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This article is taken from PN Review 3, Volume 4 Number 3, April - June 1978.

Northrop Frye Grevel Lindop

I DISCOVERED Northrop Frye when I was nineteen and a student. A tutor recommended The Anatomy of Criticism, I sampled a few pages, and the infection-I use the word as the Elizabethans used it to speak of falling in love-the infection took. The Anatomy became my bible, travelling with me to lectures and tutorials as its pages grew grey and fluffy at the edges, its spine broken, its text black and blue with marking in pencil and biro. Frye himself became my patriarch, and a most amiable one: his genial style somehow invited the reader to make himself at home, implying that nothing in literature or criticism was really so difficult as to pass the understanding of a bright first-year student; yet his prose was a repository of sharply humorous aphorisms that could stop the average Leavisite grumbler or sceptical historicist dead in his tracks. I used the Anatomy's 'Polemical Introduction' as a quiver of arrows. Here, for example, is Frye on the author as interpreter of his own work: 'The Dante who writes a commentary on the first canto of the Paradiso is merely one more of Dante's critics.' (1) On prescriptive criticism: 'Critical statements with "must" or "should" in their predicates are either pedantries or tautologies, depending on whether they are taken seriously or not.' (2) On the modern critical vocabulary: 'The critical theory of genres is stuck precisely where Aristotle left it . . . Most critical efforts to handle such generic terms as "epic" and ...


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