31 January 2013

The Hell That is Retail: 1912 Edition

The House of Windows
Isabel Ecclestone Mackay
London: Cassell, 1912

Writing on Ontario, opium and cocaine in Isabel Ecclestone Mackay's 1917 Up the Hill and Over, I reported that the novel featured "perhaps the most remarkable and improbable coincidence in all of Canadian literature." The House of Windows challenges in an entirely different way. Here the reader must believe that all characters remain blind to coincidence, conduction and consonance, and are each incapable of concomitance.

Mrs Mackay's story begins in the ribbon department of Angus and Sons, a fictitious department story in a fictitious city that appears to have been modelled upon Toronto. It's the day of the semi-annual sale,
with frenzied women causing chaos through collapsing displays. "SACRIFICE OF ALL RIBBONS WITHOUT RESERVE," the adverts announce, "EVERYTHING SLAUGHTERED!" At the end of it all, the shop-girls – known as "Stores" – wade through paper from the unwound bolts to find an abandoned go-cart with baby girl within. There's some talk of calling the police, but the newest Store, Celia Brown, comes forward to care for the child as she would a sister.

Not one of the shop-girls, good-hearted Celia included, gives so much as fleeting consideration of the news dominating the city's dailies. Baby Elice, daughter of wealthy Adam Torrence and wife, has been kidnapped. This tragedy will soon lead to the premature death of poor Mrs Torrence. Devastated widower Adam, bereft of wife and child, will take young Mark Wareham, a not so distant relative, to be his ward.

As Christine Brown, the abandoned baby is raised by Celia and her blind sister Ada. She grows to become a beautiful young woman, while spinster Celia loses looks and energy. Angus and Sons is to blame for the latter's decline. The work of a Store – ten hours a day, six days a week – is hard. Everyone knows that the stools behind the counters are just for show.

You musn't blame Celia's employer – who, as it turns out, is Adam Torrence. This man of wealth pays little attention to the store, and even less to the Stores, because the money they bring flows so steadily. Thoughts that stray in the direction of Angus and Sons invariably concern propriety. Adam is firm that all shop-girls hired have additional sources of income lest they turn to... become... find themselves... Oh, he cannot bring himself to express his fears.

Crisis comes to the cramped Brown flat when Celia suffers a nervous breakdown. It's unfortunate, of course, but her timing is good in that Christine has secretly been job hunting. During her search she meets Adam's unofficially adopted son Mark. The moment, which takes place when he pushes a man to the ground for daring to talk to her, is captured in illustrator Dudley Tennant's frontispiece.

Mark falls for Christine in such a way that the throb escapes no one. Disapproving his dalliance with someone named "Brown", someone who is plainly of the lowest class, the Torrence family – Adam and elder sister Miriam – dispatch Mark to Vancouver.

Adam is next to happen upon Christine. For a moment he gives consideration that this Miss Brown might be the same  young woman in whom Mark is interested – but then Brown is such a very common name of very common people. That said, Adam is distracted, bothered and fairly won over by Christine. She is very much a lady, despite her lowly family. The mere description of her hair – "honey blonde" – brings to mind that of his dear late wife. And, oh, doesn't Christine have the same eyes, laugh and smile of his dear departed sister.

Sixteen years into the story, everyone meets everyone else, which I suppose can be put down to coincidence. It's at this point that another plot, a nefarious plot, is revealed. We learn that Christine (née Elice) had been kidnapped all those years ago by an old crone who believed her daughter was ruined in working at Angus and Son. The poor Store turned to... became... found herself... Oh, I cannot say.

Weirdly, improbably, the crone thought that by leaving Elice in the ribbon department the girl would grow up to work in the store. Weirdly, improbably, she was right.

Christine – Elice, if you prefer – is kidnapped a second time. More coincidences ensue. I recognized them all.

Query: How is it that the Stores made no connection between kidnapped Baby Elice and the infant that had left in the ribbon department? Celia explains it all:
"We read it in the papers. But we did not feel especially interested. We did not know who Mr. Torrence was. He was just a name. We did not know he had any connect with the Stores. And this baby – so evidently a neglected and unwanted child! – it would have been a miracle if the coincidence had struck us."

Object and Access: My copy, inscribed by the author, was purchased just last month for US$25 from an Illinois bookseller; I'm thinking it's a first edition. While there are four copies currently listed online, each from sellers who claim the same, at least two lack the elegant monogram pictured above. I suggest that these are at best second state. Either way, expect to pay between US$50 and US$100.

Being in the public domain, print on demand vultures are all over this one. Nabu, General, Pranava and Repressed bring their usual ugliness, but the worst comes from the confusingly-named Book on Demand of Miami, Florida:
This book, "The house of windows" [sic], by Isabel Ecclestone 1875-1928 Mackay [sic], is a replication. It has been restored by human beings, page by page, so that you may enjoy it in a form as close to the original as possible. This item is printed on demand. Thank you for supporting classic literature.
You're welcome. Now, if you could just put some human beings to work on that cover.

Nearly all our universities have copies, as do the public libraries of Toronto and Vancouver. Library and Archives fails yet again – given current policy, one wonders whether it will ever procure a copy.

26 January 2013

Harper Hockey Book Watch: Year Nine, Day 222

A big tip of the hat and nod of respect this fine weekend to journalist Stephen Maher for doggedly pursuing a story which so many others picked up, dropped, allowed to escape and subsequently forgot. I refer, of course, to our prime minister's long promised history of the earliest days of the Dominion's national winter sport.

Last we heard – eleven months ago – the book had been subject to a bidding war. Mr Harper himself was to have chosen the winning publisher on 1 March 2012, but as noted on year nine, day 39 of this watch, no publisher stepped forward to claim victory. The prime minister's representative in this matter, Westwood Creative Agency, was similarly silent. Thanks to Mr Maher we now know that the lucky girl was Simon & Schuster Canada. Publication will take place sometime this year.

Today's news raises questions. The first concerns the participation of Greg Stoicoiu, a researcher who, like Preston Manning's George Pepki, has next to no web presence.

Mr Stoicolu has posted a few pleasant sketches on the Elboya Heights Community Association's Facebook page and had a whimsical cartoon published in the March 2012 edition of the Society for International Hockey Research's online Bulletin.* I should add that he is also amongst the dozens of people thanked for providing information on movie exhibition in Reel Time: Movie Exhibitors and Movie Audiences in Prairie Canada, 1896 to 1986, just out from Athabaska University Press.

Given the prime minister's day job and self-imposed constraint which allowed the history a mere fifteen minutes work a day, Mr Stoicoiu's contribution must be very substantial. Skeptics have raised the spectre of ghostwriters. I've never been a believer myself, and am more than willing to take the word of Bruce Westwood, founder and president of Westwood Creative Agency. As reported in Mr Maher's article:
“Remember this has not been ghosted,” he [Bruce Westwood] said. “This is Harper’s writing. It’s surprisingly good.”
Surprisingly good. How's that for hype!

Never mind. What really caught my eye was Mr Westwood's comment that he's read only parts of the manuscript.

Only parts? Of what most certainly will be one of the biggest Canadian books of the decade?

It is finished, right?

* With the news, some are again making a big deal of the prime minister's membership in the Society. Once more, I point out that membership is open to anyone with thirty bucks to spare.

Related posts:

25 January 2013

'Robert Burns' by Mr. John Steele of St. John, N.B.

Robert Burns Statue
Victoria Park, Halifax
Photograph by David Murray

Verse by John Steele found in Selections from Scottish Canadian Poets; Being a Collection of the Best Poetry Written by Scotsmen and Their Descendants in the Dominion of Canada, published in 1900 under the auspices of the Caledonian Society of Toronto, printed by Imrie, Graham & Co.

Nearly everything known about the poet is contained in the accompanying photograph and biography:

I'm willing to bet a bottle of Lagavulin that the versifying John Steele is very same John Steele, laborer, who is recorded here in the 1851 Census of New Brunswick:

(cliquez pour agrandir)
At the time, a 40-year-old John Steele was living in Chatham Parish, Northumberland County, New Brunswick, with exhausted wife Grizzla (34) and their seven children: Elizabeth (18), Marion (16), Joseph (14), John (9), Ann (7), Mary (5) and Richard (1 month).

For the day, one more from the fecund Mr Steele:

22 January 2013

No Gun for Gloria

This Gun for Gloria
Bernard Mara [pseud. Brian Moore]
New York: Gold Medal, 1956
144 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:

21 January 2013


A week tomorrow it will be my honour to moderate a panel featuring Chris Woodrow (Acting CEO and Director of Strategic Planning, Windsor Public Library), Brian Owens (Librarian and Chief Archivist, Leddy Library, University of Windsor) and Jennifer Franklin-McInnis (Deputy Chief Librarian and Manager of Branches, Essex County Libraries).

The topic? I'll leave that to hosts Biblioasis:
The latest issue of Canadian Notes & Queries is library-themed, and to celebrate its launch we’re holding an informal panel discussion on the role of libraries in Windsor and beyond. Want to learn more about the social challenges libraries face as one of the few remaining (free) public institutions? How librarians and publishers are negotiating rights for e-book lending? What the best arguments are in favour of growing a library’s physical archives? Join us for these discussions and more at the store.
Everything else you need to know is on the poster above. Click for a larger view, 'tis a thing of beauty.

See ya there!

18 January 2013

The Paralyzing Success of Gwethalyn Graham

Gwethalyn Graham
18 January 1913 – 26 November 1965
Expect no media recognition today of the Gwethalyn Graham centenary – such things just aren't done in this country. Oh, there was a good deal of fuss last year over Irving Layton at 100, but the silence surrounding the similar anniversaries of Gabrielle Roy and Hector de Saint-Denys-Garneau are more in keeping with cool Canadian tradition.

In Graham's case, the neglect is a bit easier to understand. She produced only three books in her short life. The first, Swiss Sonata (1938), was published in England and the United States, earned reviews of the "respectable first novel" variety, won a Governor General's Award, then quickly slipped out of print and out of mind. The third, Dear Enemies (1963), "a dialogue on French and English Canada" with unhappy journalist Solange Chaput-Rolland, might be of interest to those studying the Quiet Revolution.

It's for that middle book, the novel Earth and High Heaven, that we remember Graham. Or do we? Before Cormorant Books resurrected Swiss Sonata and Earth and High Heaven last decade, Graham had been long out-of-print. But in 1944 and 1945, she was a publishing sensation.

Arriving in bookstores during the final months of the Second World War, Earth and High Heaven and its romantic story of the forbidden love between a Gentile and a Jew appealed.

"Deserves the widest possible audience," decreed the New York Times. Earth and High Heaven received just that. The week of publication, a portrait of the unknown author graced the cover of The Saturday Review. Two weeks later, the magazine featured an advert boasting that the book was in its third printing.

Life, 19 February 1945
There was a Lippincott edition, a Jonathan Cape edition, an Armed Services edition and a cheap hardcover from Sun Dial Press. Earth and High Heaven became the first Canadian novel to hold number one spot on the New York Times Best Seller list. Throughout the following year, it worked steadily beside Elizabeth Goudge's Green Dolphin Street in luring readers to join the Literary Guild and the Doubleday One Dollar Book Club. Fifteen translations were to come.

Ottawa Citizen
12 October 1946
Earth and High Heaven received the 1944 Governor General's Award for Fiction and the 1945 Anisfield-Wolf Award for best book on race relations. Not everyone was on board. Writing in First Statement, John Glassco dismissed the novel as "cinematic and strictly spurious." Samuel Goldwyn half-agreed, paying $100,000 for the screen rights. Screenwriter Howard Koch was dispatched to Montreal, where he visited the author and strolled about Windsor Station, Dominion Square, Mount Royal and Westmount.

Graham estimated that her novel sold 1,250,000 copies in its first thirteen months. Sure seems like it. When I was a student back in the 'eighties, Montreal's used bookstores were giving away copies gratis.

There would be no movie – film historians are of the mind that it was somehow killed by the success of Gentleman's Agreement. There was no third novel, either. One might blame the riches – they did get in the way for a time – but I think the true reason for the silence was fear. Accepting her second Governor General's Award at Montreal's Ritz-Carleton Graham admitted that she was "worried to death" about her next book:
At the risk of sounding ungrateful – which Heaven knows I am not – being so strongly identified with one book and one title gives one an awful feeling at times, and I should like to forget all about Earth and High Heaven and get on to something else if I can, and, with luck do a better job next time.
Gwethalyn Graham never could forget Earth and High Heaven... and yet we did.

14 January 2013

Glassco's $9500 Library and the Montreal Eatons

Canadian Notes & Queries number 86 has arrived, bringing with it all kinds of goodness from Caroline Adderson, Mike Barnes, Nigel Beale, Darryl Joel Berger, Steven W. Beattie, Aaron Costain, Evie Christie, Jason Dickson, Nicole Dixon, Emily Donaldson, Sharon English, Alex Good, Finn Harvor, Jeet Heer, Even Jones, David Mason, Ben McNally, Sarah Neville, James Pollock, John Richmond, Mark Sampson and Bruce Whiteman, wrapped in a cover by Seth.

I have two pieces in this issue, the first being a look at John Glassco: A Personal and Working Library, issued in 1982 by Montreal's Word Bookstore. Compiled by Glassco's bibliographer Fraser Sutherland, this cerlox-bound 47-page catalogue offers the poet and pornographer's library en masse:
The Library occupies approximately 29 feet of shelf-space, and comprises 526 books and 88 periodicals – most of them signed and annotated – as well as hundreds of other printed items, letters, and manuscripts. Editions are usually First. Except for books or periodicals published before 1940, condition is usually Fine. On the rare occasions were pages are missing, these are indicated. The price of JOHN GLASSCO: A PERSONAL AND WORKING LIBRARY is Can$9500.
That's right, $9500. And yet only one institution stepped forward. And it wasn't McGill, his alma mater.

The collection was purchased by Queen's University and can be viewed, even by unaccompanied minors, at Special Collections at the W.D. Jordan Library. Select pages from the catalogue can be seen here at my Gentleman of Pleasure blog.

The second contribution is a review of Marion: The Story of an Artist's Model by Winnifred Eaton (a/k/a Onoto Watanna). First published in 1916 as a biography, reissued last year by McGill-Queen's as a novel, it provides a fictionalized account of sister Sara Eaton's youth, along with glimpses of artist father Edward, mother Lotus Blossom, and more than a few of the thirteen other Eaton children.

The Metropolitan, 10 February 1894
The new edition benefits from a fascinating 49-page Introduction by Karen E.H. Skinazi and the inclusion of Henry Hutt's original illustrations.

Rereading the review, I see that I've described the Eatons as "perhaps the most unusual and unconventional family of Victorian Montreal."

I'm now reconsidering the word "perhaps".

Related post:

Cross-posted, in part, at A Gentleman of Pleasure.

10 January 2013

Dope Rings in Canada! Oh My!

Die with Me, Lady
Ronald Cocking
Toronto: Harlequin, 1953
224 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

07 January 2013

Anyone Care about the Ryerson Fiction Award?

It's not found in The Canadian Encyclopedia, The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature or W.H. New's Companion to Canadian Literature; the three-volume History of the Book in Canada limits mention to a single sentence; misnamed the "Ryerson Fiction Prize", fleeting reference is made in The Cambridge History of Canadian Literature – yet in mid-20th-century Canada the Ryerson Fiction Award was second only to the Governor General's Award. Authors were encouraged to submit manuscripts to Ryerson, which in turn would publish the winning work.

The Cambridge error is understandable. The award-winning titles I've seen invariably feature a page listing past recipients, similar to the one above from Evelyn M. Richardson's Desired Haven. Each repeats this bit of awkwardness:
The All-Canada Prize Novels
Most dust jackets add to the confusion in trumpeting "The All-Canada Fiction Award".

The Ryerson Fiction Award... The All-Canada Prize... The All-Canada Fiction Award... Whatever the name, it seems clear that by "fiction" Ryerson meant "novel." As for "All-Canada"? Well, our French-language novelists need not submit.

First presented in 1942, the award moved in fits and starts. There was no recipient in its second year... or its third... no award in 1946, 1948, 1951, 1952 or 1955 either. Some years saw the honour go to two titles. It was last presented in 1960.

Does anyone care about the Ryerson Fiction Award? Did anyone care about the Ryerson Fiction Award? I imagine the winners were delighted, but I see no evidence that it made much of an impression on the public. Only one title, Will R. Bird's Here Lies Good Yorkshire, enjoyed a second printing, and only five have ever appeared in paperback. The academics don't appear to have been much impressed. Writing in Queen's Quarterly, Desmond W. Cole concluded his review of 1958 winner Gladys Taylor's The King Tree:
If this is the "All-Canada Fiction Award" as the dust cover asserts, it has been a slim year for the novel, or at least for the publisher who has the presumption to imply that this is the best work of fiction published in Canada in the past year.
Edward McCourt's Music at the Close is the only title to have been included in the New Canadian Library. Tellingly, I think, the author used the opportunity to revise the text. NCL has since dropped the novel.

All I've seen of the first winner, G. Herbert Sallans' Little Man, is the little jpeg above. A shame. Going by bookseller Stephen Temple's description, Little Man is the Ryerson Fiction Award-winner I'd most like to read:
A novel covering four decades of Canadian life, set in Canada, France and Britain. "The author is merciless in his handling of shoddy Top Hats, fake Utopia Builders, spurious Abundant Lifers and Crack Pots of all sorts." – jacket.
"I remember when this was a very common book that no one wanted," continues Mr Temple. "It is surprisingly scarce, and saleable, in the market today. But it ain't no four figure book, not even close."

That last sentence appears to be a dig at an Oregon bookseller who demands an even US$1000 for a jacket-less copy in Fair condition. Mr Temple's, a Very Good copy in Good dust jacket, is being offered for US$85. My birthday is in August.

The thirteen other Ryerson Fiction Award-winners follow.

I've read one.


Here Stays Good Yorkshire
Will R. Bird
Day of Wrath
Philip Child
Music at the Close
Edward McCourt

Judgement Glen
Will R. Bird

Mr. Ames Against Time
Philip Child
Blaze of Noon
Jeann Beattie
Desired Haven
Evelyn M. Richardson
Immortal Rock
Laura Goodman Salverson

Pine Roots
Gladys Taylor
Repent at Leisure
Joan Walker
The King Tree
Gladys Taylor

Prairie Harvest
Arthur G. Storey

Short of the Glory
E.M. Granger Bennett

04 January 2013

Mr. Steven Against Company Policy

Thanks goes out to Jim B. for helping to identify the artist behind the handsome jacket to Philip Child's Mr. Ames Against Time, the subject of Wednesday's post. He is Arthur Steven, who from 1947 to 1970 served as Art Director of Ryerson Press. Mr Steven's illustration is wider than previously pictured, stretching from the spine to just inside the front flap. Clicking on the cover below will bring a nice-sized image.

Captured is the novel's opening scene:
The court-house clock boomed five times and Mr. Ames performed the rite of taking out his watch. It never failed to give him a small satisfaction to find that his watch was exactly on time, for he was a man who liked things in order: watch in order, clothes however shabby in order, conscience neatly in order.
   A dog chased a cat across Mr. Ames' path...
At the right, we can see the Urania Burlesque Theatre, at which Mr. Ames serves as doorman.

Randall Speller has written a very fine piece on the artist, "Arthur Steven at the Ryerson Press: Designing the Post-War Years (1949-1969)" (Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada/Cahiers De La Société Bibliographique Du Canada, Fall/Automne 2003), in which we find this:
In opposition to company policy during these early years, Steven was able to discreetly insert his name or an initial on the occasional dust jacket or illustration, something that appears to have been easier in the early 1950s. The jackets for Philip Child's Mr. Ames against Time [sic] (1949), J.V. McAree's Cabbagetown Store (1953), and William Arthur Deacon's The 4 Jameses (1953), among others, are signed "Steven" in very small letters; Isabelle Hughes' The Wise Brother (1954) and the map endpapers of Marjorie Freeman Campbell's Niagara: Hinge of the Golden Arc (1958) are signed with a very small 'S' in the lower right corner. These "signatures" are the first indicators of a consistent design presence at Ryerson in the post-Thoreau MacDonald years.
This, of course, has sent me running to the bookcase. Sure enough, I found "STEVEN" by the side of the road on the cover of Cabbagetown Store.

On the jacket he produced for Ryerson's The 4 Jamesesa favourite, "STEVEN" can be seen near the bottom right-hand corner.

And, also bottom right, there's that "S" on the cover of The Wise Brother.

I found no other jackets signed "STEVEN" or "S" in my modest collection of Ryerson Press books – just forty-two in all – but that doesn't mean I won't keep looking.

Related post: