The Correspondence of Northrop Frye and Helen Kemp, 1932-1939: Volume 2
Published: December 1996© 1996
505 Pages, 6.48 x 9.51 x 1.69 in
Robert D. Denham has collected in these volumes the 266 letters, cards, and telegrams that Helen Kemp and Northrop Frye wrote to each other during the six periods when they were apart, from the winter of 1931-32 until the summer of 1939. The letters form a compelling narrative of their early relationship. They tell of a romance in which two people fall in love, want to get married, and are confronted with obstacles blocking their path, including lack of money and the education they both need to advance their careers. But the story is much more than a romance.
The letters reveal Frye's early talent as a writer, illustrating that both the matter and the manner of his criticism had begun to take shape when he was only nineteen. Helen Kemp's expressiveness and intelligence come through clearly in her letters, which were only discovered in 1992. Kemp and Frye share their thoughts on literature, music, religion, politics, education, and a host of other topics. They discuss their alma mater, Victoria College; artists and musicians of Toronto; southwestern Saskatchewan, where Frye spent a summer as a pastor on a United Church circuit; Frye's hometown, Moncton, New Brunswick; and Kemp's neighbourhood on Fulton Avenue in Toronto. We travel with them around the world, from Ottawa to Rome. We see through their eyes the early years of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the struggles of the United Church of Canada, the activities of the Student Christian Movement, the appeal of Communism, the rise of fascism, and the beginnings of art education in the galleries of Canada.
'The propulsive force of narrative, the drive of the romance plot, together with the archetypal nature of the human bond whose progression these letters trace, all kept me entranced.'Nella Cotrupi, Books in Canada
'[Frye] triumphs through the sheer unremitting shining-forth of his wit, his impatience, his clear promise of what's to come. In short, the book documents the early years of an unmistakable and close-to-unique intelligence.'Don Coles, The Globe and Mail
'Frye was that rare creature, a prodigy whose promise was entirely fulfilled. How this came about - through the love a woman both good and wise, as in many old-fashioned tales - is the true subject of this collection.'Robert Fulford, The Globe and Mail
'The letters themselves ... are breezy and bantering, full of teasing rebukes and playful intimacies ... Denham's footnotes are not only admirably thorough, they are indispensable. Without them, how could we tell the difference between Aunts Dolly, Hatty and Evelyn? How would we find out whether Helen had passed her economics course or what Norrie sent her for Christmas? To read somebody else's mail is to be immersed in the pathos of life's details - news and rumors that mattered to somebody, once. It is strangely touching to see these little things, these pieces of a shared life, treated with so much care and respect.'Bruce Taylor, Montreal Gazette
'These two beautifully produced and edited volumes are a bonus for scholars, who will now be able to trace the genesis of many of Frye's ideas. But the correspondence is also a treasure in its own right. With their wit, robust energy, lovingness and playful brilliance, these love letters are among the most fascinating ever published in the country - and should banish forever the notion of Frye as an intellectual iceberg.'John Bemrose, Maclean's
'Editor Robert D. Denham has done a stellar job of assembling the letters into a testament which not only celebrates a reciprocal meeting of minds, but reveals the private "Norrie" Frye who hovered behind the formidable public personality...The letters teem with good talk and they are warm and engaging as well as scholarly, literate and full of high purpose. Denham has done Canadians a service in making sure this correspondence, clearly an important historical document, has been unearthed and published.'Nancy Schiefer, The London Free Press
'Friends and lovers, favorite confidants, and finally husband and wife, Frye and Kemp maintained a lively correspondence ... This meticulously annotated collection ... reveal[s] the personality of the young scholar at a time when he was considering the ministry, engrossed in music, and fascinated with Blake.'N. Tischler, Choice