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Northrop  Frye
Categories: Male AuthorsAnglophone AuthorsAuthors of Non-FictionMiramichi RiverSoutheast

photo of author
Source: Harry Palmer


Northrop Frye was a literary critic, author, and academic. He wrote more than 20 books in his lifetime, including Anatomy of Criticism (1957) which is considered to be his most famous and influential publication.

Herman Northrop Frye was born on July 14, 1912 in Sherbrooke, Quebec. When he was seven years old, his family moved to Moncton, NB. In 1929, Frye won a typing contest and left New Brunswick to study in Toronto, where he spent most of the rest of his life. He studied philosophy and theology at the University of Toronto, and in 1936, was ordained by the United Church of Canada. He then travelled to Merton College, Oxford in England on scholarship to do his postgraduate studies, where he received an M.A. in English with first class honours. He returned to Canada to teach at the Victoria College (now Victoria University) at the University of Toronto. There, he was appointed chairman of the English Department, and went on to become principal (1959-1967) and finally Chancellor, a position he held until his death in 1991.

Frye is considered to be a leading influence on the topic of literary criticism, interpreting and analyzing such complex poets as William Blake and T.S. Eliot. His first major publication Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake (1947) revolutionized the way in which William Blake’s poetry came to be understood by scholars and academics. Much of Frye’s work was about archetypes, and his books and theories often drew attention to the common elements that are shared by popular stories and poems. Frye also found success in his career as an editor and as an author of articles, editing 15 books in his career and contributing chapters, essays, and articles to over 150 journals and anthologies.

In 1990, Frye returned to Moncton to speak at Moncton High School and at the Université de Moncton. He died shortly after his visit, but not before stating that the two days he spent in Moncton were “two of the best days of [his] life.”

Throughout his long career, Frye was recognized multiple times for his achievements. In addition to his long list of publications, he was also a featured lecturer at over 100 universities worldwide, was awarded 30 honorary degrees, received the Governor General’s Literary Award for Nonfiction, and was a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Northrop Frye died on January 23, 1991. In the months and years after his death, Frye was honoured at literary conferences and academic events around the world. The University of Toronto, where Frye studied and taught for over 60 years, maintains the Northrop Frye Centre to continue the promotion and preservation of his ideas and works. In 2000, the Frye Festival was established in Moncton to continue Northrop Frye’s legacy of literary appreciation and criticism. In 2010, the Northrop Frye School in Moncton was named for him, and in 2012, the Frye Festival erected a statue in Frye’s image outside of the Moncton Public Library.

Those looking to learn more about Northrop Frye can visit the Robert D. Denham Northrop Frye Collection at Moncton Public Library. This collection, containing Frye’s manuscripts, personal writing desk and chair, publications in multiple languages, and more were donated to the library by Professor Emeritus Robert D. Denham from Roanoke College in Virginia. This compilation is the largest collection of Frye’s works and memorabilia in the world.

Literary Prizes

Governor General's Literary Award (Nonfiction) - 1986 In recognition of: Northrop Frye on Shakespeare
Companion of the Order of Canada - 1972
Pierre Chauveau Medal, Royal Society of Canada - 1970

Featured Publication

Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays

Find this author in the New Brunswick public libraries catalogue.