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The Educated Imagination and Other Writings on Critical Theory 1933-1963

The Educated Imagination and Other Writings on Critical Theory 1933-1963

Edited by Germaine Warkentin
Volume: 21
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 768
  • Book Info
    The Educated Imagination and Other Writings on Critical Theory 1933-1963
    Book Description:

    The writings included in this volume show how Frye integrated ideas into the work that would consolidate the fame thatFearful Symmetry(1947) had first established.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5746-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Credits and Sources
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-2)

    In the fall of 1933, Northrop Frye, newly graduated from Victoria College in the University of Toronto and studying theology at its sister college, Emmanuel, reviewedThe Art of the Novel, by his former teacher Pelham Edgar. Published in the college’s historic literary magazineActa Victoriana, which he had edited, the review is Frye’s first attempt—for publication, at least—to write literary criticism. It introduces what is chronologically the first of three volumes of theCollected Worksdevoted to his evolution as a critical theorist. Brief and perhaps necessarily appreciative, it exhibits two continuing features of Frye’s criticism: his...

  7. 1 Dr. Edgar’s Book Christmas 1933
    (pp. 3-6)

    Too fulsome applause in a review generally does a book more harm than good, especially if it be inspired by an otherwise very pardonable local pride. With the question of its critical soundness, of course, the reviewer alone is concerned. But praise is more dangerous to the author than blame when it tends, as it often does, to saddle a book with a more ambitious program than was ever intended for it. Dr. Edgar aims, in his own words, “to present a systematic study of the structural evolution of the English novel.” The three adjectives indicate his three self-imposed limitations....

  8. 2 Art Does Need Sociability August 1941
    (pp. 7-8)

    In Sir Wyly Grier’s¹ article “Sociability in Art,” in which he appears to be trying to say that Canadian painters ought not to organize because the poems of Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton were written by them and not by their friends, some questions are asked which seem to me to require answers.

    “Did Dante originate or modify hisInfernoas a result of chatting with fellow members of a downtown club?”

    In a way, yes. Dante was a very clubbable man. But as his club in Florence had been dissolved he was compelled to invent another for the purposes of...

  9. 3 Music in Poetry January 1942
    (pp. 9-22)

    The epithet “musical” as applied to poetry has been the source of many crude misunderstandings; yet it deserves to be treated with respect, for it belongs to an equally distinguished art. There are two ways in which it can be properly used. It may describe poetry with accompanying music, or it may describe poetry which shows the direct or indirect influence of music, direct influence perhaps implying some technical knowledge on the part of the poet. It is this second kind of musical poetry that is our subject. Form in art is bound up with recurrence. When the form is...

  10. 4 The Anatomy in Prose Fiction Spring 1942
    (pp. 23-38)

    Prose is, unlike poetry, used for non-literary purposes, and for the intelligent study of literature it is essential to have some idea where literary prose ends and the non-literary begins. A great deal of prose survives in the purlieus of literature by virtue of something we vaguely call “style,” something that Gibbon has and that Buckle¹ has not, though both wrote histories. But this distinction, though important and interesting, is not nearly so crucial to the proper understanding of literature as the narrower distinction between literary and expository prose, between prose which is literature and prose which is something else....

  11. 5 The Nature of Satire October 1944
    (pp. 39-57)

    The word “satire” belongs to that fairly large class of words which have two meanings, one specific and technical, the other more general. In Roman literature, for instance, the study of satire is essentially the study of a specific literary form, or rather two literary forms, of that name: the poetic satire developed by Horace and Juvenal and the prose or “Menippean” satire developed by Petronius and (in Greek) Lucian. In English literature, with which we are at present concerned, the satire may also be and has been the name of a form. Juvenal and Horace are the models of...

  12. 6 Nichols and Kirkup’s The Cosmic Shape September 1947
    (pp. 58-58)

    The authors believe that Jung’s theory of “archetypes” has provided a formula for gathering together the myths of all countries into a single gigantic mythical form, in which the death-and-resurrection pattern founded on the return of spring looms most prominently. This thesis has got far beyond the stage of intuitive guesswork which they appear still to be in, but their comments are often illuminating and some of the illustrative poems, notablyThe Sleeper in the Earth,¹ have much eloquent and haunting power. They feel that England should develop the genuine thing that the Nazi blood-and-soil cult perverted, education in national...

  13. 7 R.F. Patterson’s The Story of English Literature December 1947
    (pp. 59-59)

    In spite of its name, this book is a series of thumbnail biographical sketches of about 250 English writers from Chaucer on. The author, according to the blurb, is a first-class honour graduate of Cambridge in English, successor of Rupert Brooke as Charles Oldham Shakespeare Scholar, general editor of the Scottish Text Society, and the writer of several books on literary subjects. With such a record there ought to be something in the present book to disprove the statement that he has no critical sense and can’t write for nuts, but I didn’t find it....

  14. 8 The Function of Criticism at the Present Time October 1949
    (pp. 60-76)

    The subject matter of literary criticism is an art, and criticism is presumably an art too. This sounds as though criticism were a parasitic form of literary expression, an art based on pre-existing art, a second-hand imitation of creative power. The conception of the critic as a creatormanquéis very popular, especially among artists. Yet the critic has specific jobs to do which the experience of literature has proved to be less ignoble. One obvious function of criticism is to mediate between the artist and his public. Art that tries to do without criticism is apt to get involved...

  15. 9 The Four Forms of Prose Fiction Winter 1950
    (pp. 77-89)

    There seems to be no rational classification of prose forms. We are still struggling with the circulating-library conception of fiction as the opposite of “non-fiction,” fiction dealing with subjects admitted not to be true, and non-fiction with everything else. The basis for this distinction seems to be a hazy idea that the real meaning of fiction is falsehood or unreality. Thus an autobiography would be classified as non-fiction if the librarian believed the author, and as fiction if she thought he was lying. It is difficult to see what use this can be to a literary critic. Surely the word...

  16. 10 Levels of Meaning in Literature Spring 1950
    (pp. 90-103)

    The longer one has been familiar with a great work of literature, the more one’s understanding of it grows. It would be hard to formulate a more elementary principle of literary experience. Its plain implication, that literature has different levels of meaning, was made the basis of a systematic development of criticism in the Middle Ages, and a precise scheme of four levels of meaning—the literal, the allegorical, the tropological or moral, and the anagogic—was worked out and adopted by many great medieval writers, notably Dante. Modern criticism has not only ignored this, but seems to regard the...

  17. 11 A Conspectus of Dramatic Genres Autumn 1951
    (pp. 104-119)

    The opening words of Aristotle’sPoetics,in the Bywater translation, are as follows:

    Our subject being poetry, I propose to speak not only of the art in general but also of its species and their respective capacities; of the structure of plot required for a good poem; of the number and nature of the constituent parts of a poem; and likewise of any other matters in the same line of inquiry. Let us follow the natural order and begin with the primary facts.

    This gives us a broad deductive program of criticism which approaches literature as biology approaches a system...

  18. 12 The Archetypes of Literature Winter 1951
    (pp. 120-135)

    Every organized body of knowledge can be learned progressively; and experience shows that there is also something progressive about the learning of literature. Our opening sentence has already got us into a semantic difficulty. Physics is an organized body of knowledge about nature, and a student of it says that he is learning physics, not that he is learning nature. Art, like nature, is the subject of a systematic study, and has to be distinguished from the study itself, which is criticism. It is therefore impossible to “learn literature”: one learns about it in a certain way, but what one...

  19. 13 Three Meanings of Symbolism 1952
    (pp. 136-145)

    The word “symbolism” usually conveys not so much a meaning as a vague expectation that the writer is going to try to be up to date. Whatever it means, however, is conceivably important to literary criticism, so it is perhaps time to review and arrange the meanings of the word that are relevant to that subject. I recognize three aspects of modern literature to which the term is applicable, and my present concern is to give a systematic account of them, not to introduce a new sense of my own. The reader will therefore find the details of my argument...

  20. 14 The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes February 1952
    (pp. 146-149)

    The publishers boast that this work assembles “almost everything that is known about the subject” of nursery rhymes, and they may well be right. The book collects over five hundred rhymes, accompanying each with a bibliography of its appearances in previous collections, a few parallels in other languages, and, where possible or appropriate, a commentary. It is apparently the first scholarly effort at a definitive edition of them for over a century. During that century our knowledge of ballads, broadsides, folk songs, street cries, and mummer plays, all of which have contributed to nursery rhymes, has made tremendous strides, so...

  21. 15 Towards a Theory of Cultural History July 1953
    (pp. 150-168)

    In the second paragraph of thePoeticsAristotle speaks of the differences in works of fiction which are caused by the different elevations of the characters in them. In some fictions, he says, the characters are better than we are, in others worse, in still others on the same level. This passage has not received much attention from modern critics, as the importance Aristotle assigns to goodness and badness seems to indicate a somewhat narrowly moralistic view of literature. Aristotle’s words for good and bad, however, arespoudaiosandphaulos, which have the primary connotations of weighty and light. In...

  22. 16 Art in a New Modulation Summer 1953
    (pp. 169-174)

    This book is described on the title-page as “A Theory of Art Developed fromPhilosophy in a New Key.” It will doubtless become, like its predecessor, something of a general favourite, as it continues to show that Mrs. Langer is a highly readable popularizer of philosophical ideas, especially the ideas of Cassirer, to whose memory the book is dedicated. The style assumes the privileges of a public character: it is breezy, good-humoured, colloquial, and occasionally swashbuckling. It is a refreshing change from the sort of aesthetics that either begins, like old-fashioned ethics, with some highly provincial legislation about what art...

  23. 17 Ministry of Angels Autumn 1953
    (pp. 175-183)

    The science of criticism, as distinct from its art, that is, the shape of criticism as a structure of knowledge, is undeveloped. What follows is Newman’s principle, that when a genuine academic subject is not properly defined it creates a vacuum and all its neighbours move in. We have critics assuming that the fundamental principles of criticism are to be found in religion, metaphysics, psychology, or social studies, but not many who are willing to find them in criticism itself. Such an attempt would return us to Arnold’s conception of “culture,” which is really the conception of criticism as the...

  24. 18 Critics and Criticism January 1954
    (pp. 184-188)

    This book is a collection of essays by a group of critics, who in the main either are or have been associated with the University of Chicago, and who hold certain broad critical principles in common. These principles have their source in Aristotle’sPoetics, and regard the poem as an imitation, in the sense of a made object like a tool, though, unlike a tool, it is constructed primarily for beauty and pleasure rather than usefulness. Words are the material but not the form of a poem: its central form is not a verbal pattern but an imitated action, or...

  25. 19 Myth as Information Summer 1954
    (pp. 189-196)

    The first volume of the English translation of Ernst Cassirer’sPhilosophy of Symbolic Formshas just appeared. As the German edition of this volume was published in 1923, the translation is very belated, and by now will chiefly interest students of philosophy who are not sufficiently concerned with Cassirer or acquainted with German to have consulted the original. This is a restricted range of usefulness, not enlarged by the fact that the real contemporary importance of Cassirer’s thought is displayed not in this book but in the laterEssay on Man,written in English and now available in a pocket...

  26. 20 Content with the Form October 1954
    (pp. 197-202)

    The Alexander Lectures given by Professor Crane in 1952 form one of the most significant volumes in a distinguished series. For here we have a reasoned statement, in manageable compass, of the doctrines which roused so much controversy when they appeared inCritics and Criticism, but without the polemical tone or the sense of the partisanship of a “school” which confused the response to that book. Mr. Crane here remarks that schools are a sign of competing dogmatisms rather than of co-operative learning, and it is impossible for any reader of this book to regard its author as an Aristotelian...

  27. 21 Forming Fours Winter 1954
    (pp. 203-213)

    For some time now the Bollingen Foundation has been producing a series of books on symbolism, the unifying theme of which would have puzzled anyone who did not realize that they were mostly Jungian documents. Now, as number 20 in the series, a complete English translation of Jung, in eighteen volumes, is announced, and the first two, volumes 7 and 12, have just appeared. One is a revision ofTwo Essays on Analytical Psychology(the phrase “analytical psychology” means Jung, just as “psychoanalysis” means Freud), and the other,Psychology and Alchemy,is a more systematic and erudite version, with a...

  28. 22 The Language of Poetry February 1955
    (pp. 214-223)

    There are two aspects to the form of any work of literary art. In the first place, it is unique, atechneor artefact, to be examined by itself and without immediate reference to other things like it. In the second place, it is one of a class of similar forms.Oedipus Rexis in one sense not like any other tragedy, but it belongs to the class called tragedy. To understand what one tragedy is, therefore, leads us insensibly into the question of what an aspect of literature as a whole is. With this idea of the external relations...

  29. 23 The Transferability of Literary Concepts 30–1 December 1955
    (pp. 224-229)

    I should like to throw out a number of speculative suggestions more or less at random. It may be true that ants are highly social organizations, but the only ants I have ever seen were scurrying around without an apparent purpose in life; and possibly it is out of such random scurryings that the social organization emerges. In any case, this humanistic and almost unscheduled pismire has only a few things to suggest which are still very problematical. I am assuming a certain amount of good will, of tolerance for free enquiry, and a clear understanding that I am not...

  30. 24 An Indispensable Book Spring 1956
    (pp. 230-234)

    The first two volumes of Professor René Wellek’sHistory of Modern Criticismclearly show that the complete work will be one of the essential contributions to scholarship in our time. The comprehensiveness of the scheme, which embraces the history of critical thought in Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, with side glances at other countries, is enormous, and the historical knowledge displayed unprecedented, for Mr. Wellek is too modest in referring to Saintsbury’sHistory of Criticism and Literary Taste in Europeas a predecessor in this respect. The list of qualities required for such a performance is a formidable one. Positively,...

  31. 25 “Preface” and “Introduction: Lexis and Melos” 4 September 195
    (pp. 235-248)

    This book includes the papers presented at two conferences of the English Institute. The editor’s introduction¹ and the three following papers were read at the 1956 conference on “Music and Poetry,” directed by Mr. Sternfeld of Dartmouth College (now of Oxford University). The next three papers were read at the 1955 conference on “Sound and Meaning in Poetry,” directed by Mr. Victor M. Hamm of Marquette University. A fourth paper in the same conference, “Prosody and Musical Analysis,” by Mr. Hollander of Harvard University, may be found in theJournal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism,1956.

    In Mr. Sternfeld’s paper,...

  32. 26 The Ulysses Theme and Tragic Themes in Western Literature Spring 1957
    (pp. 249-253)

    Mr. Stanford’s book deals with the character of Ulysses as presented by Homer and with the later treatments of it from Pindar and the Greek tragedians down through Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Calderón, and Tennyson (to name only a few of dozens mentioned) to Joyce and the modern Greek poet Kazantzakis. The book is remarkable not only for its thorough scholarship but for an excellent style, at once incisive and sensitive, which illuminates very sharply both the unity and the variety in the Ulysses figure as it goes down the ages. It is weakest in its critical treatment of the later...

  33. 27 Nature and Homer Summer–Autumn 1958
    (pp. 254-266)

    In the first part of theEssay on CriticismPope deals with a critical principle and a group of critical facts. The principle is that a work of art is an imitation of nature. The facts are dealt with by being reduced to the principle. The method of arguing is typically youthful, even granting that Pope was an incredibly precocious youth. It is a fact that a poet observes certain literary conventions, but these are really nature methodized. It is a fact that a poet works with a specific mental quality which Pope calls wit, but then wit is really...

  34. 28 Sir James Frazer 1959
    (pp. 267-275)

    If you spend much time in libraries, you will probably have seen long rows of dark green books with gold lettering, published by Macmillan and bearing the name of Frazer. Fifteen of them have the running title ofThe Golden Bough. Then there’sFolklore in the Old Testament, three volumes.Totemism and Exogamy, four volumes. An edition of Pausanias, the traveller who wrote a description of Greece about A.D. 200, six volumes.The Worship of Nature, two volumes.The Fear of the Dead in PrimitiveReligion, three volumes.The Belief in Immortality, three volumes. These are the biggest lots, but...

  35. 29 Interior Monologue of M. Teste Spring 1959
    (pp. 276-283)

    The second volume of a projected complete translation of Paul Valéry in the Bollingen Series is a collection of Valéry’s essays on the theory of criticism. In any such collection there is bound to be a good deal of repetition, but it is instructive to see how few ideas Valéry really had on the subject. The earliest essay, dated 1889, checks off the standard objects ofsymbolistedevotion like beads on a rosary: the “extremely original theory of Edgar Poe,” the leitmotiv in Wagner, the symbol (referred to vaguely as possible), the analogy of music, the technique of oblique suggestion....

  36. 30 World Enough without Time Autumn 1959
    (pp. 284-294)

    For some twenty-five years a group of scholars have met each summer on the shores of Lake Maggiore in Italy to hold a conference in a field that might loosely be described as comparative religion, though what gets compared is, more precisely, the morphology of symbolism. This annual conference has been given the name Eranos: its papers are published in EranosJahrbücher, and three selections of them have appeared in English. The third,Man and Time, is assembled mainly from the 1951 session. The general direction of Eranos is Jungian, and structures of symbolism are seen as emanating from a...

  37. 31 Literature as Possession 23 November 1959
    (pp. 295-306)

    I should like to ask your indulgence for a number of critical conceptions which have been in my mind for some time. They are still tentative and unformed, and I shall try them out on Kenyon College as a centre traditionally hospitable to new ideas. The point at which one starts is that words are used for at least three purposes: for ordinary speech, for discursive writing, and for literature.

    One of the oldest and most reliable jokes in the field of the humanities is the delight of Molière’s Monsieur Jourdain in theBourgeois Gentilhomme(act 2, sc. 4) at...

  38. 32 New Directions from Old 1960
    (pp. 307-321)

    In his essay on Edgar Allan Poe’sEureka, Paul Valéry speaks of cosmology as one of the oldest of literary arts.¹ Not many people have clearly understood that cosmology is a literary form, not a religious or scientific one. It is true of course that religion and science have regularly been confused with, or more accurately confused by, cosmological structures. In the Middle Ages the Ptolemaic universe had close associations with contemporary theology and science as well as with poetry. But as science depends on experiment and religion on experience, neither is committed to a specific cosmology, or to any...

  39. 33 The Well-Tempered Critic (I) March 1961
    (pp. 322-336)

    We are told that in the early days of keyboard instruments it was customary to tune one scale, usually C major, perfectly, so that whatever was written in that key, or in closely related keys, would sound beautiful and harmonious. But this system restricted the number of keys a composer could use, for a key as remote as, say, G sharp minor would, at least to a professional ear, sound like a tree full of starlings. So a compromise was reached: it was pretended that the octave could be divided evenly into twelve semitones, and that C sharp and D...

  40. 34 The Well-Tempered Critic (II) March 1961
    (pp. 337-400)

    This book consists of the lectures delivered at the University of Virginia in March, 1961, for the Page-Barbour Foundation, with some expansion and revision. I am indebted to my friends and hosts at the University of Virginia, especially Professor Arthur Stocker, for many kindnesses.

    For the convenience of the reader, I have altered the lecture format into a sequence of chapters. These chapters, like the lectures which they originally were, are intended to fit inside one another, like the boxes of Silenus.² The first picks up a common problem in the teaching of English and pursues it to a point...

  41. 35 Myth, Fiction, and Displacement Summer 1961
    (pp. 401-419)

    “Myth” is a conception permeating many areas of contemporary thought: anthropology, psychology, comparative religion, sociology, and several others. What follows is an attempt to explain what the term means in literary criticism today. Such an explanation must begin with the question: Why did the term ever get into literary criticism? There can be only one legitimate answer to such a question: Because myth is and has always been an integral element of literature, the interest of poets in myth and mythology having been remarkable and constant since Homer’s time.

    There are two broad divisions of literary works, which may be...

  42. 36 The Imaginative and the Imaginary 7–11 May 1962
    (pp. 420-435)

    I should like to begin by distinguishing two social contexts of the human mind. What I say in this connection will be familiar enough to you, but I need to establish some common ground between an association of psychiatrists and a literary critic. Man lives in an environment that we call nature, and he also lives in a society or home, a human world that he is trying to build out of nature. There is the world he sees and the world he constructs, the world he lives in and the world he wants to live in. In relation to...

  43. 37 The Educated Imagination November–December 1962
    (pp. 436-494)

    For the past twenty-five years I have been teaching and studying English literature in a university. As in any other job, questions stick in one’s mind, not because people keep asking them, but because they’re the questions inspired by the very fact of being in such a place. What good is the study of literature? Does it help us to think more clearly, or feel more sensitively, or live a better life than we could without it? What is the function of the teacher and scholar, or of the person who calls himself, as I do, a literary critic? What...

  44. Notes
    (pp. 495-520)
  45. Emendations
    (pp. 521-522)
  46. Index
    (pp. 523-553)