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A.C. HAMILTON Northrop Frye as a Canadian Critic Northrop Frye was born in Sherbrooke, Quebec in 1912, raised in Moncton, New Brunswick, and educated at the University of Toronto, where he lectured from 1939 until his death in 1991. Except for several years as an undergraduate at Oxford, and extended lecturing appointments in other countries, chiefly the United States, he resisted living elsewhere because, he said, 'I found, as I grew older, that my roots were going deeper and deeper into the Canadian society and that I couldn't really pullout of that' (WGS, 273). Although Canadian literature occupies a comparatively minor place in his twenty-seven books, he opens The Bush Garden, a collection of his writings on the Canadian imagination, with the remark that they are 'episodes in a writing career which has been mainly concerned with world literature and has addressed an international reading public, and yet has always been rooted in Canada and has drawn its essential characteristics from there.' What are these roots? how has his criticism 'always been rooted in Canada'? and what Jessential characteristics' have been drawn from there? Wallace Stevens's observation, 'when we are in Spain everything looks Spanish,' may extend to writers: knowing that Frye is a Canadian, somehow his criticism 'seems Canadian. Certainly he could never be confused with the distinctively American critic Harold Bloom, or the distinctively English critic Frank Kermode, even though all three share certain general characteristics: white, middle-class males writing within Western culture at much the same time. Frye's claim in Divisions on a Ground that 'scholarship, no less than poetry, grows out of a specific environment and is in part a response to it' (DG, 35) justifies my effort to consider how his own criticism grew out of his specific Canadian environment and is in part a response to it. It is no longer adequate to define a Canadian as one whom Americans take to be English and the English take to be American, or as a British American who is deeply suspicious of the United States. Obviously, there is no such thing as a Itrue' Canadian who may be defined by certain essential characteristics: as we so often say - making a virtue of the tolerance and the compromise forced on us by our inability to forge a strong national bond - we are a mosaic formed not only by the two founding UNIVERSITI OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 62, NUMBER 3, SPRlNG 1993 310 A.c. HAMILTON nations, French and English, in addition to our two native nations, Indian and Inuit, but also by people from all countries in the world who have largely maintained their ethnic identities. Unlike the United States, they were never assimilated in a 'melting pot' in order to emerge with an aggressive and unmistakable common identity. Further, Canada has never experienced a revolution, as did the United States, which broke with the past and established a new country absolutely convinced that in the eyes of God its manifest destiny is to rule the world. As Frye observed, Canada 'went from a prenational phase to a postnational phase without ever quite becoming a nation' (WGS, 188). The consequence is that we now find ourselves without any sure sense of who we are: politically split ' by a separatist movement, economically bound with the United States and soon with Mexico, socially fragmented into many regional solitudes, and psychologically torn with guilt by the sufferings of our Native Peoples. To awaken us from this nightmare, we have turned to our creative writers and artists - whether poets, novelists, painters, musicians, filmmakers, dramatists, philosophers, scientists, or literary critics such as Frye - to define by their writings and activities, and to assert by their presence, what it is to be a Canadian. In a review of A.J.M. Smith's The Book of Canadwn Poetry in 1943 - a review which he believed initiated his critical career - Frye protested that 'a great deal of useless yammering has been concerned with the "truly Canadian" qualities of our literature, and one's first instinct is to avoid the whole question' (BG, 131). That instinct was informed by his belief that culture is the product of a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 309-322
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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