16 March 2015

A Very Canadian Succès de scandale

The Parliamentary Librarian chased after "Gilbert Knox". Conservative MP Alfred Fripp joined in the hunt, intent on having the author deported to who knows where. The clergy condemned, Ottawa echoed with talk of lawsuits, an election was fought. and a government fell. In the midst of it all, the woman behind the pseudonym suffered a nervous breakdown and was sent away to a Toronto nursing home…
So begins my latest Canadian Notes & Queries Dusty Bookcase column. The rest is found in the new issue, number 92, sharing pages with writing by Michel Basilières, Laura Bast, Darryl Joel Berger, Kerry Clare, Michael Darling, Marc di Saverio, Jennifer A. Franssen, Kaper Hartman, Melanie Janisse, Lydia Kwa, Nick Maandag, David Mason, John McFetridge, Shane Neilson, Patricia Robertson, Rebecca Rosenblum, Mark Sampson, Russell Smith, JC Sutcliffe, Nicholas Zacharewicz and, of course, Seth.

Fellow contributors will understand my singling out Alex Good's "Shackled to a Corpse: The Long, Long Shadow" and Stephen Henighan's "Jimmy the Crossdresser, Mother of Mavis Gallant" as being particularly worthy of attention.

My own contribution, much more modest, concerns The Land of Afternoon, a very good, yet forgotten roman à clef published in 1925 under the name "Gilbert Knox". Madge Macbeth (right) was its true author, which is something not even her publisher knew. The author took the secret to her grave, leaving behind a bright white paper trail for all to follow.

Few have.

Go back ninety years and we'd all be talking about The Land of Afternoon. The first book to come out of Ottawa's Graphic Publishers, it landed in the midst of the federal election fought between Arthur Meighen's Conservatives and the Liberals of William Lyon Mackenzie King. The latter doesn't figure, but Meighen served as a model for protagonist Raymond Dillings, Member of Parliament for Pinto Plains. Wife Isabel inspired Marjorie Dillings… and on it goes.

Again, you'll find more in the new CNQ.

For now, a couple of pieces of trivia that didn't make it into the piece:
  1. In February 1936, a scene from the novel was dramatized by Toronto's Canadian Literature Club.
  2. Macbeth's good friend Lawrence Burpee once appeared in disguise at a Canadian Authors Association event as "Gilbert Knox".
Burpee, not Knox, May 1926
Subscriptions to CNQ are available through this link.

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