Northrop Frye and the Poetics of Process


145 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-4316-X
DDC 801'.95




Reviewed by Thomas M.F. Gerry

Thomas M.F. Gerry is a professor of English at Laurentian University and
the editor of Arachne, Laurentian University’s bilingual
interdisciplinary journal of language and literature.


Readers and students of Northrop Frye’s early criticism, particularly
his Anatomy of Criticism (1957), are inevitably impressed with his
immense erudition and Aristotle-like ability to enlighten readers by
categorizing literary works in various ways. In this critical activity,
he treats literature as a set of aesthetic products, things to be
organized and analyzed. After Anatomy, however, Frye returned to ideas
he first explored in his 1947 study of William Blake, Fearful Symmetry.
For Blake, and ultimately for Frye in The Great Code (1982) and Words of
Power (1990), works of literature and art are not inert artifacts; by
formulating possibilities, they instead actively participate in
humanity’s creative process. Frye understands this process to be our
movement toward a more just and humane world. In other words—M.H.
Abrams’s words, to be precise—Frye shifted his focus from the works
themselves onto the parts played in the creative process by readers and
authors in the world.

Cotrupi does an excellent job of describing and illustrating these
crucial changes in Frye’s thought. Her aim in doing so is to correct
an imbalance she finds in the body of criticism about Frye: inadequate
appreciation of the influence of the Neapolitan philosopher Giambattista
Vico (1668–1744) on Frye’s ideas, and on that basis, the need for a
clear articulation of Frye’s poetics of process. According to Cotrupi,
Frye learned from Vico the principle of verum factum—truth is made.
People do not see their reflections in nature, and it is not nature that
is reflected by the things people make. Rather, Vico argues in his New
Science, “Human inventions point to nothing else but the modifications
of the human mind; human institutions are the very mirror of human

Cotrupi’s emphatically aligning Frye’s mature work, as she calls
it, with the Longinian tradition of rhetoric and the sublime as these
resurfaced in the 18th century goes a long way toward showing some
important sources of and stages in Frye’s thinking. Her book also
explains the reasons for much of the critical confusion and disagreement
about Frye’s work as a whole. Although the book is brief, it is well
documented and a most useful contribution to Frye studies.


Cotrupi, Caterina Nella., “Northrop Frye and the Poetics of Process,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 17, 2024,