21 November 2011

Dyson Carter's Long Exercise in Political Pathology

Despite Moscow's best efforts, it wasn't until a decade or so after the collapse of the Soviet Union that I first became aware of Dyson Carter. Northern Neighbors, "Canada's Authoritative Independent Magazine Reporting on the U.S.S.R.", which he edited for some 32 years, was not something I saw on news stands. I didn't notice his books, including those published by the Communist Party of Canada, though they were distributed in the thousands at home and abroad.

In my defence, I point out that Carter is not found in The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature or Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada. He is very much a forgotten figure, as is reflected in The Canadian Encyclopedia entry, which has yet to record his death.

Further defence: Nearly all of Carter's books were published before I was born. What's more, his moment in the sun had come decades earlier. In 1940, Carter published Sea of Destiny, a much-discussed work in which he warned that undefended Hudson Bay could be used by the Nazis for an invasion of North America. The following year, months before the United States entered the Second World War, Carter predicted the development of the atomic bomb. It would, he wrote, bring a sudden end to the conflict.

The Portsmouth Times, 5 May 1940

In 1942, Carter's first novel, Night of Flame, drew considerable praise from the New York Times and the Globe and Mail. In the Ottawa Citizen, reviewer W.J. Hurlow described Carter as possessing a talent "only a little down the street from genius... We cordially hail Mr. Dyson Carter as a Canadian writer of brilliant possibilities."

Possibilities require opportunities, and for a Communist like Carter these became fewer with the advent of the Cold War. Just look what happened to Night of Flame. The 1942 first edition was published in New York by Reynolds and Hitchcock. Four years later, the novel was reissued in Canada by Collins White Circle. But by 1949, when American paperback giant Signet looked to do likewise, authorship had to be hidden behind a nom de plume.

Could Joseph McCarthy and company really be so easily deceived? Yes, yes they could.

Carter was born and raised in a religious household, surrounded by the troubled youth that his parents sought to save. In his own youth, he turned away from Christ and towards Lenin, only to see – and recognize – the lies of the Soviet Union laid bare by glastnost. In 1990, at age eighty, he wrote one friend, "I publicized so many Soviet 'achievements' that were total falsifications that I consider my 'work' an exercise in political pathology."

Dyson Carter's contributions to this country's literature are slight, and his oeuvre might hold little interest outside the world of academe, but is it not time for The Canadian Encyclopedia to acknowledge his death?


  1. Well, at least The Canadian Encyclopedia deigned to acknowledge that he was born.

  2. True. Really, I'm being a bit unfair. The Canadian Encyclopedia entry is very good, and needs nothing more than a small update.

    Full disclosure: I'm a past contributor.