29 May 2014

RMS Empress of Ireland: 100 Years

For the day, glimpses of A Package of Postcards and a "Wireless", published in 1907 by Canadian Pacific Railway as a means of promoting sister ships RMS Empress of Ireland and RMS Empress of Britain. Subtitled A Bride's Story, it's told in the form of postcards sent by newlywed Kate to her dear mother.

The first is mailed from Montreal's grand Place Viger Hotel, in which one presumes the marriage was consummated, as the couple are "leaving for the C.P.R. train for Quebec." There they stay, of course, at  the railway's Château Frontenac.

The photograph that follows hints at marital discord, though Kate's postcard suggests otherwise.

Still, does she not look a bit lonely here?

A pricey wire home describes a "marriage without a ripple".

Husband Jack spends his honeymoon with the boys, then begins putting on postnuptial pounds.

Five days in it looks like the honeymoon is over.

Kate and Jack disembark in Liverpool, then take the "C.P.R. Empress Special" to London. They spend the weeks that follow visiting Ireland, France and the Netherlands, then return home on RMS Empress of Britain.

Seventeen pages in all, the only thing not written by Kate comes in the form of this concluding note:

Not seven years later, 29 May 1914, the very advantage offered by the Canadian Pacific Empresses would lead to the loss of 1012 lives. It remains our worst maritime disaster. Nothing else comes close.

27 May 2014

Die Deutsch Brian Moore; or, Ginger Coffey in NYC

At once one of the funniest and most depressing novels ever set in my beloved Montreal, The Luck of Ginger Coffey is a favourite. I expect I've seen three or four dozen cover treatments over the years, but the one gracing this German translation, happened upon this past weekend, really caught my eye. More than anything, I was reminded of a travel poster… and, as it turns out, it was copped and cropped from just that.

Published in 1994, Diogenes' Ginger Coffey sucht seine Glück has the only cover I know that focusses on the protagonist's status as an immigrant. Nothing wrong with that, except that Moore never tells us just how Ginger, wife Veronica and daughter Paulie arrived in Canada. We know that they left Ireland by ship. I guess it's possible that they disembarked in New York. Could be that they then caught a train to Montreal. What I can say for certain is that the Coffeys wouldn't have sailed on the Normandie; it was scrapped in 1946.

I'd planned to make this post about the use of the word "ship" in the novel – It appears fourteen times. How interesting is that! – but the cover drew my attention to the many German-language editions of Moore's novels. I had no idea.

Turns out that the Normandie Ginger Coffey sucht seine Glück is just one of several. All use a translation by Gur Bland, but vary in title. It was first published as Das Blaue vom Himmel in 1963 by Rütten & Loening. The Rowohlt 1970 reissue, as Ein optimist auf seitenwegen, suggests a ribald romp, making the Bantam I Am Mary Dunne appear very tame indeed.

And just look at the hot goings on Büchergemeinschafts-Lizenzausg promises with its 1978 edition of Die frau des arztes (The Doctor's Wife).

Sex sells, of course, which explains Diogenes' 1987 Schwarzrock (Black Robe), suggesting a tale of sapphic love set amongst the 17th-century Algonquins.

The publisher is much more honest with its current edition, though I hasten to point out that the men depicted are Abenaki.

Intentional or not, Diogenes seems particularly adept at choosing misleading images. Here it sells a translation of An Answer from Limbo as Die Antwort der Hölle – The Answer from Hell – slapping on a darkened image of René Magritte's Homage to Mack Sennett; in effect transforming protagonist Brendan Tierney into Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb.

The publisher has a curious habit of choosing highly recognizable late-19th-century women as stand-ins for mid-20th-century characters. Its cover for Ich bin Mary Dunne casts Madelaine Bernard in the lead, as captured in Gaugin's Portrait of Madelaine Bernard.

Saturnischer Tanz, Malte Krutzsch's translation of The Feast of Lupercal, uses Manet's Irma Brunner to depict  "boyish, unfinished" Belfast lass Una Clarke.

Dillon, Der Eiscremekönig and Die Versuchung der Eileen Hughes use equally odd details from Edward Hopper paintings. Still, I could match them with their English titles, despite my non-existent German. The one that threw me was Strandgeburtstag, which uses David Hockney's Beach Umbrella.


Google translate comes up with "Beach Party".

Beach Party?

Turns out to be Fergus.

Well, Fergus Fadden does live in Malibu.

The first paragraph of The Luck of Ginger Coffey:
Fifteen dollars and three cents. He counted it and put it in his trouser-pocket. Then picked his Tyrolean hat off the dresser, wondering if the two Alpine buttons and the little brush dingus in the hatband weren't a shade jaunty for the place he was going. Still, they might be lucky to him. And it was a lovely morning, clear and crisp and clean. Maybe that was a good augury. Maybe today his ship would come in.
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23 May 2014

Young Mister Richler on the New Canadian Library

Further goodness from the May 1958 issue of The Montrealer with Richler reviewing the New Canadian Library's inaugural offerings. An interesting choice. Richler was no cultural nationalist – never was, as is evident in this piece, written at the age of twenty-seven. He spends the first two-thirds debunking the very notion of a Canadian literature:
Canadian writing is really regional North American writing and not a separate body. English-speaking Canadian novelists obviously have much more in common with their counterparts in the United States than with the French-Canadian writer around the corner.
And Canadian writers:
For my money the man who writes the best prose in Canada is Morley Callaghan. Yet he has surely been more influenced by Hemingway and Fitzgerald than by Frederick Philip Grove. He is an American writer. He just happens to live and write about Toronto just as others do about Boston, New Orleans, or Detroit.
Before surprising us all:
Whether or not the series goes further will, I guess, depend on public response. The New Canadian Library certainly deserves support.
Support it we did – though not always willingly. I'm still a bit pissed off about the copy of Canadians of Old I had to buy for a CEGEP course.

Over the decades the NCL has embraced then dumped many more titles than it has kept  – au revoir Jean Rivard – but the first four remain. In fact, all have been subjected to the sixth and most recent series redesign. Expect another before the end of the decade. Here are some excerpts from Richler's review for The Canadian Publisher™ to consider as blurbs:

Over Prairie Trails
Frederick Philip Grove

"It's too bad that the series has begun with Over Prairie Trails, because if there is a book that epitomizes all that is boring, ponderous, and self-important about Canadian literature than [sic] this is surely it."

Such Is My Beloved
Morley Callaghan

"I've got a blind spot when it comes to innocent priests and good whores although Mr. Callaghan, no literary slouch, certainly avoids the more obvious sentimentalities."

Literary Lapses
Stephen Leacock

"It seems to me, that this book is only unevenly successful, is already available in numerous editions – even, I think a thirty-five cent pocketbook – and that this further reprint is a redundancy."

As for Me and My House
Sinclair Ross

I'm much more grateful – maybe because it was completely unknown to me – for Sinclair Ross's As For Me And My House… it is, as Professor [Roy] Daniells writes in his preface, "a genuine artistic achievement."

Richler also quarrels with Frank Newfeld's "singularly unattractive" series format, singling out As for Me and My House: "Mr. Ross, whom I've never met, is drawn here to look like a comic strip detective."

I wonder what he thought about this 1965 Newfeld cover for New Canadian Library No. 45.

A bonus: The "thirty-five cent pocketbook" of Literary Lapses to which Richler refers is almost certainly the 1945 Collins White Circle edition. There had been no other. However, he is mistaken as to availability and price: the imprint ceased to be in 1952; all printings were priced at 25 cents.

The cover is by Margaret Paull, whose work also graces the Collins White Circle Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town.

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20 May 2014

Checking Out an Attractive 56-Year-Old Montrealer

The Montrealer. vol. 32, no. 5 (May 1958)

I don't remember much of The Montrealer. I was in elementary school when it folded and accept no responsibility for its demise. For a year or two our family subscribed to its successor, Montreal Calendar Magazine. That periodical lived into my university years, but I don't remember much of it either. Never bought copy. You can blame me for that one.

Did I miss out in not reading Montreal Calendar Magazine? I have no idea. A quick go around of old friends finds that not one ever so much as picked up a copy. No one can tell me the first thing about it.

I know I missed out on something with The Montrealer – just look at the names on that masthead: James Minifie, Sam Tata, Hugh MacLennan, Constance Beresford-Howe, Robert Ayre and 27-year-old Mordecai Richler.

Ethel Wilson contributed, as did Joyce Marshall. The Montrealer was the first to publish "Dance of the Happy Shades" and four other stories that would years later feature in Alice Munro's debut collection of the same name.In this issue Richler is the supplier of fiction with "The Balloon", a short story that has never been republished.

The kid returns 23 pages later to weigh in on the brand spanking new New Canadian Library. We've also got  forgotten humorist Norman Ward, Leslie Roberts' unheeded warnings about American imperialism, James Minifie's observations on bumbling Prime Minister Diefenbaker and an uncollected essay by Hugh MacLennan.

Then there are advertisements – lots of advertisements – each a reflection of a Montreal that is no more.

It's all too easy to wax nostalgic about a time in which one never lived. It takes no keen eye to observe that the the city's linguistic minority is all but absent in the magazine's 66 pages. The uncredited "Guide to Better Shopping in Montreal" features just one business with a French name:
May is the month par excellence not only for experiencing Paris, but for re-imagining it, and for the latter pursuit Café Chez-Pierre suggests itself as an ideal locale.
We're in a better place now.

Trivia: I found this copy of The Montrealer, the first I've ever bought, in late March at Brockville's From Here to Infinity. If the mailing label is to be believed – and why not? – it first belonged to Alice Lighthall, eldest daughter of novelist, poet, historian, philosopher and anthologist W.D. Lighthall (Mayor of Westmount, 1900-1903).

19 May 2014

A Civil Servant's Awful Victoria Day Poem

To be honest, I really dislike this year's verse to Victoria, choosing it only as an excuse to post this wonderful photograph of the poet's wife done up as Britannia. The Grand Fancy Ball was the occasion, held 23 February 1876 at Rideau Hall by Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, 3rd Governor General of Canada.

Historians tell us that the evening it was a glorious success. The Library and Archives website informs that his lordship's was for two decades "the standard by which similar balls were measured."

I don't doubt it. Few balls near the size of Dufferin's.

(cliquez pour agrandir)
Careful study finds Britannia near the front of the crowd. I wonder, is that the poet standing next to her?

As is so often the case with fancy dress, the women steal the show. I find Miss M. Skead, seen above and below with Diana's bow, particularly attractive.

For obvious reasons, I have a bit of a thing for Miss Richards, en costume as "The Spirit of the Press".

But the woman who has my heart is Mme Margaret de Saint-Denis Le Moine as "The Dominion of Canada".

The 24 February 1876 Ottawa Free Press, reports that Mme St-Denis Le Moine wore "a while satin skirt, gold tunic, arms of the Dominion, embroidered on its tablier, surrounded with a wreath of maple leaves; flag of the Dominion, worn as a scarf, festooned on one shoulder, with a gold beaver; cornet of gold, small British flag in the hair, earrings and ornaments."

Be still my heart.

And so I arrive, at long last, at the poem. What I dislike most about this piece of untitled verse, found in The Canadian Birthday Book, is its very Britishness. Nothing Canadian about it. Gather round ye French and Irish, let us sing the praises of Victoria and the true hearts warmed by British blood. I make some allowances for the fact that our poet, Gustavus William Wicksteed (1799-1898), was born and bred a Liverpudlian. At the time of the Governor General's Grand Fancy Ball he was serving as a law clerk in the House of Commons.

Enjoy… or don't. At times I prefer photographs to words.

From The Canadian Birthday Book
Seranus [pseud. S. Frances Harrison]
Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson, 1887

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15 May 2014

Coke Adds Death (where there isn't any)

Pure Sweet Hell
Malcolm Douglas [pseud. Douglas Sanderson]
Greenwich, CT: Gold Medal, 1957

After two chapters I picked up pen and paper to do some figuring. As far as I can determine, Pure Sweet Hell was Sanderson's ninth novel, coming less than five years after Dark Passions Subdue, his queer, lavender-tinged debut. Some might not find this impressive. In the 'nineties, V.C. Andrews averaged better than two books a year. And she was dead.

Pure Sweet Hell was the first Sanderson since Dark Passions Subdue to have had neither a British edition or French translation. This I don't get, because it ranks with Hot Freeze as one of his very best.

Like Hot Freeze, the novel's plot revolves around the drug trade. In place of Mike Garfin, ex-RCMP, we have Anthony Bishop, current FBI, who has been assigned to investigate cocaine traffickers at work in the Mediterranean. The G-man arrives in an unnamed Spanish port, trawling through its busy streets and bars like a sailor on shore leave… which is his cover. The faux-seaman's jacket pocket holds two Lucky Strikes packs filled with cocaine. The Bureau's idea, which isn't really much, is that Bishop will sell the drugs, then follow the white lines to the local kingpin. Things get off to a bad start when his contact, a fellow FBI agent and old friend, dies from a knife to the back.

Pure Sweet Hell was published just seven months after Final Run, Sanderson novel #8. Both take place over the course of a single night. Of the two, Pure Sweet Hell is by far the superior; it rings true in a way that its predecessor does not and the writing is stronger:
He wouldn't go under. The darkness was black glue. I couldn't see to punch him scientifically.
Sanderson can always be relied upon for a good fight scene, and there are a dozen or so here. You can also expect some very memorable characters. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Sanderson's people are anything but types. My favourite here is live-wire whore Pepita, who having won the lottery enjoys a night off.

Those unfamiliar with Sanderson will find Pure Sweet Hell a pretty good entrance to his work – which isn't to say that it's without flaws. The final chapters are heavy with explanation, a wasted effort to tie up ends that are already entwined. I never quite understood what the FBI was doing in the Mediterranean. But my greatest complaint, which may seem silly, concerns concussions. Four of the novel's twenty-four chapters close with Bishop losing consciousness – three times from blows to the head delivered after a good beating.

At the end of it all, when the bad guys are all dead or locked up, shouldn't he be checked over by a doctor or something?

Trivia: Sanderson's unnamed Spanish town is Alicante, in which he lived for much of the latter half of his life. Bishop's night of adventure begins at La Goleta, a restaurant that exists to this day. Call 34 965 21 43 92 for reservations.

Object: A slim mass market paperback comprised of 143 pages of dense type. The cover art is by Barye Phillips, the man responsible for the very best cover to John Buell's second best novel.

His cover illustration for Pure Sweet Hell isn't quite in the same league. That's meant to be a drunken Pepita, except that Sanderson describes her as wearing a vivid orange dress. She'll later don her best frock. If the author is to be believed, no Spanish woman of the time would've be caught wearing red slacks. He has one policeman note, as if "about to share a dirty secret", that "in the United States the ladies they wear the trousers like the men."

Phillips also provided the cover of Brian Moore's pseudonymous Murder in Majorca.

Seems he liked drawing blinds.

No pun intended.

Addendum: The back cover copy to Pure Sweet Hell is so bad that it needs be addressed.

One of the novel's great strengths lies in Bishop's narration. Where Sanderson's G-man is sharp and a straight shot, Gold Medal's copywriter makes him out to be a tiresome braggart. The Bishop of the book would never claim that half of town was out to get him or brag that "two dazzling dames" fought over him "like dogs over a bone". Neither is true. "I tell you it was a damned energetic night" just isn't his voice – nor is this:
Just call me Pied Piper Bishop, legging it furiously through town for my life, while out behind me streamed an assortment of cutthroats – followed by a blonde and a brunette – both magnificently heaving.
Call you Pied Piper Bishop? Thanks, I'd rather not.

Access: At US$4.50, the cheapest copy of the first edition listed online comes from a crook in Tulsa who has the gall to charge US$30 for shipping. At the other end we have a Near Fine copy being sold by a Massachusetts bookseller for US$20. Add in his shipping charge and it'll still cost you less than the one in Oklahoma.

Beware, in 1960 Gold Medal went back for a reprint, something a good many of the listings fail to mention.

I recommend the 2004 Stark House edition, which not only pairs Pure Sweet Hell with another favourite, Catch a Fallen Starlet, but includes an insightful Introduction by John D. Sanderson, the author's son. Thrilling Detective's Kevin Burton Smith provides even more context. The cover painting is by Alicantina artist Marina Iborra.

Stark House has no Canadian distributor – buy it from the publisher!

Not a single copy of any edition is held in a Canadian library.