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Northrop Frye on Literature and Society, 1936-89

Northrop Frye on Literature and Society, 1936-89

Edited by Robert D. Denham
Volume: 10
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 464
  • Book Info
    Northrop Frye on Literature and Society, 1936-89
    Book Description:

    Drawn from previously unpublished essays, talks, reviews and papers, this volume of Northrop Frye's collected works spans some fifty years of his long writing career.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7781-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xxviii)

    The major essay in this collection is Fryeʹs long introduction, which I have entitledRencontre, to a never published anthology of English literature. I place it at the beginning because of its uniqueness in the Fryeoeuvre: it represents the only example we have in his writing of a sustained, continuous encounter with an entire literary tradition. Frye wrote a number of essays, many of them on individual writers and some on historical periods, that could well take their place as chapters in a literary history of English or American literature. But even though the First Essay ofAnatomy of...

  6. I

    • 1 Rencontre: The General Editorʹs Introduction
      (pp. 3-130)

      This introduction is not primarily an attempt to synthesize the period introductions supplied by my colleagues and myself, or to review the choice of texts we have made. The present book aims at providing the university teacher and student with a representative body of texts and a coordinated critical overview of the whole of English literature from its beginnings to our own generation. But there is always a danger that a good survey book, merely because it is a good one, will suggest to the student something like ʺthis is all you will need of English literature,ʺ and so become...

    • 2 Chaucerʹs Canterbury Tales
      (pp. 131-139)

      We have seen in our previous investigations¹ that Chaucerʹs poems possess an amazing constructive skill, and that it is only the startling originality of their forms which prevents so many critics from reading them as wholes. We have shown that while the ordinary analytic approach to, say,The House of Fameshows it up as a brilliant extravaganza, even when the unity is considered to be confined to the separate books, it takes on a far more profoundly significant unity when read as one poem rather than two or three.² We have also shown that whileTroilus and Criseydewould...

    • 3 George Orwell
      (pp. 140-143)

      George Orwell is the pen name of one of the most brilliant of living English writers. His real name is Eric Blair. He began his career in the Imperial Army in Burma, then resigned his commission and went to fight for the Spanish Loyalists. One result of that was a contempt for Russian Communism which he put into a recent satire calledAnimal Farm. Now he has written a full-scale novel,1984, published by S.J. Reginald Saunders, where he gives us one idea of the sort of world that the children of today may grow up in.

      His central character,...

    • 4 Shakespeareʹs Comedy of Humors
      (pp. 144-159)

      The phrase ʺcomedy of humorsʺ belongs to Ben Jonson,¹ so that a paper with such a title has to begin with the relation of Jonsonʹs comedy to Shakespeareʹs. The facts of this are simple enough. Jonsonʹs great comedies are comedies of manners: they are not exactly realistic plays, but they do maintain a kind of realistic illusion. No character or incident is introduced which permanently upsets that illusion, and unities of time and place are observed, not out of pedantry, but because they are essential to the unity of action. Shakespeare, on the other hand, never wrote a pure comedy...

    • 5 The Writer as Prophet: Milton, Blake, Swift, Shaw
      (pp. 160-181)

      There seem to be two kinds of great artists. One is the kind that just minds his own business, and hasnʹt any energy to spare in building up a personality. Shakespeare is an artist of that kind: he never did anything but write and produce plays. Nobody has any idea what his opinions were or even what sort of man he was. But thereʹs another kind, and thatʹs the kind Milton belonged to. Milton wasnʹt only a great poet, but a great man who wrote poetry. If heʹd written no poetry at all, heʹd still have made a big impression...

    • 6 The Literary Meaning of ʺArchetypeʺ
      (pp. 182-189)

      It was a central principle of criticism in the Middle Ages that meaning in poetry was complex and variable, or, to use Danteʹs term, polysemous.² This principle, after being ignored for centuries, has now been re-established. The thing that has re-established it is the simultaneous development of several different schools of criticism. The modern student of critical theory is faced with a body of rhetoricians who speak of texture and frontal assaults, with students of history who deal with traditions and sources, with critics preoccupied by psychology and anthropology, with Aristotelians, Coleridgians, Thomists, and Marxists. The student must either admit...

    • 7 Literature and Language
      (pp. 190-195)

      This is the third Comparative Literature Conference I have been asked to speak to,¹ and I think all three have had some hope that I would outline a theory of comparative literature as a distinct entity within the humanities. I donʹt think I can do this, because for the life of me I donʹt see how there can be any difference between a theory of comparative literature and a theory of literature in general. This is particularly true in relation to my own interests, because my main contributions to critical theory have been in the structural area. And problems of...

    • 8 Blakeʹs Jerusalem
      (pp. 196-204)

      You may know that Blakeʹs poems were not published but engraved on copper plates with accompanying designs, so that thereʹs a double impact on the ear and eye at once. We have to pause over the designs and not the text, but Iʹll try to indicate something of what the text is saying.

      Traditionally, in the Western Christian view, God created a model world that man fell out of into a lower world, where heʹs subject to sin and misery. Blake was (so far as I know) the first man in the modern world to try to construct another model...

  7. II

    • 9 The Present Condition of the World
      (pp. 207-220)

      I wish to examine this question from the point of view of a North American, a citizen of a continent, even a hemisphere, in which the influence of the United States of America is all-powerful. Canadians are so closely identified with Americans in their political fortunes that to make the identification complete actually improves the perspective. For the same reason I shall speak of other countries in terms of their relation to North America, and of the impression they make upon the inhabitants of this continent.¹

      In dealing with such a subject the chief problem is to steer a middle...

    • 10 Leisure and Boredom
      (pp. 221-227)

      The oldest stories in the world are stories about how man once had just nothing to do, and was as happy as he could be. This was the state of things called paradise or the golden age. Man lived in a garden that supplied him with his food, or in a warm climate where he didnʹt need clothes. He was happy, though, not because his needs were supplied, but because he didnʹt want anything that was particularly hard to get. All he wanted to do was eat his acorns and berries and roots; he didnʹt farm or build boats; there...

    • 11 Criticism and Society
      (pp. 228-235)

      In recent months I have been offering the title ʺCriticism and Societyʺ to almost everybody who asked me to speak, partly because I like to be as wide open as possible and partly because this is a general line of interest in which I have become increasingly engaged. I am concerned, in general, with the question of the context of literary criticism and in particular of defining the entire subject of which literary criticism forms a part. Now when one asks, What is the whole subject of which criticism forms part? the first and readiest answer is literature. That is...

    • 12 Articulate English
      (pp. 236-242)

      Everyone who has attempted the teaching of English knows that it is very difficult to do. Some of the difficulty is built into the subject, and is not removable; but there are other difficulties which, if they cannot be wholly removed, can at least be considerably diminished. These latter include the difficulties that come from confusion in the theory of literature, for all effective teaching depends on theoretical clarity. Literature has a theory and a practice, and the teaching or learning of literature is not really either of them. The practice of literature is writing, and writing is a skill,...

    • 13 Tradition and Change in the Theory of Criticism
      (pp. 243-252)

      When I first became interested in the theory of criticism about a generation ago, I was startled to discover how pervasive was the assumption that literary criticism had no postulates of its own, but that those postulates had to be derived from some other subject, such as history or philosophy, or, later, psychology and anthropology. The function of criticism was then conceived, and still is in many quarters, as the relating of literature to whatever is not literature. Such an approach produces a body of what I should call documentary criticism, where works of literature are studied as documents illustrating...

    • 14 The Social Uses of Literature
      (pp. 253-265)

      Every major study, like the study of English literature, is the end of a prolonged social process, and one needs to get the whole of that social process in perspective, I think, to understand what is going on at the end of it. Literature develops out of what every human society has, a primitive verbal culture which must have existed for many centuries before there was any conception of writing. A primitive culture exists very largely of stories, and these stories have certain structural principles which make them show a family resemblance to one another. But as a society begins...

    • 15 Canadian Identity and Cultural Regionalism
      (pp. 266-269)

      The first point to get clear about the very unusual situation of Canada is that the two conceptions of ʺunityʺ and ʺidentityʺ are quite different, almost a contrast. I was recently reading the letters of Wallace Stevens, and came across his remark that the imagination transforms reality, giving as his example the fact that people living in the United States become Americans. It struck me that no Canadian poet could have said this. People living in Canada may become Canadians up to a point, but up to a far more limited point. What with the immense east-to-west distance, in a...

    • 16 Icons and Iconoclasm
      (pp. 270-272)

      For some time I have been wondering what it was that made the Hebraic tradition that produced the Bible so different from that of other civilizations.

      In most civilizations the main imaginative emphasis falls on visual symbols. Polytheism is impossible without a strong visual focus. In ancient cultures the gods are visualized on the analogy of social structures. They began as animals, sacred trees or stones or something cosmetic and intimate. As a culture grows in strength and complexity, they tend to become, on the analogy of that society, an aristocracy organized into departments of administration. Then they retreat to...

    • 17 Reviews of Television Programs for the Canadian Radio-Television Commission
      (pp. 273-301)

      This film is an excellent illustration of some of the paradoxes involved in the implicit theories of communication which are held by people directly concerned with media. The animators obviously believe in the unstructured and spontaneous evocation of ideas and feelings from people. But as soon as they get their hands on a camera, someone drops the revealing remark that the camera is a way of seeing, and that it provides the direction of seeing. This means that there is no such thing as unstructured communication: all communication comes to us through certain dramatic and rhetorical moulds. The only things...

    • 18 Introduction to the Second Volume of Harold Innisʹs ʺA History of Communicationsʺ
      (pp. 302-306)

      In this part of his work Innis is concerned mainly with the growth of printing and publishing in England and other European countries through the eighteenth century, and with the beginnings of American journalism. Here he is closer to the material in his published books and essays, except when his subject ramifies into the history of literature and philosophy. There are a few parenthetical references back to Elizabethan times, when there were no newspapers, and public opinion was formed, so far as the printing press helped to form it, by polemical tracts, explicitly, for the most part, on religion, but...

  8. III

    • 19 William Butler Yeats
      (pp. 309-312)

      We have more English poets nowadays than ever before, for the simple reason that a lot more people can read and write English. But major genius is still scarce, and so it attracts more attention. A poet able to rank with the great names of English literature today is one in ten million, whereas in Shakespeareʹs day he was one in ten thousand. So when he appears he is likely to have to spend a great deal of time lecturing to other people on how he does it, and heʹs in some danger of being buried before he dies under...

    • 20 Laurence Hyde, Southern Cross, and The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes
      (pp. 313-317)

      The two books Iʹm talking about today havenʹt anything in common except that theyʹre both, in very different ways, collectorsʹ items. Laurence HydeʹsSouthern Crossis the first Canadian book, so far as I know, in which a story is told entirely by means of a series of pictures. The pictures are wood engravings, done on the grain end of the wood, not woodcuts, which are done on the flat side. The story is based on the atom bomb explosion at Bikini. A family of young Polynesians, a man and his wife and their little boy, are living happily and...

    • 21 Alessandro Manzoni, The Betrothed, and Pär Lagerkvist, Barabbas
      (pp. 318-320)

      The most famous of all Italian novels is the one thatʹs called in EnglishThe Betrothed. It was written by Alessandro Manzoni and the first edition appeared in 1827. This translation, by Archibald Colquhoun, seems to be the first really trustworthy one. Earlier translators have either got winded and started cutting towards the end, or else they were fascinated by that curious lingo that Sir Walter Scott invented for his stories, where everybody from Richard I to the Young Pretender goes around saying things like ʺHo, thou caitiff varlet.ʺ The translator has a note on Manzoni which tells us that...

    • 22 Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History, and Herbert Butterfield, History and Human Relations
      (pp. 321-324)

      The two books Iʹm talking about today have a lot in common: they are both by well known writers, and they both deal with history from the point of view of Protestant Christianity. Herbert ButterfieldʹsHistory and Human Relationsis the work of an English historian who is interested in religion, and Reinhold NiebuhrʹsThe Irony of American Historyis the work of an American theologian interested in history. Mr. Butterfield is a professional historian and a good writer. Dr. Niebuhr has neither of these advantages, but he has others of his own.

      American history is ironic, according to Dr....

    • 23 Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture
      (pp. 325-330)

      In possessing consciousness, man has an advantage over animals at least as great as animals have over plants. Instead of merely adapting himself to his environment, he can transform his environment, and can satisfy not only his needs but his wants or desires as well. Thus his consciousness fulfils itself in work, and modern life has stressed the moral duty to work until it has reached, in Marxism, the conception of the triumph of the worker as the ultimate destiny of men. Yet this plausible and appealing conception seems to destroy both liberty and culture wherever it is realized. The...

  9. IV

    • 24 Convocation Address: Acadia University
      (pp. 333-336)

      I know that I speak for all my distinguished colleagues when I say how delighted and proud I am to have the great honour of becoming a graduate of a university whose other graduates include so many of my lifelong friends. May I also extend my sincerest congratulations to all of you who are being graduated this year. In these days of continuous education, the first degree is not so crucial an event as it was, but it is still an important crisis, like the first child; and there is even a chance of its developing into a permanent attachment,...

    • 25 Convocation Address: McGill University
      (pp. 337-339)

      I want first to express the deepest gratitude and sense of obligation both for myself and for my two colleagues, to the Senate of McGill University for the great honor they have conferred on us. Secondly, I want to congratulate those of you who are being graduated, as well as all those whose help and support have made the occasion possible for you. Those in religious studies may perhaps particularly feel that whether they have fought the good fight and kept the faith or not, they have at any rate finished the course.

      Those of you who are taking your...

    • 26 Convocation Address: University of Bologna
      (pp. 340-346)

      This occasion is so great an honor for me personally, and so gracious a gesture of good will to Canadian writers, scholars, and universities, that all I can do is express my deepest appreciation and gratitude, for myself and for my Canadian colleagues. To say more on such a point would be tedious.

      In the year 1319 Giovanni del Virgilio, Professor of Literature in the University of Bologna, offered Dante the fourteenth-century equivalent of an honorary degree, a ceremony of being crowned with a laurel wreath. His admiration for Dante was genuine, but he had one reservation: why did so...

  10. Appendix: The Social Context of Literary Criticism
    (pp. 347-366)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 367-392)
  12. Index
    (pp. 393-420)