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  • Interviews with Northrop Frye Volume 24 of Collected Works of Northrop Frye
  • Yves Saint-Cyr (bio)
Northrop Frye . Interviews with Northrop Frye Volume 24 of Collected Works of Northrop Frye, edited by Jean O'Grady University of Toronto Press. xlvi, 1220. $185.00

This collection of 111 interviews, edited by Jean O'Grady, is the wenty-fourth volume of the Collected Works of Northrop Frye. Both as a resource for serious scholarship and a point of access for the casual reader, this volume - which includes material from television, film, radio, and academic journals and conferences - is an essential addition to the Frye canon. Despite the wide range of topics, the book is unified by Frye's consistent effort to make his ideas as intelligible as possible. In his own terms, he becomes a transparent medium for his subject.

Jean O'Grady's preface and introduction establish a vivid context. Of particular use to Frye's intellectual grandchildren (i.e., the students of his students) are O'Grady's physical descriptions of his mannerisms and speaking style, as well as the reciprocal relationship between his interviewers' nervousness and his own shyness. The referencing is clear and unobtrusive, combining both original and Collected Works sources.

The questions break down into categories: literature; theory of literary criticism; Canadian culture, arts, and media; pedagogical theory (preschool, primary, secondary, and university); the Bible and religion; and autobiographical. The book necessarily contains repetitions and stock answers, many of which Frye cribs directly from his own work. There are, however, several advantages to this repetitive format. For the scholar, the result is a chronological distillation of Frye's most influential theories, from 1948 to 1990. For the casual reader, the book's accessibility is enhanced, in that Frye conducts every interview as if it were the first. To borrow from one of his favourite expressions, the central interview is whatever interview one happens to be reading. [End Page 511]

Interviews with Northrop Frye provides the reader with countless examples of Frye's sharp and often acerbic wit. He himself admits to being a 'trickster critic,' and the format of the interview lends itself to repartee, irony, and wordplay:


[A]re you prepared to offer us a definition of conversation?


Certainly not, Mr Chairman. A literary critic of experience never defines anything.


What would make a poem Canadian? . . . . If it was full of pine trees, as the paintings of the Group of Seven are, would that make it Canadian?


No, and neither do pine trees in the Group of Seven . . . . You're not being Australian if you write a story about a boomerang and a kangaroo, and you're not being Canadian if you write about a Mountie and a beaver.


I feel the image invoked by other [verbal] formulations would be coloured by the differences in those other formulations.


Want to comment on what it means to be 'coloured by'?


Well, a red image is different from a green image.


That's cheating.


Is it?

There are also exchanges in which Frye indulges in rhetorical flourishes that he might not have used in another format, such as his comparison of the Anatomy of Criticism's Polemical Introduction to the bombing of Gallipoli by the British. When expounding on the developmental importance of language skills, Frye states that unless ideas are incorporated into words, '[Y]ou don't know whether you are pregnant or just have gas on the stomach.' And where else but in a live interview could we find Frye referring to a 'gigantic amoeba in the middle of the CBC. That is, a large coagulated mass of primitive life, which seems to be blocking every kind of creative endeavour'? Finally, his reminiscences about the history of the University of Toronto, specifically Victoria College, and about individuals (such as Pelham Edgar, the teacher with the X-ray eyes; psychologist-turned-poet Ned Pratt; or piano teacher George Ross) are all invaluable additions to the ongoing study of Frye's life and influences.

Through meticulous editing, Jean O'Grady allows Frye's voice to come through clearly, while at the same time abridging and summarizing extraneous...


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pp. 511-512
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