Secular Scripture Notes


Compiled by Robert D. Denham

These notes, from the mid‑1970s, are for an early version of what was at the time chapter 3 of The Secular Scripture, or perhaps the third of the Norton Lectures.  Most of the entries, however, relate to points developed in chapters 2 and 4 of that book.  Page numbers in square brackets call attention to the fuller treatment in “The Secular Scripture” and Other Writings on Critical Theory, 1976–1991, ed. Joseph Adamson and Jean Wilson. CW 18 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006). The typescript is in the 1991 accession, box 28, file 4.

This brief set of notes does not introduce new material, but it does provide some clues about the process of revision Frye went through in preparing his Norton Lectures, either for delivery or for publication.  As he instructs himself to “Expand pp. 13–14,” it is clear he is working with a manuscript before him.

Down and up movement characteristic of romance.  Contrast with realism, which tries for a straight line, yet insensibly modulates into the ironic mode in which the hero is placed above the action. Compromise in most 19th c. fiction, where there’s usually some kind of plunge at the beginning and bounce up at the end. [38]

Principle of displacement; fairy tales & the like least displaced; naturalism most so.  The exercises in displacement: Ibsen’s Vikings at Helgoland. [26]

Apollonius story as and “and then” narrative, in contrast to the “hence” narratives of realism. Contemplation of archetypes interesting in itself, hence strongly pictorial analogies to sentimental romance.  Also the curious lingo-style in Morris and others, which tends to internalize the romance, insulate it from experience. [34–6, 72]

Biblical myth generated a view of experience on four levels.  Difficulty with the 3rd.  Idyllic and night-worlds the usual settings. [74, 86–90]

Hence two stages of descent.  Expand pp. 13–14 to include the Gospel infancy stories, and

other mythological elements of the birth of the hero.  Note contrast in Gospels with older epiphany beginning, which is a purely conscious entry into a quest. [65–6]

Now go on to the second descent, into the night-world.  Amnesia variations.  Metamorphosis the undisplaced version; sexual disguise.  Analogy to “falling” asleep in the dream world.  Twins.  Imagery of the hunt.  [67–9]

Images of the night-world.  Mirrors and clocks.  The dark double: Thisbe in Heliodorus.  The silent companion (dog). [76, 77–8, 94–5]

The alien society: pirates, robbers, conspirators and the like.  The hero or heroine as sacrificial object.  Crucifixion and similar images of sacrifice. [75–6]

Subterranean world: Egypt and its mummies; caves and labyrinths; the mountain.  The symbolism of the south: African nature of the wise men in the Gospels.  Paleolithic caves. [76–7]

Submarine world: Beowulf and the descent below the water.  Desertion by companions. [77]

Journey into a monster’s guts: in undisplaced version of Inferno Dante gets shat.  The giants and the dwarfs. [79–80]

All this is part of the demonized underworld.  Dim traces of quest for hidden wisdom.  The knowledge of the future.  Zanoni. [75, 81]

Facing of death part of this infernal wisdom.  Measure for Measure may go here. [81]

Rebirth as the point of the journey.  Spring image in Beowulf.  The rebirth of parents: the king in Sidney’s Arcadia.  Killing of one character reborn in another (displaced, as in The Woman in White). [99]

Recovery of the power of laughter: Blake’s born in joy.  Also something about the voluntary exposure of Christ to pain, vs. the supreme yogi of the Docetics. [85–6

[The following is a holograph addition in faint pencil.]

a) clocks & mirrors                  c) vision of hell

Images of the N–W [night world]   b) the dark double                   d) giants and dwarfs

c) the silent companion           e) cannibal feast

d) caves and labyrinths            f) choice & chance, the dice

(meander & descent)

Images of the demonic                   e) submarine world

f) Xfn [Crucifixion] &

sacrificial deaths

g) alien society

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