The liberalism of Northrop Frye

Graham, Brian Russell (2007) The liberalism of Northrop Frye. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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My thesis is a study of the liberalism of Northrop Frye. Frye believes that the process of matching an idea with its opposite effects a transcendence whereby 'an adversary relationship' is resolved 'not by reconciling both sides but by breaking clear of the antithesis into a new level' (NFLN6, p. 622), and this observation is deeply suggestive of the nature of Frye's liberal thinking. In my thesis I argue that Frye's liberalism is characterised by 'the dialectic': it represents a transcendence of the Left-Right opposition. Part I covers Frye's writings throughout the fifties, sixties and seventies. In Chapters 2, 3 and 4 I consider the three topics that dominate Frye's work in this period: the poetry of William Blake, secular 'imaginative' literature, and education and work. Frye's thinking, I argue, is a thoroughly liberal one because dialectical, in each case an attempt to transcend oppositional thinking. In Chapter 5 I go on to discuss Frye's desire to go beyond Left and Right in the political arena. Frye developed as a critic of culture, politics, society - and literature in relation to all of those against the backdrop of the Cold War, and his theory of politics is one which seeks to go beyond both what he terms 'laissez faire' and Communism. In Part II the focus shifts to Frye's work in the second half of the twentieth century. In Chapter 6 I return to Blake, secular literature and the university, giving an account of the radicals' view of these aspects of culture, before discussing Frye's attitude to the new cultural radicalism, which takes the form of a reassertion of his liberal thinking. In Chapter 7 I turn to Frye's consideration of the Bible, seeking to throw light on his liberal thinking within this context. Though Frye is not working against a clearly 'political' divide within this field, he is, I explain, still searching for a liberal ideal, and thinking dialectically. At this time Frye also returned to political issues, providing a second statement of his views of global politics, and I conclude this chapter with an account of Frye's attitude to the new unconstrained capitalism, where his attitude is decidedly liberal and dialectical once more. My thesis also offers an overarching examination of Frye's liberalism, brought out in Chapters 4 and 7. The terminus ad quern of Frye's secular thinking is the three ideals of the French revolution: liberty, equality, and fraternity. At the end of his career Frye turns systematically to Christianity and the Christian Bible. Like Blake, Frye sees no contradiction in such a combination of cultures. Indeed, his liberalism, I argue, is a matter of the combination of a liberal attitude to culture and a liberal approach to Scripture and Christianity. My thesis concludes with an Epilogue, in which I stand back and consider the larger historical context of Frye's liberal thinking, his 'liberal' literary criticism in particular.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Philosophy, liberalism.
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Supervisor, not known
Date of Award: 2007
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2007-71159
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 May 2019 10:49
Last Modified: 08 Jul 2021 06:53
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.71159

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