Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Northrup Frye I

This from an article in Wikipedia:
"it was in reflecting on the similarity between Blake and Milton that Frye first stumbled upon the "principle of the mythological framework," the recognition that "the Bible was a mythological framework, cosmos or body of stories, and that societies live within a mythology" (Hart 18). Blake thus led Frye to the conviction that the Bible provided Western societies with the mythology which informed all of Western literature. As Hamilton asserts, "Blake's claim that 'the Old and New Testaments are the Great Code of Art' became the central doctrine of all [Frye's] criticism" (39). This 'doctrine' found its fullest expression in Frye's appropriately named The Great Code, which he described as "a preliminary investigation of Biblical structure and typology" whose purpose was ultimately to suggest "how the structure of the Bible, as revealed by its narrative and imagery, was related to the conventions and genres of Western literature" (Words with Power xi)."

The magnitude of the significance of Fearful Symmetry (in my mind at least) led me to wonder just who Frye was; where did he come from? who was he? How did it happen that he should write such a book?

Writing Fearful Symmetry

It was a thesis, I understood, and something he took ten years writing:
From biography:
"..in 1929. He enrolled in Victoria College of the University of Toronto.

While still an undergraduate, he developed a deep fascination with the complex poetic prophecies of William Blake, particularly Milton, The Four Zoas, and Jerusalem, considered by many scholars to be the product of an eccentric, possibly insane, visionary. In Frye's first year of graduate work, in which he took concurrent training as a minister for the United Church of Canada (primarily Methodist), Frye decided to write a definitive book on Blake which would break Blake's difficult symbolic code. This near obsession sustained him through two unhappy years of graduate work at Merton College, Oxford, where he studied with poet Edmund Blunden in 1936-1937 and 1938-1939, after which he taught English at Victoria College for over four decades.

Ten-Year Labor on Blake

Heavily influenced by British scholars of myth, particularly James Frazer, he worked diligently on the Blake book from 1934 to 1945, finally producing Fearful Symmetry. Published in 1947, it is still considered the definitive reading of Blake. It shows that Blake's poetic universe was not psychotically personal but had close affinities with other major poetry. Basically Frye proposed that all literature fit into a grand apocalyptic pattern of heaven and hell. Aspects of literary expression such as tragedy (the Fall), irony (unrelieved hell), romance (resurrection), and comedy (communal reconciliation) form an interconnected circular pattern analogous to the Last Judgment or the wheel of fortune motifs common in medieval art."

Here's a study guide on Frye's The Educated Imagination, a more elementary version of Frye's masterpiece, an Anatomy of Criticism.

More to come.

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