31 August 2011

More Manners Minding

A correspondent gently suggests that I may be seen to have made a faux pas with my previous post. Referencing the title, he asks: "How does one address a duke's eldest son's younger son?" The answer, as provided by Miss Wallace, is as follows:
Writing to:
Is, by courtesy, addressed as if the father were a peer; i.e. "Honourable (John) Doe"
Personally addressed as: Mr. John Doe
Referred to as: Mr. John Doe.
It should be noted that the rules here are quite different from those concerning a duke's eldest son's younger son's eldest brother:
Writing to:
Assumes, by courtesy, the third title of his grandfather, and is addressed as a peer.
Personally addressed as: Lord Doe.
Referred to as: Lord Doe.
I offer sincere apologies for not having addressed this matter in Monday's post, and add this invaluable bit of information.

Autumn approaches.

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29 August 2011

On Addressing a Duke's Eldest Son's Younger Son

Mind Your Manners
Claire Wallace
Toronto: Harlequin, 1953

A businesswoman, a journalist, a pioneering radio broadcaster and something of a daredevil, Claire Wallace was a remarkable woman with a remarkable story. How curious then that this, her only book, should have etiquette as its subject. The press release tucked into my copy provides something of an explanation:
In her continuous search for stories on Canadiana, Author [sic] Wallace came against a problem. There were no up-to-the-minute reference books on Canadian manners. Etiquette seemed out-dated and stuffy. That's how the idea for this new book was born.

I venture to say that etiquette, by its very nature, always seems out-dated and stuffy. And the claim – implication, really – that this or any reference book is up-to-the-minute borders on false advertising. That said, Mind Your Manners remains a useful little book in that it provides a clear picture of acceptable and exemplary behaviour in the Canada of the early 'fifties. I write here of the days of double weddings, visiting hairdressers and afternoon dress gloves; a time when a polite divorcee (as Miss Wallace was) would make no mention of her failed marriage "except legally and in conversation to personal friends."

Mind Your Manners was indeed "the first Dictionary [sic] of Canadian etiquette" – here the copy doesn't lie – though I think those in the know would have deferred to DeBrett's. Would Lady Eaton have consulted a 50¢ paperback sold only at newsstands?

Really, Mind Your Manners is as much about dreams as it is about place cards. In this more egalitarian post-war world, one might be invited to dine with a duke, mightn't one? Best to know the proper form of address – and let's not forget the Duke's daughter, his eldest son's daughter, his eldest son's eldest son, his eldest son's younger son, his eldest son's wife, his younger son and his younger son's wife. Miss Wallace covers all these possible encounters, along with eventualities like this one:

Mind Your Manners sold out its initial printing, returning to press just two months after release – a rare reprint in Harlequin's first decade. In 1960, the guide was reborn as the awkwardly titled Canadian Etiquette Dictionary. "COMPLETELY NEW" trumpets the cover, while the interior quietly informs that the guide was originally published as Mind Your Manners. Both statements mislead. No, the book is not "COMPLETELY NEW", but it is updated and does feature a previously unpublished section on travel etiquette. Miss Wallace revised the book a third time for a 1967 edition, titled simply Canadian Etiquette, issued by Winnipeg's Greywood Publishing. The guide appeared again in 1970, with an "up-to-date" travel section, even though its author was two years dead.

Back to 1953.

I admit to being thrown by the dedication in Mind Your Manners: "To Our Parents...".


Turn the page and we find the Foreword: "A book like this could never be written by two women alone..."


The other woman is Joy Brown*, who is credited as editor on the cover and title page. It's true that Brown was a writer – Night of Terror (1950), one of Harlequin's earliest titles, is hers – but did she actually pen any of these entries... or is it that Miss Wallace was just being overly polite?

Object and access: With cheap glue and cheap paper, typical of early Harlequin's, the book isn't exactly designed to reference use. This may explain why so few copies are listed for sale online. Uncommon, though not dear, it usually lists for $8 or so. Mind Your Manners is held by the Toronto Public Library, the Royal Ontario Museum and a handful of our academic libraries. I bought my copy – inscribed – last week in a London, Ontario thrift store for 33 cents.

* The wife of Jock Carroll, Joy Brown was better known as Joy Carroll, author of Soul's End (1974), Satan's Bell (1976) and a handful of other "popular priced paper backed books".

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26 August 2011

Carry On, Brith'ish Business Men!

This second part of my review of W.G. MacKendrick's The Destiny of the British empire and The U.S.A. 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 post:

23 August 2011

Onward, Brith'ish Business Men!

The Destiny of The British Empire and The U.S.A.
"The Roadbuilder" [pseud. W. G. MacKendrick]
[Toronto]: Commonwealth, 1957
204 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

21 August 2011

Our Embarrassing Poet Reconsidered

Just over a century ago, he was the toast of Montreal. His poetry collections sold tens of thousands of copies; two universities gave him an honorary degree; the Royal Society of Literature elected him a member. He travelled across the United States, Canada and Britain, lecturing before admiring crowds. In 1907, when he died of a stroke just before his 53rd birthday, his reputation seemed assured.

Today almost nobody reads William Henry Drummond. In the literary world, he's close to an embarrassment.

So begins a very fine piece by my pal Mark Abley, published in yesterday's Gazetteavailable online here.

Mark is spot on in writing that almost nobody reads Dr Drummond today. I don't; in fact, I've never read a single poem by the man. Strange this, because his The Habitant and Other French-Canadian Poems was one of only four books of Canadian verse present in my childhood home. I took it with me to university, thinking that at some point I might have to read a poem or two by this once popular poet. Never happened – his name wasn't so much as mentioned.

I've been carrying The Habitant with me ever since. A first edition, published in 1897 by G.P. Putnam's Sons, it once belonged to A. Berenice Hunt (née Coslett), who was a neighbour of my father when he was growing up on Pointe Claire's Claremont Avenue. It's pretty clear that Mrs Hunt was a fan of Drummond. Found within the book's leaves are numerous newspaper clippings of the doctor's verse, all dating from the early years of the last century. Added into the mix is something called "Lac Felice" credited to Joe Picard.

I've not been able to find out anything about M Picard, nor have I been able to track down any more of his verse, but I think it safe to say that Drummond was an influence. Did the doctor's reach extend even farther? Louis Dudek thought so, writing in his Selected Essays and Criticism that the poet "loosened the straightjacket of literary puritanism and made it possible to free language for the expression of real life and human character."

Drummond might be worth a second look... or, in my case, a first.

19 August 2011

The Stylish, Sophisticated Théâtre Canadien

Marcel Dubé

Hier, les enfants dansaient
Gratien Gélinas

Les Beaux Dimanches
Marcel Dubé

The first three volumes in the Collection Théâtre Canadien, all published in 1968 by Montreal's Éditions Leméac.

Q: Has there ever been a better looking series in this country?

A: Nope.

16 August 2011

Pierre Trudeau's Letter to the Children of Troy

At a time when our libraries are under assault by those who would deny others the advantages they themselves have enjoyed, considerable comfort can be found in this month's news out of Troy, Michigan.

Thanks to the efforts of a lady named Marguerite Hart, I'd heard of this small city and its public library long before the recent trials and tribulations. Forty years ago, as the building reached completion, she'd asked leading figures of the day to share their thoughts on libraries with the children of Troy. Ninety-seven answered the call, among them Kingsley Amis, Neil Armstrong, Pearl Bailey, John Berryman, Helen Gurley Brown, Pat Nixon, Vincent Price, Neil Simon, Benjamin Spock and E.B. White.

Ronald Reagan, a hero to so many leading today's charge against public libraries, contributed this:
A world without books would be a world without light – without light, man cannot see. Through the written word a world of enlightenment has been created and had taught us about the past to enable us to build for the future.
Without spending a penny, one can travel to the ends of the earth, the depths of the oceans and now, through the infinity of space. One can learn a new trade or improve his skills in an old one, and the list is endless.
Fine words, as are those of Pierre Trudeau, but my favourite come from Isaac Asimov:

The letters to the children of Troy - all ninety-seven - can be seen here.

12 August 2011

An Intrepid Reporter's Mysterious Disappearance

Fifty years ago today saw journalist Jeff Buchanon's last appearance in the pages of Montreal's Gazette. Handsome and fearless, he was in very many ways Canada's answer to Steve Roper. Buchanon's time at the Gazette was not a long one. When the reporter first appeared, in the 17 October 1960 edition, he'd only just returned from the Arctic and, with wife Julie, was soon flying off to Sydney, Nova Scotia. (Cliquez pour agrandir.)

Sadly, the couple's "MARITIME HOLIDAY" was disrupted by smugglers.

Truth be told, it wasn't much of a break. There was no relaxation to be had on the return to their Montreal home; within days Buchanon found himself entangled in a protection racket.

He was almost played by a dame.

A few more adventures ensued before Buchanon was assigned to investigate "small time robberies by kids." Dantin, the editor of his unnamed newspaper, cautioned that there might be dope involved – and was he ever right!

By extraordinary coincidence, Buchanon had only just begun work on the story when he witnessed a gas station robbery committed by those very same kids.

He tailed them.

He confronted them.

And then he disappeared, never to be seen again... at least in the pages of The Gazette. The panel above was his very last.

Did Buchanon turn to a life of crime? Was he offed by the kids? I suppose Julie cared. Not so the readers of the Gazette; the paper published no letters of concern.

Consider this a cold case... one I have every intention of solving after I've retired from the force.

09 August 2011

Four Days in Darkest Quebec

Four Days
John Buell
New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1962

Jacket copy gives far too much away, recounting in detail the first half of this novel, and revealing the fate of its 12-year-old protagonist. I won't be making the same mistakes.

This is a work to be celebrated, studied and, more than anything, read, because that protagonist – a nameless orphan – might just be the best realized child in our literature. We first see him cycling around Westmount, collecting money on his newspaper deliveries. The tips help, but the job's real value comes through information on vacation plans that he passes on to older brother Milt, a petty thief. The pair live a hand-to-mouth existence, which Milt believes he'll change with a plan that will lead to the big leagues. We're now at page 27, roughly a tenth of the way through the book; I know better than to give away more of the plot.

So, let's return to the dust jacket: "In his second book John Buell more than fulfills the promise of his extraordinary first novel, The Pyx." Very true. Four Days is the better book, though this wasn't reflected in sales.

It was published in England by Macmillan, and was translated into French as Quatre Jours (Paris: Stock, 1963), a "roman américain [sic]". A German language edition was appeared under the mysterious title Lauter Wölfe (Munich: List, 1964). These were followed by paperback editions from Pan (1965), Popular Library (1968) and HarperCollins Canada (1991). "SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE", trumpets the Popular Library edition. Well, it was optioned in 1962, but the designations "SOON" and "MAJOR" were a tad optimistic. When finally released in 1999, Four Days, the "MOTION PICTURE", used the cinema only as a rest stop on the highway to DVD.

Liberties were taken. Milt is transformed from brother to father and is given a girlfriend named Feather. London, Ontario's Lolita Davidvich earns second billing as Chrystal, a character that doesn't even feature in the book. This scene, with Kevin Zegers playing our unnamed protagonist, will appear utterly foreign to anyone who has read the novel:

Following The Pyx by three years, Four Days was a sophomore effort. On its strength alone, Edmund Wilson positioned Buell as one of Canada's foremost writers. Eleven years passed before novel number three appeared. By then, Wilson was dead. Where were John Buell's champions? Where are they today?

Object and Access: A very attractive hardcover with jacket by Enrico Arno. I bought my inscribed first edition in 1985 for two Canadian quarters. Twenty-six years later, Very Good copies – unsigned – can be had for as little as US$11.00. Though not plentiful, paperbacks begin at less than a loonie. Our libraries are oh-so-predictable: the universities come through, while the others – save the ever reliable (though threatened) Toronto Public Library – fail miserably. Whether in English or French translation, Four Days is not to be found in the Bibliothèques de Montréal. For shame.

06 August 2011

Manifest Destiny

Pocket Books' 1974 edition of William C. Heine's The Last Canadian, our silliest novel, seen here with the edition Paperjacks packaged for the American market.


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04 August 2011

Mordecai's Mom's Memoirs

The new issue of Canadian Notes and Queries has arrived, bringing a rich mixture of essays on collecting, bookselling and Mordecai Richler. With ninety-six pages of goodness, there's too much to list here, but I will point CanLit collectors to essays by Nigel Beale, Michael Darling and Jim Fitzpatrick. I add that admirers of Charles Foran's Mordecai are treated to the biography's original preface, penned just as work was beginning.

My own piece deals with The Errand Runner: Reflections of a Rabbi's Daughter, the 1981 book by Leah Rosenberg, Richler's mother. A product of John Wiley & Sons' Toronto branch plant, it ranks as the most awkward and badly edited memoir I've yet come across – and here I'm including self-published stuff. Blame belongs entirely with the publisher, which reveals its reason for signing the memoir on the book's dust jacket.

As I write in CNQ: "Discard the dust jacket, however, and Mordecai Richler's name disappears. His is not to be found in the text..."

More in print.

Subscriptions are available here.

01 August 2011

An Author Turns Thespian

One of my favourite films as a child, until last week I'd seen Lies My Father Told Me only once. This would have been in the autumn of 1975, within weeks of the debut, and within walking distance of the Montreal neighbourhood in which it had been shot. Lies My Father Told Me was a pretty big deal back then. It followed hot on the heels of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, garnering glowing reviews and won a Golden Globe as Best Foreign Film before slipping away. Set in the mid-twenties, the film draws upon writer Ted Allan's childhood in telling the simple story of the love shared between young David Herman (Jeff Lynas) and his junk collecting grandfather (Yossi Yadin). The film, like so many about childhood, relies heavily on schmaltz. Roger Ebert recognized this in the conclusion of his own glowing review:
"Lies My Father Told Me" has been criticized here and there for being mawkish, sentimental, obvious, filled with clichés and willing to do almost anything to pluck at the heartstrings. All of those criticisms are correct. It's just that, somehow, such faults don't seem fatal to the movie. [Director Jan] Kadar has told a simple story in direct and strong terms, and he hasn't tried to be so sophisticated that we lose sight of the basic emotions that are, after all, the occasion for making the movie in the first place.
Returning to the film in middle age, I was surprised at how much I'd retained – right down to the scene in which we see David's mother (Marilyn Lightstone) breast-feeding his newborn baby brother.

Did I mention I was a child when I first saw the film?

What eluded me then – and surprised me last week – was Allan's presence in the role of Mr Baumgarten, the neighbourhood tailor.

"Mr Elias, drop in to see me this evening. I'd like to discuss this with you: Engel's Origin of the Family and Private Property."

A dedicated Marxist, like his creator, Baumgarten is a persistent, yet polite pest for the proletariat. Its fun to see Allan making fun of himself. In his second scene, Baumgarten proselytizes as the junk dealer shovels manure.

"Mr Elias! Mr Elias! Mr Elias! I have that pamphlet I was telling you about: Lenin's Imperialism. An incredible work."

The writer more than holds his own in acting opposite Yadin in one of the film's finest scenes.

"Who was it that said, 'What is a bigger crime? To rob a bank or to open a bank?'"

"Probably Jeremiah."

"Or probably Karl Marx, and I will prove it to you."

"He only repeated what the ancient prophets said."

"Not quite, not quite."

"Mr Baumgarten, have you read all these books?"

"All of them."

"I've only read one book... and I'm still reading it."

Allan's acting in Lies My Father Told Me went unrewarded, though he did earn an Oscar nomination for Original Screenplay. Of the critics, it seems that only John Simon had anything to say about the writer as actor:
What makes this an especially sorry film is, first, that Ted Allan, who wrote it and pedestrianly acts in it, is as uninventive a writer as ever addressed himself to a sentimental platitude. Some of the performances are embarrassing, others rise to the height of mediocrity, the music is deplorable, the cinematography garish, and there are doubts as to whether the the film could please even an intelligent child.
I'll agree with Simon about the music. As for the rest? Well, I've never claimed to be an intelligent child.

Trivia: Caught up in his zeal, Baumgarten misidentifies Frederick Engel's work. The English translation is titled The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.