chapter  2
Reconstructing Blake
Pages 31

In conceiving of this chapter and the two subsequent chapters, I was caught between the desire to set out the basics of Frye’s criticism and theory so that my book could move on to new explorations of important and sometimes unexplored or underexplored areas of his work and the desire not to repeat the fine explications of Frye, especially of Anatomy of Criticism, that Denham, Balfour, Hamilton and others have produced. These three chapters represent a compromise since my book should be self-sufficient, not because it is desirable to read only one book on Frye but because if the reader has decided to read one study or mine is the only one available, it should provide the basics of Frye’s criticism before moving on to the subjects of history, education, mythology, ideology and fiction. Those who know the whole of Frye’s work well may want to proceed to Chapter 5. To set out the foundations of his work, these three chapters will examine four key books. This chapter will look at Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake (1947) because it culminates at least twelve years of on-and-off work on Blake, represents a major contribution to the study of that poet and is a major statement of Frye’s theory of literature and criticism that leads to Anatomy but that is not read as much because few outside the speciality of Blake will travel through Blake to cull the remarkable theoretical insights. Fearful Symmetry may be Frye’s greatest book, but Anatomy, as difficult as it is, may be more general, accessible and ‘universal’ in its accomplishment. Chapter 3 will examine Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (1957), Frye’s most famous book, which launched him and haunted him, as it draws together his interest in genre theory and incorporates, among other things, his brilliant work on satire and comedy in the 1940s. It will also discuss The Critical Path (1971),

which brings together ideas on the myth of concern that he worked out in the late 1960s in lectures at universities then in the middle of student revolts and which looks ahead to twenty years of the development of this idea and others on social criticism and the relation between literature and society. Chapter 4 will explain the principles in The Great Code: Being a Study of the Bible and Literature (1981). This book culminates a lifelong encounter with the Bible, brings together Frye’s training in literary studies and theology and looks ahead to Words with Power (1990) and The Double Vision (1991), apparently the last two books, the one before he died and the other posthumous, that Frye thought of as his own. These books represent the vision at the end of things and join in a spiral with Fearful Symmetry, which discussed Blake as a visionary poet. From vision to vision, the next three chapters set out in basic terms the work of Northrop Frye in order to lead up to a Frye who will surprise those who have made him a man of one book-Anatomy.