26 March 2009

Alec Falcon, c'est moi



All Else is Folly
Peregrine Acland
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1929

Peregrine Acland is not the sort of name one forgets. I first heard it during a seminar course, lumped in with Charles Yale Harrison and Philip Child as one of the few Canadian veterans to have penned a novel about the Great War. Harrison's Generals Die in Bed was in print, Child's God's Sparrows had been part of the New Canadian Library, but what about Acland? All Else is Folly was praised by Bertrand Russell and Frank Harris, Ford Madox Ford contributed a preface, and yet it hadn't been published since 1929.

What intrigued Ford was the idea of a war novel with a hero 'as normal in temperament and circumstance as it is possible to be.' In All Else is Folly he saw that protagonist in Alec Falcon, who is really Peregrine Acland himself. Not so normal in circumstance, the character enjoys a privileged background similar to the author, the son of the Deputy Minister of Labor in Ottawa. Like Acland, Falcon is tall, university educated and a mediocre poet (Acland's only other publication was a long poem, The Reveille of Romance, which he composed while crossing the Atlantic to war). Both creator and character fought at Ypres, attained the rank of major and were badly wounded in the Battle of the Somme. But what else of Peregrine Acland's wartime experience is there in Alec Falcon? This 'Tale of War and Passion' has our hero fending off the advances of officer's wives, enjoying the company of prostitutes and pursuing a married woman. These elements caused another Canadian veteran of the Somme, Colonel Cyrus Peck, VC, who quite possibly served as a model for one of the characters, to place the work 'on a level with the filth-purveyors of other nations'.

All Else is Folly is not a filthy novel, nor is it a great novel - but it is a good one. Acland's descriptions of the Battle of the Somme are particularly effective. While I won't agree with Ford that it would be 'little less than a scandal if the book is not read enormously widely', I wonder that it has been out of print these last eight decades.


Object: My copy is one of at least three McClelland and Stewart printings - there is no indication as to which. Sadly, no dust jacket. The image above, that of the first American edition, comes courtesy of Alan Hewer, the foremost collector of Great War dust jackets. His website is well-worth repeated visits.

Access: A forgotten book of the Great War, All Else is Folly isn't held by many public libraries. The good news is that copies, though uncommon, aren't obscenely expensive. Nice copies of the American first, published by Coward-McCann, can usually to be had for somewhere in the area of C$50 sans dust jacket. Those who follow the flag may face a challenge in finding the McClelland and Stewart edition. The English Constable edition is nowhere in sight.

2 comments:

  1. General's Die in Bed
    Are you sure that's the title?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Goodness, nearly two years posted and I never noticed the error. Thanks, Roger.

    ReplyDelete