Northrop Frye Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Northrop Frye is considered by many the most important literary theoretician of the twentieth century. For decades after his publication of Anatomy of Criticism in 1957, no other work of literary criticism had achieved anything like its influence or recognition. Yet in spite of its prestige and its proved adaptability to classroom teaching at all levels, it did not succeed in transforming the study of literature into a process with the objectivity of an exact science, nor did it stimulate new developments in literature. On the contrary, American disciples of deconstruction, postcolonial criticism, and other poststructuralist critics would criticize the work as tendentious and inadequate.

After graduating from the University of Toronto in 1933, Frye went to Emmanuel College in Toronto and became ordained in the United Church of Canada in 1936. He concluded his formal education at Merton College, Oxford, where he received his M.A. in 1940. Returning to the University of Toronto, he took up residence at Victoria College and rose through the academic ranks to become chancellor of the university in 1978, a post he held until his death in 1991. Over the course of his career he would periodically teach or lecture at hundreds of Canadian, American, British, and other universities around the world. He wrote scores of books on literary theory and criticism; contributed hundreds of essays, chapters, and journal articles; and edited more than a dozen books. He received dozens of doctoral degrees in literature from some of the world’s most prestigious universities, and through his editorships he shaped the course of literary studies in North America and abroad from the elementary through the university level.

In his first book, Fearful Symmetry, Frye investigated the visionary English poet William Blake; his approach, which revolutionized the reading of Blake’s work, laid the groundwork for what developed into his characteristic method of criticism. Before Frye’s interpretation Blake’s poetry, particularly that of his prophetic books, was considered eccentric, obscure, even perverse; it had been perceived largely to resist explication. Frye succeeded in uncovering the unifying element in Blake’s system, the fact that everything sprang from the...

(The entire section is 936 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ayre, John. Northrop Frye: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1989. Covering nearly all of his life, this first biography is an invaluable resource on the man as well as his work.

Boyd, David, and Imre Salusinszky, eds. Rereading Frye: The Published and Unpublished Works. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. Reassesses Frye’s thought in the light of unpublished works archived at the University of Toronto following Frye’s death in 1991.

Denham, Robert D. Northrop Frye: An Annotated Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Sources. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1987. Still the indispensable starting point for any study of Frye.

Frye, Northrop. Collected Works of Northrop Frye. Edited by Robert D. Denham. 10 vols. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1996-2002. Published by the university that houses his archives, this massive project has produced the state-of-the-art Frye collection with notes and commentary.

Hamilton, A. C. Northrop Frye: Anatomy of His Criticism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990. Critic and literary historian Hamilton has produced a 652-page tome documenting Frye’s major theories.

Hart, Jonathan Locke. Northrop Frye: The Theoretical Imagination. New York: Routledge, 1994. A solid introduction to Frye’s criticism of more than three hundred pages.

O’Grady, Jean, and Wang Ning, eds. Northrop Frye: Eastern and Western Perspectives. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003. A collection of essays.

Russell, Ford. Northrop Frye on Myth. New York: Routledge, 2000. Russell compares Frye’s work with that of James George Frazer, Carl Jung, Paul Ricoeur, Ernst Cassirer, and others. Examines Frye’s theories of story-types, culture, literature as displaced mythology, romance as secular scripture, and the Bible as a literary genetic code. Primary and secondary bibliographies.