31 January 2013

The Hell That is Retail: 1912 Edition

The House of Windows
Isabel Ecclestone Mackay
London: Cassell, 1912

Writing on Ontario, opium and cocaine in Isabel Ecclestone Mackay's 1917 Up the Hill and Over, I reported that the novel featured "perhaps the most remarkable and improbable coincidence in all of Canadian literature." The House of Windows challenges in an entirely different way. Here the reader must believe that all characters remain blind to coincidence, conduction and consonance, and are each incapable of concomitance.

Mrs Mackay's story begins in the ribbon department of Angus and Sons, a fictitious department story in a fictitious city that appears to have been modelled upon Toronto. It's the day of the semi-annual sale,
with frenzied women causing chaos through collapsing displays. "SACRIFICE OF ALL RIBBONS WITHOUT RESERVE," the adverts announce, "EVERYTHING SLAUGHTERED!" At the end of it all, the shop-girls – known as "Stores" – wade through paper from the unwound bolts to find an abandoned go-cart with baby girl within. There's some talk of calling the police, but the newest Store, Celia Brown, comes forward to care for the child as she would a sister.

Not one of the shop-girls, good-hearted Celia included, gives so much as fleeting consideration of the news dominating the city's dailies. Baby Elice, daughter of wealthy Adam Torrence and wife, has been kidnapped. This tragedy will soon lead to the premature death of poor Mrs Torrence. Devastated widower Adam, bereft of wife and child, will take young Mark Wareham, a not so distant relative, to be his ward.

As Christine Brown, the abandoned baby is raised by Celia and her blind sister Ada. She grows to become a beautiful young woman, while spinster Celia loses looks and energy. Angus and Sons is to blame for the latter's decline. The work of a Store – ten hours a day, six days a week – is hard. Everyone knows that the stools behind the counters are just for show.

You musn't blame Celia's employer – who, as it turns out, is Adam Torrence. This man of wealth pays little attention to the store, and even less to the Stores, because the money they bring flows so steadily. Thoughts that stray in the direction of Angus and Sons invariably concern propriety. Adam is firm that all shop-girls hired have additional sources of income lest they turn to... become... find themselves... Oh, he cannot bring himself to express his fears.

Crisis comes to the cramped Brown flat when Celia suffers a nervous breakdown. It's unfortunate, of course, but her timing is good in that Christine has secretly been job hunting. During her search she meets Adam's unofficially adopted son Mark. The moment, which takes place when he pushes a man to the ground for daring to talk to her, is captured in illustrator Dudley Tennant's frontispiece.

Mark falls for Christine in such a way that the throb escapes no one. Disapproving his dalliance with someone named "Brown", someone who is plainly of the lowest class, the Torrence family – Adam and elder sister Miriam – dispatch Mark to Vancouver.

Adam is next to happen upon Christine. For a moment he gives consideration that this Miss Brown might be the same  young woman in whom Mark is interested – but then Brown is such a very common name of very common people. That said, Adam is distracted, bothered and fairly won over by Christine. She is very much a lady, despite her lowly family. The mere description of her hair – "honey blonde" – brings to mind that of his dear late wife. And, oh, doesn't Christine have the same eyes, laugh and smile of his dear departed sister.

Sixteen years into the story, everyone meets everyone else, which I suppose can be put down to coincidence. It's at this point that another plot, a nefarious plot, is revealed. We learn that Christine (née Elice) had been kidnapped all those years ago by an old crone who believed her daughter was ruined in working at Angus and Son. The poor Store turned to... became... found herself... Oh, I cannot say.

Weirdly, improbably, the crone thought that by leaving Elice in the ribbon department the girl would grow up to work in the store. Weirdly, improbably, she was right.

Christine – Elice, if you prefer – is kidnapped a second time. More coincidences ensue. I recognized them all.

Query: How is it that the Stores made no connection between kidnapped Baby Elice and the infant that had left in the ribbon department? Celia explains it all:
"We read it in the papers. But we did not feel especially interested. We did not know who Mr. Torrence was. He was just a name. We did not know he had any connect with the Stores. And this baby – so evidently a neglected and unwanted child! – it would have been a miracle if the coincidence had struck us."

Object and Access: My copy, inscribed by the author, was purchased just last month for US$25 from an Illinois bookseller; I'm thinking it's a first edition. While there are four copies currently listed online, each from sellers who claim the same, at least two lack the elegant monogram pictured above. I suggest that these are at best second state. Either way, expect to pay between US$50 and US$100.

Being in the public domain, print on demand vultures are all over this one. Nabu, General, Pranava and Repressed bring their usual ugliness, but the worst comes from the confusingly-named Book on Demand of Miami, Florida:
This book, "The house of windows" [sic], by Isabel Ecclestone 1875-1928 Mackay [sic], is a replication. It has been restored by human beings, page by page, so that you may enjoy it in a form as close to the original as possible. This item is printed on demand. Thank you for supporting classic literature.
You're welcome. Now, if you could just put some human beings to work on that cover.

Nearly all our universities have copies, as do the public libraries of Toronto and Vancouver. Library and Archives fails yet again – given current policy, one wonders whether it will ever procure a copy.

26 January 2013

Harper Hockey Book Watch: Year Nine, Day 222

A big tip of the hat and nod of respect this fine weekend to journalist Stephen Maher for doggedly pursuing a story which so many others picked up, dropped, allowed to escape and subsequently forgot. I refer, of course, to our prime minister's long promised history of the earliest days of the Dominion's national winter sport.

Last we heard – eleven months ago – the book had been subject to a bidding war. Mr Harper himself was to have chosen the winning publisher on 1 March 2012, but as noted on year nine, day 39 of this watch, no publisher stepped forward to claim victory. The prime minister's representative in this matter, Westwood Creative Agency, was similarly silent. Thanks to Mr Maher we now know that the lucky girl was Simon & Schuster Canada. Publication will take place sometime this year.

Today's news raises questions. The first concerns the participation of Greg Stoicoiu, a researcher who, like Preston Manning's George Pepki, has next to no web presence.

Mr Stoicolu has posted a few pleasant sketches on the Elboya Heights Community Association's Facebook page and had a whimsical cartoon published in the March 2012 edition of the Society for International Hockey Research's online Bulletin.* I should add that he is also amongst the dozens of people thanked for providing information on movie exhibition in Reel Time: Movie Exhibitors and Movie Audiences in Prairie Canada, 1896 to 1986, just out from Athabaska University Press.

Given the prime minister's day job and self-imposed constraint which allowed the history a mere fifteen minutes work a day, Mr Stoicoiu's contribution must be very substantial. Skeptics have raised the spectre of ghostwriters. I've never been a believer myself, and am more than willing to take the word of Bruce Westwood, founder and president of Westwood Creative Agency. As reported in Mr Maher's article:
“Remember this has not been ghosted,” he [Bruce Westwood] said. “This is Harper’s writing. It’s surprisingly good.”
Surprisingly good. How's that for hype!

Never mind. What really caught my eye was Mr Westwood's comment that he's read only parts of the manuscript.

Only parts? Of what most certainly will be one of the biggest Canadian books of the decade?

It is finished, right?

* With the news, some are again making a big deal of the prime minister's membership in the Society. Once more, I point out that membership is open to anyone with thirty bucks to spare.

Related posts:

25 January 2013

'Robert Burns' by Mr. John Steele of St. John, N.B.

Robert Burns Statue
Victoria Park, Halifax
Photograph by David Murray

Verse by John Steele found in Selections from Scottish Canadian Poets; Being a Collection of the Best Poetry Written by Scotsmen and Their Descendants in the Dominion of Canada, published in 1900 under the auspices of the Caledonian Society of Toronto, printed by Imrie, Graham & Co.

Nearly everything known about the poet is contained in the accompanying photograph and biography:

I'm willing to bet a bottle of Lagavulin that the versifying John Steele is very same John Steele, laborer, who is recorded here in the 1851 Census of New Brunswick:

(cliquez pour agrandir)
At the time, a 40-year-old John Steele was living in Chatham Parish, Northumberland County, New Brunswick, with exhausted wife Grizzla (34) and their seven children: Elizabeth (18), Marion (16), Joseph (14), John (9), Ann (7), Mary (5) and Richard (1 month).

For the day, one more from the fecund Mr Steele:

22 January 2013

No Gun for Gloria

This Gun for Gloria
Bernard Mara [pseud. Brian Moore]
New York: Gold Medal, 1956

As titles go, This Gun for Gloria is right up there with Wreath for a Redhead, Moore's first pulp. And who can resist that caption:

American Mitch Cannon is our narrator and hero. Not so long ago, Mitch was wunderkind of the newsroom, rising quickly through the ranks at a wire service agency. Then came a brief, ill-advised marriage to Nancy, a junior reporter intent on sleeping her way to the top. Mitch quit it all and made for Paris, where he hoped to reinvent himself as a freelance journalist. It didn't go well. When we catch up with Mitch at his Left Bank hotel he has perhaps $50 to his name. In walks Dorothy Gaye, an attractive older woman wearing a Dior suit with a tight black skirt. She also has a sapphire-blue mink stole, but it's not worth dwelling on these details; still smarting from Nancy, Mitch isn't much interested in women. Dorothy – Mrs Gaye – isn't interested in him either, except as a man who might be able to find her missing daughter, Gloria.

No private dick, Mitch is polite in declining the work, but changes is mind after finding a wad of bills that Mrs Gaye left behind in his bathroom. It's not the money, you understand, but the idea that same will pay for a trip to Berlin, allowing him to break a big story.

Forget Berlin. Forget Gloria, too. What's most interesting in This Gun for Gloria is the tour of the seedy side of Paris provided by Mitch's search. There's a nightclub at which sadists hook up, a sweat-filled jazz cellar, an Arab drug kingpin, an Amazonian German mule, Senegalese strong-arms and a wealthy, worn-out prostitute, her once-handsome face a "mired field where expensive cosmetics blurred and wasted into a stained palette of colours."

This Gun for Gloria features some of Moore's best pulp writing, much of it focused on the callow, spoiled and pretentious American kids who fill the clubs and cafés. Pushing through the crowd, I found I didn't care so much about ever finding Gloria, though I did begin to wonder about the title.

This Gun for Gloria? Just two guns feature in the novel, neither of which belongs to Mitch. While one errant shot is fired, they're used in the main to intimidate and pistol whip. No one, Mitch included, catches a slug.

This is not to say that our hero doesn't suffer. He's twice knocked out and endures several beatings, but as convention dictates soldiers on without breaking stride. And, as per the norm, he falls in love with Caroline, the most sensible, least spoiled of the young Americans. That's not her on the cover. It's not Gloria, either – she's a blonde. I'm not even sure that that's Mitch. The only person he ever carries is Papa Houdin, an elderly one-legged book pedlar who got run over by a taxi.

Of the five Moore pulps I've read to date, This Gun for Gloria is the best, but I can't help but leave off with a final complaint: only one person "SET OUT TO MURDER GLORIA" – and he used a wrench.

Favourite passage:
Above on a tiny platform, the tenor sax hoisted his horn and blew a straight chorus of Dear Old Southland. His fellow riders went to work on it, chasing it up and down, changing, arranging, losing it altogether as they went out on a cloud and came back in slow to let the others go. The kids loved it. They began to jig, double, triple time, rolling like crazy. One by one they stopped jigging, muscles unable to follow the tenorman's pace as he went far out, away above it all. Finally, one couple was left, a tall jazz bum with a monk haircut, and a well-stacked little redhead in an orange skirt and shirt. They really went, high, wide and handsome, and the crowd pressed around, swaying, watching, jumping. The redhead's shirt was ballooning around her and underneath it, the fans could se her firm plump breasts keep time to the gyrations. There was a gone, gut-bucket atmosphere of sex in the music, in the dancing, in the hungry eyes of the kids who watched.

Object: A slim, 144-page mass market paperback, This Gun for Gloria enjoyed just one printing. The back cover is a little less misleading than the front. Gloria's mother doesn't put a bundle of francs in Mitch's hands, but $500 (again, left in his bathroom). And that "sweet drugged death on a wooden floor" is only accurate if one considers alcohol a drug. Which it is.

Access: Held by Library and Archives Canada, the Toronto Public Library and eight of our universities, but all copies are non-circulating. The good news is that Very Good copies begin at US$28, with several in Near Fine going for a just few dollars more. One bookseller is hoping to score US$200 for a Fine, "unread" copy. Before taking out your credit card it's best to consider that Gold Medal's print runs were typically in the 200,000 range.

Related posts:

21 January 2013


A week tomorrow it will be my honour to moderate a panel featuring Chris Woodrow (Acting CEO and Director of Strategic Planning, Windsor Public Library), Brian Owens (Librarian and Chief Archivist, Leddy Library, University of Windsor) and Jennifer Franklin-McInnis (Deputy Chief Librarian and Manager of Branches, Essex County Libraries).

The topic? I'll leave that to hosts Biblioasis:
The latest issue of Canadian Notes & Queries is library-themed, and to celebrate its launch we’re holding an informal panel discussion on the role of libraries in Windsor and beyond. Want to learn more about the social challenges libraries face as one of the few remaining (free) public institutions? How librarians and publishers are negotiating rights for e-book lending? What the best arguments are in favour of growing a library’s physical archives? Join us for these discussions and more at the store.
Everything else you need to know is on the poster above. Click for a larger view, 'tis a thing of beauty.

See ya there!

18 January 2013

The Paralyzing Success of Gwethalyn Graham

Gwethalyn Graham
18 January 1913 – 26 November 1965
Expect no media recognition today of the Gwethalyn Graham centenary – such things just aren't done in this country. Oh, there was a good deal of fuss last year over Irving Layton at 100, but the silence surrounding the similar anniversaries of Gabrielle Roy and Hector de Saint-Denys-Garneau are more in keeping with cool Canadian tradition.

In Graham's case, the neglect is a bit easier to understand. She produced only three books in her short life. The first, Swiss Sonata (1938), was published in England and the United States, earned reviews of the "respectable first novel" variety, won a Governor General's Award, then quickly slipped out of print and out of mind. The third, Dear Enemies (1963), "a dialogue on French and English Canada" with unhappy journalist Solange Chaput-Rolland, might be of interest to those studying the Quiet Revolution.

It's for that middle book, the novel Earth and High Heaven, that we remember Graham. Or do we? Before Cormorant Books resurrected Swiss Sonata and Earth and High Heaven last decade, Graham had been long out-of-print. But in 1944 and 1945, she was a publishing sensation.

Arriving in bookstores during the final months of the Second World War, Earth and High Heaven and its romantic story of the forbidden love between a Gentile and a Jew appealed.

"Deserves the widest possible audience," decreed the New York Times. Earth and High Heaven received just that. The week of publication, a portrait of the unknown author graced the cover of The Saturday Review. Two weeks later, the magazine featured an advert boasting that the book was in its third printing.

Life, 19 February 1945
There was a Lippincott edition, a Jonathan Cape edition, an Armed Services edition and a cheap hardcover from Sun Dial Press. Earth and High Heaven became the first Canadian novel to hold number one spot on the New York Times Best Seller list. Throughout the following year, it worked steadily beside Elizabeth Goudge's Green Dolphin Street in luring readers to join the Literary Guild and the Doubleday One Dollar Book Club. Fifteen translations were to come.

Ottawa Citizen
12 October 1946
Earth and High Heaven received the 1944 Governor General's Award for Fiction and the 1945 Anisfield-Wolf Award for best book on race relations. Not everyone was on board. Writing in First Statement, John Glassco dismissed the novel as "cinematic and strictly spurious." Samuel Goldwyn half-agreed, paying $100,000 for the screen rights. Screenwriter Howard Koch was dispatched to Montreal, where he visited the author and strolled about Windsor Station, Dominion Square, Mount Royal and Westmount.

Graham estimated that her novel sold 1,250,000 copies in its first thirteen months. Sure seems like it. When I was a student back in the 'eighties, Montreal's used bookstores were giving away copies gratis.

There would be no movie – film historians are of the mind that it was somehow killed by the success of Gentleman's Agreement. There was no third novel, either. One might blame the riches – they did get in the way for a time – but I think the true reason for the silence was fear. Accepting her second Governor General's Award at Montreal's Ritz-Carleton Graham admitted that she was "worried to death" about her next book:
At the risk of sounding ungrateful – which Heaven knows I am not – being so strongly identified with one book and one title gives one an awful feeling at times, and I should like to forget all about Earth and High Heaven and get on to something else if I can, and, with luck do a better job next time.
Gwethalyn Graham never could forget Earth and High Heaven... and yet we did.

14 January 2013

Glassco's $9500 Library and the Montreal Eatons

Canadian Notes & Queries number 86 has arrived, bringing with it all kinds of goodness from Caroline Adderson, Mike Barnes, Nigel Beale, Darryl Joel Berger, Steven W. Beattie, Aaron Costain, Evie Christie, Jason Dickson, Nicole Dixon, Emily Donaldson, Sharon English, Alex Good, Finn Harvor, Jeet Heer, Even Jones, David Mason, Ben McNally, Sarah Neville, James Pollock, John Richmond, Mark Sampson and Bruce Whiteman, wrapped in a cover by Seth.

I have two pieces in this issue, the first being a look at John Glassco: A Personal and Working Library, issued in 1982 by Montreal's Word Bookstore. Compiled by Glassco's bibliographer Fraser Sutherland, this cerlox-bound 47-page catalogue offers the poet and pornographer's library en masse:
The Library occupies approximately 29 feet of shelf-space, and comprises 526 books and 88 periodicals – most of them signed and annotated – as well as hundreds of other printed items, letters, and manuscripts. Editions are usually First. Except for books or periodicals published before 1940, condition is usually Fine. On the rare occasions were pages are missing, these are indicated. The price of JOHN GLASSCO: A PERSONAL AND WORKING LIBRARY is Can$9500.
That's right, $9500. And yet only one institution stepped forward. And it wasn't McGill, his alma mater.

The collection was purchased by Queen's University and can be viewed, even by unaccompanied minors, at Special Collections at the W.D. Jordan Library. Select pages from the catalogue can be seen here at my Gentleman of Pleasure blog.

The second contribution is a review of Marion: The Story of an Artist's Model by Winnifred Eaton (a/k/a Onoto Watanna). First published in 1916 as a biography, reissued last year by McGill-Queen's as a novel, it provides a fictionalized account of sister Sara Eaton's youth, along with glimpses of artist father Edward, mother Lotus Blossom, and more than a few of the thirteen other Eaton children.

The Metropolitan, 10 February 1894
The new edition benefits from a fascinating 49-page Introduction by Karen E.H. Skinazi and the inclusion of Henry Hutt's original illustrations.

Rereading the review, I see that I've described the Eatons as "perhaps the most unusual and unconventional family of Victorian Montreal."

I'm now reconsidering the word "perhaps".

Related post:

Cross-posted, in part, at A Gentleman of Pleasure.

10 January 2013

Dope Rings in Canada! Oh My!

Die with Me, Lady
Ronald Cocking
Toronto: Harlequin, 1953
If you are having dinner with a group of Montrealers and suddenly bring up the subject of Toronto, chances are that someone will remark, "Toronto? Please. Not while I'm eating."
– Al Palmer, Montreal Confidential, 1950
There was no Toronto Confidential for the same reason that there's no Hogtown equivalent to William Weintraub's City Unique: post-war Montreal was sin city; post-war Toronto was dullsville.

Montreal's noir writers – Brian Moore, Ted Allan, David Montrose, Douglas Sanderson, Ronald J Cooke and Al Palmer – set novels in the city in which they lived, playing it up with titles like Sugar-Puss on Dorchester Street, The House on Craig Street, The Mayor of Côte St. Paul, The Crime on Cote des Neiges, Murder Over Dorval and The Body on Mount Royal. But the urban grit found in the fiction of Toronto's Thomas P. Kelley, Tedd Steele, Keith Edgar, Horace Brown and Danny Halperin belongs to the streets of New York or, more often, some faceless North American city.

No snide remarks, now.

The notable exception amongst Toronto's pulpists is Hugh Garner, who used the city as the setting of Cabbagetown, Present Reckoning and Waste No Tears, his infamous "Novel about the Abortion Racket." And who can forget The Door Between, Halperin's one Toronto novel? Not me. His best, it lingers as one of the most peculiar novels I have ever read. Now we have Die with Me, Lady, the only novel that transplanted British newspaperman Ronald Cocking set in the Queen City.

Bay Street, looking north to Old City Hall, c. 1955
Fewer overhead wires.
We begin at the corner of Queen and Bay, opposite Old City Hall, where withered and weathered newsie Timmy McGuire sells the day's papers. Ask for the Star and press a wadded bill into his palm and he'll hand you a well-folded copy containing a cocaine supplement. As evening begins and the business crowd thins out, old Timmy packs up and takes the streetcar east, past the Union Station, past the grain elevators, to the Island Ferry. He's being followed and he knows it. He'd call out for help, but what's the use: "There was tomorrow, and the next day. The little man's heart contracted at the thought of the constant terror. Anything was better than that – anything."

Timmy is resigned to his fate, but still tries to dodge it. Aboard the Sam McBride, hoping to reach his modest Centre Island rental alive, he seeks safety in the toilet:
   "Come here, Timmy."
   The little man turned, trying to peer through the blood-red mist that was fogging his sight. It was Him, of course.
   Then he felt his wrist being gripped, and his forearm was suddenly bare. A sharp pain, a little pressure.
   "There, Timmy. That was painless, wasn't it?"
   The sleeve of his jacket was pulled down, and then he was being pushed through the open doorway.
   "Go back to your seat, Timmy. You'll need to sit down in a minute."  
Exit Timmy McBride, dead by morphine; enter Al Morley, drunk as a skunk. Al works the police beat at the Toronto Daily News; Timmy would've sold thousands of his words. A pilot during the war, he spent three years as a McGill med student before drinking got the better of him. Now he works in a field that "places a premium on failure," one that "has gathered unto itself the refugees from more different professions than any other occupation except prostitution."

His words, not mine.

Al's losing money playing poker with a morality squad cop when the call comes in about Timmy's death. They make their way to the morgue, Al blathering on about some of the stuff he learned in med school:
   He fell silent, suddenly nauseated with his own inane conversation. The siren cut a noisy swathe for the car as it rolled down Bay Street.
   All at once he hated the solid smugness of the city. He felt as though he wanted to get a giant sledgehammer and smash the stony temples of industry; crack the into a billion pieces.
   I'm going crazy, he decided dispassionately.
It was at this point I put down the book and placed orders with UK booksellers for Cocking's other novels. Then I wrote a few friends advising them to get the book while there were still copies to be had.

My enthusiasm was premature.

Never have I seen a book fall apart quite so dramatically and melodramatically. Decay sets in when Al breaks into dead Timmy's home and encounters a girl "in cool green linen suit that set off her copper-coloured hair, cut short like a boy's in the new style." She is Valerie, the virginal daughter of import-export business tycoon Sir Wilfred Cremore. Next thing you know, Al has it bad. He turns from hard liquor to ice coffee, becomes a regular visitor at the Cremore mansion and sits like a puppy at Sir Wilfred's feet. Al's amusing enough as a drunk; sober he's a bore. For the reader, things hit rock bottom when Al declares his love for Valerie and they share their first embrace. It's the very type of writing that would one day turn Harlequin into Canada's richest publisher:
There was a mighty thundering in his ears, and his whole body was filled with the warmth and sweetness of her.
   After a while he said, with his mouth still touching hers! "I never knew this could happen to me. You read about it, and you hear about it, but I never knew that it could happen to me."
   She was crying, silently, and the tears ran down salty on his mouth. He kissed her again, marvelling at the fierce intensity with which she gave herself. She reached up and put her arms around his head, pulling his mouth closer to her...
   Presently she lifted her face away a little.
   "It's for ever and ever," she said softly. "You read that in books, too, don't you? But I've always waited for this, because I knew one day it would happen. Now – it had to happen this way. Forever may not be very long, darling, but that doesn't matter. We know what it's like to have found what some people call Heaven. But Heaven was never like this."
Call me unromantic, but I much prefer this from earlier in the novel:
   "Why," Patti said softly, "our boy sounds all tuckered out." She climbed up on the stool beside him. "Maybe I ought to take you back with me and get you relaxed."
   "Maybe," Al said, and his throat and mouth went dry at the thought. "Maybe."
   "Finish your drink, honey," she said urgently. "I can't wait. God! The things you do to me shouldn't happen to a dog."
   "You either got it," said Al, "or you ain't." Then he turned towards her. I'm sorry, Patti, I'm just a trifle stewed."
   "You're a doll," she said, staring at him. Her mouth was red and very moist. "You're a doll, Al," she repeated. "Let's go, huh?"
   "Where'll we go?" Al asked. She was very lovely, he thought. Her figure was perfect.
   "We'll go up to my room, Al," she said softly. "I'll pour you a drink, and we'll talk – then I'll relax you. Huh?" 
But let's remember that this is meant to be a mystery. Who killed little Timmy McGuire and why? Our reporter hero doesn't do much to find the answers. Instead he visits, revisits and revisits Sir Wilfred, his editor, the morality squad cop and a Mountie named Summers comparing notes. He doesn't know a lot, but it's enough to make a couple of parties very unhappy. Kidnapped once, shame on the crooks; kidnapped twice, shame on Al.

"For a reporter, you ain't smart," observes Sir Wilfred's dimwitted muscleman.

No, no he's not. Frankly, I question what he tells us about studying at McGill.

Trivia: Die with Me Lady or Die with Me, Lady? Mrs Vowels, my second grade teacher, taught me that the latter is correct.

Yes, her name really was Mrs Vowels.

Harlequin gets it wrong on the cover and spine, but correct on the back cover and title page. So, fifty percent, which at Allancroft Elementary School was a passing grade.

Object: A surprisingly bulky 224-page mass market. Published in June 1953 "by arrangement with HURST & BLACKETT LIMITED, London, Eng." A year earlier the British firm had published Die with Me, Lady under the title Weep No More, Lady. Harlequin's edition, the only Cocking novel to be published in Canada, was in turn followed by London's Mystery Book Guild in an attractive hardcover edition (right). All share the same text with no variations in spelling other than the occasion Harlequin typo.

Access: Library patrons, look to the west. The University of Calgary has one non-circulating copy of Die with Me, Lady, while the University of Regina holds the Hurst & Blackett Weep No More, Lady. That's it. Surprisingly, the Toronto Public Library and the University of Toronto's Thomas Fischer Rare Book Library do not have any edition of the novel in their holdings.

The true first from Hurst & Blackett is quite rare. The only copy listed online, Good without dust jacket, is going for £8. The mystery Book Guild edition is twice as common with Good and Very Good copies going for £7.40 and £10 respectively. Very Good copies of Harlequin's Die with Me, Lady are listed online at US$10 to US$12, but there aren't many. At that price, my advice remains to get 'em while you can.

07 January 2013

Anyone Care about the Ryerson Fiction Award?

It's not found in The Canadian Encyclopedia, The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature or W.H. New's Companion to Canadian Literature; the three-volume History of the Book in Canada limits mention to a single sentence; misnamed the "Ryerson Fiction Prize", fleeting reference is made in The Cambridge History of Canadian Literature – yet in mid-20th-century Canada the Ryerson Fiction Award was second only to the Governor General's Award. Authors were encouraged to submit manuscripts to Ryerson, which in turn would publish the winning work.

The Cambridge error is understandable. The award-winning titles I've seen invariably feature a page listing past recipients, similar to the one above from Evelyn M. Richardson's Desired Haven. Each repeats this bit of awkwardness:
The All-Canada Prize Novels
Most dust jackets add to the confusion in trumpeting "The All-Canada Fiction Award".

The Ryerson Fiction Award... The All-Canada Prize... The All-Canada Fiction Award... Whatever the name, it seems clear that by "fiction" Ryerson meant "novel." As for "All-Canada"? Well, our French-language novelists need not submit.

First presented in 1942, the award moved in fits and starts. There was no recipient in its second year... or its third... no award in 1946, 1948, 1951, 1952 or 1955 either. Some years saw the honour go to two titles. It was last presented in 1960.

Does anyone care about the Ryerson Fiction Award? Did anyone care about the Ryerson Fiction Award? I imagine the winners were delighted, but I see no evidence that it made much of an impression on the public. Only one title, Will R. Bird's Here Lies Good Yorkshire, enjoyed a second printing, and only five have ever appeared in paperback. The academics don't appear to have been much impressed. Writing in Queen's Quarterly, Desmond W. Cole concluded his review of 1958 winner Gladys Taylor's The King Tree:
If this is the "All-Canada Fiction Award" as the dust cover asserts, it has been a slim year for the novel, or at least for the publisher who has the presumption to imply that this is the best work of fiction published in Canada in the past year.
Edward McCourt's Music at the Close is the only title to have been included in the New Canadian Library. Tellingly, I think, the author used the opportunity to revise the text. NCL has since dropped the novel.

All I've seen of the first winner, E. Herbert Sallan's Little Man, is the little jpeg above. A shame. Going by bookseller Stephen Temple's description, Little Man is the Ryerson Fiction Award-winner I'd most like to read:
A novel covering four decades of Canadian life, set in Canada, France and Britain. "The author is merciless in his handling of shoddy Top Hats, fake Utopia Builders, spurious Abundant Lifers and Crack Pots of all sorts." – jacket.
"I remember when this was a very common book that no one wanted," continues Mr Temple. "It is surprisingly scarce, and saleable, in the market today. But it ain't no four figure book, not even close."

That last sentence appears to be a dig at an Oregon bookseller who demands an even US$1000 for a jacket-less copy in Fair condition. Mr Temple's, a Very Good copy in Good dust jacket, is being offered for US$85. My birthday is in August.

The thirteen other Ryerson Fiction Award-winners follow.

I've read one.


Here Stays Good Yorkshire
Will R. Bird
Day of Wrath
Philip Child
Music at the Close
Edward McCourt

Judgement Glen
Will R. Bird

Mr. Ames Against Time
Philip Child
Blaze of Noon
Jeann Beattie
Desired Haven
Evelyn M. Richardson
Immortal Rock
Laura Goodman Salverson

Pine Roots
Gladys Taylor
Repent at Leisure
Joan Walker
The King Tree
Gladys Taylor

Prairie Harvest
Arthur G. Storey

Short of the Glory
E.M. Granger Bennett