22 May 2018

The Dustiest Bookcase: B is for Beresford-Howe


Short pieces on books I've always meant to review (but haven't).
They're in storage as we build our new home.
Patience, please.

My Lady Greensleeves
Constance Beresford-Howe
New York: Ballantine, 1955
220 pages

The author's fourth novel – and lone historical novel – My Lady Greensleeves holds the distinction of being her worst received. Eighteen years passed before she returned with her fifth, The Book of Eve.

In the three-page "About Constance Beresford-Howe" tacked to the end of the novel, the author reveals that My Lady Greensleeves was inspired by a sixteenth-century scandale involving Anne Hungerford, husband Sir William Hungerford, and William Darrell, who was accused of being Anne's lover.

Beresford-Howe uses Anne as a model for the novel's Avys Winter; Sir William is Piers Winter, and Durrell becomes Avys's kissing cousin Henry Brandon.

I don't much care for historical fiction, but regret that I've not read this one. It would be interesting to see just how much the author drew from history. Sir William Hunderford's father was beheaded for violating the Buggery Act of 1533. Does Piers Winters' papa meet the same fate? All evidence indicates that William Durrell committed infanticide at the birth of a child he'd fathered with a servant girl. He was accused of tossing the newborn into a fire.


Kudos to the cover artist for depicting the heroine in green sleeves.

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21 May 2018

The Queen is Dead



Verse for Victoria Day, composed by Jean Blewett upon news of the monarch's death. This version is taken from The Cornflower and Other Poems (Toronto: Briggs, 1906).


QUEEN VICTORIA
1837 
The sunshine streaming through the stained glass
Touched her with rosy colors as she stood,
The maiden Queen of all the British realm,
In the old Abbey on that soft June day.
Youth shone within her eyes, where God had set
All steadfastness, and high resolve, and truth;
Youth flushed her cheek, dwelt on the smooth white brow
Whereon the heavy golden circlet lay. 
The ashes of dead kings, the history of
A nation's growth, of strife, and victory,
The mighty past called soft through aisle and nave:
"Be strong, O Queen; be strong as thou art fair!"
A virgin, white of soul and unafraid.
Since back of her was God, and at her feet
A people loyal to the core, and strong.
And loving well her sweetness and her youth. 
1901 
Upon her woman's head earth's richest crown
Hath sat with grace these sixty years and more.
Her hand, her slender woman's hand, hath held
The weightiest sceptre, held it with such power
All homage hath been hers, at home, abroad,
Where'er hath dwelt a chivalrous regard
For strength of purpose and for purity,
For grand achievement and for noble aim. 
To-day the cares of State no longer vex;
To-day the crown is laid from off her brow. 
Dead! The great heart of her no more will beat
With tenderness for all beneath her rule.
Dead! The clear eyes of her no more will guard
The nation's welfare. Dead! The arm of her
No more will strike a mighty blow for right
And justice; make a wide world stand amazed
That one so gentle as old England's Queen
Could be so fearless and so powerful! 
Full wearily the sense of grief doth press
And weight us down. The good Queen is no more;
And we are fain to weep as children weep
When greedy death comes to the home and bears
From thence the mother, whose unfailing love
Hath been their wealth, their safeguard, and their pride.

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17 May 2018

A Teenage Rock Photographer Between the Covers



Longtime readers may remember me writing here of teenage adventures smuggling cameras into concerts. Sadly, in middle age, those acts still rank amongst my most daring. What I  failed to mention is that the resulting photos ended up in the pages of Bandersnsnatch, the student newspaper of John Abbott College, for which I served as entertainment editor. We were offered press screenings to Hollywood films and had tickets waiting at the Centaur Theatre box office, but music dominated our coverage. Anyone distributed by Polygram had a
A Durutti Column column
leg up because the company sent us records. The Durutti Column received more notice in Bandersnatch than all the Southam and Thompson papers combined.

Lest anyone think we teens could be bought with freebees, two non-Polygram acts, David Bowie and Gang of Four, received by far the most column inches. I penned the paper's reviews of Scary Monsters, "Up the Hill Backwards," Baal, "Under Pressure," and "Cat People," as well as reissues of his own teenage work with the Mannish Boys, the King Bees, and the Lower Third.

Gang of Four didn't have nearly so long a history. Bandersnatch was there from the beginning, praising Entertainment! and the Gang of Four EP. I wrote those reviews, and saw the band's 4 July 1981 concert at Montreal's Beer Gardens. The photos I took at that show – with smuggled camera – decorated further reviews of Solid GoldAnother Day/Another Dollar, and everything else I wrote about Gang of Four.

Going over old issues of Bandersnatch – even then, I knew to save them – I see those same photos have taken on a sepia tone. They're cleaner in Red Set: A History of Gang of Four, a new book by my friend Jim Dooley.


I first met Jim the year after those heady days at Bandersnatch came to an end. Back then, I doubt either of us would've dreamt – or even dared dream – that he'd one day write the authoritative history of this band we both loved so much. I can say with certainty that I never thought the photos I took all those years ago at the Beer Garden would feature in that same book.

I'm honoured. Jim is one of the most astute critics and music historians I've ever read.


Today marks the UK release of Red Set, published by London's Repeater Books. On June 19, the book will be available in Canada and the United States. Well worth the wait.

Again, I'm honoured.

Congratulations, Jim!

Congratulations all around!


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13 May 2018

Verse for Mother's Day by Dorothy Livesay's Mum


Florence Randal Livesay
1874 - 1953
RIP
Florence Randal Livesay was a remarkable woman. Born, raised and educated in the small Quebec town of Compton, during the very same years as fellow Comptonian Louis St-Laurent, as a young woman Livesay taught in Montreal, New York, and overseas in Boer War concentration camps. She later worked at the Winnipeg Telegram and Winnipeg Free Press. Her lone book of verse, Shepherd's Purse (Toronto: Macmillan, 1923), was followed by a novel, Savour of Salt (Toronto: Dent, 1927), that was praised by William Arthur Deacon. I came to Florence Randal Livesay through my interest in her daughter, Dorothy Livesay, whose career was propagated in the pages of the Free Press.

Florence Randal Livesay was a good mother.

This verse is one of four Florence Randal Livesay poems included in editor John W. Garvin's Canadian Poems of the Great War (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1918):


Being the the hundredth since the end of the Great War, I couldn't let this Mother's Day pass without acknowledging the fact and adding this verse by Isabel Ecclestone Mackay, which is also taken from Canadian Poems of the Great War:


Happy Mother's Day!

War is over if you want it.

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07 May 2018

The Dustiest Bookcase: A is for Adams


Short pieces on books I've always meant to review (but haven't).
They're in storage as we build our new home.
Patience, please.

S: Portrait of a Spy
Ian Adams
Toronto: Virgo, 1981
196 pages

I wrote a great deal about S: Portrait of a Spy in my first book Character Parts, which is pretty much the reason I haven't covered it here. An intriguing novel of political intrigue concerning a member of the RCMP who is suspected of being both a KGB and CIA mole, S generated headlines through my college years. Most came courtesy of Toronto Sun publisher Peter Worthington, who pushed the idea that Leslie James Bennett, former head to the RCMP's Russian Intelligence Service Desk, was the model for the title character. Worthington encouraged Bennett to sue, which is exactly what he did, going after Adams and original publisher Gage for $2.2 million.

S: Portrait of  Spy
Ian Adams
Toronto: Gage, 1979
In December 1980, Bennett agreed to a modest out-of-court settlement, barely enough to cover his legal fees, and made the mistake of insisting upon this notice, which appears in the Virgo edition:


"A curious resolution, as the disclaimer republished the alleged libel even as it discredited it," noted lawyer Douglas J. Johnson.

Agreed.

The Virgo edition also includes a good deal of information on Bennett, much of it gleaned through court testimony. Transcripts are provided.

Bennett described Adams' novel as "a typical KGB-type operation" and went so far as to claim that his life was under threat from an RCMP "death squad."

He died in Melbourne of kidney failure on 18 October 2003,  four days after the publication of Character Parts. I deny any responsibility.


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01 May 2018

Packing Up the Dusty Bookcase(s)



Not the end of this blog, but the end of our time in St Marys. After a decade in this small Ontario town, we've sold our beloved Victorian villa and are preparing to head east to the even smaller Ontario town of Merrickville, southwest of Ottawa. As with the previous move, we're telling ourselves that this will be the last. It may be. At the very least, it will be different in that we plan to build our new home.

Never done that before.

Packing up my collection of obscure, not-so-obscure, and quite common Canadian literature – all 3895 books – has become a depressing chore. So many I've been meaning to read remain unopened; so many I'd planned on reviewing here  remain untouched. Leading this sad parade is Turf Smoke, John Coulter's lone novel, published in 1945 by Ryerson.


Who remembers that John Coulter wrote a novel?

Who remembers John Coulter?

Once our foremost playwright, I first encountered his name in a university course titled Introduction to Canadian Drama. Coulter's big play, Riel, was assigned but couldn't be read because it wasn't in print. Instead, we studied an excerpt that had been included in The Penguin Book of Modern Canadian Drama, Volume One (Toronto: Penguin, 1984).


There has never been a Volume Two.

I've always been drawn to novels more than drama, which explains how it was that in 1985 I spent four dollars, over half my hourly wage at Sam the Record Man, on this first and only edition of Coulter's first and only novel. I suppose it says something about my reaction to Riel that I've still not read Turf Smoke.

I'm being horribly ungrateful because it was in packing and unpacking Turf Smoke that the idea of a series focussed on forgotten Canadian writing by forgotten Canadian writers first took hold. If my count is correct, my copy has survived fourteen moves, and has twice made it to Vancouver and back. This move, nearly all of my books will be packed away until our new home is built. There'll be no more scanning the shelves in the wee hours, standing in semi-darkness, wondering what next to read.

Decisions must be made now!

And so I find myself putting aside books I hope to reading over the next eighteen months, while boxing up others.


Coulter's novel didn't make the cut. Yesterday, it joined my Ronald Cocking collection, my H.A. Cody collection, my Ralph Connor collection, and a pristine copy of Prelude to a Marriage: Letters & Diaries of John Coulter & Olive Clare Primrose (Ottawa: Oberon, 1979) in a box destined for storage.

Packing it away for the fifteenth time, Turf Smoke inspired a sub-series, The Dustiest Bookcase, which will focus on forgotten books I've long meant to read and review (but haven't).

The Dustiest Bookcase appear from time to time until we've built our new home and I unpack Turf Smoke.

I vow to read it when I do.

John Coulter
1888 - 1980
RIP

27 April 2018

Further Along The Lane That Had No Turning



The Lane That Had No Turning
     and Other Tales Concerning the People of Pontiac;
     Together with Certain 'Parables of Provinces'
Gilbert Parker
New York: A.L. Burt, [n.d]
359 pages

In his six-page – six-page – dedication to Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Gilbert Parker writes that he'd first intended to title this collection Born With a Golden Spoon. He gives no reason for the change of heart, but I think it may have something to do with knowing where its strength lies. The title story, with its mix of madness, murder, deformity, and suicide, is so fantastic, so entertaining, that that I felt it warranted its own review. I wrote that review in 2012, posted it here, then pulled it down and rewrote it for inclusion in The Dusty Bookcase book, published last fall by Biblioasis.

What I didn't do is continue on. The twenty-five other tales and parables remained unread. There was little point. The two Parkers I'd bothered with – The March of the White Guard and Tarboe – had me convinced that nothing would be nearly as good as "The Lane That Had No Turning." Picking up this volume six years later, I see that I was spot on, which is not to say that the rest of the volume doesn't offer anything worth your time. These are my three favourite tales:

'The Little Bell of Honour'
Voyageur Luc Pomfrette curses his baptism – "Sacré baptême! – bringing hushed shock to the people of Pontiac. The Curé demands Pomfrette repent, but he refuses. The little bell of honour worn around the his leg, conferred out of respect by the other voyageurs, comes to serve as a signal of his approach. Restauranteurs will not serve him and shopkeepers will not sell to him. Though Pomfrette learns to be resourceful, milling his own flour and fashioning clothes from rags, he wastes away. Why will he not repent? And what caused him to blaspheme in the first place?

'The Tragic Comedy of Annette'
Log driver Bénoit, the most attractive and charismatic man in all of Pontiac, avoids the girl to whom has promised marriage. The shortest story in the collection, it would spoil everything to describe much more.

'An Upset Price'
As a tale of drug addiction, "An Upset Price" is uncommon for its day. Secord, its main character, left Pontiac to serve as a physician in the American Army. His delicate, indicate operations were praised in the Lancet, and he could've practiced anywhere, but chose to return to his small Quebec hometown. Coincidentally, I saw the doctor's downfall reflected last night in an episode of the German period drama Charité.

This is not to suggest that the other stories aren't without interest, rather that that interest will depend on the individual. For example, "Uncle Jim," concerning a hardworking farming couple who accept the return of their son, now married to a "designing milliner," will appeal to modern readers who wring their hands over boomerang children. The gothic 'Parpon the Dwarf' is recommended to readers of the genre and anyone studying dwarfism in literature. Parpon features throughout much of the book and, it should be noted, is the sole person to stay loyal to the damned Luc Pomfrette.

Parker concludes his dedication to Laurier by announcing that the volume contains his last tales of Quebec. I can't say that they're the last I'll read. This volume may be a mixed bag, but I am curious about The Seats of the Mighty, Parker's historical romance of the Conquest. In 1896 it followed Francis Hopkinson Smith's Tom Grogan and A Lady of Quality by Frances Hodgson Burnett as the third biggest selling novel in the the United States.

Though we're loath to admit it, Canadians love it when Americans pay us notice.

Fun fact: In 1899, Doubleday & McClure published a volume of Gilbert's tales of the Pontiac and parables of the provinces – sans "The Lane That Had No Turning" – under the title Born With a Golden Spoon.


Object: A remarkably attractive cloth-bound hardcover featuring four plates by Frank E. Schooner. To think it came from a budget publisher. I bought my copy in 1998 at a Toronto Goodwill store. Price: $1.50. If the scrawl on frontispiece is to be believed, it once belonged to J.P. Butler of Walden, Massachusetts.

Access: The complete collection (see: Fun Fact above!) was first published in 1900 by Morang in Canada, Doubleday, Page in the United States, and Heinemann in Great Britain. Other editions followed, most notably as Volume 11 in the Imperial Edition of the Collected Works of Gilbert Parker (New York: Scribner's, 1913).

Online listings begin at US$2.99 and extend all the way to €86.00. The collection can be read online – gratis – through this handy link to the Internet Archive.

As always, print on demand vultures are to be ignored.


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