27 February 2012

Freedom to Read Week: Episode


"A remarkable first novel about madness – its feelings, treatment and powers."
— Books of the Month 
"Filth and muck."
— Raoul Mercier, K.C.
On 17 February 1956, a bitterly cold day in Ottawa, the American News Company was found guilty of having in its possession for the purpose of distribution "obscene written matter, to wit: 117 copies of a book entitled 'Episode', written by Peter W. Denzer."

The distributor was fined $5000 ($42,500 today), roughly $43 ($356) for each and every copy of the 25¢ paperback. This absurd amount would be described in The Canadian Bar Review as "by far and away the heaviest penalty imposed for an offence of this nature in Ontario, and probably Canada." Meanwhile, Crown prosecutor Raoul Mercier, the future Attorney General of Ontario, was clicking his heels.

The Vancouver Sun, 18 February 1956 

Peter Denzer died earlier the month at the age of ninety; his friend Peter Anastas paid tribute with a very fine obituary. It's important to note, I think, that the author of Episode, a novel about a man's struggle with mental illness, had himself suffered. What's more, Peter Denzer had been an early defender and sympathetic champion of those struggling with mental health disorders.

Episode is, I suppose, somewhat autobiographical. Hugh MacLennan was an admirer of the novel. His biographer, Elspeth Cameron, describes it as a precursor to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I've yet to come across a negative review. Everything I've read about Episode indicates that it is both fascinating and important. And yet, Canadians who want to read Episode are out of luck. You see, while Episode, can be found in libraries throughout the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, not a single Canadian library – public or academic – has a copy.

Those looking to place blame need only look to this little, little man:

 Raoul Mercier
1897-1967

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