Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Northrop Frye and Edmund Blunden

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Northrop Frye and Edmund Blunden

Article excerpt

Edmund Blunden (1896 to 1974) was Frye's tutor at Merton College, Oxford University, during the two separate academic years Frye studied there, 1936-37 and 1938-39. Blunden was a poet, teacher, and critic, a survivor of two years in the trenches at Ypres, Somme, and Passchaendaele in World War I, and a close friend of Siegfrid Sassoon, another of the so-called war poets, who, like Blunden, was decorated for bravery. He was a professor of English at the University of Tokyo (1924 to 1927), and on returning to England he had a brief career as a literary journalist, writing for the Nation and the Times Literary Supplement before taking up the position as Fellow and Tutor in English at Merton College in 1931. Blunden was extraordinarily prolific as a poet, prose writer, and journalist. Brownlee Jean Kirkpatrick's bibliography of Blunden contains 3,988 entries, including more than three thousand contributions to periodicals and newspapers. Even so, Ms Kirkpatrick confesses that her bibliography is far from complete (xiii). In 1956 he succeeded Robert Graves as Professor of Poetry at Oxford, a crowning achievement of a life devoted to literature. Blunden was a polymath, as Frye would turn out to be, and much, perhaps most, of his critical writing centred on the nineteenth-century poets and essayists. He wrote books and monographs, which we would characterize today as largely historical and biographical, on Clare, Keats, Wordsworth, Coleridge, the Shelleys (Percy and Mary), Byron, and Lamb. In this respect, with Frye's obsessive attention to Blake, Blunden and Frye were congenial spirits who viewed the Romantic revolution as a central turning point in European culture. (1)

Blunden was a small man. The editor and publisher Sir Rupert Hart-Davis recalls that when he first met Blunden in 1932 he was struck by the aptness of Robert Graves's description of Blunden as "a cross between Julius Caesar and a bird." Hart-Davis goes on to say that Blunden's "tiny frame, his shyness, his quick-darting eyes and gestures, had all the grace and agility of a wren, which his noble nose suggested the dominance of the Latin poets he read and loved" (Rothkopf 4-5)

The relationship between Frye and his Oxford tutor was, like most human relations, complex. Frye's attitudes toward Blunden emerge from his correspondence with Helen Kemp (she became Helen Frye in 1937). This correspondence (CW 1-2) is our primary source. As for Blunden's view of Frye, this is more difficult to untangle. Other than Frye's statements about Blunden in the Frye-Kemp letters from 1936 to 1939, Frye makes only a half dozen or so references to his tutor in his other writing, (2) all of which are inconsequential for understanding the Frye-Blunden relationship. In addition to the Frye-Kemp correspondence, our sources are limited to an interview, a few letters from Blunden to Frye, and Barry Webb's excellent biography of Blunden.

After Frye had completed his ba studies at Victoria College in 1932, he set out to complete a second bachelor's degree, this one in theology from Emmanuel College, Victoria's sister institution at the University of Toronto. Following three years of study there, he received a $1,500 scholarship from the Royal Society of Canada to spend a year at Oxford studying the symbolism of Blake's prophetic works. This meant that Frye would enrol in a program leading to still another bachelor's degree. (3) Pelham Edgar, Frye's mentor at Victoria, who saw Frye as a potential colleague at Victoria, was the motivating force that pushed Frye's successful application for the Royal Society scholarship. After a year at Merton College, Frye spent the academic year 1937-38 teaching at Victoria and then returned to Oxford for a second year. His relationship with Blunden begins, then, in the fall of 1936. The present essay explores that relationship.

Nazi sentiments?

Frye set sail for England in early September 1936 to begin his Oxford studies, arriving in London on 15 September. …

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