«The Secular Scripture» and Other Writings on Critical Theory 1976–1991


588 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-3945-6
DDC 801'.95




Edited by Joseph Adamson and Jean Wilson
Reviewed by W.J. Keith

W.J. Keith is a retired professor of English at the University of Toronto and author A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada.


This volume reprints The Secular Scripture, the book version of a series
of lectures on Romance (with additional editorial notes) and what,
despite the description “Other Writings on Critical Theory,” is in
fact a ragbag gathering of stray essays and lectures, most of them
recycling earlier ideas. However, some—notably “Literature as
Therapy”—show Frye breaking new ground. Also welcome are the
reprinting of his entries in the Harper Handbook to Literature, which he
co-edited. These are, I suspect, identified as his for the first time.

Needless to say, this is a useful contribution to an admirable series.
I have to report, however, that, having reviewed most of the earlier
volumes of the Collected Works in CBRA, I find that this volume does not
match the excellent editorial standards of its predecessors. There are
numerous oddities, puzzling to readers, upon which the editors throw no
light. One item is titled “Comment on Peter Hughes’s Essay,” but
no information is offered on Hughes (who isn’t mentioned in the index)
or on the subject of his paper, or why Frye should have commented on it.
Another item, “On Translation,” is presented as an unpublished
introduction to W.A.C. Dobson’s translation of Li Po’s poems, but
again Dobson is not identified, and we are not told why Frye should have
written on a subject outside his usual range or why no publication

On p.234, references to the cult leader Jim Jones and murderer Charles
Manson are duly glossed, but the more remote Adolf Eichmann receives no
note. In the same essay, E.J. Pratt is quoted but, despite the fact that
the book will be consulted widely by non-Canadian students, no
annotation is provided. Later (p.453), “Priestley’s Optics”
receives no note, and the name is misspelled in the index.

In other words, this volume is not as “reader-friendly” as it might
have been. One trusts that subsequent volumes will return to the
original high standard.


Frye, Northrop., “«The Secular Scripture» and Other Writings on Critical Theory 1976–1991,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 16, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/15837.