02 February 2013

Miss Cameron Does Mrs Mackay an injustice


Following Thursday's post on The House of Windows by Isabel Ecclestone Mackay:

An adventurer, educator, lecturer and suffragette, there's so much to admire in Agnes Deans Cameron (1863-1912) that I'm willing to overlook her membership in the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Sadly, I have today discovered another flaw, this in the form of her review of The House of Windows from the July 1912 issue of Canada Monthly:
Isabel Ecclestone Mackay's new book does something of a tardy justice to the romance of Canada's Pacific Coast. Men like London, Service and Hough have written of Alaska. But although Victoria and Vancouver breathe romance, and the sea-battered isles of the coast hide fantastic stories, they have as yet got but little into print. It is too bad that Mrs. Mackay has not emphasized more the locale of "The House of Windows" (Cassell & Co., Toronto) and made it manifestly impossible for the story to have happened anywhere but on the shores of Burrard Inlet. The scene is laid in a coast city, and then is carried afield to a curious, rambling old roadhouse on an inland highway. The heroine is a slip of a clerk in a department store, and her adventures are exciting enough, comprising a mystery of birth, a secret love affair, a revenge, an abduction and a rescue. The girl herself is pleasantly drawn, and her lover is a convincingly adequate young man with the resource of the west. Curiously enough, the impression that remained longest with the reviewer was that of old Granny Bates clawing in the ashes of the fire to find Christine's little grey silk glove.
   The book is charmingly written, and moves smoothly, but there is yet to come the writer who will paint with bold strokes Vancouver as the reviewer saw it in a certain May.
You see, The House of Windows doesn't take place in Vancouver. We know this because Mark, Miss Cameron's "convincingly adequate young man," is sent there by family so as to get him away from "pleasantly drawn" Christine. The fleeting glimpses of the city are limited to a couple of letters he sends back east, one of which forms the whole of a chapter entitled, appropriately, "From Vancouver."

The mystery of birth, the secret love affair, the revenge, the abduction and the rescue, all take place in and around an unnamed eastern city, which as I've noted, appears to have been modelled on Toronto. This is all so obvious, one can only conclude that Miss Cameron didn't read the novel. I will allow that she thumbed through it's 338 pages, encountered "Vancouver" a few times, and read the scene in which old Granny Bates searches for Christine's little grey silk glove.

And yes, that scene is memorable.

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