12 November 2019

Three Little Women and One Big Spoiler



Frederick Niven wrote The Flying Years. I learned this as a teenager through a list of New Canadian Library titles printed in a copy of Philippe-Joseph Aubert de Gaspé's Canadians of Old.

The Flying Years was series title #102.

Frederick Niven... The Flying Years... I never saw mention of one without the other, and I never saw either in a bookstore.

For a long time, I thought Niven had written no other books, when in fact, he'd published more than thirty; from The Lost Cabin Mine (1908) to The Transplanted (1944), they span the better part of his life.

At some point last decade, I ordered a copy of The Flying Years, sight unseen, from an online bookseller – surely, it was the place to start in on things Niven – but when it arrived, it looked deathly dull. The publisher's assurance that its logo was a "SIGN OF A GOOD POPULAR NOVEL" did not sway, and I set it aside.


I continued to keep an eye out for Niven titles, but the only offerings I found were online. The Porcelain Lady sounded interesting. Who can't help but feel excitement in a title like Hands Up! One lone copy of Niven's 1927 novel Queer Fellows (US title: Wild Honey) was listed at £68 (with a further £11.21 in shipping), but I couldn't justify the expense.

So, imagine the thrill in finding a copy of The Three Marys (London: Collins, 1930) in an ill-lit, musty antique store not thirty kilometres from our home.

I paid $7.50!

There are so many things to like about this book. Let's beginning with it being a fifth impression. Who would've thought that Niven's readership was so large!

I like advert for Kolynos Dental Cream.


And if you lose the jacket, a second ad is stamped on the book itself.


I also like that the price intrudes on the spine and cover illustration.


And what of that illustration? Does the towering artist not intrigue? How about the petite women of increasing elegance?


Forget The Flying YearsThe Three Marys was the novel for me! A little research found that H.E. Bates liked The Three Marys, placing its author at "the front rank of contemporary story tellers." Writing in Everyman, Bates praised Niven's ability to create "real characters."

This past weekend, I sat down with The Three Marys. Not two minutes later, I put it aside, having read this:


And now I try to forget.

Should I have warned you? Chances are you'll never come across a copy.

I've never read a spoiler quite like the above. Can you blame me in sharing it?

So, I pick up my copy of The Flying Years and, after all this time, notice this on its cover:


Should I have been reading The Flying Years all along?

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11 November 2019

Remembrance Day



Verse by Edna Jaques, written in the year after of the Armistice.

IN FLANDERS NOW
             We have kept faith, ye Flanders' dead,
                  Sleep well beneath those poppies red,
                  That mark your place.
             The torch your dying hands did throw,
             We've held it high before the foe,
             And answered bitter blow for blow,
                  In Flanders' fields. 
             And where your heroes' blood was spilled,
                  The guns are now forever stilled,
                  And silent grown.
             There is no moaning of the slain,
             There is no cry of tortured pain,
             And blood will never flow again
                  In Flanders' fields. 
             Forever holy in our sight,
                  Shall be those crosses gleaming white,
                  That guard your sleep.
             Rest you in peace, the task is done,
             The fight you left us we have won.
             And "Peace on Earth" has just begun,
                  In Flanders now.

07 November 2019

A Dedication Born of Tragedy



Purchased four years ago, The Miracle and Other Poems set me back two dollars and change. That price says much about contemporary interest in Virna Sheard. I imagine her husband, Dr Charles Sheard, would be pleased. According to the poet, he held a "deeply rooted prejudice" against her literally endeavours. A person of public profile himself – Chief Medical Officer of Toronto, Chairman of Ontario's Board of Health, President of the Canadian Medical Association, and Member of Parliament, amongst other things – Dr Sheard disliked the publicity brought by his wife's writing.

Doctor Sheard reflects his time, as does his wife, as does The Miracle and Other Poems (1913). I've shared several examples of its verse – "April", "When April Comes!""November", and "When Christmas Comes" – but not one has stayed with me so much as that found in its dedication:


Before reading those four lines, I knew nothing of the link between the poet and the Niagara Ice Bridge Tragedy.

The Globe, 5 February 1912
Accounts of the tragedy are detailed and varying, owing, I think, to the number who witnessed and were traumatized by its horror.

On Sunday, 4 February 1912, approximately three dozen people ventured out on the Niagara Ice Bridge, a natural structure spanning the Canadian and American shores. Walking across, an old and popular pastime, was thought safe until that afternoon when the bridge broke apart. All reached the safety of the shore save Eldridge Stanton, his wife, and a sixteen-year-old American boy named Burrell Hecock. The last could've made land, but turned back to help the couple.

It only gets worse.

The boy became separated from the Stantons, finding himself stranded on another ice floe. As it drifted slowly toward the falls, he managed to grasp a rope dangling from one of the bridges. A crew began pulling him up, but the boy lost his grip, plunged into the river, and disappeared.

Anguished reporting in the following day's Toronto Globe concludes with the fate of the Stantons:

The Globe, 5 February 1912
These words from earlier in the reporting cannot fail to move:
Somewhere deep in the great whirlpool to-night; sleeps the man, partially identified as Mr. Stanton, who twice put side chances of rescue in order to remain with his terror-stricken wife, and who, in the shadow of death, spurned assistance for himself and attempted to bind about the woman's body a rope dangling from the lower steel arch bridge. And the lad, Burrell Heacock, is cast from the same mould. Had he not turned back on the ice to give assistance to the man he, too, might have made the shore.
This is rightly the story of the Stantons and Burrell Hecock (often incorrectly spelled "Heacock"), but the literary historian in me can't help but be interested in its connection to Virna Sheard. The poet is mentioned in newspaper accounts, but never as a poet, and always as an appendage of her husband. This paragraph from from the Globe (6 February 1912) is typical:


Because the Stanton family was in the stationary business, the deaths of Eldridge Stanton and his wife were reported in the March issue of Bookseller & Stationer:


Again, his relationship to the poet Virna Sheard escapes mention. Curiously, and for no perceptible reason, the very same issue of Bookseller & Stationer features this portrait:


I shared the Bookseller & Stationer reporting because it too is a reflection of its time. It is no different than other contemporary reports in referring to the dead woman as "Mrs Stanton" or, more often than not, "his wife." Her husband is described as the Scretary Treasurer of O. B. Stanton & Wilson, stationers and printers, the son of prominent professional photographer Eldridge Stanton, Sr, while she is... well... her husband's wife.

The Globe, 6 February 1912

Some digging finds that she was born in Toronto on 13 June 1882 to Lillian and Nelson Butcher. Her given names were Lillian Clara. She was known  by the latter.

I wish I could offer more.  This doesn't do her justice.

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01 November 2019

Virna Sheard Sees November as a Hooded Friar


Bookseller & Stationer, March 1905

Verse for the month by Virna Sheard (née Stanton), daughter of Coburg, Ontario, from The Miracle and Other Poems (Toronto: Dent, 1913).

NOVEMBER
               How like a hooded friar, bent and grey,
               Whose pensive lips speak only when they pray
               Doth sad November pass upon his way. 
               Through forest aisles while the wind chanteth low —
               In God's cathedral where the great trees grow,
               Now all day long he paceth to and fro. 
               When shadows gather and the night-mists rise.
               Up to the hills he lifts his sombre eyes
               To where the last red rose of sunset lies. 
               A little smile he weareth, wise and cold.
               The smile of one to whom all things are old,
               And life is weary, as a tale twice told. 
               "Come see," he seems to say —"where joy has fled—
               The leaves that burned but yesterday so red
               Have turned to ashes — and the flowers are dead. 
               The summer's green and gold hath taken flight,
               October days have gone. Now bleached and white
               Winter doth come with many a lonely night. 
               "And though the people will not heed or stay,
               But pass with careless laughter on their way,
               Even I, with rain of tears, will wait and pray."
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