28 February 2009

Canada's Olympians (Part IV)

Bottoms Up
Jock Carroll
Covina, CA: Collectors Publications, 1967

Strange to think that this novel, which receives no mention in The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, sold something close to one million copies. It is an astonishing figure, one that comes from the author himself - and, Jock Carroll's reputation being what it is, I don't doubt it for a second.

Carroll was a very good journalist and a gifted photographer, but not much when it came to writing fiction; it's no great loss to Canadian letters that Bottoms Up was his only novel. That said, this is a pleasant enough read, capturing something of a heady time when magazines were flush with cash and booze flowed freely. A fish out of water story, it centres on Arthur King, a Swampy Cree from the shores of Hudson Bay and his zany adventures as a photographer for Light, a New York-based magazine. Along the way he encounters tough-talking journalists, a prostitute with a heart of coal and a human cannonball who fancies himself a great painter. But none are so interesting as Gloria Heaven, a character modelled closely on Marilyn Monroe. Carroll famously spent several days photographing the screen goddess near the start of her career, shots that were later published in Falling for Marilyn: The Lost Niagara Collection. His writing about the encounter suggests little embellishment; Gloria and Marilyn share the same background, body, behaviour and reading material (Thomas Wolfe, The Prophet and The Thinking Body by Mabel Ellsworth Todd). Conversations that Carroll says he had with Monroe are also found in the novel.

According to the author's son, Carroll shopped Bottoms Up around, finally turning to Olympia Press after he'd exhausted the North American houses. Maurice Girodias accepted the manuscript, but only after it had been spiced up. The paprika is easily seen, a light sprinkling of ribald talk here and there, without any great concentration. There are no sex scenes in Bottoms Up, and I think only two passing references to the posterior. It's not at all surprising that the novel holds the distinction of being the only Canadian work published by the press to have escaped the censor.

Olympia published Bottoms Up in 1961 as part of the Traveller's Companion Series, but the real sales would have begun three years later when it appeared in England and the United States as The Shy Photographer. Handsome hardcovers from Macgibbon & Kee and Stein & Day where soon followed by mass market paperbacks.

'Candy with a camera!' proclaims the Bantam edition. Well... not really. To truly appreciate where Carroll's talents lay, I suggest Falling for Marilyn and Glenn Gould: Some Portraits of the Artist as a Young Man (the focus of Glenn Gould Estate v. Stoddart Publishing Ltd., Carroll's posthumous triumph).

Object: My copy was pirated by Collectors Publications, run by the dishonourable Marvin Miller, the very same gentleman who two months earlier ripped off John Glassco's The English Governess as The Governess.

Access: Very good copies of the first edition are generally priced at between C$30 and C$50, twice that of the Collectors Publications edition. As The Shy Photographer, it's pretty thick on the ground - paperbacks from Panther and Bantam, the Macgibbon & Kee and Stein & Day hardcovers - all can be bought for as little as C$5. The Stein & Day edition is the most interesting as the first and only book produced as part of its aborted 'Olympia Press Series'.

Canada's Olympians (Part I)
Canada's Olympians (Part II)
Canada's Olympians (Part III)

22 February 2009

Freedom to Read

Jean-Charles Harvey
Bootlegger d'intelligence en période de prohibition

The first day of Freedom to Read Week arrives and thoughts turn away from Paris to works suppressed closer to home. It seems each year we're reminded of Margaret Laurence and the Peterborough Pentecostals, the twisted thinking that places Harry Potter as an agent of atheism and those who fear brainwashing in children's books featuring two daddies. All worthy of attention, of course, but where is the context? We remember the recent decades, providing equal weight to each attempt at suppression, while ignoring past. Thus, the 'Challenged Books and Magazines List' presented by the organizing committee elevates a matter worthy of nothing more than a few words in a community newspaper:
Findley, Timothy. The Wars.
1991 - In Lambton County (ON), a high school student asked that the novel be removed from the English curriculum.
Cause of objection - A passage describes the rape of a Canadian soldier by his fellow officers during World War I. The book was said to pressure students to accept homosexuality.
Update - The school board upheld use of the book at the OAC (formerly Grade 13) level.
Not to say that underage high school students don't pose a real threat to our civil liberties, it's just that I can't help but wonder at the exclusion of works that were challenged by even greater forces. Why no mention of F. R. Scott's skillful defence of Lady Chatterley's Lover before the Supreme Court? Where is Jean-Charles Harvey, whose anti-clerical novel Les Demi-Civilisés cost his position as editor-in-chief of Le Soleil, the post of provincial librarian and the directorship of the Quebec's Office of Statistics?

Figures like Scott and Harvey brought us to where we are today, a time in which stories about gay fathers can be bought in bookstores, a time when thwarted characters can say 'God damn' in a novel. There is drama in their stories, recognition to be made and gratitude to be paid.

20 February 2009

Canada's Olympians (Part III)

The English Governess
Miles Underwood [pseud. John Glassco]
Paris: Ophelia, 1960 [sic]

In his seventy-one years, John Glassco produced five books of verse, eight volumes of translation, and the prose masterpiece Memoirs of Montparnasse, but not one approached the sales he enjoyed with The English Governess and its sister book Harriet Marwood, Governess. Both stories of flagellantine romance between a boy, Richard Lovel, and his beautiful governess, Harriet Marwood, they're easily confused and are often described as being one and the same. Harriet Marwood, Governess, though published second, is actually the older of the two. In 1959, it was offered to Maurice Girodias, but the publisher thought it too tame. Glassco then rewrote the novel - apparently with the help of his wife - slashing it by more than half and ramping up the sex. Made to order, as The English Governess it was quickly accepted and appeared within ninety days under Olympia's Ophelia Press imprint.

The English Governess was a immediate success, a favourite in a market that relied almost exclusively on word of mouth. Reprinted after just three months, on 10 January 1961 it was suppressed by French authorities under a decades-old decree targeting 'périodiques et ouvrages de provenance étrangère'. As was his practice, Girodias reissued the banned novel using a different title: Under the Birch: The Story of an English Governess. Not much of a disguise, but more than enough to baffle the brigade mondaine. The novel has since appeared as The Governess (a pirated edition) and the misleading The Authentic Confessions of Harriet Marwood, an English Governess.

Trivia: Glassco chose not to be identified as the author, selecting Miles Underwood as a nom de plume. He kept his secret for over a year, and only began to reveal himself when seeking legal advice from F. R. Scott concerning Girodias' non-payment.

Object: My copy, printed by Taiwanese pirates, is a cheap reproduction of the first edition. I'm assuming that the novel was divided in two so as to enable the rusty staple binding.

Access: Typically found only in academic libraries, though the enlightened citizens of Toronto and Vancouver will find it on their shelves. Used copies are plentiful and inexpensive. The first edition isn't often offered for sale, and can't be had for anything less than C$300. While British and American editions are currently in print, the Canadian is recommended. Published in 2001 by Golden Dog Press, it includes a very informative Introduction by Michael Gnarowski.

Related posts:
Pictures of Harriet
Canada's Olympians (Part I)
Canada's Olympians (Part II)
Canada's Olympians (Part IV)

12 February 2009

Canada's Olympians (Part II)

Under the Hill
Aubrey Beardsley, completed by John Glassco
Paris: Olympia, 1959

Beardsley devoted a good portion of his short life to this retelling of the Tannhaüser legend, and returned to it repeatedly until the last cough.

While Glassco claimed that he first read an expurgated version as a boy (unlikely), and that he hand copied the true text as a McGill University student (possible), it wasn't until 1948 that he began this completion of Beardsley's work. He picks up the abandoned thread mid-way through the tenth chapter, then, following the legend and Beardsley's rough plan, adds a further nine. Glassco doesn't create so much as a seam - despite introducing personal interests not shared by the dead Decadent: flagellation and the touch of the governess. In his completion, Glassco has Tannhaüser attend a performance of Pink Cheeks, a pantomime-operetta that is advertised as 'Two Hours of Fun & Flagellation'. Later, while in Rome to seek absolution, the Minnesänger sets out to transcribe his sins, lest he forget any transgression before the Holy Father. In doing so, he casts his mind back to the governesses of his childhood: Mlle Fanfreluche, with whom he'd shared 'merry games at bedtime', and a later woman who had first introduced him to the pleasures of the birch.

In the summer of 1965, French authorities seized Under the Hill. The unsold stock, more than half the print run, was threatened with destruction. In defending the book, publisher Maurice Girodias was placed in the absurd position of having to prove Beardsley's reputation as a respected artist in a court of law.

The charges attracted interest from the London's New English Library, which quickly published a paperback edition to capitalize on a Beardsley revival, fuelled by an immensely popular retrospective at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Yet, despite all this excitement and interest across La Manche, Girodias lost his case. In August 1966, all copies of the elegant Olympia Press edition seized eleven months earlier were condemned to the flame.

Glassco was heartbroken, and could not understand the decision in that he'd never thought of Under the Hill as pornography: 'It is romantic, rococo, faisandé, Huysmanesque, playful, madly affected, solidly in the tradition of dandyism; it's even got a highly moral ending, with Tannhaüser officially damned & trapped forever under the hill. I wouldn't be in his elegant slippers for anything.'

Tannhaüser Before the Hill of Venus

Trivia: Under French law, Glassco, as copyright holder, should have been charged alongside the publisher. After the court case was lost, Girodias wrote the author: 'Curiously, and strangely, the prosecuting magistrate preferring to consider that you did not exist, and that you were a figment of my imagination, if you pardon the expression. I did not oppose that view naturally.'

Object: Under the Hill looks nothing like any other Olympia Press book. Illustrated by Beardsley, printed on heavy stock, bound in green watered silk, and issued in a numbered edition of three thousand, it was a extravagant production that Girodias would never repeat.

Access: A common title, but one not usually found in public libraries. Under the Hill continues to be published in the England and the United States; there has never been a Canadian edition. Used copies can be had for as little as a few dollars. Given its beauty and history, the first edition seems surprisingly inexpensive - generally between C$75 and C$200. Copies currently offered by Canada's online booksellers are priced at well over twice as much as those listed by their European and American brethren. Make of that what you will.

Related posts:
A Dutch Treat
Canada's Olympians (Part I)
Canada's Olympians (Part III)
Canada's Olympians (Part IV)

06 February 2009

Canada's Olympians (Part I)

The Whip Angels
Selena Warfield [pseud. Diane Bataille]
New York: Olympia Book Society, 1968
184 pages

This review now appears, revised and rewritten, 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