Northrop Frye, 78, the Canadian literary critic, author and clergyman who was best known for his studies of myth and symbolism as the unifying archetypal elements of Western literature, died of cancer Jan. 22 in Toronto.

Mr. Frye was said to have been one of the most brilliant and influential of the symbolist literary critics writing in English, and at the same time one of only a few to be read regularly by nonprofessionals.

His major works included "Fearful Symmetry," an exhaustive study of the writings of the 18th-century visionary poet William Blake, published in 1947; "Anatomy of Criticism," a 1957 compendium of literary symbolism; and "The Great Code: The Bible and Literature," a monumental and systematic study of the myths, language, metaphor and symbols of the Hebrew-Christian Bible, published in 1982.

His concept of literature was that of a self-contained total history, rather than a linear progression through time, and he saw the Bible, more than any other source, as the body of myth that shaped Western literature. Its underlying principle, he contended, was the Judeo-Christian myth of searching and salvation.

Mr. Frye had also written extensively on the works of William Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot. He argued in a 1963 book, "The Well-Tempered Critic," based on lectures given at the University of Virginia in 1961, that literary criticism was a primary means "to produce out of the society we have to live in, a vision of the society we want to live in."

An English professor at Victoria College at the University of Toronto, Mr. Frye was born in Sherbrooke, Quebec, and grew up in Moncton, New Brunswick. He was an honors graduate in philosophy and English at Victoria College, then studied theology for three years at Toronto's Emmanuel College and was ordained in 1936 as a minister of the United Church of Canada.

He served briefly as pastor of a rural congregation in Saskatchewan, then decided that his true ministry lay in academia. He studied literature for three years at Oxford University's Merton College in England, then returned to Canada, where he began a lifelong career of teaching at the University of Toronto. He had continued to teach until shortly before his death.

Mr. Frye's research during his early years of teaching was concentrated almost exclusively on the works of Blake, and his first major literary criticism, "Fearful Symmetry," was published only after five major rewritings. It established Mr. Frye as a major literary critic and pointed in the direction his literary criticism would take in future books. It also helped generate a renewed interest in Blake.

In that book, Mr. Frye argued that Blake was neither the literary loner nor the madman that many had assumed him to be. The symbolism and mythology in Blake's writing provided insights into the mainstream of Western literature, beginning with the King James Bible and extending through James Joyce, Mr. Frye contended.

For the next 10 years, Mr. Frye's writing was limited to the publication of occasional articles and essays while he worked on "Anatomy of Criticism," which he described as "a synoptic view of the scope, theory, principles and techniques of literary criticism." Since its publication in 1957, the book has become a standard reference.

Publication in 1982 of "The Great Code: The Bible and Literature" was said by critics to have demonstrated that Mr. Frye, by then 70, still retained one of the sharpest and most erudite minds in the literary community. "We have no living critic who can match Frye's intellectual scope or drive," English literary critic Frank Kermode said in the New Republic.

The book was intended as the first of a two-volume set. At his death, Mr. Frye was working on the second volume. Its title was taken from a comment by Blake that "the Old and New Testaments are the Great Code of Art."

Mr. Frye's first wife, the former Helen Kemp, whom he married in 1937, died in 1986. They had no children. In 1988 he married Elizabeth Brown, who survives him.

MURIEL WOOL

Economist

Muriel Wool, 71, an economist who worked 10 years for the Department of Labor before retiring in 1975, died of cancer Jan. 18 at the Hospice of Washington.

Mrs. Wool, who lived in Bethesda, was born in New York City. She attended City College of New York before moving to this area in 1940. She also attended American University.

During World War II, she worked for several wartime agencies, including the War Production board, where she was a secretary and later an economist.

She was a self-employed interior decorator during the 1950s, then worked at American University, where she was assistant to the administrator of a consortium of Washington area universities to train Peace Corps volunteers.

In 1965 Mrs. Wool began working at the Labor Department, and she spent most of her time there in the Women's Bureau.

She was a former president of the executive chapter of B'nai B'rith Women, a vice president of the District of Columbia section of the National Council of Jewish Women, and a member of the Woman's National Democratic Club and Congregation Beth-El in Bethesda.

Survivors include her husband, Harold Wool of Bethesda; three daughters, Carolyn Reiss of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., Barbara Wool of Seattle and Pamela Wool of Portsmouth, N.H.; and two grandchildren.

WILLIAM ALLEN BRADFORD

Intelligence Officer

William Allen Bradford, 87, a retired official of the Defense Intelligence Agency who also worked for many years in the Office of Naval Intelligence, died of a heart attack Jan. 21 at Montgomery General Hospital.

Mr. Bradford, who lived at Leisure World in Silver Spring, was born in Cambridge, Mass. He graduated from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. He was an officer in the merchant marine for 12 years, and he held a master mariner's license.

In 1939, he moved to the Washington area and went to work in the Office of Naval Intelligence in the Navy Department. A specialist in analyzing port facilities, he remained in the office until 1961. He then transferred to the new Defense Intelligence Agency. He retired in 1965.

Mr. Bradford was active in the Massachusetts Maritime Academy alumni association. A former resident of Falls Church, he had lived at Leisure World since 1978.

Survivors include his wife of 60 years, May A. Bradford of Leisure World, and a son, William A. Bradford Jr. of Washington.

MARJORY LEITH

Volunteer and Club Member

Marjory Leith, 94, a member of the auxiliary board of Alexandria Hospital, the council of the Little Theatre of Alexandria and the Alexandria Garden Club, died of cerebral vascular disease Jan. 22 at Goodwin House in Alexandria.

Mrs. Leith was born in Owosso, Mich. She moved to the Washington area from Flint, Mich., in 1964.

She was a member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Alexandria.

Her husband, John N. Leith, died in 1964.

Survivors include a daughter, Nancy Leith Smith of Alexandria, and two sisters, a brother, six grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.