29 November 2010

The Canada Doctor: First Visit

The Canada Doctor
Clay Perry and John L.E. Pell
Boston: Hale, Cushman & Flint/[Toronto]: Thomas Allen, 1933
361 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

Related posts:

26 November 2010

James at 100 (Jasper at 62)

As a kid, Jasper was everywhere – the daily newspaper, Maclean's, postcards, T-shirts, buttons and ball caps – but now he's seen nowhere outside the national park that gave him his name. Out of sight, out of mind, I hadn't thought of the bear in years until stumbling over the fact that today marks the centenary of Jasper creator James Simpkins' birth.

A commercial artist, Winnipeg born and bred, Simpkins' talent extended much farther than Jasper. Here's one example, a 1956 postage stamp:

And then there were other cartoons, like Simpkins' Montreal:

The Gazette, 29 August 1962

But the bear was pervasive; a friend's parents had Jasper salt and pepper shakers, he had a copy of McClelland and Stewart's 1972 Jasper. Was it the same as Ryerson's similarly titled 1954 collection or the one published by Rinehart six years later? I have no idea. Jasper books are so very hard to come by these days, all the more reason why a revival – very much overdue – would be welcome. Drawn and Quarterly? Seth?

22 November 2010

A Neglected Author's Forgotten Novel

Gambling with Fire
David Montrose [pseud., Charles Ross Graham]
Don Mills, ON: Longmans Canada, [1969]

Until this year, I had no idea that Gambling with Fire existed; most Montrose bibliographies – few and far between – don't recognize the title. Easy to see how it's missed. Where the author's other novels – The Crime on Cote des Neiges, Murder Over Dorval and The Body on Mount Royal – were cheap paperback originals from the early 'fifties, this hardcover landed in shops at about the same time as Abbey Road. I wonder if anyone was waiting. I wonder whether anyone noticed.

I've seen nothing more than a very brief Saturday Night review, and no adverts. There must be something else out there – in Quill & Quire, perhaps – but it appears that Montrose's fourth and last novel just drifted by, meeting the same fate as his pulps: a single printing. It could not have helped sales that the author died while it was in press.

Let's assume for a second that there was a Montrose fan out there, someone who had waited those fifteen years for the next novel. I imagine there would have been some initial disappointment. Gone is private detective Russell Teed, the good-natured, mildly quirky hero of the first three novels. In his place we have impoverished Austrian aristocrat Franz Loebek, a displaced person in a post-war world. Loebek is so very staid, less likable, and less of a character, though he does share Teed's appreciation of interior decoration and a love for what was then Canada's largest city:
Here was this great city of Montreal, old and seeming as educated in vice as European cities; berthed in her docks, ships of the world. Bars like London, churches like Paris, narrow streets that could be Marseilles, neon streets that could be New York.
Yes, this was Montreal – in many ways it still is – but the metropolis one encounters in Gambling with Fire pre-dates the novel's publication. Montrose presents us with a city that is "one-third English. Of which part, perhaps one-thousandth are the controllers of the industry, the business, the financial houses, the banks." This is a Montreal untouched by Jean Drapeau, the Quiet Revolution, the FLQ and Expo 67. In keeping with previous Montrose novels, this is very much an English metropolis. That said, though the French speaking characters are few in Gambling with Fire, they have a much greater presence. There's Nicole Porter-Smythe (née Desmarais), Loebeck's great love; Julius Trebonne, Loebeck's loyal cabby ; and Rosaire Beaumage, Loebeck's mortal enemy.

It is Beaumage's murder of Loebek's old friend Morris Winter that sets all in motion. I won't go on for fear of spoiling the plot. Gambling with Fire is worth a read. In fact, approaching the end, I was prepared to describe this as the best-written of the four Montrose novels. What prevented me is the final chapter which seems a grasping, hurried attempt at tying up loose ends and providing redemptive, happy endings for each and every character. I have no reservation in declaring these twelve pages the weakest the author ever published. A sad conclusion to a wonderful oeuvre... but, oh, the aftertaste!

Dedication: "To my most compassionate friend, LEV CHIPMAN". Stepping onto a limb, I suggest that the dedicatee is a descendant of Leverett de Veber Chipman of the Nova Scotia Chipmans.

Access: Toronto's public library comes through, though all others fail. Gambling with Fire can also be found in eight of our university libraries, but not any located in Montreal. For shame. Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that Library and Archives Canada doesn't have so much as a listing. Only two copies are currently on offer from online booksellers – at US$15 and US$18.75. As an old prof used to say, "run, don't walk".

Related post:

21 November 2010

A.J.M. Smith Memorial Plaque

It was thirty years ago today that A.J.M. Smith died. This coming Saturday afternoon will see the unveiling of a memorial plaque to the poet at the chapel of Montreal's St James the Apostle Anglican Church. All are welcome!

St James the Apostle Anglican Church
1439 St Catherine Street West
Montreal, Quebec

(entrance Bishop Street)

5:00 pm, Saturday, 27 November 2010

17 November 2010

'Snainef spelled backwards is Fenians'

The Passionate Invaders
John Clare
New York: Doubleday, 1965

Had it not been for the nineteenth-century English poet John Clare, I doubt that I would've noticed this novel, found several weeks ago in a London thrift store. The Canadian John Clare meant nothing to me, though he did once serve as editor for a number of Toronto-based periodicals. Here he is in a 1948 advert for Maclean's:

The Ottawa Citizen, 18 February 1948

Just how well Clare practiced his precepts in the short story format I cannot say – there is no collection – but this, his first and only novel, is a great disappointment. Here I admit that I was hoping for another forgotten, entertaining satire like The Chartered Libertine by Ralph Allen (top row, first from the left). Instead, what I encountered was a slight, self-indulgent work. Oh, but the cover held such promise!

All centres on Magnus Dillon, a wise-cracking Toronto magazine editor who is assigned to track down "The Snainef", a group of Canadian terrorists intent on invading the United States. Truth be told, he barely tries. Despite great pressure from his boss, Dillon spends most of his time drinking and thinking about the past.

There's no suspense in this "SATIRIC, RICHLY COMIC SUSPENSE NOVEL"; the author doesn't want us on the edge of our seats, he'd rather we sit back as he recounts the boyish pranks Dillon pulled during his stint in the RCAF. (Clare served as a flight lieutenant during the Second World War.) There's also a lengthy history of our hero's favourite watering hole, an inconsequential four-page letter from a friend, and Dillon's rather dry attempts to explain Canada and Canadians to any and all Americans he encounters. The greater part of The Passionate Invaders passes before protagonist and reader so much as encounter the Snainef.

Throughout it all, the prose coughs, sputters and chokes. Witness the beginning of chapter two:
Gus had driven half the distance from his office to the Carfleet house (he was going to meet his wife at the party – she was diving out with a friend), when it occurred to him that Charlie Carfleet might well be a likely suspect after all.
The author told Scott Young (top row, second from the right) that Doubleday accepted his novel "on sight". Clare further claimed that the publisher asked for no changes: "They didn't lay a glove on it."

Shame, really.

An aside: I can't help but feel that the folks down in New York were hoping for a success along the lines of Leonard Wibberley's The Mouse that Roared and its many spinoffs.

Trivia: The Passionate Invaders cover art is by the late Eldon Dedini, best remembered for his New Yorker and Playboy cartoons.

Object and Access: Found in public libraries across the United States, though only that belonging to the City of Toronto serves north of the border. Rob Ford might just put an end to that. Those looking to purchase this, the first and only edition, will find that Very Good copies start at US$8. Two booksellers from an alternate universe are asking US$75 and US$99 respectively.

16 November 2010

Hanged 125 Years Ago Today

Prophet of the New World, I
Do the work of the Most High.
I assert it with no pride.
I live in humility.
Is there any one to side
With me? Yes. Sincerity
Will gather up its recruits.
And we will soon taste its fruits.
Louis Riel
22 October 1844 – 16 November 1885


14 November 2010

Heed Ye the Church Ladies!

Fifty-five years ago today, 14 November 1955, the Catholic Women's League launched its "Decency Crusade", descending on Ontario newsstands, drug stores and bookshops in order to end the sale of "corrupted and salacious" material. Theirs was an imported campaign, one that originated with Chicago's Msgr Thomas J. Fitzgerald, Executive Director of the National Organization of Decent Literature, who provided the ladies with a list of 300 objectionable publications.

What titles did they target? To Have and Have Not was one; John O'Hara's Ten North Frederick was another. Works by William Faulkner, John Dos Passos and George Orwell were also deemed indecent. Which ones? Who knows – the League clutched the list to its collective bosom, making certain that the titles remained secret.

Must say, I find the number of publications on their list – an even 300 – to be a bit suspicious. Why not 317? Where some titles bumped to make room for others?

Chair of the League's Education Committee, Mrs George Davis, revealed what she'd been told about the list in a 29 October 1955 Gazette article:

What I find particularly delightful is the image of the robed monsignor – who was also Director of the Council for Catholic Women – watching over a group of ladies ("each of whom must be a mother") as they scanned books in a hunt for salacious material.

It would seem that the Catholic Women's League's efforts weren't appreciated particularly. Their "Decency Crusade" was dubbed "Censorship Crusade" by the press, and it was pointed out that many of the books targeted had not only been "widely read", but were readily available in the local public library. In reaction perhaps, the League revealed the Crusade's new, true purpose. The Canadian Press reported that on the third day women heading out to scour book racks "were told that Communism has a hand in the need for their mission."

The Windsor Daily Star, 17 November 1955

Mrs Davis, who had made no previous mention of the Red Menace, spoke out: "We feel strongly that part of the Communist program is to undermine the thinking of our youth with this low-type literature so that they will become more susceptible to Communist material." The Education Committee Chair added that "exposing a generation of children to this printed smut does not broaden the freedom of our land. It only brings the citizens a step closer to Communism."

It's easy to laugh at the Decency Crusade today – and I do – but it should be pointed out that the League's sway was once significant. This was particularly true in Quebec, where they dictated what sort of bathing suits women could wear.

The Catholic Women's League's Decency Crusade lasted eight days. I imagine they rested on the Sunday.

11 November 2010

09 November 2010

Acknowledging Hugh MacLennan

Hugh MacLennan died twenty years ago today. I never met the man, though I did once nod reverently as we passed each other in an otherwise deserted university hallway. He smiled. I should have stopped. I've since learned not to let such opportunities slip by.

Another regret: I've never seen the screen adaptation of MacLennan's Two Solitudes. When offered the opportunity I chose Superman: The Movie. Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel beat Stacy Keach's Huntly McQueen. This happened back in 1978 when I was still a young pup – shouldn't I be given a second chance? As far as I can tell, Two Solitudes never made it to Beta or VHS or LaserDisc or DVD. YouTube doesn't have so much as the trailer.

Is it any good? All I have to go on is the poster, a publicity photo, Macmillan's movie edition and a handful of contemporary reviews. It seems no one was particularly crazy about the film... "letdown" is the most accurate one-word summation, though Jay Scott provided a particularly detailed and damning review for the 30 September 1978 Globe and Mail:
Stylistically, Two Solitudes is pure Hollywood, Old Hollywood. It is not enough that we make exploitation films for the Americans: now we are copying their ponderous historical dramatizations, employing composer Maurice Jarre, the once-favored treacly symphonizer of those lumpen ethics. It is a characteristically Canadian irony that the dramatizations being Xeroxed no longer exist in their original form. Two Solitudes does not resemble any contemporary American film of quality as much as it resembles made-for-TV novels like Washington: Behind Closed Doors and Rich Man, Poor Man; it's a passionless political soap opera.
A few months later, Scott named Two Solitudes as one of ten worst films of 1978, while pointing to Superman was one the ten best.

Wonder if I'd agree.

05 November 2010

Susanna Moodie's Bloomers

A gift from a friend, this modest booklet became part of my collection just weeks after I was introduced to the bloomer by the ever-informative Bookride. Known first, I think, as "inadvertencies", these are double entendres mined from the Western Canon. The woefully neglected Edward Gathorne-Hardy seems to have been the first to recognize the bloomer when in 1963 he published Inadvertencies collected from the works of several eminent authors. He followed this three years later with An Adult's Garden of Bloomers: Uprooted from the Works of Several Eminent Authors.

And they are eminent. Here's Henry James with a little something from The Wings of the Dove:
Then she had had her equal consciousness that within five minutes something between them had – well, she couldn't call it anything but come.
James, it seems, gave growth to more than his fair share of bloomers. How's this from Roderick Hudson?
"Oh, I can't explain," cried Roderick impatiently, returning to his work. "I've only one way of expressing my deepest feelings – it's this." And he swung his tool.
"Contributed by the public", like An Adult Garden of Bloomers, A New Garden of Bloomers is oh so English: Charles Dickens, E. M. Forster, Thomas Hardy...

And then there's Jane Austen:
Mrs Goddard was the mistress of a school – not of a seminary, or an establishment, or any thing which professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality upon new principles and new systems – and where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity...
No Canadian bloomers, alas – and yet our soil is so fertile!

I had bloomers on my dirty mind when rereading – yes, rereading – Susanna Moodie's Roughing It in the Bush. And that's when I came across this:
At a few miles' distance from our farm, we had some intelligent English neighbours, of a higher class; but they were always so busily occupied with their farming operations that they had little leisure or inclination for that sort of easy intercourse to which we had been accustomed.
Too subtle? Well, it is a start. I'm sure that there are more colourful Canadian bloomers out there.

And what about Roughing It in the Bush? Can a title be a bloomer? Gathorne-Hardy never addresses the matter.

"How many fine young men have I seen beggared and ruined in the bush!" Moodie exclaims in her follow-up, Life in the Clearing. The same book features this reportage of her encounter with a group of evengelicals:
Most of these tents exhibited some extraordinary scene of fanaticism and religious enthusiasm; the noise and confusion were deafening. Men were preaching at the very top of their voice; women were shrieking and groaning, beating their breasts and tearing their hair, while others were uttering the most frantic outcries, which they called ejaculatory prayers.
Not really a bloomer, but I couldn't resist passing it on.

Really, there's a part of me that is still ten years old.

01 November 2010

Another Wreath for a Redhead

Wreath for a Redhead
Brian Moore
Toronto: Harlequin, 1951

Lady – Here's Your Wreath
Raymond Marshall (pseud. James Hadley Chase)
Toronto: Harlequin, 1953