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Northrop Frye and American Fiction

Northrop Frye and American Fiction

Series: Frye Studies
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 248
  • Book Info
    Northrop Frye and American Fiction
    Book Description:

    Claude Le Fustec presents insightful readings of the presence of transcendence and biblical imagination in canonical novels by American writers ranging from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Toni Morrison.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6893-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction: Re-enchantment, Postsecularity, and the Return of Transcendence in Western Culture
    (pp. 3-32)

    Two of the most frequently encountered quotations in the last hundred and fifty years are probably Nietzsche’s assertion that “God is dead” and Malraux’s alleged prediction that “the twenty-first century shall be religious or shall not be.”¹ Reputedly made some seventy-odd years apart, these two pronouncements bespeak an immense shift in Western religious attitudes since the nineteenth century.

    To situate such a shift in the wider perspective of the secularizing process in the modern West, Charles Taylor’sA Secular Ageprovides an illuminating context. As he states:“We have moved from a world in which the place of fullness was understood...

  6. 1 The Scarlet Letter: Puritan Imagination and the Kerygmatic Power of Sin
    (pp. 33-52)

    InThe Great Code, Frye insists on grounding his definition of myth in its literary context: “As a literary critic I want to anchor the word in its literary context; so myth to me means, first of all,mythos, plot, narrative, or in general the sequential ordering of words. As all verbal structures have some kind of sequence, […] all verbal structures are mythical in this primary sense, a sense that is really a tautology” (GC, 31).

    One might question the usefulness of such a definition, as underlined by its author himself, were it not for the whole context of...

  7. 2 Henry James’s The Europeans: Secularity and the Descent of the Word
    (pp. 53-78)

    The complex history of Hawthorne’s literary legacy to James has long been documented.¹ This has mostly, however, consisted in pointing out the similarities and differences in their craft in terms of the usual romance versus realism opposition, each writer being a recognized master of one or the other of these modes. The point of entry for a discussion of their respective literary genius is thus their conception of art’s relationship to reality, a point James himself made in his famous essay on Hawthorne. For James, Hawthorne’s main shortcoming arises from the limitations of the romance mode itself, which account for...

  8. 3 Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: Modernism and the Death of the Word
    (pp. 79-97)

    If there is one clear portal to the twentieth century, it is a passage through the death of God, the collapse of any meaning or reality lying beyond the newly discovered radical immanence of modern man, an immanence dissolving even the memory or the shadow of transcendence. With that collapse has come a new chaos, a new meaninglessness brought on by the disappearance of an absolute or transcendent ground, the very nihilism foreseen by Nietzsche as the very next stage of history.¹

    A measure of the achievement of the preceding writers under study is their ability to give literary expression...

  9. 4 Immanent Christianity in The Grapes of Wrath
    (pp. 98-121)

    Seeking a definition of modernism, Warren French, interestingly, turns toThe Great Gatsbyas a good representation of the ironic “double realm of values” that he finds characteristic of modernist literature:

    Asked to exemplify the presentation in fiction of this “double realm of values” that characterizes the “ironic vision,” one would tend to turn first to Nick Carraway’s paradoxical opening comment about the title character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’sThe Great Gatsby: “When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever....

  10. 5 “In the Name of the Lost Father”: Postsecular Mysticism in On the Road
    (pp. 122-144)

    In his comparative study ofThe Grapes of Wrath and On the Road, Jason Spangler stresses the similarity of the narrative strategies, arguing that both novels rely on modernist aesthetics while at the same time being animated by an antimodern critique: “Kerouac and Steinbeck champion their characters who challenge authority and the status quo just as they themselves accept that a main function of literary modernism is to challenge, through experiment, authoritative ways of writing. In this way, both authors engage in the aesthetics of modernism while simultaneously working against the cultural authority of modern progress.”¹

    On the other hand,...

  11. 6 “I Will Call Them My People”: Toni Morrison’s Postsecular Gospel of Self and Community
    (pp. 145-164)

    Essentially transgressive and even regressive, Kerouac’s beat urge for transcendence ultimately caused his own downfall. In Ben Giamo’s words: “Kerouac lived and died by the Dionysian double-edged sword (having lost sight of that very fine line between ecstasy and destruction). […] We must keep in mind that Kerouac would never have hit rock bottom had he not aspired to the high heavens.”¹ As Giamo suggests, beat philosophy is one of excess and transgression. “Having lost sight of that very fine line between ecstasy and destruction,” Kerouac falls prey to “the great exciter of the Yes function in man” – alcohol:


  12. Conclusion: Kerygma and the Promises of Postsecular Imagination in Postmodern Times
    (pp. 165-170)

    There is a tradition of viewing American cultural history, particularly as expressed by its literature, as a kind of fall from innocence. Famously introduced by R.W.B. Lewis, the myth of the American as Adam has been, in its author’s own terms, “frowned quite out of existence” and what began “as a valuable corrective to the claims of innocence in America […] has declined into a cult of original sin,” generating a culture of scepticism, the “chilling skepticism of the mid-twentieth century” which, in Lewis’s own terms, “represents one of the modes of death.”¹ Likewise, Leslie Fiedler notes, “the American writer...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 171-208)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-220)
  15. Index
    (pp. 221-238)