Quotations by Frye, Northrop


Teaching literature is impossible; that is why it is difficult.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
“Criticism, Visible and Invisible,” Lecture, Trinity College, Hartford (1964)
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Reprinted in College English (Oct 1964), and in The Stubborn Structure, Part 1, ch. 6 (1970).
Added on 4-Oct-21 | Last updated 4-Oct-21
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However rationalized it may be, censorship is always an attack on human intelligence and imagination and is always a sign of weakness, not strength, in those who enforce it.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
“Introduction to Canadian Literature,” #14 (1988)
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Added on 2-Sep-21 | Last updated 2-Sep-21
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Beauty, like truth and goodness, is a quality that may in one sense be predicated of all great art, but the deliberate attempt to beautify can, in itself, only weaken the creative energy. Beauty in art is like happiness in morals: it may accompany the act, but it cannot be the goal of the act, just as one cannot “pursue happiness,” but only something else that may give happiness.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
Anatomy of Criticism, “Mythical Phase: Symbol as Archetype” (1957)
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Added on 26-Aug-20 | Last updated 26-Aug-20
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Popular art is normally decried as vulgar by the cultivated people of its time; then it loses favour with its original audience as a new generation grows up; then it begins to merge into the softer lighting of “quaint” and cultivated people become interested in it, and finally it begins to take on the archaic dignity of the primitive.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
Anatomy of Criticism, “Mythical Phase: Symbol as Archetype” (1957)
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Added on 15-Nov-21 | Last updated 15-Nov-21
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Those who are concerned with the arts are often asked questions, not always sympathetic ones, about the use or value of what they are doing. It is probably impossible to answer such questions directly, or at any rate to answer the people who ask them.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
Anatomy of Criticism, “Polemical Introduction” (1957)
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Added on 1-Nov-21 | Last updated 1-Nov-21
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Physics is an organized body of knowledge about nature, and a student of it says that he is learning physics, not nature. Art, like nature, has to be distinguished from the systematic study of it, which is criticism.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
Anatomy of Criticism, “Polemical Introduction” (1957)
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Added on 8-Nov-21 | Last updated 8-Nov-21
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The only way to forestall the work of criticism is through censorship, which has the same relation to criticism that lynching has to justice.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
Anatomy of Criticism, “Polemical Introduction” (1957)
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Added on 21-Oct-21 | Last updated 21-Oct-21
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If I had been on the hills of Bethlehem in the year one, I do not think I should have heard angels singing because I do not hear them now, & there is no reason to suppose that they have stopped.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
Notebooks and Lectures on the Bible and Other Religious Texts, Notebook 11f, entry 5 (2003) [ed. Robert D. Denham]
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Added on 7-Mar-22 | Last updated 7-Mar-22
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A person who knows nothing about literature may be an ignoramus, but many people don’t mind being that.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
The Educated Imagination, Talk 1 “The Motive for Metaphor” (1963)
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Added on 29-Nov-21 | Last updated 29-Nov-21
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One person by himself is not a complete human being.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
The Educated Imagination, Talk 1 “The Motive for Metaphor” (1963)
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Added on 6-Dec-21 | Last updated 6-Dec-21
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No human society is too primitive to have some kind of literature. The only thing is that primitive literature hasn’t yet become distinguished from other aspects of life: it’s still embedded in religion, magic and social ceremonies.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
The Educated Imagination, Talk 2 “The Singing School” (1963)
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Added on 13-Dec-21 | Last updated 13-Dec-21
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Experience is nearly always commonplace; the present is not romantic in the way the past is, and ideals and great visions have a way of becoming shoddy and squalid in practical life. Literature reverses this process.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
The Educated Imagination, Talk 3 “Giants in Time” (1963)
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Added on 10-Jan-22 | Last updated 10-Jan-22
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There can be no free speech in a mob: free speech is one thing a mob can’t stand.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
The Educated Imagination, Talk 6 “The Vocation of Eloquence” (1963)
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Added on 18-Jan-22 | Last updated 18-Jan-22
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There’s something in all of us that wants to drift toward a mob, where we can all say the same thing without having to think about it, because everybody is all alike except people that we can hate or persecute. Every time we use words, we’re either fighting against this tendency or giving in to it. When we fight against it, we’re taking the side of genuine and permanent human civilization.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
The Educated Imagination, Talk 6 “The Vocation of Eloquence” (1963)
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Added on 24-Jan-22 | Last updated 24-Jan-22
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Man lives, not directly or nakedly in nature like the animals, but within a mythological universe, a body of assumptions and beliefs developed from his existential concerns.

Northrop Frye (1912-1991) Canadian literary critic and literary theorist
The Great Code: The Bible and Literature, Introduction (1982)
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Added on 11-Feb-22 | Last updated 11-Feb-22
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