Northrop Frye

Fonds number:
Title: Northrop Frye
Dates of Material:
18.5395 m of textual records
556 photographs: b&w
229 photographs: col.
141 photographs: 35 mm b&w negatives
1 photograph: 4x5 inch b&w negative
8 photographs: 35 mm col. negatives
64 sound cassettes
13 sound tape reels
4 film reels
13 video cassettes
17 artifacts
4 postcards
1 watercolour painting
34 academic hoods
1 drawing: pencil and black ink
Introduction to the Collection

Victoria University Library owns a comprehensive collection of Northrop Frye’s published work, literary manuscripts, correspondence, personal and professional writings, photographs and audiovisual materials. In 1967, the Library acquired the manuscripts of the Well-Tempered Critic and Fools of Time: Studies in Shakespearean Tragedy. More materials came into the Collection following Northrop Frye’s death in 1991. The Collection is described in a Finding Aid (see below), a published Guide to the Northrop Frye Papers (1993) and in a list of books (see below) from Northrop Frye’s personal library with Frye’s annotations. These items form the basis for the Collected Works editorial project at the Northrop Frye Centre in Victoria University. The Library continues to collect Frye’s works in translation, new Frye criticism, new editions of Frye’s texts, and associated audiovisual items.

Accessing the Collection

There are three ways to access the collection:

University of Toronto Catalogue:
Contains published items by and about Frye held in the entire University of Toronto Libraries, including items in the Frye and General collections at Victoria University Library.

Guide to the Northrop Frye Papers:
A detailed finding aid for manuscript and audiovisual materials contained in the Northrop Frye fonds. A printed index to the finding aid is available in the Library.

List of Works Annotated by Frye:
Contains over 2000 monographs annotated by Frye. Each annotated book has been catalogued in the University of Toronto Library Catalogue.

Biographical sketch

Herman Northrop Frye (1912–1991) was an internationally recognized literary scholar and academic. He was born in Sherbrooke, Quebec, the son of Herman Edward Frye and Catherine Maud Howard. He married Helen Kemp in 1937. Two years after her death in 1986 he married Elizabeth Brown. He died in Toronto, Ontario.

Frye spent his childhood in Quebec and New Brunswick. His primary and secondary education in Moncton, New Brunswick, was followed by a business training-course. In 1929 he entered Victoria College, Victoria University at the University of Toronto. He graduated in 1933 in the Honour Course in Philosophy and English. He then studied theology at Emmanuel College, Victoria University, and was ordained to Ministry of the United Church of Canada in 1936. He attended Merton College, Oxford, England from 1936 to 1937 and from 1938 to 1939. He graduated with first class honours in the English School and received an Oxford M.A. in 1940.

In 1939 Frye joined the Department of English at Victoria College as a Lecturer. He became Assistant Professor in 1942, Associate Professor in 1946, Professor in 1947, Chairman of the Department of English at Victoria College in 1952, and Principal of Victoria College in 1959. In 1967 he retired as Principal and became University Professor at the University of Toronto. He continued to teach as Professor of English at Victoria College. From 1978 until his death he was Chancellor of Victoria University.

Frye lectured at over one hundred universities in Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia, Japan, New Zealand, Italy, Israel, Australia and the former Soviet Union. He taught a full term or a summer session at Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, Indiana, Washington, British Columbia, Cornell, Berkeley and Oxford. He gave many special lectures for endowed lecture series. During his career he received numerous awards and honourary degrees, including Companion of the Order of Canada (1972), the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction for Northrop Frye on Shakespeare (1987) and the Mondello Prize (1990) in Italy for his lifetime dedication to literature.

Frye edited fifteen books, contributed essays and chapters to over sixty others and published over one hundred articles and reviews, including: Fearful Symmetry: A Study of William Blake (1947), Anatomy of Criticism (1957), The Well-Tempered Critic (1963), The Educated Imagination (1963), T.S. Eliot (1963), Fables of Identity (1963), A Natural Perspective (1965), The Return of Eden (1965), Fools of Time (1967), The Modern Century (1967), A Study of English Romanticism (1968), The Stubborn Structure (1970), The Bush Garden (1971), The Critical Path (1971), The Secular Scripture (1976), Spiritus Mundi (1976), Northrop Frye on Culture and Literature (1978), Creation and Recreation (1980), The Great Code (1982), Divisions on a ground (1982), The Myth of Deliverance: Reflections on Shakespeare’s Comedies (1983), Northrop Frye on Shakespeare (1986), No Uncertain Sounds (1988), Northrop Frye on Education (1988), Myth and Metaphor: Selected Essays, 1974–1988 (1990), Words with Power (1990), Reading the World-Selected Writings, 1935–1976 (1990), The Double Vision (1991), and A World in Grain and Sand: Twenty-two interviews with Northrop Frye (1991).

Source of supplied title

Title based on contents of the fonds.


The fonds is stored in 188 boxes.

Immediate source of acquisition

The greater part of the Northrop Frye fonds was acquired from Northrop Frye at irregular intervals between 1967 and 1990. After Frye’s death in January 1991, there were further accruals in 1991, 1992, 1993, and 2001. The 1991–1993 accruals were acquired from Jane Widdicombe, Ian Morrison, Elizabeth Brown Frye and Victoria University Archives. The 2001 accrual was acquired from Jane Widdicombe, executor of the Northrop Frye estate.

The bronze medallion with the face of Northrop Frye was received from the Alumni Affairs Office.

The accruals in Accession 2007.07 include material acquired, 1993–2007, from Clare Endicott, the Victoria University Archives, G.E. Bentley, David Hoeniger, William Fennell, Eleanor Cook, Bruce A.G. Smith and Thomas Willard.

The accruals in Accession 2008.14 consist of material held by former Victoria University President, Roseanne Runte, and sent to President Paul Gooch in May, 2008. The cartoon of Frye as Yoda by Philip Street was donated in 2014 by the artist.

The accrual in Accession 2013.01 consists of a notebook, 1932, that was originally held by Jay Macpherson.

The accrual in Accession 2013.04 consists of 29 academic hoods from universities which have granted Frye an honourary degree. They were originally held in the Northrop Frye building under the auspices of the President's Office.

The accrual in Accession 2019.10 consists of 9 letters sent to Anne McWhir and was acquired from her in October 2019.

The accrual in Accession 2022.12 consists of 1 wristwatch and was acquired from Ian Morrison, the son of Frye's second wife, Elizabeth Brown, in October 2022.

The accrual in Accession 2023.08 consists of 2 audio cassette tapes, 2 volumes of piano sheet music, a pair of spectacles and a suit; it was acquired from Larry Pfaff in June 2023.

The accrual in Accession 2024.01 consists of 5 letters from or relating to Northrop Frye and was acquired from Louise Moorhouse in March 2024.

Language of material


Access restrictions

Restrictions on access: Individual files are restricted; see series and sub-series descriptions in the available finding aid, Guide to the Northrop Frye Papers; the series level descriptions can also be found on the Victoria University website.

Finding aids

Guide to the Northrop Frye Papers / Victoria University Library—Toronto: Victoria University Library, 2003.

Related material

University of Victoria in British Columbia, Archives and Special Collections: The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination (reference number: SC208).
Victoria University Archives: Northrop Frye Centre fonds


Further accruals may be expected.

Access points

Provenance access points:
Frye, Northrop, 1912–1991

General notes

Victoria University owns an extensive collection of Northrop Frye’s work. An index of annotated works can be found at:

In 1988 Victoria University established The Northrop Frye Centre to encourage research in the human sciences; to encourage the dissemination of humanist scholarship; to confirm and celebrate the role of Northrop Frye in Canadian scholarship and society.

Related resources
  • Legend:
  • Pratt logo Available at E.J. Pratt Library
  • Emmanuel logo Available at Emmanuel Library
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“Chronology of Frye’s Life”
Compiled by Joseph Adamson and published in Northrop Frye: A Visionary Life

The Collected Works of Northrop Frye
A list of the titles published in the series.

“Interview: Dr. Northrop Frye” by John Plaskett
Interview with Northrop Frye which took place in 1978 in the course of his time as the Chancellor of Victoria University, published in Vic Report.

“A Fearful Symmetry: Northrop Frye on Victoria, the Bible and the Canadian Way” by D.G. Bastian
Interview with Northrop Frye conducted in 1981 and published in the Vic Report.

Northrop Frye @ 100: A Centenary Exhibition
An exhibition celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of Frye’s birth, organized in 2012.

Northrop Frye: Scholar, Critic and Humanist
An exhibition mounted at Victoria University Library, May 25–June 28, 2002.

The Scholar in Society: Northrop Frye in Conversation
A National Film Board documentary released in 1994, with Frye discussing the role of educated citizenry in the effective functioning of the democratic system.

The Bible and English Literature
Video recordings of Frye’s lectures on the subject, delivered as part of a course held at Victoria College during the 1990–1991 academic year. Frye taught this course for many years. A transcript accompanies each video.

CBC Archives provide access to digitized interviews, television and radio shows, as well as podcasts on Frye and his scholarship.