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Northrop Frye's Writings on the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Northrop Frye's Writings on the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Edited By Imre Salusinszky
Volume: 17
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 515
  • Book Info
    Northrop Frye's Writings on the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
    Book Description:

    Highlighting aspects of his scholarship seldom given sufficient emphasis, this new volume of the Collected Works of Northrop Frye documents Frye's writings on the literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (apart from those on William Blake, which are featured in other volumes).

    The volume includes Frye's seminal 1956 essay "Towards Defining an Age of Sensibility" and the highly influential 1968 bookA Study of English Romanticism. With these pieces and the other published and unpublished works contained in the volume, Frye changed the way the transition from the major Augustan figures to the Romantics was viewed. These works are a central part of Frye's long and radical rethinking of the relation of romance and Romanticism and, through them, he emerges as a meticulous textual critic, teasing out the fine brushstroke effects in writers as varied as Boswell and Beddoes, Dickens and Dickinson.

    Imre Salusinszky's introduction and annotation illuminates Frye's writing and guides the reader along the path of Frye's five-decade development of thought on Romanticism. This volume is an invaluable contribution to studies on Frye, as well as to Romantic and Victorian literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7792-0
    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-xiv)
  4. Credits
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xix-xlii)

    This edition presents Frye’s reflections on three literary periods that he helped to define, and that help to define him. A feature of the volume is the way that it highlights aspects of Frye’s thinking that are seldom given sufficient emphasis, and that place him in a surprisingly modern light. For example, his writings on the eighteenth century reveal a critic with not only a deep historical sense, but also a surprisingly subtle and contemporary way of putting that sense into action. In his writings on Romanticism and on the nineteenth century, we see the extent to which Frye is...

  7. On the Eighteenth Century

    • 1 The Young Boswell
      (pp. 3-6)

      Its is now well known that a great mass of Boswelliana, recovered from Fettercairn and Malahide castles, has been bought by Yale University, is in course of publication. The story is summarized by Mr.Christopher Morley in the introduction to the newly published journal by Boswell, then aged twenty-two, from November 1762 to August 1763, the year that he met Johnson. The journal is full of narrative and antiquarian interest, but it adds nothing startling to our present knowledge of the period. Its importance is rather that it illustrates a significant stage in the development of a writer of genius.


    • 2 Towards Defining an Age of Sensibility
      (pp. 7-15)

      The period of English literature which covers roughly the second half of the eighteenth century is one which has always suffered from not having clear historical or functional label applied to it. I call it here the age of sensibility, which is not intended to be anything but a label. This period has the “Augustan” age on one side of it and the “Romantic” movement the other, and it is usually approached transitionally, as a period of reaction against Pope and anticipation of Wordsworth. The chaos that results from treating this period, or any other, in terms of reaction has...

    • 3 Nature Methodized
      (pp. 16-23)

      What is the point of literary history? It must be different from that of ordinary history. If one were to write the history of English literature from 1700 to 1740 simply as history, it might still be a fairly interesting book, because this age happened to be one in which the major writers, Defoe, Swift, and Pope, were deeply involved with the events of their time. But even so the main emphasis would fall on such works as Swift’sThe Dmpier’s LettersandDefoe’s Shortest Way with the Dissenters.All really major works of the imagination—Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s travel,...

    • 4 Varieties of Eighteenth-Century Sensibility
      (pp. 24-38)

      It seems clear that my present assignment is not to produce a scholarly paper, but something in the convention of Denham's famous seventeenth-century poemCooper’s Hill,where the poet climbs a height to survey the available landscape, and is led from his sight of the Thames river to prophesy an age of smooth and unstoppable couplets:

      Though deep, yet clear, though gentle, yet not dull,

      Strong without rage, without ore-flowing full.¹

      Such an attempt is bound to be, in its present stage of development at least, a very sketchy, perhaps even tacky essay. Before you start walking out, however, I...

  8. On Romanticism

    • 5 CBC Goethe Salute
      (pp. 41-42)

      The CBC last Wednesday night presented Canada’s most important contribution to the Goethe celebrations of this year. It was fully up to the standard of CBC Wednesday Nights, which was already high. First there was a talk by Barker Fairley, who undertook to give a coherent general account of Goethe in fifteen minutes, and succeeded. The listener would have found it easy to understand why Fairley is one of the world’s best Goethe critics. Then there was a performance of Goethe’s tragedyEgmont,doubt the first radio performance in Canada, with the overture and incidental music (including two lovely songs...

    • 6 Long Sequacious Notes
      (pp. 43-49)

      Most of us think of Coleridge, at least for a time, as a writer of bits and pieces. I can still remember the nugget I had to memorize about him in grade 8: “A writer of great powers and promise, but incapable of steady work.” There is a good deal of patronizing biography and criticism in the same tone, implying that if the critic had had Coleridge’s genius and his Wedgewood pension, he would have laid off the opium, not married until he met the right Sara, finished his books and poems, and led a tidier life. But it is...

    • 7 Lord Byron
      (pp. 50-71)

      It is hardly possible to discuss Byron’s poetry without telling the story of his life in some detail. His father was Captain Jack Byron, a nephew of the fifth Baron Byron, and a psychopathic spendthrift and sponger on women who had run through the fortunes of two heiresses. The first, a marchioness, he had acquired by divorce from her husband, and by her he had a daughter, Augusta Byron, later Augusta Leigh, the poet’s halfsister. The second was a Scotswoman, Catherine Gordon of Gight, an explosive, unbalanced, ill-educated but affectionate woman whose only child was the poet. Byron was born...

    • 8 Foreword to Romanticism Reconsidered
      (pp. 72-74)

      This book consists of four papers read at the English Institute in September, 1962, under my chairmanship. The four contributions are entirely independent of one another, and whatever similarity there may be, such as the fact that the first three papers all quote the same passage from Wordsworth, is pure accident. Consequently the resemblances among them, and the unity which they present, are all the more significant.

      The anti-Romantic movement in criticism, which in Britain and America followed the Hulme-Eliot-Pound broadsides of the early 1920s, is now over and done with,¹ and criticism has got its sense of literary tradition...

    • 9 The Drunken Boat: The Revolutionary Element in Romanticism
      (pp. 75-91)

      Any such conception as “Romanticism” is at one or more removes from actual literary experience, in an inner world where ten thousand different things flash upon the inward eye with all the bliss of oversimplification. Some things about it, however, are generally accepted, and we may start with them. First, Romanticism has a historical centre of gravity, which falls somewhere around the 1790-1830 period. This gets us at once out of the fallacy of timeless characterization, where we say that Romanticism has certain qualities, not found in the age of Pope, of sympathy with nature or what not only to...

    • 10 A Study of English Romanticism
      (pp. 92-205)

      This book is an attempt to introduce the reader to the conception of “Romanticism,” more particularly as found in English literature. The first chapter grows out of an earlier essay, to be found inRomanticism Reconsidered(1963), which treated the Romantic movement as primarily a change in the language of poetic mythology, brought about by various historical and cultural forces. This thesis is then illustrated by critical discussions of three major works of Romantic English literature: Beddoes’sDeath’s Jest-Book, Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound,andKeats’s Endymion.Any reader who finds the approach to these poets somewhat peripheral is asked to remember that...

    • 11 John Keats
      (pp. 206-214)

      KEATS (Kēts), John, English poet: born London, England, October 31, 1795; died Rome, Italy, February 23,1821. He was born at the Swan and Hoop livery stable, Finsbury Pavement, and baptized at St. Botolph’s Church, Bishopsgate, on December 18, 1795, where in the baptismal register the date of his birth is given as above. His father Thomas Keats, who kept the livery stable, had married Frances Jennings, the daughter of his former employer, a fairly well-to-do businessman. John was the eldest of four children surviving infancy: George was born in 1797, Thomas in 1799, and Frances (Fanny) in 1804 his...

    • 12 Kathleen Hazel Coburn
      (pp. 215-217)

      Mr. Chancellor:

      In a forthcoming CBC documentary on the Massey family, Hart Massey is quoted as saying, “My mind was formed by Victoria College.” I think Miss Coburn’s mind was also formed, if not by Victoria College, at least at it, because hers is one of those proud generations in which this university possessed two powerful mind-forming agencies, the autonomous college and the structured Honour Course. Having squandered these, the university can no longer form the minds of its arts students on such a scale, though it may occasionally catch one and train it.Miss Coburn knows very well how fortunate...

    • 13 How It Was
      (pp. 218-218)

      When I was a very green student in the graduate school here, sometime around 1935 or 1936, we had a Graduate English Club, and I remember a very bright paper on Shelley, full of such remarks as the word “unpremeditated” in the Skylark poem being more suggestive of a typewriter than a bird. It was quite a bright paper, as I say, but I had read Eliot’s early essays by that time, and suddenly in the middle of it I realized that I was watching a bandwagon going by. Incredible as it sounds, it had never occurred to me before...

    • 14 In the Earth, or in the Air?
      (pp. 219-226)

      Paul de Man’s last book is, like its predecessorsBlindness and InsightandAllegories of Reading,a collection of essays concerned with practical and explicatory criticism in the Romantic and post-Romantic periods. Considered as a single volume, it is a better book than de Man himself suggests. He speaks in his preface of having written a series of essays, each one coherent in itself, but not carrying over from one to the next or working out what he calls a parataxis, a linear sequence that accumulates as it goes on and presents the reader with a whole that is more...

  9. On the Nineteenth Century

    • 15 Review of Patience and The Silver Box
      (pp. 229-232)

      This year the Music Club have selected an opera from the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire which in many ways is a sharp contrast to the one of the preceding year. Whereas the plot ofThe Gondoliers¹ was a mere skeleton framework on which Sullivan hung a long string of fluent and graceful melodies, Patience, on the contrary, is primarily a biting satire on the more precious of the fin de siecle esoteric cults and its music is almost incidental. The result was that the Music Club, in emphasizing, perhaps overemphasizing, the purely musical aspect of the work, assimilated the comparatively...

    • 16 Review of H.M.S. Pinafore
      (pp. 233-235)

      As the departmental contributor detailed to turn the monocle toward this event has been prevented from doing so by illness, the undersigned assumes that duty. Now the undersigned, not having the Acta pass, saw it on Saturday night, which, he was given later for the peace of his mind to understand, was the night in which the performers let off some steam by in a measure parodying their own performance. He went to bed dreaming a strange and terrible nightmare of wildly spinning automobile tyres and lifebelts, of girls in sailor suits conducting the overture with relentlessly failing arms,


    • 17 Iolanthe
      (pp. 236-236)

      The Music Club goes back this year to Gilbert and Sullivan, which is a big relief. The peculiar combination required for light opera seems to be tart, acrid, witty satire in the libretto and graceful, fluent, good-humoured music. This is the relation between the bitter and neglected Gilbert and the Sullivan who was the darling of Queen Victoria’s court; as it is to some extent, on another plane, the relation of Beaumarchais and Mozart.Without satire the light opera is apt to become insipid, as the last two productions of the Music Club undoubtedlt did.

      There is no doubt the Music...

    • 18 Review of Iolanthe
      (pp. 237-238)

      Mr. Crawford knows well enough by this time how to manoeuvre his rather restless marionettes, and the general effect oflolanthewas, as usual, that of a very good show. It was probably as well managed as anything the Music Club has done: I do not remember having ever seen a performance by this organization with so few major errors in it.

      On the part of the chorus this competence was carried out on a rather mezzanine level, and was achieved somewhat at the expense of spontaneity. Whether it was the larger auditorium, or inhibitions resulting from a satire on...

    • 19 Review of Bradbrook’s Ibsen the Norwegian
      (pp. 239-239)

      Ibsen badly needs a “revaluation,” for he has been somewhat neglected of late in comparison with such contemporaries as Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, not obviously greater writers. The neglect is all the more copious in view of the current rage for Kierkegaard, who deeply influenced Ibsen, and who is now so fashionable among the sort of people he spent his life denouncing. Miss Bradbrook thinks that Ibsen was unfortunate in being launched outside Norway by readers who cared little for poetry and a great deal for “advanced” ideas. Hence a few manipulated experiments likeGhostsgot far too much attention, and...

    • 20 James, Le Fanu, and Morris
      (pp. 240-240)

      Now that publishing has become big business, the legitimate book is in danger of being crowded out by erotic bestsellers, and the serious reader finds it more and more difficult to buy the kind of book he wants to see on his shelves. Good new books are rare enough at any time, but they will always appear somehow or other: it is the keeping of good old books in print that is important. A certain number of publishing houses, like Random House in its Modern Library, have gone in for selling the classics, but that does not help—it rather...

    • 21 An Important Influence
      (pp. 241-241)

      La Walloniewas a little Belgian magazine which featured such writers as André Gide, Stuart Merrill, Verhaeren, Maeterlinck, Valéry, and Henri De Régnier, along with many others whose careers and work are discussed by the author. It was thus connected most closely, as these names show, with the symbolist movement, yet its social influence was enough to revive and give official sanction to the word “Wallonia” as a name for the French-speaking section of Belgium. Its importance is therefore twofold. It is one of the struggling “little reviews” which formed the backbone of the late nineteenth-century French poetry, possibly one...

    • 22 Review of Joan Evans’s John Ruskin
      (pp. 242-244)

      Miss Evans’s book forms an excellent introduction to Ruskin for the general reader. It is less aimless than Quennell, less ponderous than Leon, and, though also much less incisive than Wilenski, more up to date: a great deal of biographical source material has come to light since Wilenski's book appeared in 1933.¹ Ruskin’s diaries, which Miss Evans is helping to edit, form part of this material, though they seem unlikely, to judge by her quotations from them, to alter our conception of Ruskin to any startling degree. Certainly the structure of her book is conventional enough. In general outline it...

    • 23 Emily Dickinson
      (pp. 245-270)

      Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, in the Connecticut River Valley, in 1830. She died in the house she was born in, and her travels out of the region consisted of one trip to Washington and Philadelphia and two or three to Boston and Cambridge. Amherst had recently acquired, largely through the energy of her grandfather, an academy, which she attended, and a college. Her father, Edward Dickinson, was a leading citizen of the town, a lawyer, active and successful in state politics, and treasurer of the college. Such a town illustrated, more effectively than any Oneida or Brook...

    • 24 The Problem of Spiriual Authority in the Nineteenth Century
      (pp. 271-286)

      The aspect of Victorian literature represented by such names as Carlyle, Mill, Newman, and Arnold seems to me one of the seminal developments in English culture, ranking with Shakespeare and Milton, if not in literary merit, at least in many other kinds of importance. This is mainly because of the extraordinary fertility and suggestiveness of the educational theories it was so largely concerned with. I therefore speak of the problem of spiritual authority, because all educational theory seems to me to be essentially an application of that problem.

      The source of actual or “temporal” authority in society is seldom hard...

    • 25 Dickens and the Comedy of Humours
      (pp. 287-308)

      Dickens presents special problems to any critic who approaches him in the context of a “Victorian novelist.” In general, the serious Victorian fiction writers are realistic and the less serious ones are romancers. We expect George Eliot or Trollope to give us a solid and well-rounded realization of the social life, attitudes, and intellectual issues of their time; we expect Disraeli and Bulwer-Lytton, because they are more “romantic,” to give us the same kind of thing in a more flighty and dilettantish way; from the cheaper brands, Marie Corelli or Ouida, we expect nothing but the standard romance formulas.This alignment...

    • 26 The Meeting of Past and Future in William Morris
      (pp. 309-325)

      There is no one in English literature who raises more fascinating and complex questions connected with the relation of art to society than William Morris. Part of the complexity, of course, comes from his bewildering versatility. In the intervals of running a business, designing furniture and wallpaper patterns, studying medieval recipes for dyeing textiles, setting up a press for printing fine editions, and agitating both for socialism and for stopping the “restoring” of medieval buildings, he produced a great mass of poetry and fiction, enough in its sheer range and bulk to have made half a dozen quite respectable reputations....

    • 27 The World as Music and Idea in Wagner’s Parsifal
      (pp. 326-340)

      On the subject of Wagner I have to speak as a pure outsider. I am interested in Wagner as a creative figure with an immense cultural influence, but I have never been to Bayreuth: I have seen very few Wagner operas, and the whole spectacular side of Wagner, the spears that freeze over the heads of the virtuous, the swans and doves and dragons and other ambulatory fauna, has always been of minor interest me. In fact I have reservations about the genre itself. I once saw a work Monteverdi in which the singers performed offstage while the action the...

    • 28 Some Reflection on Life and Habit
      (pp. 341-354)

      It is a great privilege to be giving a lecture in honour of my old friend and colleague Professor Priestley. That should go without saying, which is the phrase we use when we mean that it is very important to say it. When the invitation came to me, I was reading Samuel Butler, the nineteenthcentury satirist, andLife and Habitis the title of the book of his that I happened to be reading. But the fact that it got into the title of this lecture was not pure accident. Another book of Samuel Butler’s, the Utopian satireErewhon,was...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 355-382)
  11. Emendations
    (pp. 383-384)
  12. Index
    (pp. 385-415)