30 August 2012

Thirty Years After Thirty Years at Stratford

Thirty Years at Stratford
Robertson Davies
Stratford, ON: Stratford Festival, 1982

Christopher Plummer left town a few days ago, signalling the coming end of Stratford's sixtieth season. Oh, the shows will go on – some for two more months – but the crowds will thin, temperatures will fall, and the ladies will begin wearing shawls and wraps. It's my favourite part of the season.

Delivered thirty years ago yesterday, the day after the great man's 69th birthday, this lecture is a souvenir of a familiar time – one in which the festival was fighting for funds, and against declining ticket sales. Be not deceived by its title, this not a history – "Shakespeare has reminded us in many passages of the tediousness of the oft-told tale", Davies tells us – rather it's an attempt to properly place the festival within the history of Canadian theatre.

Dry stuff?

Not at all.

I ramble a bit, but then so does Davies. The Festival Theatre crowd that night was treated to the raising of the ghost of Sarah Bernhardt, a tender tickling and ribbing of puritans, and the drawing of parallels between Beautiful Joe, Little Lord Fauntleroy and E.T. I'd have fallen off my seat.

At its heart Davies' lecture is a celebration of Stratford, a lively schooling of those who attack the festival as being something somehow not Canadian. But at the end I found my mind returning to Davies' opening remarks about the "oft-told tale":
Of course, the story of the very long chance that at last romps home with the prize is one of the best stories in the world, but insofar as it applies to Stratford, you have heard it.
Yes. Yes, I have. As those ladies in shawls age, and I find my middle-aged self counted amongst the youngest patrons, I wonder if it isn't time to let the younger generation in on it.

A personal note: "Canada has had a theatre ever since it had good-sized towns," writes Davies, "and it says something about our ancestors – something we often forget – that they regarded a theatre as a necessary part of a good-sized town."

Sure enough, at the centre of my adopted town of St Marys, seventeen kilometres south of Stratford, rests this magnificent opera house:

It's a mere fine-minute stroll from the inn at which Plummer stays when he plays Stratford.

Object: Sixteen glossy staple-bound pages with card covers. I purchased my sun-bleached copy for $1.50 last year in Montreal. A festival price sticker indicates that it originally sold for $2.50.

Access: A rare item, only three copies are currently listed by online booksellers. The cheapest, in Fine condition, is going for US$25. At US$30, the most expensive is offered by a confused bookseller who pitches "signed at back", then adds "hard to tell if it is printed or signed." Hard to tell? How absurd. Here's my "signed" copy:

Believe me, you can tell.

28 August 2012

Collecting Norman Levine (Arts '48)

A collector writes today in response to my column in the new Norman Levine issue of Canadian Notes & Queries: "You mentioned that you asked Levine if you could use one of his stories in an anthology. Was it ever published?"

Indeed it was. The story in question, "My Karsh Picture" was included in Classics Canada, Book 2 (Prentice-Hall Canada, 1994), the second of six ESL textbooks I co-edited with Patricia Brock.

Looking it over all these years later, I see that the story appears between Daniel David Moses' "King of the Raft" and "April Fish" by Mavis Gallant; selections by Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies, Irving Layton, bonnet-babe Susanna Moodie and a bunch of other CanLit names also feature.

Must admit that despite my great admiration and appreciation, I've never really collected Levine's work myself. I have only five of his books, my favourite being a copy of the Porcupine's Quill Canada Made Me, which he inscribed nineteen years ago at Westmount's Double Hook Bookstore.

My most cherished Levine items are those I inherited from my father: the 1947 and 1948 issues of Forge, McGill's University's literary magazine.

These three issues feature some of Levine's earliest published work, most of it uncollected: the poems "Myssium", "Circles", "It Was a Dull Day", "Autumn" and "A Dead Airman Speaks"; the short story "Our Life is to Be Envied"; and "Prologue", which would today be described as creative non-fiction. Levine served as Poetry Editor in the 1947 issues and was elevated to Editor for the lone 1948 number.

Old McGill '48
He and my father attended McGill at the same time and were in the same faculty and graduating class. I don't know that they ever encountered one another. I like to think so. Both R.C.A.F. vets, they had a good deal in common.

Old McGill '48

27 August 2012

Advertising Norman Levine

Jack McClelland never tried to hide his dislike for Norman Levine's Canada Made Me; that his house acted as Canadian distributor was the result of an early promise made to its UK publisher. McClelland & Stewart took 500 copies, shipped 300, sent a further thirty or so out as review copies and sat back. There were no ads.

The above, put together by my daughter Astrid for the current issue of Canadian Notes & Queries, was inspired by a 12 December 1958 letter Levine sent Jack McClelland:

Writes Levine: "Do you mind me suggesting the kind of ad I'd like to see appear in those Canadian papers."

No question mark.

I think he knew the answer.

Astrid followed Levine's text and rough layout, all the while considering these McClelland & Stewart ads from 1958... four decades before she was born.

The Gazette, 1 November 1958
The Gazette, 15 November 1958
The Gazette, 13 December 1958

More in the new issue of Canadian Notes & Queries.

Subscribe today!

26 August 2012

Recognizing Norman Levine

The new issue of Canadian Notes & Queries landed in my mail box on Friday – a few days late owing, I suspect, to an ill-tempered sorting machine.

My heart sank... until I discovered that everything had arrived intact. Now I boast: "officially repaired". How special is that!

I always look forward to Canadian Notes & Queries, but this issue was more eagerly anticipated than most. Its focus is Norman Levine, a writer who has never received anything close to the attention he deserves. Happily, this issue goes some way in redressing the deficit, with:

"Kaddish (A Sketch Towards a Portrait of Norman Levine)"
by John Metcalf
"All the Heart is in the Things: Mapping Levine-land" by Cynthia Flood
"Chasing Norman: A Book-collector's Memoir" by Philip Fernandez
"Remembering Norman Forgetting" by T.F. Rigelhof
"Fiction, Faction, Autobiography: Norman Levine at McGill University, 1946-1949" by Robert H. Michel
Ethan Rilly's adaptation of Canada Made Me, episode six in his "The North Wing: Selections from the Lost Library of CanLit Graphic Novels"

Much more modest, my contribution covers correspondence between Levine, Jack McClelland and Putnum's John Huntington relating to Canada Made Me.

Further riches are found in a new short story by Lynn Coady, poetry by Mathew Henderson and a piece of creative non-fiction by my old pal Andrew Steinmetz.

You'll also find my review of Fraser Sutherland's Lost Passport: The Life and Words of Edward Lacey.

And finally, there's this issue's limited edition collectable, Signal to Noise, an excerpt from C.P. Boyko's forthcoming collection Psychology and Other Stories.

My copy is number 159.

The collectables are only for those with subscriptions.

You know you want one.

Here's the link.

25 August 2012

Saturday Night with the Alpha Jerks

Montreal's beloved Alpha Jerks – Dan Babineau, Thomas Bachelder, James Malloch and novelist manqué Daniel Richler –  caught on film as "The Eatables", from the 1980 Alison Burns' film of the same name.

Related post:

24 August 2012

Les Anciens Québécois

Le Nom dans le bronze
Michelle Le Normand [pseud. Marie-Antoninette Desrosiers]
Montreal: Éditions de Devoir, 1933

Well, didn't this turn out to be a timely read.

A short novel, Le nom dans le Bronze seems at first a light and pleasant love story. Our heroine, Marguerite Couillard, is the youngest daughter of a bourgeois family in the Quebec town of Sorel. Steven Bayle, the object of her affection, doesn't quite qualify as our hero, but he's not a villain either. Frankly, he's a pretty swell guy and a bit of a catch; even for Marguerite. Though an anglophone, Steven appears entirely at home in French Canadian society; were it not for his pesky Protestant faith one might even consider him assimilated. However, as their love grows, storm clouds gather in the ciel lourd that opens the novel. Family and community shudder at the possibility of a "marriage mixte", pressing upon Marguerite "la différence de sang et la disparité de religion".

An intervention disguised as an invitation to visit friends in Quebec City brings an abrupt change in genre. What began as a romance novel becomes a Micheline guide, with Marguerite taking in the sights as friend Philippe fills her in on the history of the city, the province and her own family. "Il y avait à Québec deux générations de Couillard, quand on construisit cette chapelle", he says before the church of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, so named after the respective defeats of Englishmen William Phips and Hovenden Walker. "Mais en 1759, l'ère des Victoires était passée et la chapelle fut incendiée par les bombes de Wolfe. Ce sont encore les mêmes murs, toutefois..."

The pressure put on Marguerite is relentless and none too subtle. "Rien n'est plus affaiblissant pour notre peuple que ces marriages mixtes", she's told by her father. "Justement ce matin, je m'irritais de constater combien des nôtres, pendant la guerre, ont épousé des Anglaises d'outre-mer..."

The coup de grâce comes when Marguerite is taken to see the statue of Louis Hébert, and its plaque bearing the names of Quebec's earliest settlers. She not only learns that she is a decedent, but sees that she bears the same name – Marguerite Couillard – as one of her ancestors. Le nom dans le bronze. Says Philippe, "Marguerite, épousez un homme au nom aussi respectable, et appelez votre premier fils: Couillard..."

And Bayle? Really, how respectable is that?

Their love is doomed. Sacrifices must be made for one's "race".

Le Nom dans le bronze is a work from a different time. Times change, but we see remnants in the chronic xenophobia that plagues Pauline Marois' efforts to become the next premier of Quebec. Surrounded, as she is, by her base, she cannot see that her words alienate more than just those she considers les autres. And so, we have an election in which a scandal-ridden, disgraced and very tired Liberal government is still in contention.

What Ms Marois fails to recognize is that her brand of bigoted, frightened nationalism began dying decades ago, and that a much younger, more confident generation – what Chantal Hébert astutely refers to as "the Arcade Fire generation" – want nothing to do with her kind.

Trivia: The name "Marguerite Couillard" really does feature on the plaque in question (though, sadly, it can't be made out in this image).

Object: Rather bland paper wraps cover what is an otherwise attractive book. My first edition copy was bought last year from a bookseller in the village of St-Malachie, some 50 kilometres south-east of Quebec City.

Access: Though reprinted no less than three times in the 'fifties, Le Nom dans le bronze is surprisingly hard to come by. Four copies are currently listed for sale online, only one of which is a first edition. Leather-bound, signed, inscribed and dated, this is the one to buy – a bargain at US$97.75.

20 August 2012

Canada's 100 Best Books? 102? 111?

Something strange stumbled upon yesterday, this list intended for "people in other countries interested in Canadian literature" from the 1 May 1948 edition of the Ottawa Citizen. Odd and awkward, it was cobbled together at the behest of UNESCO by a committee of eight: E.K. Brown, Philip Child, William Arthur Deacon, F.C. Jennings, Watson Kirkconnell, Lorne Pierce, B.K. Sandwell and W. Stewart Wallace. How anti-commie kook Kirkconnell justified his participation I cannot say.*

The headline in the Citizen is deceiving. Yes, it's meant to be a list of the 100 best, but there are eleven too many. Most of the overrun comes courtesy of Mazo de la Roche's Whiteoak Chronicles, which then numbered ten volumes. The others? Well, one might just be Tom MacInnes' Collected Poems, which doesn't exist.

As I say, odd and awkward. William Osler didn't write The Master Word, but he was the author of The Master-Word in Medicine; Joseph Schull's The Legend of Ghost Lagoon is listed as The Legend of Lost Lagoon; and poor B.K. Sandwell suffers the indignity of being called B.S. Sandwell.

"A list of Canadian books of special merit written in French is also to be compiled by a similar committee", we're told. By whom? Who knows. I find no trace of the committee or its list. What we're to make of the inclusion of Pierre Esprit Radisson's Voyages  recorded as Voyages of Peter Esprit Radisson – on the English-language list I cannot say.

Despite the flaws, it's all good fun... for me, at least. So many unfamiliar titles, so many unfamiliar names and so much to explore, the list begins with a forgotten collection of short stories by Will R. Bird:

Sunrise for Peter – Will R. Bird
The Strait of Anian – Earle Birney
Brown Waters – W.H. Blake
North Atlantic Triangle – John Bartlet Brebner
A Dryad in Nanaimo – Audrey Alexandra Brown
James Wilson Morrice – Donald W. Buchanan
The Search for the Western Sea – Lawrence J. Burpee
Now That April's Here – Morley Callaghan
Poetical Works of Wilfred Campbell – Wilfred Campbell
Bliss Carman – James Cappon
Bliss Carman's Poems – Bliss Carman
Klee Wyck – Emily Carr
Jean Racine – A.F.B. Clark
Christianity and Classical Culture – Charles Norris Cochrane
Postscript to Adventure – Ralph Connor
Father on the Farm – Kenneth C. Cragg
Collected Poems of Isabella Valancy Crawford – Isabella Valancy Crawford
Dominion of the North – Donald Creighton
The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks – Robertson Davies
The Government of Canada – Robert MacGregor Dawson
Whiteoak Chronicles – Mazo de la Roche
The Law Marches West – Cecil E. Denny
Complete Poems   William Henry Drummond
Grand River  Mabel Dunham
The Art of the Novel – Pelham Edgar
A Study on Goethe – Barker Fairley
Poems – Robert Finch
Fearful Symmetry – Northrop Frye
Arctic Trader – Philip H. Godsell
Napoleon Tremblay – Angus Graham
Earth and High Heaven – Gwethalyn Graham
Pilgrims of the Wild – Grey Owl
Fruits of the Earth – Frederick Philip Grove
Over Prairie Trails – Frederick Philip Grove
A Search for America – Frederick Philip Grove
Brave Harvest – Kennethe M. Haig
Sam Slick – Thomas Chandler Haliburton

All the Trumpets Sounded – W.G. Hardy
Saul – Charles Heavysege
The Drama of the Forests – Arthur Heming
Father Lacombe – Katherine Hughes
Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada – Anna Brownell Jameson
Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America – Paul Kane
Lord Elgin – W.P.M. Kennedy
The Golden Dog – William Kirby
Bride of Quietness – Alexander Knox
Selected Poems of Archibald Lampman – Archibald Lampman
Lake Huron – Fred Landon
Leacock Roundabout – Stephen Leacock
Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town – Stephen Leacock
From Colony to Nation – A.R.M. Lower
Out of the Wilderness – Wilson MacDonald
Collected Poems – Tom MacInnes
The Honourable Company – Douglas MacKay
Barometer Rising – Hugh MacLennan
Tales of the Sea – Archibald MacMechan
Lord Strathcona – John MacNaughton
The Master's Wife – Andrew Macphail
In Pastures Green – Peter McArthur
The Champlain Road – Franklin Davey McDowell
The Unguarded Frontier – Edgar McInnis
Who Has Seen the Wind – W.O. Mitchell
Roughing It in the Bush – Susanna Moodie
Gauntlet to Overlord – Ross Munro
Lord Durham – Chester W. New
Mine Inheritance – Frederick Niven
Pindar – Gilbert Norwood
The Master Word – William Osler
A Book of Canadian Stories – Desmond Pacey
When Valmond Came to Pontiac – Gilbert Parker
The Complete Poems of Marjorie Pickthall – Marjorie Pickthall
Collected Poems – E.J. Pratt
Voyages of Peter [sic] Esprit Radisson – Pierre Esprit Radisson
His Majesty's Yankees – Thomas H. Raddall
Wisdom of the Wilderness – Charles G.D. Roberts
The Leather Bottle – Theodore Goodridge Roberts
The Incomplete Anglers –  J.D. Robins
Toronto During the French Regime –  Percy J. Robinson
As for Me and My House  Sinclair Ross
Confessions of an Immigrant's Daughter  Laura Salverson
Flashing Wings   Richard M. Saunders
Legend of Lost [sic] Lagoon   Joseph Schull
The Poems of Duncan Campbell Scott   Duncan Campbell Scott
In the Village of Viger  Duncan Campbell Scott
Wild Animals I Have Known  Ernest Thompson Seton
The Diary of Mrs. John Graves Simcoe  Elizabeth Simcoe
Man's Rock   Bertrand W. Sinclair
Egerton Ryerson   C.B. Sissons
Life and Letters of Sir Wilfrid Laurier   Oscar Douglas Skelton
The Yellow Briar  Patrick Slater
The Book of Canadian Poetry   A.J.M. Smith
Policing the Arctic  Harwood Steele
Sir Frederick Banting   Lloyd Stevenson
The Friendly Arctic   Vihjalmur Stefansson
Under the Northern Lights   Alan Sullivan
Plowing the Arctic   G.J. Tranter
Salt, Seas and Sailormen   Frederick William Wallace
James Wolfe   W.T. Waugh
The Owl Pen   Kenneth McNeill Wells
The Birth of Language   R.A. Wilson
The Canadians   George M. Wrong
The Rise and Fall of New France   George M. Wrong

What, no Wacousta?

I've read six.

* "At the close of the Second World War, the Russians took a leading part, along with 'capitalist imperialists,' in organizing another League of Nations, the so-called 'United Nations.' and the Communist Party of the U.S.A. joined in a psalm of praise over the new turn in policy."
–  Watson Kirkconnell, "Communism in Canada and the United States",
Canadian Catholic Historical Association Report 15 (1947-1948)

17 August 2012

Answering the Tiresome Disciples of Ayn Rand

This is John Galt:

This is his plaque:

Here's another:

This is a novel he set in Canada:

And this is his autobiography:

Enough of your fictitious fantasy man.

11 August 2012

Drunken Writer Exposes Hollywood Hush-Up

Catch a Fallen Starlet
Douglas Sanderson
New York: Avon, 1960

How's this for a set-up?

Three or so years ago, screenwriter Al Dufferin and his B-movie actress wife Clare were at a Hollywood party. Al got drunk, leaving Clare at the mercy of a mobster with busy hands. Clare killed the mobster, made the papers, and moved from B to B+. Her star was still rising when she got in a fight with Al and drove her car off a cliff. Was it suicide? Al was too boozed up to notice. Hollywood hated Al for his role in Clare's death. He left town, hit the bottle even more, and ended up going from drunk tank to bug house in New York City.

Catch a Fallen Starlet opens with the Al's return to Hollywood. He'll tell you he's back to see the son he left with his sister and her husband, but really he doesn't much care. Truth be told, Al's back to redeem his name. He knows that in this town a hit will take you from hated to hero, and everyone will forget about Clare. Before you know it he's approached by aging matinee idol Barry Kevin to write an epic that has studio backing. The money is good – too good, really – and Al comes away with the gig and a list of cast members. That evening, as he sets to work on the screenplay, Al takes a look at the cast list and finds that its in his dead wife's handwriting.

We're now at page 25, with 132 to go.

Fast-paced from beginning to end, it says much about Douglas Sanderson's talent that Catch a Fallen Starlet never seems rushed or lacking in atmosphere. Here Al drains a bottle of Scotch at bar while a group of baggy-sweatered beatniks talk in the nearby booth.
They were discussing without emotion last night's experience with last night's chick on last night's borrowed pad. A bunch of little Huysmans without the sophistication. The semiconscious fabricating a self-conscious world to live in. Two were calling one another sweet and darling. One said, "My little marrowbone." Without emotion. I envied them.
A cynical novel about Hollywood – go figure – but this is pretty good stuff:
The funeral was authentic Hollywood, a combination of internment, picnic and premiere. I arrived early. Ten thousand people had arrived earlier and waited in the atmosphere of sunshine, flowers and expectancy...
   The main attraction had yet to arrive. The crowd filled in the interim as best it could. Families sat on tombstones and finished box lunches. Those with less foresight paid inflation prices for nuts and popcorn from opportunists with trays. A Good Humor man arrived and was deluged by children. Three other men with mournful faces hawked black-edged photographs of Barry Kevin in period costume – hand raised in gay farewell – superimposed on pictures of the chapel. 
I gave up a bit of a spoiler there, so will cut this short before ruining things entirely. If by chance you spot this book, grab it; of the five Sandersons I've read, it's surpassed only by Hot Freeze.

Finally, to nonbelievers who see the influence of Messrs Waugh or West, I ask: Is it really possible to write a Hollywood novel that isn't cynical?

Mystery: Both the French and Italian translations give the original as The Stubborn Unlaid, but no edition exists under that title. Our man in Los Angeles Kevin Burton Smith suggests that Avon changed the title while the translations were at press... that or Sanderson was playing fast and loose with foreign language rights. Both translation were published under his "Martin Brett" pseudonym.

Object: A fairly fragile mass market paperback with ads for "SIX MORE FINE MYSTERY-SUSPENSE NOVELS FROM AVON YOU WON'T WANT TO MISS". The cover copy on the back misleads:
...they hung a phony murder rap on Al and he set out to blow that lid sky-high – no matter how many reputations went with it!
In fact, there is no murder rap, phony or otherwise.

Access: Five Very Good and Near Fine copies are currently listed online, ranging in price from US$10 to US$22. Ignore the bookseller offering a Near Fine US$50.

Out of print for more than four decades, in 2004 Stark House reissued Catch a Fallen Starlet with Sanderson's other 1960 novel Pure Sweet Hell. Not quite as pretty a package as the Avon first, but it is built to last and includes essays by the author's son and Kevin Burton Smith.

Library and Archives Canada aside, I can't find a single Canadian library that has either edition.

The French translation, Cinémaléfices, was published in 1960 by Gallimard as part of its Série noire. Canadian library patrons appear to be completely out of luck on this one.

One lonely copy of the Italian translation, Cast di Morte (Milan: Edizioni Giumar, n.d.) is listed for sale online. Price: €22. There's not a library copy in sight.

08 August 2012

Author Photo of the Month: William Arthur Deacon

William Arthur Deacon, as pictured on the back cover of the 1953 Ryerson edition of The Four Jameses.

02 August 2012

The LSD CanLit

Regrets? I've had a few. Just last week I passed on a fine Macmillan first edition of Bernard Epps' Pilgarlic the Death that was priced at two dollars. Why? Well, I already had the 1980 Quadrant Edition... and I wasn't thinking straight. Don't get me wrong, I pretty happy to have this:

But I could've also had this:

I don't know that Victor Moscoso or Stanley Mouse had anything to do with that early cover, but they certainly deserve some credit. From the Summer of Love through the first dozen seasons that followed, Macmillan and rival McClelland & Stewart look to have been caught up in a psychedelic grove that embraced the most unlikely of authors.
I'm thinking here of old folks like Stephen Leacock, social conservative and staunch Conservative, who died thirteen years before the word "psychedelic" was even coined. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the David John Shaw cover above looks like it might've graced Joe Rosenblatt's The LSD Leacock (Toronto: Coach House, 1966).

Even writings about Leacock bring the Merry Pranksters to mind.

I don't mean to suggest that our two big publishers were unique, rather that they were more hip than their American and British counterparts. Just cast your glazed gaze upon the McClelland and Stewart edition of Farley Mowat's 1969 The Boat Who Wouldn't Float

...and compare it to the first American edition from Little, Brown

...and the staid first British edition, published by Heinemann in swinging London.

Next to Pilgarlic the Death, my favourite cover of those heady times was drawn by an anonymous hand for Gérard Bessette's Incubation (Macmillan, 1967).

But I don't think there's a greater example of this short-lived trend than McClelland & Stewart's 1969 cover for Never Sleep Three in a Bed, Max Braithwaite's boyhood memoir. Here we see the author's father, George Braithwaite, driving the family car into Pepperland.

That sun on the cover is setting. The new day and new decade would be less colourful. Macmillan was still capable creativity, while M&S decended into what I refer to as "The Letraset Years"



... about which, the less said the better.