17 January 2019

A Novel Every Bit as Good as Its Title

The Fiftieth Anniversary Issue of Canadian Notes & Queries arrived in my mailbox this week. I should've received it last month. I blame Deepak Chopra – not the Ageless Body Timeless Mind Deepak Chopra, this one.

Being the Fiftieth Anniversary Issue, much of the focus is on books from 1968:
Les Manuscrits de Pauline Archange - Marie-Claire Blais
Sarah Bastard's Notebook - Marian Engel

I Am Mary Dunne - Brian Moore
The Shattered Plinths - Irving Layton
John Metcalf writes on the short story "Images" from Dance of the Happy Shades, Alice Munro's debut. Not to be outdone, I chose to review A Lover More Condoling, the first novel by then-Take 30 co-host Adrienne Clarkson. Despite her fame, it enjoyed one lone printing, and never appeared in paperback. As I note in my review, the novel isn't so much as mentioned in Heart Matters, Clarkson's 2006 memoir.

Might A Lover More Condoling be a forgotten treasure? Not wanting to spoil things, I'll say only that it has the most memorable sex scene I've read since Donna Steinberg's I Lost it All in Montreal.

Other contributors include:
Randy Boyagoda
Andreae Callanan
Scott Chantler
Paige Cooper
Trevor Corkum
Kayla Czaga
Rachel Décoste
Daniel Donaldson
Antony Easton
Jesse Eckerlin
André Forget
Stephen Fowler
Alex Good
James Grainger
Benjamin Hertwig
Doyali Islam
Tasneem Jamal
Anita Lehey
Sibyl Lamb
Tracey Lindberg
Rabindranath Maharaj
Rohan Maitzen
David Mason
Patricia Robertson
Mary H. Aurbach Rykov
JC Sutcliffe
Vit Wagner
Bruce Whiteman
Martha Wilson
The fifty-first year sees CNQ striking out in a new direction. "We decided a radical expansion of our reviewer estate was necessary given ever-shrinking critical space the nation's newspapers, online journals, and periodicals," writes editor Emily Donaldson.

And so, we have the very first CNQ book review supplement, with contributions by:
Michael Barrett
Michel Basilières
Stephen Beattie
Jeremiah Bertram
Jeff Bursey
Kerry Clare
Allison Gillmor
Monique Giroux
Alex Good
Brett Joseph Grubisic
Stephen Henighan
Amanda Jernigan
Tess Liem
Domenica Martinello
Dilia Narduzzi
Ruprapriya Rathmore
Mark Sampson
Sarah Tolmie
Jonathan Valelly
Derek Webster
Jared Young
If you haven't already, now seems just the time to become a subscriber... easily done through this link.

The Canada Post carrier who delivered this magazine to our rural mailbox chose not to fold it.

She is not paid enough.

Related posts:

14 January 2019

A Novelist and His Heroine Give Up on Movies

An addendum to last week's review of Basil King's The Dust Flower
Earthbound is one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. Don't take my word – I haven't seen it – consider instead these sentences from the August 5, 1922, edition of the Regina Leader:
A new photoplay by Basil King, the author of "Earthbound," one of the greatest motion pictures ever made, is coming to the Allen Theater on Monday for three days. It is called "The Dust Flower" and has been made by Goldwyn from the famous writer's new novel of the same name under the direction of Rowand V. Lee.
Earthbound was a sensation in its day. The story of a murdered man who is tormented in the afterlife, it inspired special screenings augmented by sets, musical performances, colour light projections, and elaborate lobby displays.

Motion Picture News, May 1920
In his 1923 essay "Reflections on the Seventh Art," early film theorist Ricciotto Canudo describes Earthbound as an "astonishing and perfect drama," praising it for combining of "the real and the immaterial, the living and the dead." He had nothing to say about The Dust Flower.

The Regina Leader, 5 August 1922
Of the eight King novels given the Hollywood treatment, The Dust Flower is unique in that the author himself adapted the work to the screen. I'm convinced he wrote the novel with the motion picture in mind. How else to explain so simple a story from a writer who was renowned for clever, complex plots. If anything, The Dust Flower on film is simpler still. Like the novel, it begins with an engagement-ending argument between Rashleigh Allerton (Torontonian James Rennie) and his fiancée Barbara Wallbrook (Mona Kingsley).** Rash storms out, announcing that he'll marry the first woman who will have him. He finds a wife in a young woman named Letty Gravely (Helene Chadwick) whose suicide he prevents.

Poor Letty, her stepfather had been pressuring her to work as a cigarette girl in a sleazy nightclub – apparently, a fate worse than death. Once married to Rash, Letty is coached into becoming a proper lady by Steptoe (Claude Gillingwater), the Allerton family butler. The scene that I liked so much in the novel, in which Letty and Steptoe visit an exclusive dress shop, made it into the film.

While Rash grows to love Letty, she comes to believe her husband is still in love with his former fiancée. Letty returns to her stepfather and accepts the cigarette girl work she so dreaded. Rash tracks her down to the nightclub, and proves his love by punching steppapa.

The Dust Flower is a lost film, which is why I didn't hesitate in giving away the ending; it's nothing like the novel. Tellingly, I think, the greatest difference between The Dust Flower on paper and on celluloid concerns Letty's life before Rash. An orphan, she'd struggled to support herself and her stepfather by taking on bit parts with various New York motion picture studios. When finances hit rock bottom, Flack robs Letty of what little she owns and throws her out of their tenement flat. Letty doesn't head for the nearest bridge, rather sits on a park bench. She feels liberated, not suicidal.

In September 1923, roughly a year after The Dust Flower hit the silver screen, Picture-Play reported that Basil King was "through with movies," adding that the "results of his endeavors for the Goldwyn company – both financial and artistic – were far from satisfactory to him."

Far from satisfactory may be an understatement.

In the novel, Letty would rather a life as a prostitute than a return to studio work.

Trivia: Reviews of The Dust Flower were extremely positive. The only negative words I've found come in the January 1923 issue of Screenland. Boy, are they bitchy:

* It's worth noting that in the very same essay Canudo states that the first motion picture of any value is The Miracle Man (1919), based on the novel  of the same name by Montrealer Frank L. Packard. I've written about both the book and the movie. Sadly, it's another lost film.
** The surname is 'Walbrook' in the novel. 
Related posts:

07 January 2019

A Gentleman's Gentleman Cultivates a Lady

The Dust Flower
Basil King
New York: Harper, 1922
350 pages

Basil King wrote the two best novels I read last year. The first, The Thread of Flame, is about a wealthy American who loses his memory and identity to shell shock on the Great War battlefields of France. He manages to make his way home to the United States, where he finds work as a labourer, and comes to embrace his new, modest life. The later novel, The Empty Sack, also features a wealthy American man
who has been transformed by the conflict. In this case, grave injury results in spiritual awakening, and he looks to better the lives of a less fortunate woman and her family through marriage.

The Thread of Flame was published in 1920. The Empty Sack was published in 1921. My expectations for The Dust Flower, Basil King's 1922 novel, were high. Though the book disappointed, it did so in an unexpected fashion.

The Dust Flower begins with a flap between New York lawyer Rashleigh Allerton and his fiancée Barbara Walbrook:
She was standing over him, high-tempered, imperious. "So it's come to this," she said, with decision; "you've got to choose between a stupid, vulgar lot of men, and me."
     He gritted his teeth. "Do you expect me to give up all my friends?"
     "All your friends! That's another matter. I'm speaking of half a dozen profligates, of whom you seem determined – I must say it, Rash; you force me to it – of whom you seem determined to be one."
Rash had shown up the previous evening after having had a drink at his club and Barbara isn't at all happy. She removes her engagement ring, fully expecting Rash to beg for forgiveness. But he doesn't:
"I picked up a book at the club the other day."
     Not being interested, she made no response.
     "It was the life of an English writing-guy."
     Though wondering what he was working up to, she still held her peace.
     "Gissing, the fellow's name was. Ever hear of him?"
     The question being direct, she murmured: "Yes; of course. What of it ?"
     "Ever hear how he got married?"
     "Not that I remember." "When something went wrong – I've forgotten what – he went out into the street with a vow. It was a vow to marry the first woman he met who'd marry him."
Rash, being rash, does just that, proposing to Letty Gravely, a penniless, homeless young woman he encounters on a Central Park bench. She's assured that the marriage would be nothing more than a business relationship; its purpose is to wring Barbara's heart. "I'm not looking for a wife," he tells Letty. "I only want a woman to marry – a woman to whom I can point and say, See there! I've married – that."

This reader thought those words would bring an abrupt end to the conversation, but Letty is unworldly and impressionable. After much urging, Rash convinces her to marry him that afternoon. By the following morning, both are regretting their union. Rash considers suicide, before rushing off to tell Barbara what he's done. Meanwhile, Letty, left alone in the Allerton mansion on East Sixty-seventh Street, "only a few doors from Fifth Avenue," finds a friend in Steptoe,  Rash's elderly butler and valet. A founding of uncertain parentage, the servant raised himself up from the gutter and sees an opportunity to help Letty do likewise.

Steptoe and Letty, as depicted by Pruett Carter
in the October 1921 issue of Good Housekeeping.
Letty's education under the old man brings some unexpected comedy to the novel. I say "unexpected" because I can't remember humour of any sort in other King novels. Steptoe isn't nearly as refined as he believes, and his first attempt at being Henry Higgins very nearly fails when he mistakes a parade of models in an exclusive boutique for ladies come to cast haughty, disapproving glances at Letty:
The spectacle grew dazzling, difficult for Steptoe to keep up with. He and Letty were plainly objects of interest to these grand folk, because there were now four or five of them. They advanced, receded, came up and studied them, wheeled away, smiled sometimes at each other with the high self-assurance of beauty and position, pranced, pawed, curveted, were noble or coquettish as the inner self impelled, but always the embodiment of overweening pride. Among the "real gentry" as he called them, there had unfailingly been for him and his colleagues a courtesy which might have been called only a distinction in equality, whereas these high-steppers.... 
Good Housekeeping, November 1921
More than laughs, the thing that really sets the The Dust Flower apart from other King novels – the six I've read, anyway – is simplicity of plot. Where their stories are intricate and so very, very clever, things here progress much like the reader might anticipate. Rash is forced to choose between the woman to whom he was engaged for no good reason and the "wife" who proves to be a kindred spirit. In other King novels the answer wouldn't be at all clear, but here King follows Hollywood convention. I think it worth noting that the silent screen adaptation of The Dust Flower coincided with the novel's publication in book form.

The Gazette (Montreal), 29 July 1922
I don't expect that anyone reading this review will bother with this novel. No flower in the dustbin, it may be the least interesting of King's twenty-two books. My recommendation – because the man is worth reading – is to begin with The Empty SackThe Thread of Flame comes next.

My first read of the year, I'm hoping The Dust Flower will end up as the most disappointing.

Trivia: Rash follows fellow wealthy Manhattanite Chipman Walker of King's 1914 novel The Letter of the Contract in planning revenge on a woman by turning to drink. Neither man is able to follow through.

Object: A bulky hardcover with four illustrations by Hibbert V.B. Kline, including that used on the jacket. I purchased my copy last month from an Albany bookseller. Price: US$19.50.

Access:  The Dust Flower first appeared serialized in Good Housekeeping (September 1921 - April 1922)with illustrations by Pruett Carter. I much prefer Carter's illustrations. This is his imagining of the very same encounter between Rash and Barbara depicted above by Kline:

The University of Prince Edward Island, in Basil King's home province, does not hold a copy of The Dust Flower. It can be found in five Canadian universities, but not one of our public libraries. Once again, Library and Archives Canada fails.

At the time of this writing, only one copy of the Harper first edition was being offered online. Stamped "Property of U.S. Government," purchase at your own risk. Price: US$15.00. As far as I've been able to determine, the only other edition is a long out-of print Grosset & Dunlop cheapo. The Harper first edition can be read here – gratis – courtesy of the Thomas Fisher Rarte Book Library and the invaluable Internet Archive.

Related posts:

01 January 2019

'A January Morning' by Archibald Lampman

      The glittering roofs are still with frost; each worn
      Black chimney builds into the quiet sky
      Its curling pile to crumble silently.
      Far out to westward on the edge of morn,
      The slender misty city towers up-borne
      Glimmer faint rose against the pallid blue;
      And yonder on those northern hills, the hue
      Of amethyst, hang fleeces dull as horn.
      And here behind me come the woodmen's sleighs
      With shouts and clamorous squeakings; might and main
      Up the steep slope the horses stamp and strain.
      Urged on by hoarse-tongued drivers—cheeks ablaze,
      Iced beards and frozen eyelids—team by team,
      With frost-fringed flanks, and nostrils jetting steam.

Related posts: