28 July 2011

A Canadian Bookshelf Conversation



My recent conversation with the charming Julie Wilson. Pulp novels, literary hoaxes, the Edwardian John Glassco, and the neglected and forgotten in our literature – you'll find it all here at Canadian Bookshelf.

24 July 2011

More Marwood



Like the Oscar Peterson Trio, I get requests. Many come from those seeking information on the great Brian Moore or the tragic Maria Monk, but most concern Harriet Marwood, a woman who never existed. Was the English governess modelled on a real person? When, if ever, did she use a birch? How might I meet such a woman?

The most common query comes from folks hoping for more Harriet Marwood stories. For those with the hunger, I have very good news: the beautiful, brunette disciplinarian exists outside the pages of The English Governess and Harriet Marwood, Governess. We find her first in The Augean Stable, a 124-page, three-act play that Glassco composed in 1954. Unproduced and unpublished, you'll have to consult his papers at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa to read this alternate, rather polite version of Harriet's romance with Richard Lovel.

Much more accessible is "The Black Helmet". Published in The Fatal Woman (Anansi, 1974) as one of "Three Tales by John Glassco", this is the novella that Glassco struggled with – forever revisiting and revising – for most of his 71 years. Here Harriet is mentioned frequently, if fleetingly, by her former charge, Philip Mairobert. In this passage, our hero recalls the the arrival of the governess at his family's estate in rural Quebec:
Today I will think of her as the person to whom I owed everything, not as a woman I loved – and think of my life here before she came, with no one but those two old servants in the twilight of dotage who were so terrified of me. I must have been like a wild animal then, with those fits of rage – screaming, biting, breaking things, rolling on the floor. I remember almost nothing of that time: it seemed to be mostly walking through these ruined gardens and in the woods where I set my ineffectual little traps for birds and rabbits, hoping to catch them alive. How desolate and wild a life! Yet when mother left to live in Paris for good, and Miss Marwood came, I was furious. I thought I would lose me freedom. Freedom! As if it ever mattered to me.
Well I lost it certainly – the child's freedom to be lonely, bored, idle, frightened. And I found, quite simply, happiness. A week after she arrived I could sleep without nightmares; and I had stopped stammering: I simply hadn't time! As for my rages, I really think she enjoyed them. as if they offered a challenge to her methods and muscles, to the very strength of her arm.
Though The Fatal Woman enjoyed just a single printing – likely 3000 copies – for a good many years it seemed quite common. No more. I note that only five, one a crummy library discard, are currently being offered by online booksellers.

Fans of the governess are advised not to hesitate. Strike now!

Trivial: The author's biography on The Fatal Woman errs in stating that Glassco won "the Governor-General's award [sic] for both poetry and non-fiction." In fact, he received only the former.

I'll step out on a limb here and say that Anansi's mistake is borne of a common misconception that Glassco won a Governor General's award for Memoirs of Montparnasse (his only "non-fiction" book). No Governor General's Award for Non-fiction was awarded for 1970, the year in which it was published.

Incredible, but true... and oddly appropriate.

Not trivial:


Cross-posted in a slightly altered form at A Gentleman of Pleasure – less flippant, more images.

22 July 2011

In Praise of Older Women



Love Affair with a Cougar
Lyn Hancock
Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1978

Related post:

18 July 2011

Selling The Unfulfilled



A dry study in international relations? I thought so when I unearthed this book last month. After all, author W.G. Hardy was a professor – at the University of Alberta, no less. And just look at the thing. The flap copy informs, but does not inspire:
What do Canadians really think about Americans? An outstanding Canadian novelist here shows the full impact of the United States upon her nextdoor [sic] neighbor [sic] across the famous "undefended border" – and upon the consciousness of the free world. In a compelling novel, Dr. Hardy has done for the character of Canada and the Canadian what no other Canadian or American novelist has done so effectively.
Image and cover copy come from the 1951 McClelland and Stewart first edition. The first American edition, published the following year by Appleton-Century-Crofts, uses the very same cover and spelling.

The paperback houses knew better how to sell a book. Here's the first paper edition, from Harlequin:


No mention of "the character of Canada", nothing about "the consciousness of the free world", the young publisher sells sin – more than one, apparently.


The American paperback, published in 1952 by Popular Library, is hotter still. Odd, adultery isn't even mentioned in the hardcover flap copy. An "Abridged edition", it's rid of dead wood, but still fails to satisfy.

12 July 2011

Ontario Gothic Romance (with the scent of Brut)



Satan's Bell
Joy Carroll
Markham, ON: Pocket, 1976


Summer reading from my fourteenth year, a time when the black spines of mass market horror paperbacks ran across my bookcase. They're all gone now, sold long ago for pennies on the dollar. I know I enjoyed these books, but can't remember much about them. The only thing that stayed with me about Satan's Bell was its setting: Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. Somehow this seemed much more interesting than, say, Amityville, New York.

Narrated by its heroine, 22-year-old secretary Polly Harris, it opens with the funeral of a murdered teenage runaway. The dead girl was found by a lost fisherman on a secluded private island where the lake and bay meet. Its owner, mysterious billionaire Justin Cavell, is charged with the murder.

Polly's pragmatic boss, small town lawyer Matthew Mackay, is hired as a consultant by Justin's high-powered Toronto legal team, which in turn brings her into contact with the accused. From the beginning, she's convinced of his innocence:
Why would a man like Justin Cavell kill a young girl and leave her lying around on his property? In the first place, he was young, handsome, and rich. He would have been able to find dozens of beautiful women in his world, and he was not a stupid man. One would have expected something cleverer than this awkward plot.
Yes, why murder a missing juvenile delinquent when you could bump off the daughter of Princess Grace?

The billionaire is acquitted and begins dating pretty Polly. Three weeks into the relationship, she's invited to spend the weekend with Justin and his twin sister Theodora at their Cavell Island castle. Polly has only just arrived when the supernatural intrudes on what to this point has been a rather conventional romance novel:
It was while climbing the staircase that first time that I became aware of the spirit... What some people would call a "ghost," I suppose, although I have never thought that an adequate word.
I must explain here that I have a peculiar talent that for the most part I keep secret from my friends. I discovered when I was a child that I could "see" things that other people could not. Evidently, I was born a sensitive or psychic.
Polly's "peculiar talent" allows her to witness past events in the castle's history, all of which centre on what she believes are an earlier Justin and Theodora and their quest for eternal youth. A bit thick is our Polly; everything is spelled out for her – and the reader – yet she can't quite figure out that her Justin and the Victorian Justin are one and the same.


Justin is handsome and charismatic, Theodora is beautiful and cold, and Matthew is Atticus Finch. Only Polly simple, virginal Polly appears as something other than a cardboard cut-out. Given the premise, the most curious aspect of Satan's Bell is that its heroine seems much older than her 22 years; indeed she appears to come from an earlier time. There's her name, of course I've yet to meet a baby boomer named Polly but also her prim and proper behaviour and speech. The small town secretary comes off a bit like Ruth Wilcox in Howard's End.

It's hard to think of Polly as anything but an odd bird, yet I don't think this is the author's intention. Or is it? You see, it's important that Polly continues to love Justin even after she realizes that he's a 125-year-old serial killer. The teenage runaway was killed in an attempt to prolong his youth, but Justin now knows that he can only achieve this goal by murdering someone who is in love with him.

I'll spoil things here by revealing surprise – that this never happens. With a sword poised over Polly's neck, Matthew shows up revolver in hand. Justin dies, Theodora dies and Cavell Island sinks into Lake Huron.

The supernatural elements out of the way, Satan's Bell returns to being a conventional romance novel for one final, rushed chapter. How rushed? In the third to last page, Matthew turns up unexpectedly at Polly's door with news that he has inherited a vast estate in Nova Scotia:
"I probably didn't tell you, but my mother married again a few years ago, and the man had money. My mother died and now her second husband has died. He's left me with the estate."
On the second to last page, he proposes. Polly is set to turn him down, but then, on the last page, he takes her in his arms:
When Mattew kissed me, I felt the rising of that same passion I'd had for Justin. A fantastic gush of feeling, an excitement I'd never expected to feel again. And with Matthew, of all people. It was the most astonishing thing!
"Matthew, I love you!" I cried.
And we both laughed and cried at the same time, standing there by the lake.
FIN

You're mistaking lust for love, Polly. My thirteen-year-old self could've told you that.

Favourite sentence: "His handsome face was very close to mine, I could feel the warmth of his breath, smell the faint scent of Brut that he always wore, and see the tender concern in his blue, blue eyes."

Object: Published as part of a series edited by husband Jock Carroll, Satan's Bell is typical 'seventies mass market paperback, complete with two-pages of adverts tacked onto the end.


I'm not so sure that Sheila Hervey and Eileen Sonin rank amongst "THE BEST CANADIAN AUTHORS", but then I haven't read their work. Certainly, John G. Neihardt can't be considered; he was as American as his subject.

Couldn't anyone have come up with a stronger pitch line for Some Canadian Ghosts?

Access: Held by only five libraries, Satan's Bell is surprisingly difficult to find. There are currently just three copies listed online: good+ (US$4.99), signed (US$9.50) and fair (US$61.78). The last is offered by Motor City Books of Riverview, Michigan, which bills itself as "THE BEST PLACE FOR CHEAP USED BOOKS".

06 July 2011

Bottoms Up, Shy Photographer



Reading The Queers of New York a couple of weeks ago got me thinking about Jock Carroll, under whose editorial direction the book was published. A fine photographer, but not much of an editor, he's at least partly to blame for the novel's failings. Truth be told, Carroll wasn't much of a writer either, though he did have a number of titles to his credit. The first edition of Bottoms Up (1961) is the most sought-after, but only because it was published by the infamous Olympia Press. Carroll's only novel, it is perhaps the blandest piece of writing Maurice Girodias ever passed off as "erotica".

It's a wonder that Bottoms Up thing ever made it into print – that it was republished seems not improbable, but impossible. And yet, for more than a decade the novel was available in one form or another. There were at least thirteen editions, published in six counties, making Bottoms Up one of Canada's all-time best selling novels. Carroll once boasted that it had moved close one million copies. The editions below go some way in backing up his claim.


Bitte recht scharf
Bremen: Schünemann Verlag, 1963
Not only the first translation, but the first hardcover edition in any language. The German was followed by Italian (Il Fotografo Timido, 1967) and Danish (Den blufærdige fotograf, 1969) translations.


The Shy Photographer
New York: Stein & Day, 1964
Retitled, Carroll's novel kicked off Stein & Day's "Olympia Press Series". Short-lived, ill-fated, the series actually began and ended with The Shy Photographer. The cover was also used on the first British edition, published in 1964 by Macgibbon & Kee.


The Shy Photographer
New York: Bantam, 1965
The first and only legal American paperback edition. "Candy with a camera!" exclaims, um... whoever wrote the cover copy, I guess.


The Shy Photographer
London: Panther, 1965

"The novel that's loaded with heaven-ly nudes". Not true.
The image was also used for the 1970 German paperback edition.

Bottoms Up
Covina, CA: Collectors Publications, 1967
A pirated edition produced by the notorious Marvin Miller. "FIRST AMERICAN PRINTING" is the claim. Again, not true.


The Shy Photographer
London: Panther, 1967
A droog takes a photograph. Whoever designed the second Panther edition seems to have been intent on representing both titles.
Wholly unappealing. And is not superimposing the author's name across some guy's ass just a tad insulting?

Il Fotografo Timido
Collana: Longanesi, 1970
The first Italian paperback edition recycles the hardcover image (which was in turn borrowed from the Bantam paperback). Of all the translations, the Italian is by far the most common.

Il Fotografo Timido
Collana: Longanesi, 1972.
A later Italian edition, the last in any language, continues the tradition of misrepresentation. Protagonist Arthur King does not become a photographer for Playboy, and at no point does he don a pair of purple panties.

There has never been a Canadian edition.


Related post:

04 July 2011

My Career as a Teenage Rock Photographer



From the archives, these handbills and related photographs from my aborted career as a concert photographer. I never was serious and asked for no special favours. In fact, these were all taken using an old 35mm Canon (with broken light meter) that was smuggled into each show in a friend's purse.

Gang of Four's Jon King at Montreal's Beer Garden, 4 July 1981. thirty years ago today. I've since seen the band three more times, but have never once heard them play "5:45", my favourite of all their songs.


Dave Allen, Hugo Burnham and Andy Gill. It's my understanding that this was the last time Allen played with the band until the 2005 reunion. Here it looks like he's packing up:

Durutti Column with American Devices. Véhicule Art, Montreal. 2 April 1982. With an audience of twenty or so, it was much harder to go unnoticed at this show. Still, no one seemed to mind. Damn that light meter.

The great Vini Reilly.


Montreal was their first ever Canadian gig, squeezed between New York and Toronto on a three-date North American tour. They've never been back – no return of the Durutti Column.

Sorry.

A bootleg recording of the Véhicule Art show is out there under the title dcmtl 1982. It includes this, for three decades my favourite Reilly composition:


01 July 2011

Two Hurrahs for the New Dominion



Two poems in celebration of Canada Day, both titled "Hurrah for the New Dominion", both by Scottish immigrants. The first, penned by Alexander McLachlan, comes from his Poems and Songs (Rose, 1888):


McLachlan's verse was later included in Selections from Scottish Canadian Poets; Being a Collection of the Best Poetry Written by Scotsmen and Their Descendants (Rose, 1900), in which we also find this somewhat disturbing photograph of George Pirie.


Considered "one of the ablest writers in Canada" by Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie, a foe, on 1 July 1867 Pirie was editor of the Guelph Herald. His "Hurrah for the New Dominion" is, I think, a bit more fun:
Hurrah for the New Dominion!
'Tis founded on public opinion;
Mid the blessings of peace
May the nation increase,
Till the twin oceans bound the Dominion.
Sadly, Pirie didn't live to see the young country reach the Pacific Ocean; he died in July 1870, just one year before British Columbia joined Confederation.

A happy Canada Day to all!