26 March 2009

Alec Falcon, c'est moi

All Else is Folly
Peregrine Acland
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1929

Peregrine Acland is not the sort of name one forgets. I first heard it during a seminar course, lumped in with Charles Yale Harrison and Philip Child as one of the few Canadian veterans to have penned a novel about the Great War. Harrison's Generals Die in Bed was in print, Child's God's Sparrows had been part of the New Canadian Library, but what about Acland? All Else is Folly was praised by Bertrand Russell and Frank Harris, Ford Madox Ford contributed a preface, and yet it hadn't been published since 1929.

What intrigued Ford was the idea of a war novel with a hero 'as normal in temperament and circumstance as it is possible to be.' In All Else is Folly he saw that protagonist in Alec Falcon, who is really Peregrine Acland himself. Not so normal in circumstance, the character enjoys a privileged background similar to the author, the son of the Deputy Minister of Labor in Ottawa. Like Acland, Falcon is tall, university educated and a mediocre poet (Acland's only other publication was a long poem, The Reveille of Romance, which he composed while crossing the Atlantic to war). Both creator and character fought at Ypres, attained the rank of major and were badly wounded in the Battle of the Somme. But what else of Peregrine Acland's wartime experience is there in Alec Falcon? This 'Tale of War and Passion' has our hero fending off the advances of officer's wives, enjoying the company of prostitutes and pursuing a married woman. These elements caused another Canadian veteran of the Somme, Colonel Cyrus Peck, VC, who quite possibly served as a model for one of the characters, to place the work 'on a level with the filth-purveyors of other nations'.

All Else is Folly is not a filthy novel, nor is it a great novel - but it is a good one. Acland's descriptions of the Battle of the Somme are particularly effective. While I won't agree with Ford that it would be 'little less than a scandal if the book is not read enormously widely', I wonder that it has been out of print these last eight decades.

Object: My copy is one of at least three McClelland and Stewart printings - there is no indication as to which. Sadly, no dust jacket. The image above, that of the first American edition, comes courtesy of Alan Hewer, the foremost collector of Great War dust jackets. His website is well-worth repeated visits.

Access: A forgotten book of the Great War, All Else is Folly isn't held by many public libraries. The good news is that copies, though uncommon, aren't obscenely expensive. Nice copies of the American first, published by Coward-McCann, can usually to be had for somewhere in the area of C$50 sans dust jacket. Those who follow the flag may face a challenge in finding the McClelland and Stewart edition. The English Constable edition is nowhere in sight.

23 March 2009

Gabrielle Roy at 100 (and One Day)

The Globe & Mail, 26 April 1947

Referencing the above yesterday, I thought it best to hunt the thing down - if only to make certain I had the correct wording. In doing so, I came upon the following less attractive, but more interesting ad, published the year before Hannah Josephson's translation became available.

The Globe & Mail, 27 April 1946

I can't imagine many French-language novels received similar promotion in 1946 Toronto.

22 March 2009

Gabrielle Roy at 100

The great Gabrielle Roy was born one hundred years ago today. Recognition is, I suppose, not in keeping with the stated theme of this blog. Never suppressed, never ignored and very much remembered, she towers over nearly all of her contemporaries. A quarter-century after Roy's death, eight of her titles remain available in English translation; two posthumous collections of letters are also in print. Of course, Bonheur d'occasion dominates. A best-seller from the start, it was advertised, without exaggeration, as 'the Greatest Canadian Novel ever written'. In 1947, as The Tin Flute, it sold over 700,000 copies in the United States alone.

While Roy's popularity south of the border soon dissolved into nothing, it remained strong in Canada, despite the author's refusal to promote her books. Not surprisingly, signed copies are uncommon. And so, in honour of the day: the front free endpaper of The Tin Flute, purchased from a Montreal bookseller for... well, you can see. He's no longer in business. I don't think he much cared for books.

20 March 2009

Stephen Harper's Forgotten Speech

In terms of the unemployed, of which we have over a million-and-a-half, don't feel particularly bad for many of these people. They don't feel bad about it themselves, as long as they're receiving generous social assistance and unemployment insurance.
To think only five years have passed since 20 March 2004, the day Stephen Harper took the reigns of the new Conservative Party. What a short, strange trip it's been: the In and Out Scam, the Bernier Affair, NAFTAgate and, just this week, a Science Minister who equates evolution with one's choice in footware. Setting aside the prorogation of Parliament, next to which all else seems so very trivial, my favourite moments came courtesy of the Canadian Press and their rather late discovery of a 1997 Stephen Harper speech delivered somewhere in Montreal to the American Council for National Policy.

Choosing not to rely on John Howard's words, the former Young Liberal, ex-Progressive Conservative, one-time Reform MP and future leader of two further political parties delivers a fairly unfocussed piece of oratory. Still, the speech presents such a very sharp image of someone who thinks little of his country and finds his fellow citizens ignorant. Here is a man who looks to the republic to the south and its conservative movement as 'a light and an inspiration'.

At first it seemed the address, uncovered mid-way through the 2006 federal election, might do significant damage. The Council was quick to remove the speech from its website, and strategist Tim Powers fielded questions. Harper was silent. The fourth estate paid a bit of attention; but then came Christmas, after which attention was diverted by RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli and some unfounded allegations against Liberal Finance Minister Ralph Goodale. Harper's address has since been all but ignored - CBC.ca dropped the text long ago - leaving all sorts of questions unanswered. Never mind our Prime Minister's relationship to the Council for National Policy, we don't even even know just where or when the speech was delivered.

17 March 2009

A Saint Patrick's Day Fragment

It's no insult to describe Thomas D'Arcy McGee as a better politician than poet; he was, after all, one of our great statesmen. Still, I find this verse from The Poems of Thomas D'Arcy McGee (Montreal: D. & J. Sadlier, 1869) has stayed with me longer than any of his speeches. That the poet was cut down by an assassin's bullet on an April evening lends weight.

Funeral procession of the Late Hon. Thomas D'Arcy McGee
St. James Street, Montreal, 13 April 1868
Photograph by James Inglis (LAC C-083423)

Related posts:

12 March 2009

More Dope, More Danger, Fewer Dolls

The Black Candle
Emily F. Murphy
Toronto: Thomas Allen, 1922

Returning to Dope Menace, I find that much of the most sensational writing featured comes not from the pulp and porn houses, but from religious outfits like the Pacific Press Publishing Association, owned and operated by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Its books, like Plain Facts for Young Women on Marijuana, Narcotics, Liquor, and Tobacco, were anything but. The press was, as Stephen Gertz writes, 'a great thorn in the side of anyone trying to rationally educate the public on drugs.' Perhaps the most outrageous of its publications was On the Trail of Marihuana: The Weed of Madness, published in 1939:
The marahuana user, freed from the restraint of gravitation, bumps his head against the sky. Street lights become orangoutangs [sic] with eyes of fire. Huge slimy snakes crawl through small cracks in the sidewalk, and prehistoric monsters, intent on his destruction, emerge from keyholes, and pursue him down the street. He feels squirrels walking all over his back, while he is being pelted by some unseen enemy with lightening bolts. He will thrill you with the most plausible accounts of desperadoes who lurk in the doorway ahead, waiting with long sharp knives to pounce on him and carve him to pieces.
Imaginative stuff, Pacific Press - but my favourite passage belongs to Fundamental Truth Publishers, who in 1943 issued a booklet, The Moloch of Marihuana, by the Reverend R. J. Devine:
An ordinary man or woman becomes in the eyes of the Marihuana addict, beautiful beyond compare. Marihuana, grown by trusties on prison farms unknown to prison officials, has been taken to the inmates. Under its influence the prisoners fall desperately in love with one another; as they would with members of the opposite sex outside prison walls. One can understand the debaucheries that take place.
It seems Canada's religious leaders didn't dwell nearly as much on the threats posed by drugs; we certainly had nothing comparable to Pacific Press (our own Pacific Press dispersed propaganda of a different kind). In this land of peace, order and good government, its not really so surprising that our single widely-read work of propaganda would come from a judge. There is much to admire in Emily Murphy, she was the first female magistrate in the British Empire and shares credit in the Persons Case. Still, I find her Historica Minute (née Heritage Minute), performed by the Kate Nelligan, cringe-worthy. Oh, it begins well enough - nice set, beautifully shot, with the attention to detail we've come to expect - but then comes the line: 'I, Emily Murphy, author of the Janey Canuck books, pioneer in the war against narcotics...'

And so, attention is drawn to the fifth of the Janey Canuck books, The Black Candle. Here we find similar panicked misinformation, such as these quoted words from Charles A. Jones, for all of six months the Chief of the LAPD:
Persons using this narcotic [marijuana] smoke the dried leaves of the plant, which has the effect of driving them completely insane. The addict loses all sense of moral responsibility. Addicts to this drug, while under the influence, are immune to pain, could be severely injured without having any realization of their condition. While in this condition they becoming [sic] raving maniacs and are liable to kill or indulge in any form of violence to other persons, using the most savage methods without, as said before, any sense of moral responsibility.

When coming from under the influence of this narcotic, these victims present the most horrible condition imaginable. They are dispossessed of their natural and normal will power, and their mentality is that of idiots. If this drug is indulged in to any great extent, it ends in the untimely death of its addict.
Judge Murphy then passes on some information from W. H. B. Stewart, Superintendent of London's Bethlehem Royal Hospital, that 'the drug is used for the purpose of inducing pleasurable motor excitement and hallucinations which are commonly sexual in character among Eastern races.' This is just one of many unreferenced statements in The Black Candle, presented in support of her xenophobic world view. The author writes of 'a well-defined propaganda among aliens of color to bring about the degeneration of the white race', she tells of 'Chinese pedlars' [sic] who boast that the 'yellow race would rule the world' and 'would strike a the white race through "dope"'. According to Murphy, threats come from all sides: 'Some Negroes coming into Canada - and they are no fiddle-faddle fellows either - have similar ideas, and one of their greatest writers has boasted how ultimately they will control the white men.'

Who, one wonders, is this great writer?

The Black Candle is not just another 'Janey Canuck' book; the author departs from her tiresome travelogues to become 'Judge Emily F. Murphy'. Her billing as 'Police Magistrate and Judge of the Juvenile Court' lends an air of authority and knowledge that Rev. Devine and the Pacific Press lacked. The Black Candle was read, reviewed and discussed. The following year, the author thought enough of the work to nominate herself for the Nobel Prize in Literature (not to worry, it was awarded to Yeats). It may be long out of print, but The Black Candle lives on - its considerable influence on our narcotics legislation would be acknowledged by the Le Dain Commission.

As one whose drug of choice is supplied by the Upper Canada Brewing Company, I write without bias that The Black Candle is the most destructive book yet produced in this country.

We honour the author with a statue on Parliament Hill.

Object and Access: Still found in our larger public libraries. The first edition, one of Thomas Allen's more attractive titles, appears to have been published without a dust jacket. Not nearly as rare as some booksellers claim, decent copies can be bought for C$75. The only reprint, the ugly 1973 Coles Canadiana Collection facsimile, features a top-notch Introduction by Robert Solomon, researcher for the Le Dain Commission. Do not pay more than C$20.

09 March 2009

Dope, Danger and Dolls

The lure of the lurid. I was hooked when, as a teenager, I came across Lush Lady and The Lady is a Lush next to each other in a used bookstore. Pulps, they were the first titles in a collection that would one day help pay for a move from Montreal to Vancouver.

I was reminded of these titles, lucrative for the collector, by Dope Menace: The Sensational World of Drug Paperbacks 1900-1975, a new book by my pal Stephen J. Gertz. What a pleasure to see these tawdry covers again, with their enticing captions ('A WILD WEEKEND OF JAZZ AND JUNK IN A HOTBED OF SEX'). It's hard to resist these images; they promise so very much. However, as Steve reminds us, these books tease, but seldom deliver. Case in point, Vice Rackets of Soho, which provides the cover image for Dope Menace:
The illustration by Reginald Heade for Vice Rackets of Soho by Ronald Vane (Ernest L. McKeag) with its glorious scene of drug eroticism - a half-naked woman lying supine on a bed in a sheer gown that appears to have been spray-painted on, her head thrown back in ecstasy as she's shot up with junk by a leering miscreant - is a prime example. Though the image suggests artist Heade as a sort of twisted Bernini - the Ecstasy of St. Theresa of Avila as sultry babe meets criminal Christ who plunges His flaming scepter of drug-love deep within her - there is virtually no mention of drugs within the text, nor much sex, for that matter.
Little in the way of sex and drugs... I'm betting the same is true of Frances Shelley Wees' Lost House.

I very much doubt that Mrs Wees, author of the Scholastic paperback Mystery of the Secret Tunnel, wife to the president of omnipresent textbook publisher Gage, wrote much, if anything, about heroin and loose women.
Lost House is one of only two Canadian titles found in Dope Menace, begging the question: Where are our drug paperbacks? This is no oversight on Steve's part. Canada's early mass market publishers all but ignored the money to be had in the lucrative drug paperback trade. Lost House is very nearly unique, and has the further distinction of being Harlequin's second book. The only other Canadian drug pulp - Ronald Cocking's poetic Die With Me Lady - was also brought out by the romance publisher.

Of course, Harlequin wasn't always all hearts, flowers, bosoms and bodices; their history is much more rich and varied. They were the first Canadian paperback publishers of Agatha Christie, W. Somerset Maugham and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Their titles included thrillers, mysteries, westerns, works of science fiction and weird things like Vengeance of the Black Donnellys ('Canada's Most Feared Family Strikes Back from Beyond the Grave') by Thomas P. Kelley. And, as with the pulp houses to the south, the early Harlequin wasn't above using the same deceptive bait - Thomas H. Raddall's historical adventure Roger Sudden was pitched as a 'lusty tale'.

The publisher is currently making a big deal about its 60th anniversary, but you won't find any recognition of the early years. Something to do with branding, I suppose - and yet, Harlequin is so very protective of the very same material they choose to disown.

06 March 2009

The Poet Mayor of Toronto

The Mackenzie Poems
William Lyon Mackenzie & John Robert Colombo
Toronto: Swan, 1966

A great deal is being made today over Toronto's 175th anniversary. This all goes back to the city's incorporation, of course, ignoring the founding of York by the heroic John Graves Simcoe some four decades earlier. Never mind, the day gives cause to look more closely at this interesting collaboration between Toronto's first mayor and John Robert Colombo. 'Is this prose or poetry?' asks the cover copy. The answer is clearly the latter - found poetry, to be precise. To quote further: 'Here are the actual words of William Lyon Mackenzie, the man who led armed citizens through the streets of Toronto in 1837.'

Let the readers
of the Colonial Advocate
keep a watchful eye
upon the march of events
in Europe;
the tide rises.
Predating F.R. Scott's Trouvailles: poems from prose by one year, this is poetry of the Centennial, written - or, to be more accurate, cut - at a time of healthy, heightened interest in the past. Fun stuff, it's easy to see why names like Scott, Earle Birney, Raymond Souster and James Reaney wrote blurbs for the book.

Object: A slim title, just 94 pages in length, The Mackenzie Poems appears to have been issued in simultaneous hardcover and paperback editions. Both are published on cheap newsprint and state 'First Edition, 1966'. My paperback copy was purchased nine years ago for 69¢, a full 6¢ off the original price, at a Toronto Value Village. A pretty good find, it's inscribed by Colombo to Philip Givens, who was then the city's mayor. 'Your cultural crusade is as needed today as Mayor Mackenzie's political crusade was in his', wrote the poet - a reference, perhaps, to Givens' lengthy campaign to bring Henry Moore's Three-Way Piece No. 2 to Nathan Phillips Square.

Access: A fairly fragile item, I imagine most library copies have long since fallen apart and been discarded - the Toronto Public Library holds only three. That said, it is readily available and inexpensive. Very Good copies of the paperback can be had for as little as C$3. Expect to pay roughly C$10 for the hardcover.

05 March 2009

Freedom to Read Redux

A few days after the end of Freedom to Read Week and my little rant, I note that Jean-Charles Harvey's account of the suppression of Les Demi-Civilisés has been added to Jean-Louis Lessard's excellent Laurentiana blog. A reminder of a dark time not long past.

04 March 2009

The Canadian Preview Book Society

Jacques Godbout's recent words of wisdom had me going back to my slight collection of his works, including this curiosity, a translation of the great man's Le couteau sur la table. It isn't an 'uncorrected proof', as claimed, but an advance copy issued to subscribers of McClelland & Stewart's ill-fated Canadian Preview Book Society. James King's biography of the late Jack McClelland, Jack: A Life With Writers, provides an entertaining account of what the publisher proclaimed 'the greatest single idea in the history of book publishing'. For ten dollars a year, society members would receive fake proofs in advance of publication. A good idea? I don't know. Certainly, it would have appealed to bibliophiles. But the execution was rotten. M & S, then a company with a reputation for missing pub dates, had trouble producing the advances; frequently society members received their copies after the finished book had arrived in bookstores.

By my count, the publisher issued eight Canadian Preview Book Society titles, including René Lévesque's Option-Québec (translated as An Option for Quebec), Pierre Berton's The Smug Minority and Mirror on the Floor, George Bowering's first novel. Each can be bought today for under C$20. To the collector of Canadian literature the most attractive is probably something called This Year in Jerusalem by Mordecai Richler. The only society offering in which the title is indicated as 'tentative', it was later published as Hunting Tigers Under Glass. Richler obviously liked the earlier title; he used it for his 1994 autobiography-cum-history-cum-commentary. That said, I think the most interesting of all the society's titles is The Bad News: Notes on the Mass Media and Their Masters by journalist Ken Lefollii, a book McClelland & Stewart cancelled under pressure from the conservative Toronto Telegram. Four years later, aged 95, the paper died. The Bad News lives on, but only in this faux proof form.