The Unreasoning Heart
New York: Dodd, Mead, 1946
McGill student Constance Beresford-Howe had just received her BA when word came that she'd won the Intercollegiate Literary Fellowship Prize. The accomplishment was duly recognized in the 12 May 1945 edition of Montreal's Gazette:
Beresford-Howe was back at McGill working on her MA when The Unreasoning Heart was published. That same academic year she wrote her second novel.
|Old McGill, 1945|
The heart has its reasons.
Nothing much happens in The Unreasoning Heart. Dialogue dominates the novel as Fran, Paule, Isobel, Fay and new arrival Abbey jockey for position with snide comments and outright insults. Meanwhile, the men, meek, do all they can to avoid drama and confrontation. For this reason, the sole significant episode of the novel comes as surprise. David disappears after Fay pushes him one time too many times. She couldn't care less and carries on with her life. Fran moves toward complete mental collapse. Teddy takes another drink, Con phones the city hospitals, and the girls are devastated. This in turn leads to the best bloomer I've read in many a month:
"Abbey—"Read nothing into this encounter, Abbey has dedicated her life and body with newly budding beasts – at sixteen? – to Con, a man twice her age. Hers is the unreasoning heart.
"C'n I get into you bed?"
Paule transferred herself quickly and snuggled up to Abbey for warmth and comfort. She cried a little and dried her tears on the collar of Abbey's pyjamas.
"Everything's so queer now," she sniffled gratefully.
On a sudden impulse she came over him and climbed onto his lap, her long legs dangling to the floor.Told you it was unusual.
"You young hussy," protested Con, "are you trying to take away my good name? And me so careful all these years?"
"I just want to hug you some. You're always so remote and dignified. You ought to be hugged oftener."
"Go right ahead. I'd be a cad to refuse an offer like that."
She put he arms around his neck and rubbed her smooth cheek vigorously against his. Then she nuzzled her face lovingly into his neck and her fine, silky hair covered his shoulder. She lay there quietly, one hand resting against his breast. Con's long face wore a slightly foolish smile of enjoyment during the performance.
But, as she lay there so quietly, he gradually became aware of the beating of her young heart and the warmth of her small pointed breasts against him. A proudly uneasy pleasure swept through him. When she stirred a little, his arms close around her. "Don't move," he said. She lay perfectly still, with closed eyes. He smoothed back the fair hair from her cheek and his fingers touched the warm flesh of her upper arm lingeringly. A heavy, using warmth pressed through his veins. He was afraid to move; afraid of her warmth, her sweetness, and her absolute trust. He sat there watching her face, feeling the fierce urge of desire in conflict with an inexplicable tenderness.
All at once he gave her a rough shake.
"Get off," he said abruptly. "You're too hard on my rheumatism."
|Abbey and Con as depicted on the cover of the Popular Library edition.|
The scene does not appear in the novel.
|Constance Beresford-Howe, Prose Editor, with Richard B. Goldbloom, Ralph Norman, Douglas Archibald, Helen Leavitt and Sheila Mercer in the offices of Forge,|
McGill's literary magazine.
Old McGill, 1945
More trivia: Like publisher Dodd, Mead, the Intercollegiate Literary Fellowship Prize is pretty much forgotten… with good reason, I suppose. Looking over the list of recipients printed in The Unreasoning Heart, I see no other familiar names. Dedicated investigation exposes Barbara Bentley, Catharine Lawrence and Mary Vardoulakis as one book wonders.
On the other hand, inaugural winner Maureen Daly not only had a real career but a real winner with Seventeenth Summer. It's currently in print with Simon & Schuster. Looking at the cover, you'd never suspect that it's a seventy-three year-old novel.
Could be worse.
Object: A bland-looking 236-page hardcover, lacking dust jacket, purchased in 2013 from a London bookseller back in 2013. Price: $2.00. The second of two copies I've owned over the years.
Access: Though nearly all of our universities have the book in their holdings, it would appear that only the Toronto Public Library and Library and Archives Canada serve the public.
The Dodd, Mead edition enjoyed two printings before disappearing. At some point in the 'sixties Popular Library issued a paperback edition. The Unreasoning Heart last returned to print – briefly – in 1978 as title #66 in Macmillan's butt-ugly Laurentian Library.
Whether the Dodd, Mead or Macmillan edition, used copies come cheap. Pay no more than $20 for a first edition in jacket. Inscribed copies begin at twenty-five.