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Northrop Frye's Notebooks on Romance

Northrop Frye's Notebooks on Romance

Edited by Michael Dolzani
Volume: 15
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 560
  • Book Info
    Northrop Frye's Notebooks on Romance
    Book Description:

    Romance was a theme that ran through much of Northrop Frye's corpus, and his notebooks and typed notes on the subject are plentiful. This unpublished material, written between 1944 and 1989, traces a remarkable re-evaluation in his thinking over the course of time. As a young scholar, Frye insisted that romance was an expression of cultural decadence; however, in his later years, he thought of it as "the structural core of all fiction."

    The unpublished material Michael Dolzani has gathered forNorthrop Frye's Notebooks on Romanceshows how the pattern and conventions of romance inform the writing of history, anthropology, psychology, philosophy, and theology. While Frye is best known for his writing on myth and biblical scholarship, he himself eventually conceived of romance as the true and equal contrary to myth and scripture, a "secular scripture" whose message isde te fabula, "this story is about you." Given the current popular revival of romance in fiction and film, the appearance of Frye's unpublished work on romance is of profound importance.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7789-0
    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-xvi)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xxi-lviii)

    The present volume collects Northrop Fryeʹs holograph notebooks and typed notes on the subject of romance. However, such a description does little to indicate the true range of interest of this rich and strange body of texts. Readers looking for insights into particular romances and general romance patterns will certainly find them, though they may risk the occasional frustration of having to fish them up from a storm-tossed sea of cogitation whose relevance to romance is not always apparent. In the forty-five years of writing included here, the word ʺromanceʺ is only the tip of a vast and largely sunken...

  6. Published and Forthcoming Notebooks
    (pp. lix-lxii)
  7. Part I

    • Notebook 42a
      (pp. 3-20)

      [1] If you ever get around to your Locke reading plan,¹ donʹt forget Turgotʹs historical studies in the French thought of the Encyclopaedist time.² Also, your point about the smug self-confident skeptical Gibbon suddenly grabbed by a mysterious ghost out of the past and hurled into a library to work like hell for the rest of his life, a serious thing to happen to a full-time dilettante.

      [2] The harm done in the world by what Butler calls ʺthe specious misuse of analogyʺ is incalculable.³ Many old women died in torment as witches, many harmless people as heretics (saints & martyrs...

    • Notebook 34
      (pp. 21-55)

      [1] If there is such a thing as a key to my critical method, it is that I look at the image as revealing or illustrating the essential shape of the authorʹs thought. I never think of it as purely decorative, & this means, of course, that I find any author who does deficient in his sense of reality. The corollary of this is that I look directly at the form and subject-matter of the completed work: I do not try to peep through it and make critical generalizations about some substratum of its substance. Quality to me means whatness, essence,...

    • Notebook 30n
      (pp. 56-62)

      [1] It seems to me that there [are] two kinds of etymology: one, historical & genetic, with very accurate & predictable laws, is what is now called etymology. But there is another kind, now called fanciful, but universally accepted down to the 16th c. & beyond, & going back toCratylus& the pre-Socratics, oflucus a non lucendoetymology,¹ which is fundamentally an attempt to evolve synthetic concepts out of words by associating groups of words together which sound alike. Whether this form of cabbalism will turn out to be entirely useless or not I donʹt know, but Iʹm going to look into it....

    • Notebook 33
      (pp. 63-86)

      [1] Several points about the Arabian nights may be noted. One is the ʺVarronianʺ use of verse interludes.¹ Another is the regular & somewhat jejune syncopating of narrative caused by the Scheherazade scheme. Again, there is the association of the tale form, not only with a narrator, but with fear: the Decameron people are trying to forget a plague-ridden town, & Scheherazade tells her stories literally for dear life. Then thereʹs the curious contrast, in the technique of inlaid narrative, of endless & chaotic variety with a strong unity of time & place: we gradually fight our way out of one narrative parenthesis after...

    • Notebook 41
      (pp. 87-89)

      [1] I have just finished reading SurteesʹHandley Cross, & it was quite a lesson in humility. I know nothing about fox-hunting, but thought I could make a fair guess at its symbolism. Surtees knew all about foxhunting, & I therefore assumed he would know nothing about the symbolism. I never made a bigger mistake in my life. Fox hunting is, of course, primarily a symbol of revolt against society, like war, in which the red coat also appears, but is specifically an upper-class revolt against a middle-class society. The latter includes both culture & civilization, that is, the farmer & the citizen. A...

    • Notebook 31
      (pp. 90-122)

      [1] The problem of Yeats, or enigma as Pelham [Edgar]¹ calls it, is the problem of a modern mythopoeic poet who isnʹt content, as Rimbaud & Rilke were content, with the lyrical or fragmentary vision. Critics havenʹt done their job properly, which is to elaborate the grammar of the language of poetry & construct a system as definite, concrete & self-consistent as a metaphysic or a theology, but in imaginative terms. This is anagogy, which formerly could remain inside a single religion (Dante), but which is now bursting the limits & blowing up the foundations of all rational systems whether religious, philosophical or scientific....

    • Notebook 32
      (pp. 123-164)

      [1] The things that worry me aboutRencontre, apart of course from the chronic worries of how to disentangle it fromMirage&Ignoramus, are largely concerned with the fact that if Joyce is attached toMirage, as he seems for the present to be,Rencontrehas no hero except perhaps the ghost of Blake. I donʹt think it will all hang on Proust, the only other possible candidate, & unless I find somebody else, itʹll just be ʺBlake & Modern Thought.ʺ Hence its recurrent tendency to disintegrate, or perhaps crystallize, into the following:

      [2] 1. A study of American symbolism, connected of course...

  8. Part II

    • Notebook 14a
      (pp. 167-181)

      [1] This notebook is for the collecting of observations on what I now think of as the red or Adonis vision. Iʹm working on a hunch that the key to this is romance fiction, and that the general line of approach should be:

      a) naive romance. Folktale patterns of the quest or Two Brothers variety; the medieval stories of Tristan, Parsifal, the Nibelungenlied, the Romaunt of the Rose (though thatʹs really more an Eros vision, at least in the de Lorris part),² the Sagas, & so on.

      b) sentimental romance, running from Scott through Poe, Hawthorne, (Melville), George Macdonald & William Morris...

    • Notes 56a
      (pp. 182-210)

      [1] Miscellaneous reflections: romance is a revolutionary form in the sense that its characters tend to be projected from [the] human ideal, and comedy is the upward thrust of the revolutionary spirit. Hence the victory of youth over age in comedy. New Comedy, and the later Greek romance, deals with people in the sub-heroic, sub-aristocratic, ranks of society. (Theyʹre sometimes said to deal with ʺdomestic life,ʺ but what a criticʹs conception of domestic life must be who can apply that phrase to Heliodorus¹ I donʹt know.) Anyway, intrigue and complication go with characters who donʹt have supreme power and authority,...

    • Notes 54-4
      (pp. 211-250)

      [1] In my present view of the whole book I start with this myth and fable business, then deal with four major themes expurgated by (Biblical) myth and developed by secular literature. These four are: (1) the lower or earth-mother Creation myth, reappearing in romance as the heroine who defends her virginity and makes secret arrangements of the plot. She probably does other things too. (2) the descent in quest of wisdom, the isolating wandering-through-labyrinth-in-dark meander-and-descent pattern, where the goal is a cave (maternal womb) with animals and men metamorphosed into animals. Maybe some secret or sealed-off world turns up...

    • Notes 54-8
      (pp. 251-264)

      [1] Coral Island and Lord of the Flies,¹ as indicating that the age in which realism is invariably the parodied form of romance is over, and a different kind of parody is now taking shape.

      [2] The past made present (Proust) is connected with nostalgia and knowledge of survival in romance. Ut pictura poesis.² This links with all my repetition of cycle imagery: Yeats; Dialogue of Self and Soul; Mallarmeʹs Igitur, Joyceʹs Finnegan cycle as the only symbol of whatʹs beyond it; Eliotʹs images return.

      [3] Life in death, or hell, is a metaphor derived from the past, which is...

    • Notes 54-9
      (pp. 265-269)

      [1] The female trinity of romance is mother, daughter (virgin) and bride. The last two are the two heroines of romance, the one who remains virginal and the one who gets married and by doing so goes back on the cycle.¹

      [2] The official Christian myth makes a double use of the Classical mythology: as an analogy or counterpoint, and as a demonic parody. Similarly with the two-heroine scheme, which is often analogous, sometimes a matter of demonic separation, as with Thisbe and Chariclea. This connects too with the progressive and regressive female principles, the latter often being the lower-earth...

    • Notes 54-10
      (pp. 270-274)

      [1] The intensified reality, along with the equally intensified serenity, of oneʹs nostalgia and memories of the past come, I should think, largely from our realization[,] at whatever level of consciousness, that we have survived that period.¹ The present moment, where itʹs still possible that we might die, has nothing of that roseate glow. I wonder if this has anything to do with the 19th c. practice of dating contemporary novels back several decades. I suppose that when this heightened intensity does come into the present moment, it may often come as an intuition of immortality. Faustʹs verweile doch.²


    • Notebook 10
      (pp. 275-294)

      [1] The hence story imitates waking consciousness: the and then story imitates the dream. Thatʹs why it holds interest in spite of.¹

      [2] Virginity: social status involved: nothing more helpless than a fucked female.

      [3] Realism is radically aparodyof romance: the Don Quixote formula. Hence itʹs the old heroic literature turned inside out, coming out on the other side of romance. Perhaps the progression Iliad > Ion > Don Quixote is a huge sonata-form recapitulation of identity after rc. [romantic] metamorphosis.²

      [4] But the Iliad is an incarnation of romance: that is, my original AC position was that romance was...

    • Notes 58-1
      (pp. 295-298)

      [1] ONE: The Aristotelian distinction of form and content refers only to works of literature as products, as completed things.¹ Translating them into a process, what corresponds to form becomes the shaping spirit, and what corresponds to content becomes the sense of otherness, the resistance from an independent material. Wallace Stevensʹs imagination and reality express this, up to a point.

      This leads to the double tendency in 19th c. fiction towards the ʺromanticʺ and the ʺrealistic.ʺ Excess of ʺimagination,ʺ in Stevensʹ sense, produces the facile pseudo-conquests of, say, Heliodorus. When a writer just lets his imagination go, what he produces...

    • Notes 58-2
      (pp. 299-301)

      [1] Eliade says that in primitive societies everything is a later imitation of an archetype existing before time,in illo tempore.¹ There are two aspects to this. One is the Eliot waste land sense of the slipping away of time, knowledge as recollection. The other is the transforming of this imitation into repetition. This connects with one of my central themes: the articulating of the cycle as the mirror or analogy of the apocalyptic vision. The key to this is time, and the role of the cycle depends on the conception of time.²

      [2] There seems to be some link...

    • Notes 54-11
      (pp. 302-305)

      [1] Iʹm right when I say that the two great structural principles of literature are the cycle and the dialectical polarization of opposites; but there are two forms of each. Thereʹs the closed cycle and the open cycle, the latter a spiral in which the end is the beginning renewed and transformed by the quest itself. And thereʹs also the ultimate polarization into heaven and hell, the worlds beyond the cycle; thereʹs also the coincidentia oppositorum, the struggle of opposites inside the cycle, the basis of all the brother-struggle patterns in Finnegans Wake. In Blake I suppose the Orc-Urizen struggle...

    • Notes 54-3
      (pp. 306-311)

      [1] Berneʹs Hello book¹ has several things I can use. One, probably for Chapter Seven of the complete Tragicomedy book as I now think of it, is his suggestion that everybody takes on a ʺscriptʺ or dramatic scenario from his parents, and that mythology and folktale give a complete encyclopedia of such scripts. Another, which sprawls across the middle of my Bible book now, is that parental precepts which organize scripts are taken in through the ear, and that oneʹs desires, which normally come from what he calls the ʺChildʺ rather than the ʺParent,ʺ are visualized. He says that Freud...

    • Notes 55-4
      (pp. 312-313)

      [1] Not knowing such trifling matters as how long I have to live, I donʹt know how many of the Great Four (actually the Great Eight, of course) I shall be able to complete. But if I can keep this ogdoadic structure for Liberal and extend it through Tragicomedy, I must just be able to finish it and perhaps even Anticlimax. Because Iʹm gradually realizing that stage fright about Liberal will be murder: the reputation of the book is already at the point where I have to do something or die without it done.

      [2] Well: the Norton Lectures are...

    • Notes 55-5
      (pp. 314-316)

      [1] Novalis: Heinrich von Ofterdingen. Erziehungsroman, novel of education. Only this one is very much a romance, which increases the philosophical interest, the influence of Fichteʹs Wissenschaftlehre which is said to be there,¹ and so on. Note that Balzacʹs Etudes philosophiques, in proportion that they are ʺphilosophical,ʺ tend to fantasy, like the Peau de Chagrin and the Recherche de lʹAbsolu. Novalis had a girl friend who died before he could marry her, so he began a new era with the day of her death and started a journal—Vita Nuova pattern—her name was Sophie, and sheʹs mentioned as such...

    • Notes 54-12
      (pp. 317-318)

      [1] Iʹve gone back to this book again after many years, and one result is that Iʹm not going to go on saying that this book, or this part of the book, is to be about prose romance. The early examples are prose (Heliodorus, Longus, Achilles Tatius, the Christians, et al.), and the late ones (science fiction) will be too; but the main pillars will be Spenser (poetry), Scott (poetry as well as the novels) and Morris (both poetry and prose).

      [2] Note that the Wanderers are fleeing from the plague, a fact which (a) connects this frame-scheme with that...

    • Notes 54-13
      (pp. 319-327)

      [1] If Iʹm to write off this promised Festschrift for David Erdman,¹ I think Iʹll go back to William Morris, because, while Iʹve always been interested in him, Iʹve never written at full length about him, and yet heʹs an obvious choice for an essay thatʹs supposed to say something about the political dimension of literature, unless I go back to Blake, which for Erdman I shouldnʹt care to do.

      [2] First of all, I notice that in science fiction thereʹs a frequently repeated form of a trilogy (usually) in which a new world is created: Frank Herbertʹs Dune books,...

    • Notes 55-3
      (pp. 328-330)

      [1] I had a strong impulse the other day to write an article called ʺFairies and Elementals.ʺ¹ It branches out in so many directions that it becomes bewildering, and worse, it takes me back to the days when I wanted to read every kooky book in the world as a background for Blake. However.

      [2] Iʹve been fascinated by the role of elementals in early Milton, especially Comus, where every character except the Lady and her brothers is an elemental spirit. Also speculation on the point, the only permitted speculation, just about, except the question of spirits neither heavenly nor...

    • Notes 58-3
      (pp. 331-342)

      [1] Samuel Butler has fascinated me ever since he was introduced to me by Bernard Shaw in my teens. When I later came to teach him in university, he had the reputation of being a minor Victorian satirist who waded into the evolution controversy without knowing what he was talking about and aligned himself obstinately on the wrong side.

      [2] I was never satisfied with this: as a critic I know that no really brilliant writer can ever be wholly wrong about anything he writes about—he may often be wrong-headed, as Butler himself was on many other subjects than...

    • Notes 58-4
      (pp. 343-374)

      [1] There are two critical and literary essays Iʹd like still to do. One is an essay on Samuel Butler: thatʹs primarily a mopping-up operation. He and Morris were two writers I got the firmest grip of in my 19th century thought course, and Iʹve said what I have to say about Morris. The other is an essay on the later Henry James.

      [2] Henry James was, of course, Pelham Edgarʹs subject:¹ he was also a central interest of Munro Beattie,² who in my undergraduate days looked as though heʹd become a bigger name than I in literary criticism. I...

  9. Appendix Notes 56a and 56b: Romance Synopses
    (pp. 375-376)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 377-464)
  11. Index
    (pp. 465-503)