Northrop Frye’s

Catherine Maud Howard (1870–1940), Northrop Frye’s mother, taught her son to read at the age of three. A former teacher, she was instrumental in fostering the admiration for reading of literature and poetry in the intellectual development of her children. Cassie educated Frye, her youngest child, at home, until he attended Victoria School in Moncton, New Brunswick, at the age of seven or eight.

In the subsequent decades of Frye’s life, Canadian libraries were the quiet spaces that led him to first discover William Blake and his poetic imagination. Frye’s first encounter with Blake and his prophecies occurred at the Moncton Public Library on Archibald Street in 1927. Frye volunteered as a clerk at the circulation desk, helping patrons with borrowing and returning the books from the library’s collection. The anthology of Blake’s poetry that he read at the age of fifteen was The Poems of William Blake, edited by W.B. Yeats (1865–1939), a reader’s edition published by the Modern Library.

The Central Reference Library in Toronto at the corner of St. George and College Streets was where Frye’s further exploration of Blake took place with the discovery of Denis Saurat’s Blake and Modern Thought (1924). The book inspired Frye to begin his study of the poet. In 1930, Frye secured a summer job at this branch of the Toronto Public Library with the help from Francis Louis Barber (1877–1945), Victoria University Librarian.

Frye continued to read extensively on Blake, mythology, and religion during his undergraduate and graduate studies at Victoria University. Sir Geoffrey Keynes’s (1887–1982) books on the poetry and art of Blake were of particular importance: A Bibliography of William Blake (Grolier Club of New York, 1921) and William Blake’s Illuminated Books: A Census (Grolier Club of New York, 1953) provided the basis for the emergence of Blake studies in the twentieth century.

These monographs are depicted here, in addition to selected titles that Frye consulted in the preparation of his book on Blake. He also integrated G. Wilson Knight’s \ approach to analyzing the structure of imagery and metaphor to interpret Blake’s prophecies, outlined in The Wheel of Fire: Essays in Interpretation of Shakespeare’s Sombre Tragedies (Oxford University Press, 1930).

Frye remained an extensive reader his entire life and his personal library currently forms part of the Northrop Frye Annotated collection, Victoria University Library.


Robert D. Denham Northrop Frye Collection (Moncton Public Library) consists of books by and about Frye (including translations) and extensive materials related to his teaching and scholarship.

Northrop Frye Annotated Collection (Victoria University Library) contains 2,053 books from the scholar’s personal library, which was transferred to the library following his death in 1991.