18 April 2016

Small-town Boy Makes Good, Founds Small Town



Jean Rivard
Antoine Gérin-Lajoie [Vida Bruce, trans]
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1977

"The classic novel whose themes have influenced French-Canadian literature for more than a hundred years."

So why is the translation out of print?

Jean Rivard is everything that was good and bad about our moribund, once important New Canadian Library. The thing is just about as ugly as can be, complete with clumsy cover pitch. NCL's Jean Rivard is no "classic novel," but a translation of two novels: Jean Rivard, le défricheur and Jean Rivard, économiste. Both have been bowdlerized.

A "great man," Jean Rivard is a student of nineteen when his father's death calls him back to the family home in Grandpré. He is at a loss as to what to do next. Jean Rivard's education had set him on the path to becoming a lawyer or doctor, but those professions are so overcrowded that its members scramble to feed themselves. Fearful of being a burden to his widowed mother – of twelve – Jean Rivard turns to the curé of Grandpré, M l'abbé Leblanc, who advises the young man to take up farming. Pursuit of a professional career will only lead to debt and hardship, he is warned. "Even supposing that you are one of the privileged few in your profession," sayeth the curé, "you will be thirty, perhaps older, before you can marry."

Thirty! Before lying with a woman!

The way is clear. He takes the modest inheritance left by his father and leaves fictional Grandpré "in the valley of Lake St. Pierre on the north 
shore of the St. Lawrence" for the very real Eastern Townships. There Jean Rivard buys one hundred acres of land, which he begins to clear with the aid of his jovial hired man Pierre Gagnon. All proceeds extremely well "thanks to a Providence that seemed to take our hero under its special care." Sadness comes only in the form of letters from Gustave Charmenil. Jean Rivard's old schoolmate, poor Gustave has followed the very path M l'abbé Leblanc had advised against, and is wasting money in pursuit of a career as a lawyer. What's worse, the young man is also caught up in city life, which involves significant expenditures on dress and things cultural.

Meanwhile, Jean Rivard stays the course. Three years after arriving in the Townships, one year ahead of schedule, he marries pious Grandpré girl Louise Routier, bringing Jean Rivard, le défricheurJean Rivard, Settler in the translation – to a close.

I lie.

In fact, the novel does not end with a wedding, but with prolonged discourse delivered the following day by M l'abbé Leblanc. His message:
  • of all professions, farming is most suited to bring happiness;
  • recognize and appreciate your heritage;
  • live modestly; 
  • don't get too big for your britches.
The sequel, Jean Rivard, économiste, goes along at a good clip. We all know that time passes more rapidly with age – and this is exactly what happens here. Other farmers follow Jean Rivard in clearing neighbouring woodland and become successful in turn. The great man is held in such esteem that the settlers name the new community Rivardville. The community grows. Jean Rivard becomes head to the militia, justice of the peace, and after becoming mayor founds a lyséeJean Rivard, économiste Jean Rivard, Economist – ends with a tour of Rivardville, an idyllic community in which the air is clean and the people pure.

I can see I've been a bit unfair in criticizing the NCL bowdlerization. In her Introduction, translator Vida Bruce writes that she removed much of the repetition; she also spared me from spending time on pages like these from the 1877 J.B. Rolland & Fils edition:

(cliquez pour agrandir)
In the bulk maintained, we find passages such as this:
Canada owes part of its prosperity to the manufacture of these alkalis [potash and pearlash]. In the course of these last three years alone our country exported more than fifteen million francs worth of potash and pearlash. In European markets potash from America is held in the highest esteem as long as our forests remain, this product will continue to be one of our principle sources of wealth.
What follows relates directly to Jean's ability to generate wealth:
On his return to Louisville Jean Rivard had to stop for a day or two at Lacasseville. There, while looking after various affairs he made the acquaintance of an American merchant named Arnold who had been established for some years in the same village. He knew that Jean Rivard was clearing land and asked him if he didn't intend to get some profit from the ashes produced by the wood he would be obliged to burn in the course of his operation. Jean Rivard replied that his intention had at first been to convert the ash into potash or pearlash but that the lack of roads and hence the difficulties of transportation obliged him to abandon the project.
     After a lengthy conversation, in the course of which the perspicacious American was convinced of the strict honesty, intelligence, and industry of our young settler, he proposed entering into a mutual agreement. He, Arnold, would undertake procure on credit the kettle, basins, and the rest of the things necessary for the manufacture of potash and transport them at his own expense to Jean Rivard's cabin, on the condition that Jean Rivard would commit himself to deliver to the said Arnold, in the course of the next three years at least twenty-five bushels of potash at twenty shillings a hundredweight. The ordinary price for potash was thirty to forty shillings, but Arnold in this case, paid the costs of transportation, a consideration of prime importance to Jean Rivard. 
Nothing is lost in the translation.

These arid passages speak to purpose. Gérin-Lajoie's Jean Rivard novels aren't meant to entertain or enlighten but inspire readers to follow the nonexistent great man's path – a course the author regretted not having chosen himself. Facts and figures are there to validate the author's  overly romantic depiction of rural life. 


If anything, the Jean Rivard novels proved even more influential than Patrice Lacombe's La terre paternelle (1846) in establishing the roman de la terre. It is truly remarkable that they hadn't been translated earlier. The New Canadian Library cover pitch may be clumsy but its claim is true. These two novels had an influence on French Canadian literature lasting more than a hundred years.

I'm not so sure that was a good thing.

About the author: A journalist, lawyer and civil servant, Antoine Gérin-Lajoie is best known for "Un Canadien errant." Foreigners may know it from the rather unconventional rendition found on Leonard Cohen's Recent Songs. In the clip below, from Harry Rasky's 1980 documentary The Song of Leonard Cohen, the poet translates.


His great-grandfather, Jean Jarin (Jarrin or Gérin), who originally came from the diocese of Grenoble, France, arrived in Canada around 1750 as a sergeant in the colonial regulars and took part in the Seven Years’ War. He subsequently settled in the region of Yamachiche. His high spirits and good humour earned him the nickname of “Lajoie,” which was added to his family name.
Object and Access: A 280-page mass market paperback. The last page lists the first 53 volumes in the New Canadian Library (Jean Rivard is number 134). As far as I've been able to determine, the Bruce translation enjoyed nothing more than one printing. Six copies are currently listed for sale online, ranging in price from US$1.25 to US$12.50. Condition is not a factor. I purchased my copy late last year at Attic Books in London. Price: 85¢.

Library patrons will have to rely on Library and Archives Canada, Bibliothèque et Archives nationals du Québec and our universities.

Jean Rivard, le défricheur first appeared serialized during 1862 in Les Soirées canadiennes. Jean Rivard, économiste appeared in Le Foyer canadien two years later. Editions in the original French are common, stretching back nearly fifteen decades. The two novels are currently available in a single Bibliothèque québécoise volume: Jean Rivard, le défricheur suivi de Jean Rivard, économiste.

Related post:

13 April 2016

'A Tribute to St. Mary's [sic], Ontario'


Dawn on the River Thames, St Marys, Ontario (detail)
Anyès Kadowaki Busby
2016
This month marks the eighth anniversary of our move from downtown Vancouver to the picturesque town of St Marys, Ontario. As a young Montrealer longing to live in Manhattan I would've been horrified. In my thirty-second year, when my wife and I moved west to Vancouver, I complained that the city was too small. And yet here we are, living in community that isn't an eighth the size of my alma mater.

I wouldn't have it any other way. The Montreal I love seems increasingly foreign. The city will always be my true home, but it's becoming difficult to negotiate. Visits, which aren't at all infrequent, find me frustrated in looking to dine at restaurants that no longer exist and shop in stores that have long since closed. Other old haunts have been remade, remodelled and propelled out of price range.

No complaints. Montreal is the greatest city in North America.

Manhattan?

What was I thinking?

That said, St Marys has a growing place in my heart. It's here we've made a home for ourselves – in a large Victorian Italianate, overlooking the Canadian Thames, dwarfed by the town's Presbyterian Church.


I'm not the first Quebecer to fall for this small town. In the nineteenth century, Megantic's foremost Son of Temperance, Archibald McKillop, recognized "beautiful St. Mary's [sic]" in his "A Tribute to St Mary's [sic], Ontario".

"Such scenery nowhere is / For many leagues around", writes the poet.

Now consider this: Archibald McKillop was blind.

Such is St Marys' beauty!

The poem in its entirety follows.


A TRIBUTE TO ST. MARY’S, ONTARIO
                           Where beautiful St. Mary’s
                                Lies nestling ’mongst the hills,
                           The pleasing prospect rare is,
                                Its grandeur me enthrills. 
                           From flow’ry gardens nigh me
                                The balmy breezes blow;
                           The classic Thames runs by me
                                With peaceful, gentle flow. 
                           What kindly, friendly greetings
                                Have cheered me on its shore;
                           And O! such temperance meetings
                                I’ve never seen before. 
                           Good Affleck, Pierce and Manning,
                                Carswell and Watson too,
                           With famous Ross were planning
                                What temperance men should do. 
                           (For here, in Grand Division,
                                The Sons of Temperance met,
                           To work for Prohibition,
                                The law that we must get.) 
                           Thou town of peerless beauty;
                                 Ye friends so kind to me;
                           It is my pleasant duty
                                 To sing this eulogy. 
                           Such scenery nowhere is
                                 For many leagues around;
                           And in this fair St. Mary’s
                                 Let peace and wealth abound.
Collected Verse
Archibald McKillop
Winnipeg: [n.p.], [c. 1913]

Related posts:

12 April 2016

Tour de Force Reawakens!



Word comes from Canadian Notes & Queries headquarters that my column about Pierre Berton and Charles Templeton's Tour de Force trivia game is now available online. You can read it – gratis – here.

But wait, there's more! This evening at The Walton in Toronto comes the opportunity for the game's  aficionados to show their stuff.

My title as Tour de Force champion is for the taking.

A bow tie event.


Related post:

08 April 2016

The Busiest Man in England Lays Down His Pen



Hilda Wade: A Woman With Tenacity of Purpose
Grant Allen [and Arthur Conan Doyle]
New York: Putnam, 1900
383 pages

This review, revised and rewritten, now appears 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



07 April 2016

A Poet's Angry Word With the Fenian Botherhood



Angry verse on this 148th anniversary of Thomas D'Arcy McGee's assassination found in Evan MacColl's Poems and Songs (Toronto: Hunter, Rose, 1883).

A WORD WITH THE FENIAN BROTHERHOOD 

(Suggested by the assassination of Thomas D'Arcy McGee, in 1868) 
            "The Fenian Brotherhood "! the phrase sounds well,
            But what's your right to such a title, tell?
            Strangers alike to honour, truth, and shame—
            Conspirators to aim at Fenian fame!
            If truly sang the bard of Selma old,
            The Fenian race were of no cut-throat mould;
            Though sometimes they in Erin loved to roam,
            A land more north was their heroic home;
            The "Cothrom Féine," was their pride and boast;
            Of all base things they scorned a braggart most;
            Besides 'twas not a custom in their day,
            Assassin-like, one's victim to way-lay
            And shoot unseen contented if, cash down,
            The price of blood were only half-a crown!
            Fenians, indeed! all true men of that race
            Fraternity with you would deem disgrace;
            Fenians, forsooth! renounce that honour'd name;
            "Thugs" would more fitly suit your claim to fame! 
            Poor souls, I pity your demented state;
            You will be vicious if you can't be great.
            Better for Erin any fate would be,
            Than to be ruled by bedlamites like ye:
            The war of the Kilkenny cats renewed,
            She'd find, I think, a very doubtful good.
            O wondrous-valiant, treason-hatching crew,
            If words were deeds, what great things might ye do?
            Ye, who have left your country for her good—
            Ye talk of righting all her wrongs in blood!
            'Tis laughable — the more so, that we feel
            Your necks were made for hemp, and not for steel.
            At Britain's lion you may spare your howls,—
            That noble beast is never scared by owls;
            Tis well for you, with all your vapouring frantic,
            You have 'tween him and you the broad Atlantic. 
            Let no one think that he who now cries shame
            On your misdeeds, your Celtic blood would blame;
            A Celt himself, his great grief is to see
            The land that nursed you cursed by such as ye.
            So bright the record of her better days—
            So much to love she still to us displays—
            So rich her heritage of wit and song—
            So warm her heart, so eloquent her tongue,
            He honours Erin. 'Tis to fools like you
            Alone the tribute of his scorn is due. 
            Union is strength. Joy to the nations three
            As now united! May they ever be
            The first and foremost in fair freedom's van—
            An empire built upon the Shamrock plan—
            A seeming THREE and yet a perfect ONE.


Related posts:

04 April 2016

Passing Go with Canadian Notes & Queries



Ce soir à Windsor, the launch of Canadian Notes & Queries #95. "The Games Issue", it features contributions by Tobias Carroll, Vincent Colistro, Daniel Donaldson, Emily Donaldson, Stacey May Fowles, Alex Good, Spencer Gordon, Kasper Hartman, David Mason, Maurice Mierau, Grant Munroe, David Nickel, Alexandra Oliver, Mark Sampson, Robert Earl Stewart and Kaitlin Tremblay, enveloped in a wrap-around cover by Seth.


This time out my Dusty Bookcase column deals with Tour de Force, a 1984 trivia game that kinda, sorta came about through the efforts of bestselling author pals Pierre Berton and Charles Templeton.

Quelle désastre!

Hot on the heels of Trivial Pursuit, Tour de Force was meant to be the next big Canadian board game. There was a French language edition and the announcement of a UK version that would have borne David Frost's name. In the end, it went nowhere. I'm sure that the $30 price tag ($65 in 2016 dollars) had something to do with its failure. Other reasons are covered in my piece.


This evening will find me onstage with Grant Munroe, Robert Earl Stewart, editor Emily Donaldson and publisher Dan Wells, It'll be up to me to defend Tour de Force as they promote pinball, Civilization and professional wrestling. A pleasant evening might be had in reading Templeton's The Kidnapping of the President or the erotica of Pierre Berton. but it will not be nearly so enjoyable. I will be testing audience members with Tour de Force questions cards.

Consider this:


The brave and the bold are encouraged to meet the Tour de Force challenge at Biblioasis,1520 Wyandotte Street East, Windsor. The evening commences at 7:00pm, which should give attendees plenty of time to brush up on their trivia. Berton and Templeton fans hold no advantage.