22 October 2009

First Ignored, then Slighted

A most welcome new blog, Fly-by-night, aims to shine some light on Canada's early paperback publishers. It seems such a daunting task; not because they were many in number, but because so little attention as been paid by our literary historians, biographers and bibliographers. Take, for example, Collins White Circle, an imprint of the esteemed William Collins Sons' Canadian branch: 429 titles published over a ten year period and not a mention in The Canadian Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia of Canadian Literature, or The Perilous Trade, Roy MacSkimming's 2003 history of Canadian publishing. The History of the Book in Canada – published in three volumes, amounting to 1837 pages – devotes a mere five sentences to the imprint.

It seems that even when it was around, White Circle went unrecognized by literary types. As evidence I point to a piece by critic William Arthur Deacon in the 29 November 1947 edition of the Globe and Mail, which credits the Reprint Society of Canada for returning Stephen Leacock's "masterpiece" Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town to print. This, despite the fact that since 1942 the book had been available as a White Circle paperback. Writing in the paper two months later, Deacon builds upon his error, praising the Society for, amongst other things, offering "the only extant edition of Leacock's Sunshine Sketches".

Collins' correction inspired this unsigned slight:

Yes, yes, yes... and Orillia has more than four buildings... and not all have red roofs... and steam engines aren't typically dwarfed by sheds. Honestly, why not just own up to the mistake and move on?

The Globe and Mail adds insult by printing the criticism beside an advert for, of all people, the Reprint Society of Canada.

And in related news: Word comes in the form of an email that Harlequin's Vintage Collection was a one time thing. "At the present time, there are no plans to reissue more vintage books", writes customer service agent Angela. Those who'd put money aside for a David Montrose or Thomas P. Kelley reissue may wish to consider instead a Ronald J. Cooke The House on Craig Street address book.


  1. Thanks for the kind words for my Fly-by-night blog.

    Very much enjoyed the story about the Collins edition of Sunshine. Hadn't come across before.

    I can add that in the October 10, 1942 G&M someone (likely Deacon) praised Collins for the new White Circles and referred to three books including Sunshine. This was the 1942 edition published by Collins in their first year of White Circles.

    The reviewer says "the literary level of the White Circle books is high. They are neatly made and it is a pleasure to encounter old friends [i.e. the WC reprints of Canadian novels]."

  2. How to run a correction with the least possible style and grace. I should reread 'Sunshine Sketches'. I bought the Prion Humour Classics edition years ago, and I know I enjoyed it, but I can now remember almost nothing about it.

  3. bowdler, I agree, it seems most likely that Deacan wrote the complimentary 1942 piece on White Circle's Sunshine Sketches (amongst others). Interesting to note that the early paperback had a uniform cover - and that the edition with the offending cover was copyright 1944 (the year - mistakenly - given in the reissue).

    JRSM, I think the response not only lacks style and grace, but is a denial of Leacock's own artistic license and creativity. Here there's no mention of Mariposa, rather the "little town" is Orillia. "Internal evidence is conclusive that Lake Wissanotti is Couchiching", writes this anonymous soul, yet Lake Wissanotti borders no other lake (it is connected by river to Lake Ossawippi). I won't disagree that Lake Wissanotti is modelled on Couchiching and Lake Ossawipi is based on Simcoe, but Leacock's art extends beyond simple name changes.

    Oh, and I do like the cover. Despite liberties taken, I think it's probably the finest to ever grace the novel.