The Ideas of Northrop Frye

Partial cover of

Partial cover of "Northrop Frye In Conversation" by David Cayley, published by House of Anansi (1992).


The Ideas of Northrop Frye airs June 25, 26, and 27.

On the 100th anniversary of his birth, we present an IDEAS classic about Northrop Frye. Frye was one of the greatest thinkers of our time. His Anatomy of Criticism, published in 1957, rewrote the rules of literary criticism. His writings on Canada and Canadian literature defined a generation's understanding of what it is to be Canadian. He asked the famous question, "Where is here?" Northrop Frye inspired and challenged students at the University of Toronto for nearly half a century. IDEAS producer David Cayley examines the evolution of Frye's ideas from Fearful Symmetry, his ground-breaking study of William Blake, to The Great Code, his investigation of the relationship between the Bible and literature. Frye himself is heard, along with the comments of friends, colleagues and critics.

For more than 40 years Northrop Frye was a central figure in Canadian arts and letters - both as a writer and as a teacher at the University of Toronto.  His first book, Fearful Symmetry, published in 1947, transformed scholarly and popular understanding of the work of the English Romantic poet William Blake.  Ten years later, his second book, Anatomy of Criticism, transformed the whole field of literary studies, becoming easily the most influential critical work of its time.  His book on the Bible, The Great Code, published in 1982, became a Canadian best-seller.  Success brought celebrity.  In the last years of teaching career, he had to pass through the portals of Northrop Frye Hall to get to his office.  A visit to the library required him to appear beneath a portrait of himself that was twice his size.  He also acquired a formidable international reputation.  When he visited Italy for a conference on his work, interviews with him made the front pages of Italian newspapers, even during an election campaign.  The adulation never seemed to turn his head. 

Right up to the end of his life he remained a devoted teacher of undergraduates at Victoria University at the University of Toronto.   Frye died in January of 1991 at the age of 79.  It had been only a year since David Cayley recorded the interviews that make up the three hour Ideas series that we're presenting again in honour of his 100th birthday.  

 Northrop Frye in Conversation (House of Anansi, 1992) is still in print and contains the entire interview from which The Ideas of Northrop Frye was drawn.  Audio and print copies of The Ideas of Northrup Frye are available from the CBC Shop or by calling 1-800-955-7711.

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