The editors of the American Scholar, for its thirtieth–anniversary issue, asked a number of distinguished scholars, writers, and critics to select what were for them the outstanding books of the past thirty years (1931–1961)––books notable for originality or enduring significance or for revelation in changes in thoughts and attitudes.  Below is Frye’s reply from American Scholar 30, no. 4 (Autumn 1961): 606.  This little tidbit was just uncovered: it was not included in Frye’s Collected Works.

Thirty years would include the publication of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake in 1939.  This is the only twentieth‑century book that I find myself living with, in the way that I live with Tristram Shandy, Burton’s Anatomy, Dickens, and the greater poets.  It is an inexhaustible word‑hoard of humor, wit, erudition, and symbolism; it never, for me, degenerates into a mere puzzle, but always has on every page something to astonish and delight.

It is, of course, no secret that Frye was a great fan of Finnegans Wake.  He kept his copiously annotated copy of the book on the shelves directly behind the desk chair in his office in Northrop Frye Hall.  The twenty‑nine volumes of the Collected Works have now been expanded by another 72 words.


Anime and Frye’s Theory of Modes

Pontifus, one of the bloggers at a website called Super Fanicom, has an entry devoted to a reading of the first essay of Anatomy of Criticism.  Super Fanicom is described as

a nerd media and “alternative” pop culture blog.  That usually (but not always) means anime and video games.  We tend to be less sociological and more textual—we focus on discrete shows/games rather than the producers and consumers of those things.

The blog by Pontifus, who hails from Virginia, can be found at  It’s entitled “Of Diebuster, structure, and the parents of gods.”  Pontifus explores the structure of Diebuster, a six‑episode video animation, by turning to Frye’s theory of modes.  He writes:

 Now, I do enjoy examining structure, probably more than I enjoy examining socio-culturo-historico-things in the usual way.  But structural nuances, I must admit after a thousand-odd words about them, are not much of a starting point, which is to say that my thoughts on a story don’t begin with the specifics of its twists and turns.  Customarily, I’ll try to attach broad identifiers to a thing, but Diebuster even makes that difficult — about which I am thrilled, as any excuse to combine Northrop Frye and mad speculation is a good one.

Another blogger at Superfanicom, Cuchlann, had previously written a five–part series on his reading of the “Theory of Modes.”  The first of these, “Adventures in Criticism pt. 1,” can be found at

The subsequent “Adventures in Criticism,” all having to do with the theory of modes, can be accessed by following the “Next Post” thread at the end of the entry. The four subsequent posts, Adventures in Criticism, pts. 2–5 can be found at the first URL given above, though the posts are in reverse order.  Cuchlann begins as something of a contrarian, but he mellows as he gets more deeply in the theory of modes.

Both Pontifus and Cuchlann appear to be aiming for a taxonomy of anime, which is doubtless a first.

Frye and Narratology

In response to the recent “Frye and Bakhtin” post, some thoughts from Michael Sinding, author of Body of Vision: Northrop Frye and the Poetics of Mind (University of Toronto Press, forthcoming):

Following up on Joe Adamson’s excellent post, I second his final point about the need to explore the implications of the intersections of Frye’s and Bakhtin’s thought. (There was some discussion of Frye and Bakhtin at the recent centenary conferences in Budapest and Toronto, and of Frye in comparison with other major genre theorists Claudio Guillen and Franco Moretti, but more needs to be done.)

To that end, I’m doing some work on Frye’s relation to narratology these days. It seems to me that Frye and Bakhtin have a similar odd status with respect to narratology: they are very often drawn on in studies of particular genres, studies of relations of texts to genres, and in genre theory; yet despite their enormous importance for literary criticism, they are not part of the mainstream of narrative theory per se. Narratologists seem uncomfortable with their claims about large-scale patterns and continuities in narratives. More on this later.

I started thinking about this recently when reading through the introductory chapters of the Companion to Narrative Theory edited by James Phelan and Peter Rabinowitz (available online through my university library; maybe yours too). The Companion begins with two excellent histories of narrative theory, one by David Herman and one by Monika Fludernik. Then there is a powerful essay by Brian McHale on the elision of Bakhtin in the two preceding histories. McHale writes,

author of (among other things) two landmark works of narrative theory, and implicated somehow or other in the production of a third, Bakhtin (1895–1975) is certainly the most ubiquitous narrative theorist of the last quarter of the twentieth century, and arguably one of the most influential. He is the one narrative theorist about whom every graduate literature student is certain to know something, even if he or she knows nothing else about narrative theory. Nevertheless, Bakhtin is conspicuous by his near-absence from both Herman’s and Fludernik’s histories of narrative theory — complete absence in the case of Fludernik, scant mention in the case of Herman. How did everyone’s favorite narrative theorist all but vanish from history — or at least, from these histories?

Although McHale is right that Bakhtin is very much downplayed in the two histories he refers to, neither he (McHale), Herman or Fludernik mentions Frye at all. This is another enormous oversight. It might be an even larger oversight than the slighting of Bakhtin, if Frye’s influence on literary criticism and theory, and other areas of narrative study, is greater than Bakhtin’s, which it might be. Think of Frye’s influence on literary narratology via Tzvetan Todorov and Jonathan Culler (both mentioned by Herman) and on history via Hayden White and psychoanalysis via Roy Schafer (both mentioned by Fludernik). (Incidentally, one wonders how to measure this kind of “influence.” McHale registers one important way when he talks about what “every graduate literature student is certain to know”. Frye was part of that common knowledge a couple of decades ago.) McHale even says in a footnote that there is another critic who is important enough that his invisibility in (these versions of) narrative theory could be compared with that of Bakhtin—and that critic is Kenneth Burke:

Nor is he the only the figure to slip through the cracks in this way. Alan Nadel suggests (personal communication) that Kenneth Burke presents a problem comparable to that of Bakhtin. This is true, but only up to a point; Bakhtin’s belated currency and astonishing ubiquity has no parallel in the Burke case.

It’s astonishing to me that a narratologist as knowledgeable and talented as McHale could pick up on the elision of Bakhtin and Burke in histories of narratology, and yet completely overlook Frye. I suppose there are various reasons for this, but I won’t start getting into them at the moment. I’ll just say that if McHale is right that Bakhtin is “a specter … haunting narrative theory”, then Frye must be a specter of a specter. It struck me that while contributors to this blog offer helpful “Frye sightings”, it might also be worthwhile to talk about “non-sightings” such as the one I’ve described.

Works Cited

Fludernik, Monika. “Histories of Narrative Theory (II): From Structuralism to the Present.” A Companion to Narrative Theory. PHELAN, JAMES and PETER J. RABINOWITZ (eds). Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Blackwell Reference Online. 14 November 2012 <>

Herman, David. “Histories of Narrative Theory (I): A Genealogy of Early Developments.” A Companion to Narrative Theory. PHELAN, JAMES and PETER J. RABINOWITZ (eds). Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Blackwell Reference Online. 14 November 2012 <>

McHale, Brian. “Ghosts and Monsters: On the (Im)Possibility of Narrating the History of Narrative Theory.” A Companion to Narrative Theory. PHELAN, JAMES and PETER J. RABINOWITZ (eds). Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Blackwell Reference Online. 14 November 2012 <>

In Response to Ed Lemond’s “Frye, Leviathan, and the Jonah Paradigm”

As an addition to Ed Lemond’s informative post (here) on the often “intemperate”–as Bob Denham calls them–responses to Frye’s take on Canadian literature, here is an excerpt of my review of  two recent collections on Frye, followed by a synopsis of Frye’s views, an excerpt from my own Northrop Frye: A Visionary Life:

First, an excerpt from a review of Northrop Frye: New Directions from Old, and: Northrop Frye’s Canadian Literary Criticism and Its Influence, University of Toronto Quarterly, vol. 80, No. 2, Spring 2011, pp. 322-324:

. . . Another disappointment is David Bentley’s essay on Frye’s contribution to the criticism of Canadian literature. The punning title “Jumping to Conclusions” is meant to be at Frye’s expense, but it applies much better to Bentley’s own argument. The essay consists almost entirely of passive-aggressive innuendo: the suggestion, for example, that Frye’s views were the outgrowth of neurotic anxieties about nature and animals, or that he was out of his league as a critic of Canadian literature and culture. How credible is the latter charge about a critic who for a decade annually surveyed the entire yearly output of Canadian poetry for this quarterly? Frye’s intricate knowledge of the Canadian scene–the whole scene: not just literature, but culture, politics, and history–is manifest to anyone who has made his way through the daunting volume of essays in Northrop Frye on Canada (vol. 12 of The Collected Works), which brings together his diverse writings on Canada.  Most egregiously, Bentley’s essay never really confronts the  argument of the epochal ‘Conclusion to a Literary History of Canada’; he simply hints at its contradictions and inaccuracies by quibbling over passages that he does not properly contextualize. Sadly, as Eleanor Cook observes in her essay in the other volume reviewed here, ‘for fifty people who can repeat the phrase “garrison mentality,” only one can repeat the critical argument in the”‘Introduction” to The Bush Garden and get it right.’ At the same time, Bentley conspicuously ignores Frye’s changing view of Canadian literature. Frye’s views altered as the quality of Canadian literature itself did with the emergence of writers like Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro. Frye, it seems, will never be forgiven for pointing out the limitations of Canadian literature before the seventies.

Any such patronizing treatment of Frye is happily missing from Branko Gorjup’s gathering of essays by different critics who have responded over the years to the influence of Frye’s Canadian criticism. The book opens with a sympathetic introduction by Gorjup and a fine epilogue by Russell Brown. The book serves as an illuminating documentation of  Frye’s impact on Canadian writers and critics. It was the publication of The Bush Garden by Anansi Press under the editorship of Dennis Lee that brought Frye’s influence on Canadian literature to its peak in 1971. Frye’s presence as a cultural authority figure was always controversial, but by the end of the seventies, as the challenge of post-structuralism and ideological criticism waxed in strength, Frye quickly became a whipping-boy for the humanistic sins of his generation of scholars. Eleanor Cook has perhaps the most acute insights into the bad fortune of Frye’s legacy as a critic: she speaks of  the ‘depressing’ reduction of Frye’s work to ‘slogans’ and notes the galling irony that ‘some of the departures from Frye’s criticism seem to me very close to the spirit of his work.’ It is perhaps even more true of his Canadian criticism than of Anatomy of Criticism that it is widely and peremptorily dismissed without any attention to the actual argument. And as with the vast body of writing that followed Anatomy, reconsiderations and developments of his earlier pronouncements in myriad essays and books, such as The Modern Century and Divisions on A Ground, remain largely unexplored. As Francis Sparshot points out, ‘In perceptiveness and in generosity of mind, The Modern Century excels many works in its genre that are far better known.’  Linda Hutcheon rightly observes that Frye’s sensitivity to the socio-cultural context of literature ‘comes out most clearly’ in his Canadian cultural criticism and that ‘those critics who have not looked at these writings frequently miss the important tension in his thought.’ This neglect is apparent even in as astute a scholar as Heather Murray who, in asking us to ‘read for contradiction’ in Frye, restricts her focus to the essays collected in The Bush Garden. The last word of this book review goes to David Staines, who concludes his essay by castigating those who ‘continue to find fault with [Frye’s] theories, not realizing that so much of their writing uses Frye’s enunciated myths as a point of departure.’ As he so nicely puts it, adapting an old epigram about Plato: ‘in whatever direction you happen to be going, you always meet Frye on his way back.’

The following, an excerpt from Northrop Frye: A Visionary Life (ECW Press, 1993):

Frye’s early view of Canadian literature was uncompromising and often unflattering. He saw it as the expression of an immature culture, there being “no Canadian writer of whom we can say what we can say of the world’s major writers, that their readers can grow up inside their work without ever being aware of a circumference” (Bush Garden 214). In retrospect, Frye’s opinion of his reviews of Canadian poetry was that

the estimates of value implied in them are expendable, as estimates of value always are. . . . For me, they were an essential piece of `field work’ to be carried on while I was working out a comprehensive critical theory. I was fascinated to see how the echoes and ripples of the great mythopoeic age kept moving through Canada, and taking a form there that they could not have taken elsewhere. (ix)

Indeed, Frye’s view of Canadian literature was to change dramatically by the end of his life, when he came to recognize that Canadian culture had at long last awakened “from its sleeping beauty isolation” (On Education 7). He would even go so far as to say that “This maturing of Canadian literature . . . is the greatest event of my life, so far as my own direct experience is concerned.”

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Frye, Leviathan, and The Jonah Paradigm

The following was inspired by Bob Denham’s post of December 15, 2012.

 Janice Kulyk Keefer is a Canadian writer of Ukranian-Polish descent, born in Toronto in 1952. She studied at University of Toronto, and took her Ph.D. at the University of Sussex, England. From 1982-1989 she lived in Nova Scotia, where she taught at the University of Sainte Anne. Following her Nova Scotia sojourn she returned to Ontario, and now teaches at Guelph Unversity. She is a poet, novelist, short story writer, and critic, and the winner of many awards.

In 1987 she published, with UofT Press, Under Eastern Eyes: a critical reading of Martime fiction. In her “Polemical Introduction” she tells the story of the unfortunate neglect that Maritime writing has suffered, the cause of which is Central Canada’s self-absorption and arrogance. The villain in the story she tells is Northrop Frye.

Central Canada has also dominated our literary history, thanks largely to the magisterial myths set down by Northrop Frye. Invoking the Laurentian Drang nach Westen “that makes the growth of Canada geographically credible,” Frye fashions his own paradigm of Canada as discovered by the literary imagination.

The garrison mentality, the “Laurentian paradigm” of Canada, the “looking-glass land of The Anatomy of Criticism” – it all comes under attack. Keefer goes on to quote (though not in its entirety) the Jonah and the whale passage from Frye’s “Conclusion to a Literary History of Canada,” the final essay in The Bush Garden.

Canada began as an obstacle, blocking the way to the treasures of the East, to be explored only in the hope of finding a passage through it. English Canada continued to be that long after what is now the United States had become a defined part of the Western world. One reason for this is obvious from the map. American culture was, down to about 1900, mainly a culture of the Atlantic seaboard, with a western frontier that moved irregularly but steadily back until it reached the other coast. The Revolution did not essentially change the cultural unity of the English-speaking community of the North Atlantic that had London and Edinburgh on one side of it and Boston and Philadelphia on the other. But Canada has, for all practical purposes, no Atlantic seaboard. The traveller from Europe edges into it like a tiny Jonah entering an inconceivably large whale, slipping past the Straits of Belle Isle into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where five Canadian provinces surround him, for the most part invisible. Then he goes up the St. Lawrence and the inhabited country comes into view, mainly a French-speaking country, with its own cultural traditions. To enter the United States is a matter of crossing an ocean; to enter Canada is a matter of being silently swallowed by an alien continent.

“Canada has, for all practical purposes, no Atlantic seaboard” is the bee that stings. It’s not just wrong, but offensive, to Keefer’s thinking. Though Frye seems to be stating the obvious, that the United States has ten of millions up and down its Atlantic coast, including major cultural centres, while Canada has a few hundred thousand, Keefer doesn’t see it that way.

The Jonah paradigm betrays the strength of Frye’s commitment to fictions of the centre, and hence his distrust of, or at least ambivalence towards, regions and margins. Though Frye’s most recent remarks on regionalism in Canadian letters are collected under the heading “From Nationalism to Regionalism: The Maturing of Canadian Culture,” he seems to have come to prize regionalism not as a good-in-itself, but as a means of depoliticizing culture: “the conception of Canada doesn’t really make all that much sense. ‘Canada’ is a political entity; the cultural counterpart that we call ‘Canada’ is really a federation not of provinces but of regions and communities … What Frye ends up talking about is a kind of metaregionalism which has little to do with the specific political, social, and economic realities which give to the various regions of Canada their significance and vitality.

In the end, after several more pages of this, what the reader is faced with seems more like a rant than thought-out criticism. Something about Frye annoys her, so much so that she has trouble seeing him clearly, or wanting to see him clearly. Perhaps it’s the fact that he grew up in Moncton. Nova Scotians, as I learned from experience living in Halifax for 24 years, find it hard to conceive that much of anything of value could come out of New Brunswick, especially out of Moncton.

For a more balanced reading of Frye’s Canadian criticism and of Frye’s thoughts on the regional nature of literary works, it’s helpful to turn to Branko Gorjup’s introduction to Mythologizing Canada: Essays on the Canadian Literary Imagination. Gorjup does not see the “ambivalence” towards regions and margins that Keefer sees; rather, he sees an evolution in Frye’s thinking. In the early phase Frye was interested in the “unity of tone” in Canadian poetry that showed a distinctly Canadian “attitude of mind” and “a recognizable Canadian accent,” both, in Gorjup’s words, “relating to and emanating from a specific environment or context.”

 At this phase of Frye’s thinking, that specific environment implied the concept of nation. A Canadian poet who consciously tried to “avoid being Canadian” would have sounded “like nothing on earth” because “poetry is not a citizen of the world: it is conditioned by language, and flourishes best within a national unit.” Because of Canada’s specific historical, political and cultural development, a Canadian poet had to choose his creative locus from among three possible environments – the imperial, the national and the provincial. The imperial, because of its abstract nature, and the provincial, because of its narrowness and inwardness, were both, according to Frye, “inherently anti-poetic environments,” and the poetry they inspired was conditioned by “the colonial in Canadian life.

 However, Frye would soon abandon this tripartite concept of the Canadian context and replace it with a binary one – the regional versus the national, whereby the regional was regarded as the real source of the poet’s imagination. While the imperial and the provincial were altogether dismissed, the national fell into the category of opposition to the regional.

In his reading of Frye, Gorjup traces the development of this binary concept (national versus regional) and shows how it frees Frye to understand and value the genius of Canadian literature.

 In 1954, by the time he published his essay significantly entitled “Preface to an Uncollected Anthology,” Frye believed that the only imaginative space for the poet was not the nation but the poetic “environment.” This change of view had to do with another idea Frye was beginning to develop, which would take into account the cultural and political differences between Canada and the United States. Unlike the States, Canada had grown, Frye argued, in “one dimension”: it was a nation founded on “the stops on two of the world’s longest railway lines.” Each stop represented a small community separated from the next by space, such that the nation’s frontier consisted of a series of circumferences rather than a single boundary line. Its unity was, therefore, purely conceptual and maintained only by political will. Eventually Frye came to believe that it was not “a nation but an environment” that influenced poets, and that poetry could “deal only with the imaginative aspects of that environment.” If a cultural development were to follow a political one – which, Frye observed, had already occurred by the time he wrote this article – the result would be an “anonymous international art.”

 Gorjup concludes his introduction with these words:

 The region, as Frye frequently repeated in these essays, was the only true home for the imagination, although many writers from various parts of Canada would produce a body of literature that would be felt by both Canadian and non-Canadian readers as “distinctive of the country.” At the heart of this distinctiveness was the link between context and text or, as Frye called it, an “imaginative continuum” that would keep both defining and redefining the representation of the writer’s experience of Canada as a physical and cultural environment.

It would be difficult for a student of Canadian literature to grasp fully the complexity of contemporary Canadian writing without exposure to Frye’s illuminating inquiry into its earlier stages of development, when the writer’s key preoccupation was still with the conception of feeling genuinely at home in a new country. And to feel genuinely at home, Frye observed, the writer had to humanize or – mythologize – the environment; he had to transform it imaginatively through cultural representation. And writing was the most compelling way to do so. The interfacing of context and text, as Frye saw it in Canadian writing, generated a distinctive literary production, which facilitated the first major step toward a national literature and, eventually, toward the liberating realization that literary standards can only be made, not met.

The Double Vision in Japanese

Shunichi Takayanagi recently sent me a copy of the Japanese edition of Frye’s The Double Vision, translated by Takashi Eda (Tokyo: Shinkyo Shuppansha, 2012),  172 pp.  This is the seventeenth translation of one of Frye’s books into Japanese, including a revised translation of A Natural Perspective.  Altogether, Frye’s books have been translated into twenty-five languages.  The Italians lead the list with eighteen.  The Chinese and French have each translaterd eleven of Frye’s books; the Koreans, ten.