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Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies

Victoria University in the University of Toronto

Professor James Andrew Carscallen (1934 – 2016)

James Andrew Carscallen



This past 14 March 2016, the scholarly community in Toronto lost one of its most beloved members – Professor James Andrew Carscallen.

Born on 21 July 1934 in Wallaceburg, Ontario, Jim was a gifted pianist, passionate bird watcher, and avid gardener. He was also a Rhodes scholar and a gentleman. After receiving a B.A. in English from Victoria College in the University of Toronto (1956) he went off to Oxford where he received a BLitt (1958). He then returned to Victoria College to pursue a PhD under the direction of Northrop Frye while, at the same time, teaching English at the University of Waterloo. He completed his doctorate in 1964 and the following year was hired by Victoria College (1965), where he then spent the rest of his career as a beloved teacher and a life-long student of literature from the Renaissance to the present day. His first book, The Natural World of Vaughan and Marvell (1964), greatly advanced our understanding of two important seventeenth-century English writers; his last one, The Other Country: Patterns in the Writings of Alice Munro (1993) provided new insights into one of the foremost contemporary Canadian authors. A voracious reader with excellent memory, his knowledge was encyclopedic, his scholarship profound, his wit lively, his generosity unending.

Though he retired from teaching in 1996, he never retired from mentoring students and encouraging them in their research and their careers. At the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, where, after his retirement, he was appointed Distinguished Senior Fellow, he was an enthusiastic supporter and a reliable friend to the lively cohort of graduate students and younger colleagues that congregated there. He did the same at the Toronto Renaissance and Reformation Colloquium, rarely missing a meeting and always ready to contribute the wide range of his knowledge to the discussions that followed. His mentoring carried over from his professional life to his personal life where, once again, he  was always extremely generous with both his time and resources.

Never short of good suggestions, Jim is credited with the idea of collecting and publishing the complete works of his teacher and colleague Northrop Frye. Alvin Lee, General Editor of the Collected Works of Northrop Frye, recalls that: “The initial idea of a collected edition of Frye’s writings and speeches first surfaced on 2 May 1991, a little more than three months after Frye’s death. James Carscallen, a colleague and former student of Frye, made the suggestion in a conversation with Eva Kushner, President of Victoria University, who then asked him to put the case for such an undertaking in the form of a letter to her. Later that day Carscallen did so, in a two-page single-spaced letter in which he recognized something of the complexity of what he was proposing and the large body of Frye’s productions, including many repetitions, but made this comment: ‘… I’ve never read or heard anything from him that didn’t give me the feeling of newness – the sense that I had to open my mind in a way I’ve never done before.” (“The Collected Works of Northrop Frye. The Project and the Edition,” p. 1).

The same sense of newness and mind-opening ideas is what we, who were fortunate enough to know Jim Carscallen, found in our dear friend, colleague, and mentor.

A commemoration of Jim’s life will be held in the Victoria College Chapel (93 Charles Street West, Toronto) onMonday, 9 May, at 2 p.m.


Prof. Konrad Eisenbichler

Victoria College

University of Toronto

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