29 November 2013

U is for Unproduced



Canadian artistic directors!

A half-century ago, your predecessors received the above. I've taken the liberty of transcribing the text:
BYRON'S GOOSE
(Synopsis)
       Comedy in 3 Acts. 2 sets. Cast of 12 (4 principals). Standard playing time. Scene: Vienna and Ravenna in 1822.
       Byron's final tragicomic relationship with his last mistress 19-year-old Teresa Guiccioli, her eccentric 70-year-old husband, her father and brother (amateur revolutionaries), and his friend Trelawny. His ambitions as lover of Teresa, as would-be liberator of Italy; his involvement in revolutionary, family and social intrigue, climaxed by his cutting himself free of the entanglements of his background and leaving for Greece.
       The play is tightly knit, with rapid action and with dialogue sparkling with Byron's own special brand of wit, overall tone is one of sophisticated comedy relieved by sentiment and action. Gives a new and sympathetic view of Byron as an aging but far from superannuated figure of romance; of Terasa as a blend of charm, devotion and duplicity; of Count Guiccioli as a fantastic and disreputable old man selling his polite consent to adultery; of Trelawny as an ultra-Byronic hero, adventurous, gloomy, dauntless, a little absurd.
       Has great possibilities for eventual adaptation as a musical in the same style as 'Camelot'.
       Complete script will be mailed on request.
John Glassco,
FOSTER,
Que., CANADA
John Glassco considered Byron's Goose his "one great play". Daytime soaps and radio drama aside, I've had no experience writing scripts, so won't presume to judge. That said, I am confident in deeming it superior to The Augean Stable, a loose adaptation of Harriet Marwood, Governess, the only other work Glassco composed for the stage.

Mr Glassco having passed from this sphere in 1981, requests to Foster will be met with frustration. Interested parties are advised to contact Library and Archives Canada, which holds the script in its John Glassco fonds.

Antoni Cimolino, do not repeat Michael Langham's error!


Cross-posted at A Gentleman of Pleasure 

25 November 2013

Critic Spoils Christmas (but not Christmas sales)



Snow arrived this past weekend, bringing visions of sugar plums and reminding me of a stern, schoolmarmish rebuke uncovered in researching Marika Robert's A Stranger and Afraid (subject of Thursday's post). Published in the 25 December 1964 edition of the Globe & Mail, it came as part of an "end-of-year summary" of books. The author was Joan Walker – that's her above – winner of the 1954 Stephen Leacock Medal for Pardon My Parka.


Mrs Walker covers eight books, lauding all but one:
I was disappointed in Marika Robert's first novel, A Stranger and Afraid, because here is a talented writer who has wasted a clean, perceptive narrative on a grubby little plot obviously contrived to attract the prurient. The book could have been a disconcertingly vivid examination of the integration of a certain type of sophisticated and irresponsible European immigrant into the democratic way of life of a country chosen, not for any specific reason, but simply because of expediency. Instead it read like a half-heard lewd joke whispered by a schoolgirl.
As a war bride, European immigrant Joan Walker had a specific reason.

The reviewer fairly races through the other three Canadian books in her round-up, beginning with Sheila Burnford's The Fields of Noon  praised for its "bubbling sense of vitality" – before declaring 1964 "a vintage year in Canadian humour [sic]".

I had no idea.


Mrs Walker singles out two humour titles, neither of which I've read: Norman Ward's The Fully Processed Cheese and The Great Canadian Lover by "newcomer to the world of wit" Mervyn J. Huston.

"Both books were a collection of brisk essays on a number of subjects," writes the critic, "all humorous, some in the rolling-in-the-aisles category."

Each to his own, I suppose. Had I read Mrs Walker's column that Christmas Day, I'd have been much more interested in the whispered lewd joke.


Related post:

21 November 2013

A 49-Year-Old Fifty Shades? S&M from M&S?



A Stranger and Afraid
Marika Robert
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1964
320 pages

This review now appears, revised and rewritten, in my new book:
The Dusty Bookcase:
A Journey Through Canada's
Forgotten, Neglected, and Suppressed Writing
Available at the very best bookstores and through


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18 November 2013

T is for Thievery


Pettes Memorial Library, Knowlton, Quebec
Hugely flattered to hear you stole my book. This is fame. I used to steal a lot of books myself, mostly from libraries: my method was to look at the little card in the back envelope and if it hadn’t been taken out more than twice in the past year I would figure I needed it more than the public. 
— John Glassco, letter to Al Purdy, 18 September 1964
John Glassco, that self-proclaimed "great practitioner of deceit," made a very fine book thief. His personal library, most of which was purchased by Queen's University, included volumes lifted from McGill University, Macdonald College, the Westmount Public Library and the Royal Edward Laurentian Hospital.

Queen's is not alone in having profited from Glassco's ill-gotten gains. Twenty-three years ago, I purchased what I thought to be his copy of Irving Layton's Balls for a One-Armed Juggler (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1963).


A couple of decades passed before I happened to notice this on the top edge:


Glassco dated the copy April 1963, the month of publication. It is presented here as evidence that he was not above breaking the rule described in his letter to Purdy:


Two summer's ago, I purchased another of Glassco's books, Henry de Montherlant's Perish in Their Pride [Les Célibataires] (New York: Knopf, 1936), only to notice this after the sale:

(cliquez pour agrandir)
The Laurentian Sanitarium became the Royal Edward Laurentian Hospital, at which Glassco spent a nearly all of 1961 undergoing treatment for tuberculosis. On 3 November of that year he wrote his wife:
Now that I’m getting ready to leave I’m casting a selective eye on the books in the library. There’s just so much stuff here I’d like to opt (organizieren) that no one has ever read or will ever read. But I’d better not: that’s bad medicine. Only two: Robert Elie’s La fin des songes (there are three copies, all untouched) and Madame Ellis’ book on Garneau. They’ll none of them be missed, as Gilbert says. Anyway, I’d like to give them a good home.
How's that for gratitude?

Trivia: The book Purdy pilfered was The Deficit Made Flesh (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1958). The victim was a Montreal bookseller.

Plug: Both Glassco letters quoted feature in The Heart Accepts It All: Selected Letters of John Glassco, edited by yours truly.

Cross-posted at A Gentleman of Pleasure.

12 November 2013

S is for Short Story



The Crooked Golfers
Frank L. Packard

I know of 182 short stories by Frank L. Packard, but there could be twice that number. Here one month, gone the next, they appeared in the magazines of his day, most never to be republished. Even the small percentage that found second life in books are decades gone – which makes The Crooked Golfers all the more special. A chapbook, it features a previously unknown short story discovered by Packard scholar JC Byers at Library and Archives Canada.

Evidence indicates that "The Crooked Golfers" was written late in life… perhaps very late; Packard was not in the habit of dating his work. Appended to the typescript is a note dated 4 April 1942, but the hand is not his, the author having died nearly seven weeks earlier.

It would seem that efforts to sell the short story failed. If true, this says something about the changing market because "The Crooked Golfers" is typical of the writing that brought this son of Lachine riches through the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. Its characters would've been familiar to Packard's readers. The first we meet is Milord, a criminal mastermind who moves with equal ease amongst the gentry and downtrodden:
Milord was a linguist. He spoke two languages – English and East Side – both fluently. By reason of long arduous training his English was charming, his voice cultured, a delight to his auditors; but East Side was his native tongue…
Partner in crime Nippy shares nothing of Milord's sophistication and affectation, but he is a crack hand a safe cracking. Their victim is Josiah P. Heatherington, he of the New York Heatheringtons, who "unmoved by the upward march of fashion in the general direction of Riverside Drive, still lived, as his fathers had lived before him, in one of the aristocratic mansions on Washington Square."

Nippy and Milord gain access to Heatherington's home by way of a basement window and have just opened the library wall safe when footsteps are heard in the hallway. Milord extinguishes his flashlight, leaving Nippy to scoop out the contents in darkness. Their escape is made easier by the fact that Josiah P. Heatherington and companion are "pleasantly 'lit up'" on "illicit liquor". True professionals, the criminal pair run madly off in all directions, then meet up at a unsavoury speak-easy. That Nippy has the loot proves there is honour among thieves.

The close call is the closest yet, causing Milord to again consider his future:
   "Time to quit," said Milord laconically.
   "Oh!" ejaculated Nippy – and grinned. "It listens like I heard dat before."
   "You have," returned Milord quietly; "but you've heard it for keeps this time. And it isn't only just because I'm afraid of getting caught sooner or later, either, though to-night has sort of forced a showdown. All my life I've wanted to associate with gentlemen and be one of them myself. I'm going to now – and so are you."
Unsigned certificates to the Wallapootimie Golf Club in hand, stolen from Josiah P. Heatherington's wall safe, the pair travel to Florida intending to make themselves over as honest gentlemen. Though that which transpires will come as a shock to readers unfamiliar with the sport, it is by parts fun, funny, and very much in keeping with the sense of morality that runs through Packard's work.

The Crooked Golfers serves as a good introduction to Packard's work. The size of same I leave for JC Byers to discover.

There be riches. Milord would tell you as much.


Object and Access: A 34pp stapled chapbook featuring the short story with a handy chronological listing of Packard's thirty-one books. Copies were handed out gratis at Mr Byers' talk on Packard at the February 2013 meeting of the Ottawa Book Collectors. I've yet to see any come up for sale.

Related post:

11 November 2013

Remembrance Day


Canon Frederick George Scott
Montreal, 7 April 1861 -  Quebec, 19 January 1944

08 November 2013

Munro, Bellow, Millar, Macdonald and Identity



I Die Slowly [The Dark Tunnel]
Kenneth Millar
New York: Lion, 1955
   "You look like an American and you act like one."
   "How does an American look and act?" I said, for the sake of continuing the conversation.
   "Well, tall and healthy and quite – neither beautiful nor ugly."
— Kenneth Millar's I Die Slowly
I have never before read a story which so piercingly and succinctly examined the terrors and hopes through which the intellectual and emotional life of Canada apparently must still, forty years after my graduation from UWO, find its way. 
— Kenneth Millar on Alice Munro's "The Beggar Maid"
Alice Munro's Nobel win last month forced our media to recognize 1976 recipient Saul Bellow. Qualifiers came quickly: Munro was the first Canadian woman; Munro was he first Canadian-born writer to set her work in Canada; Munro was the first Canadian who'd lived her life in Canada.

Jared Bland and Sandra Martin did not vacillate, beginning their Globe & Mail story by declaring  Munro the first Canadian to be accorded the honour. Bellow's name didn't appear until the third to last sentence (and even then only in parentheses):
(Saul Bellow, a previous Nobel laureate, was born in Quebec, but moved to the United States while young and self-identified as an American; so entrenched was he in American letters that he lends his name to the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction.)
And Lord Stanley of Preston was a great Canadian.

More nonsense was provided by Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star:
Bellow was born in Lachine, Que., but moved to the U.S. as a child and lived there his entire life.
Mr Kelly is one of the paper's sports columnists.

The fault, of course, lies with the keepers of the canon – yes, a second swipe in six days – who embrace Louis Hémon (twenty months in Canada) and West Coast squatter Malcolm Lowry, while dismissing Bellow entirely. Understand, I'm not trying to argue that the author of Mr. Sammler's Planet wasn't a lion in American letters, but that the child is father to the man. Let's at least acknowledge that the nine years Bellow lived in Canada – his first nine – were formative. Dr Spock tells us so.

Kenneth Millar's situation is just as muddy. His California birth appears to have kept him out of The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature; how else to explain the entry for Kitchener-born wife Margaret. Millar was an infant when his Canadian parents returned home. He lived in Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia, and attended the University of Waterloo (né College), the University of Western Ontario and the University of Toronto. By the time Millar returned to the States, in his mid-twenties, he and Margaret had already started their respective writing careers.

"We had a very Canadian eagerness to make something of ourselves," he wrote of those years.

The question of identity is key in I Die Slowly, and draws much from the author's life. Millar's first novel, it was written while studying at the University of Michigan. The setting is Arbana, a stand-in for Ann Arbor. Millar's narrator is Robert Branch, an associate professor at Midwestern University. Like the author, Branch visited 1937 Nazi Germany; unlike the author, he met and fell in love with a beautiful crimson-haired actress named Ruth Esch. This is all back story. The novel opens in the autumn of 1943 (the very time of composition) and a glorious Detroit day spoiled when Branch is rejected by the United States Navy (as had happened to Millar). Much worse is yet to come, but the associate professor's spirits are lifted heavenward – fleetingly – by the news that Ruth, with whom he had lost all contact, has somehow managed to make her way to Canada and will be arriving by train within hours to teach at Midwestern U.

What are the chances!

It seems that Dr Herman Schneider, head of the Department of German, had had Miss Esch as a pupil at the University of Munich. Good on him for helping her out. Herr Doktor Schneider invites Branch over to his house for dinner, after which they're to make their way to the station to meet Ruth.

Bolstered by the talents of his German cook, Schneider proves to be a passable host. However, son Peter commits a terrible faux pas in very nearly killing Branch with a sabre. When the doctor tries to murder Branch with his car, the associate professor begins to think that something is up.

The real nightmare begins when Ruth finally appears, seemingly sucking face with Schneider's son. Allowing for six years spent in a Nazi prison, the actress looks much the same, but has hardened. In short, she is a character acting out of character. Not at all the girl Branch once knew, she joins the hunt to kill him.

The pace of that chase is fast and there is strength in the details. Branch's visit to a bootlegger's shack-cum-brothel, at which he takes refuge, endures. One often makes allowances in reading first novels, but this isn't really necessary here. Yes, the coincidence in Ruth taking a job at Midwestern University is great, but we've all encountered something similar. Sadly, the cover illustration spoiled things a bit for this reader.

Perhaps I've said too much.

Trivia: The first thirteen of the novel's 14 chapters are set in and around Arbana, after which the action moves to Toronto and the mining town of Kirkand Lake, Ontario. The climactic and final scene takes place in the Kirkland Lake General Hospital.


More trivia: Margaret Millar borrows Arbana as a setting for her 1952 mystery Vanish in an Instant.

Dedication: To the memory of Millar's University of Western Ontario buddy John Gosnell Lee. A Pilot Officer in the RCAF, Lee was killed in a training accident on 29 November 1939. It was so early in the war that his name appears on page 8 of the Second World War Book of Remembrance.


Object: A well-constructed mass market, my copy is the second paperback edition. The first, published by Lion in 1950, has a more garish but equally appealing cover. While the scene depicted does not feature in the novel, the hair colour is correct.


The rear really gives the game away. Click to enlarge for the spoiler.


Access: A rare thing in our libraries, though common south of the border.

The good news is that it's currently in print, as The Dark Tunnel, through mysterious press.com. Used copies of the 1972 Bantam edition, the first published under the Macdonald nom de plume, can be found online for one American dollar. The first I Die Slowly edition is becoming hard to find; there are no copies listed for sale online. The second, is also becoming scarce. Expect to pay at least US$25 for a Very Good copy… if you can find one.

First editions (Dodd Mead, 1944) are well beyond my grasp with online prices beginning at US$650 for a copy Very Good copy sans dust jacket. Two enterprising booksellers offer Fine and "just about fine" copies in facsimile dust jackets for US$1200 and $1550 respectively. Copies in the actual dust jacket – four as of this writing – range from US$5000 (Very Good/Very Good)  to US$55,000 (presentation copy).
The novel has been translated four times. The tiles of the Polish (Mroczny tunnel) and Italian (Il Tunnel) play off the original. In Norway it appears as  Dødsfellen, which I understand means Deathtrap. Rather inspired, don't you think?

Must admit that I find the French title – A la déloyale! – a real head-scratcher.



Today is Ross Macdonald Day on Patti Abbott's Friday's Forgotten Books. Head over to her site for more Millar and Macdonald.

06 November 2013

Harper Hockey Book Watch: Fin (et raison d'être)



Good things come to those who wait, but so do the bad and the ugly.

Nine years and 138 days after it was first reported, one year and 321 days after he announced its completion, the prime minister's hockey book was released yesterday. Given authorship, website and book trailer, the launch for A Great Game seems to have been rather muted. No copies were in evidence at the Conservatives' frightening Hallowe'en convention. Costco catalogue copy aside, the only advance notice I spotted came this past Saturday in the form of an ineptly worded, poorly punctuated "Suggested Post" on Facebook:


Pub date publicity – the best being this video of stumbling Leafs –  was by mid-morning overshadowed by a confession from Rob Ford, the prime minister's fishing buddy. The afternoon brought the "political executions" – John Iveson's words, not mine – of Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin. The prime minister's will be done.


Power & Politics passed without a single mention of our prime minister's hockey book. Nevertheless, A Great Game had risen to #16 at Amazon.ca by that point, 782,390 places higher than on Amazon.com. Its placing south of the border must have come as a disappointment to agent Michael Levine, for whom American distribution played an "extremely important" role in selecting a publisher.

I wish Simon & Schuster well, and very much look forward to reading the prime minister's book. While recognizing that Chris Selley, who has written the most thoughtful review thus far, dismisses A Great Game as "dry, dispassionate and detailed as to induce test anxiety," I spot some fun. For example, the first chapter begins with the prime minister cocking a snoot at the world of academe by quoting "The Life I Lead", an American song written for a 1964 Disney musical set in pre-Great War England, as a means of anchoring Edwardian Canada.


Such wonderful childhood memories.

I recognize that some correspondents may question my good wishes for the prime minister and his book. One follower of the Harper Hockey Book Watch has accused me of "picking on the Stephen Harper" (before warning that I best not set foot in Alberta). In fact, my criticism has naught to do with the prime minister, but the fourth estate (and I've visited Alberta without incident).

For nearly a decade, the press picked up and dropped the story of the prime minister's hockey book with the enthusiasm and attention span of a playful, inbred puppy. Back April 2006, when BC boy Daniel Powter's "Bad Day" topped the charts, Mr Harper announced that he expected to finish the book within months. In the midst of the 2008 election – "I Kissed a Girl" by Katy Perry – he again told reporters that it was on the cusp of completion. In December 2011 – Rhianna's "We Found Love" – the prime minister revealed to Jane Taber and Tonda MacCharles that he'd actually finished his book, adding that a publisher was in place and that it would appear in 2012. Each pronouncement launched a flurry of news stories, but never a follow-up. Not a single news source commented when the promised hockey book failed to materialize last year.

Not one member of the press has pursued Heritage Canada's sudden, unexpected and unexplained decision – which I support! – to allow Simon & Schuster Canada to publish Canadian books.

Hockey is not the only great game.

And so, I close the Harper Hockey Book Watch with two related queries and a gentle suggestion.

Queries: Has the beneficiary of proceeds, the Military Family Fund, received an advance on royalties? If not, why not?

Suggestion: Those who are choosing to boycott A Great Game may wish to consider donating directly to the Military Families Fund.

Note to the Conservative Party of Canada: A website update is long overdue. Rumours are fuelled by things like this:


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02 November 2013

Q is for Queer People (but not kweer kapers)



The plaque on Palmer Cox's gravesite went missing last year. Its disappearance, believed to be the work scrap metal scavengers, is perhaps the greatest in a long list of insults to his memory. No other name in Canadian literature has suffered such a decline in death, few have been quite so snubbed as this son of Granby, Quebec. Palmer Cox is nowhere to be found in The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature or W.H. New's Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada, yet a century ago his presence was inescapable. Here the man's image graces a cigar box:


Cox's verse and illustrations featured in newspapers, magazines and books published around the globe. Much of his popularity had to do with Brownies, mischievous little sprites inspired by stories told by his Scottish grandmother. Touring companies performed theatrical adaptations of Cox's Brownie verse, while the characters themselves were sold in places like Birks as porcelain figurines.

Tacky? Perhaps you'd prefer some Brownie cutlery or dinnerware? Salt and paper shakers? A creamer? How about a tea towel for the kitchen and some wallpaper for the nursery?

No? Okay, but you'll want a Brownie Ice Cream Sandwich for the road.

You'll say they're great!

It's Disney before Disney.

Cox wrote and illustrated something in the area of thirty books – I've yet to find a reliable bibliography. I think my favourite, Queer People and Their Kweer Kapers (Toronto: Rose, 1888), provides some indication as to why the author is so ignored by the keepers of the canon. We begin with the tale of Grim Griffin, a "giant bold" who lives off the labour of hardworking farmers in stealing their produce and livestock. Cox took the time to draw "heaps of hoof and horn" lying at Grim Griffin's feet. Not a pleasant sight, but then neither is this:


Grim Griffin meets his end when he hooks a whale that pulls him out to sea.

The people rejoice:


The high point of the collection to this discerning reader is Cox's "Cock Robin", in which a dark nursery rhyme is made more morbid.


I suppose subsequent generations came to consider these images and accompanying verse inappropriate for young children. A shame, because they often carry some valuable advice. Consider the last lines in Grim Griffin's tale:


Palmer Cox died at his home, Brownie Castle, which was built by his brothers not far from his childhood home.


It stands to this day, a short stroll to his resting place and the monument that once bore these words:
IN CREATING THE BROWNIES
HE BESTOWED A PRICELESS
HERITAGE ON CHILDHOOD
Not in Canada, he didn't.