Saturday, March 20, 2021


The Foundation

Northrop Frye (1912-1991), "Reconsidering Levels of Meaning," in his Fiction and Miscellaneous Writings (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007 = Collected Works of Northrop Frye, 25), pp. 303-326 (at 303):
A student of English literature who doesn't know the Bible doesn't know what is going on in English literature.
Frye, The Educated Imagination (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1964), pp. 110-111:
The most complete form of this myth is given in the Christian Bible, and so the Bible forms the lowest stratum in the teaching of literature. It should be taught so early and so thoroughly that it sinks straight to the bottom of the mind, where everything that comes along later can settle on it. That, I am aware, is a highly controversial statement, and can be misunderstood in all kinds of ways, so please remember that I'm speaking as a literary critic about the teaching of literature. There are all sorts of secondary reasons for teaching the Bible as literature: the fact that it's so endlessly quoted from and alluded to, the fact that the cadences and phrases of the King James translation are built into our minds and way of thought, the fact that it’s full of the greatest and best known stories we have, and so on. There are also the moral and religious reasons for its importance, which are different reasons. But in the particular context in which I'm speaking now, it's the total shape and structure of the Bible which is most important: the fact that it's a continuous narrative beginning with the creation and ending with the Last Judgement, and surveying the whole history of mankind, under the symbolic names of Adam and Israel, in between. In other words, it's the myth of the Bible that should be the basis of literary training, its imaginative survey of the human situation which is so broad and comprehensive that everything else finds its place inside it. Remember too that to me the word myth, like the words fable and fiction, is a technical term in criticism, and the popular sense in which it means something untrue I regard as a debasing of language.

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