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Northrop Frye

picture, Statue Norrie, Northrop Frye MonctonHerman Northrop Frye was born July 14, 1912 in Sherbrooke, Quebec. He was seven years old when he moved with his family to Moncton, New Brunswick, where he developed many of the ideas that he would go on to explore the rest of his life. He attended Victoria School and Aberdeen High School and grew up at 24 Pine Street. Frye played the piano, rode his bike and was an avid scout.

In 1929 Frye won a typing contest and left Moncton to study at the University of Toronto, where he remained as student and teacher most of the rest of his life. Over the course of his life he wrote more than 20 books, lectured at more than 100 universities around the world, received 30 honorary degrees, won the Governor General's Award for Literature, was a Companion of the Order of Canada, had a postage stamp created in his image and in 2010 the Northrop Frye School in Moncton was named in his honour.

His mother died in Moncton in 1940 and is buried in the Elmwood Cemetery.

Northrop Frye's most famous book was Anatomy of Criticism (1957). This very influential book on literary symbolism and structure attracted the international spotlight on Frye as a literary theorist. Frye wrote extensively on all kinds of subjects and was considered one of the greatest scholars and thinkers of the 20th century. He won many awards for his teaching and believed very strongly in critical thinking and in the power of literature to create a tolerant and civil society.

The most accessible of Frye's books is called The Educated Imagination (1966) and in a nutshell, it is about myth and literature, or, stories. Why do we need stories? What is their purpose? He divides stories into four main types: the romance (hero travels on a quest, kills monsters and rescues damsels); the comedy (hero and the damsel can't get together due to interference from meddlers, but after complications, ends happily ever after); the tragedy (main character falls from a height and ends up dead or an outcast); and irony (meddlers sit around and tell tall tales...that often turn out to be romances where heroes go on quests, kill monsters, rescue maidens, etc.!).

He returned to Moncton in 1990 to deliver memorable talks at both Moncton High and Université de Moncton. He reported of his last visit to Moncton, "they were two of the best days of my life". He died in January 1991, just weeks after his visit to Moncton.

Frye's death attracted worldwide attention. Tributes to his intelligence, compassion, and humanity announced his place among the great minds of western civilization. He was hailed as "the modern Aristotle", "the Einstein of the humanities" and "one of the top dozen most-cited intellectual writers of all time."

In the years that followed, the academic world honoured his memory with major conferences in Italy, Korea, China, Australia and elsewhere. The University of Toronto, with which he was intimately associated for more than 60 years, maintains the Northrop Frye Centre to promote the study of his ideas and their application to the humanities and social sciences. His books have been translated into Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian, and Spanish...just to name a few!

Northrop Frye stimulated and educated so many imaginations and has been an endless inspiration for the Frye Festival, particularly through words such as, "The fundamental job of the imagination in ordinary life is to produce out of the society we have to live in, a vision of the society we want to live in."

To learn more about Frye, check out his most famous quotes, look up titles in the bibliography or watch this video.