26 January 2016

Remembering Ted Allan on His Hundredth

Today marks the centenary of Ted Allan’s birth. Though our lives overlapped by more than three decades, the only time I actually laid eyes on the man was at the 1993 Richer Roast. The venue was the Oval Ballroom of the Ritz-Carleton, the very same space that would one day serve to host the Panofsky wedding reception in Barney's Version. 

Would that I could remember Allan's speech. The only bit – and it was a bit – that has remained with me is the end: "Mordecai,” said Allan, turning to the roastee, “do me a favour. Next time someone compliments you on Lies My Father Told Me, would you please correct them."


Two decades after the man's death, it's still for Lies My Father Told Me – as short story, film and play – that Allan is best remembered. So many other works have fallen by the wayside, but there is reason to hope. Where seven years ago not one of his books was in print, we now have two: The Scalpel, The Sword (Dundurn, 2009), the Bethune biography he co-authored with Sidney Gordon, and This Time a Better Earth (U of Ottawa Press, 2015), Allan's 1939 debut novel. The latter is particularly welcome… so rare was it that the author himself didn't own a copy.

In celebration of the day, recognition of the five Ted Allan books that remain out of print. All are worthy of revival, but none more so than Willie, the Squowse. Honestly, how is it possible that it isn't in print?

Love is a Long Shot
Alice K. Doherty [pseud Ted Allan]
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949
Quest for Pajaro
Edward Maxwell [pseud Ted Allan]
London: Heinemann, 1957
Willie the Squowse
Ted Allan
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1978
Love is a Long Shot
Ted Allan
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1984
Don't You Know Anybody Else?
Ted Allan
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1985

Related posts:

25 January 2016

Anne of the Island and Other Mid-Winter Fantasies

Just the thing to combat the seasonal blues, this new edition of Anne of the Island provides ample evidence of Tutis Classics' lingering influence. Fans of the defunct Indian print on demand house will remember the sunny Canada that graced so many of its covers.

They will also remember the wonderful imagination on display in its editions of Catharine Parr Traill, Ralph Connor, Gilbert Parker, Grant Allen, Agnes C. Laut and other giants of Canadian literature. Egerton Ryerson Young's By Canoe and Dog-Train is a personal favourite.

This post isn't about Tutis but ebook publisher HMDS Printing Press. Not yet three months old, and already they have a certain place in my heart. Their covers – if ebooks can be said to have covers – may not be quite so sophisticated as Tutus, but they demonstrate just as much creativity.

Remember the time Anne tried to dye her hair black? HMDS's Anne of Green Gables imagines a much happier result.

In Anne of Avonlea,  the series' second book, our raven-haired heroine gets a dog.

I was reminded of nothing so much as the dog that features on the cover – but not in the text – of Tutis Classics' Kilmeny of the Orchard.

With HMDS's Anne of Ingleside, our heroine returns to her original hair colour and introduces the mini-skirt to 19th-century Prince Edward Island.

Sadly, the covers deceive. Paragraph structure aside, HMDS's editions stick to Montgomery's text; Anne's hair still turns green, there is no dog, and skirts remain long and heavy. Happily, the publisher's claim that each is "COLOR ILLUSTRATED" is accurate. HMDS credits the interior art to Leonardo, but I spotted works by Sargent, Bougereau, Rossetti, Thomas Girtin, Margaret Sarah Carpenter and Herbert James Draper.

Selection and placement are intriguing.

Sure to keep Montgomery scholars busy.

I wish HMDS Printing Press well, and look forward to the day in which they actually print something. 

A Bonus:

As is so often the case, I thank JRSM for bringing HMDS to my attention. His own thoughts on the mess can be found at Caustic Cover Critic.

Related posts:

18 January 2016

Falling Hard for May Agnes Fleming

The Midnight Queen
Mrs May Agnes Fleming
New York: Hurst, [n.d.]
256 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

12 January 2016

L'Influence d'un film; or, The KKK Saves the Day

'The Ku Klux Klan to the Rescue'
D.C. Macdonald
The Saint Andrew's College Review, Christmas 1915

Discovered quite by chance late last month, I put off writing about this short story so as not to sully the holiday season.

You're welcome.

"The Ku Klux Klan to the Rescue" flowed from the pen of D.C. Macdonald, a fifth form student at Saint Andrew's College – Canada's Largest All-Boys Boarding School™ – located just north of Toronto in small but affluent Aurora, Ontario. Macdonald was one of the institution's most prolific writers; 1915 alone saw no less than three stories contributed to its thrice-annual Review. His style is distinctive; short on dialogue, long on action, it reads like a silent movie – which is appropriate because "The Ku Klux Klan to the Rescue" is an homage to The Birth of a Nation, the year's biggest film.

The Toronto World, 18 September 1915
Because the story is so short, without further comment I provide this synopsis of "The Ku Klux Klan to the Rescue" with every single line of dialogue – all four – rendered in the form of silent movie cards.*

Wilson and King, former lieutenants in the Grand Army of the Republic, have partnered with Hardwick, a Southerner, to purchase a tobacco plantation somewhere in Virginia:
Hardly had they become settled when the terrible news of Lincoln's assassination reached them. Later on came stories of terrible negro riots, where the blacks, seemingly intoxicated by their sudden freedom, and fiery speeches from their trick doctors had run amuck doing tremendous damage  in some localities even taking the lives of innocent whites.
The three do their best to avoid "the negro settlements", but eventually exhaust their provisions. They make for the nearest village, now "crowded with half-intoxicated negroes". Once there, Hardwick is accosted by "a hulking negro".

The Southerner fights back, setting off one "the dreaded negro riots". Hardwick, Wilson and King manage to flee, but know that they are not out of danger.

The plantation owners work to fortify their home, after which Hardwick rides off to enlist the help of the Ku Klux Klan. A quarter-mile into his journey, the Southerner is challenged.
Accordingly, whipping out his revolver he drove full tilt at the enemy, firing as he went. The negroes were too completely surprised to offer much resistance, and he was through them before they realized it, leaving one dead and three wounded in his trail. The enraged blacks a last recovered their senses, but not until it was too late. Those with fire-arms blazed away with customary negro accuracy, only one shot striking the fugitive. That unlucky bullet passed through Hardwick's arm, causing him to reel in his saddle, but quickly recovering himself he pressed on with determination.
Hardwick manages to reach the Klan's meeting place, and a call to arms takes place beneath a burning cross.

Meanwhile, back at the plantation, a battle rages. Though vastly outnumbered, Wilson, King, and two "reliable servants" have managed to hold off their attackers with bullets and pots of boiling water they throw in "evil faces". Their defences break at the very moment the Klan appears.

Those who aren't killed or wounded flee for the village with the Klan in pursuit. The group encamps to ward off further attacks.


* I'm much obliged to CopyCatFilms for the template.

02 January 2016

Grant Allen Tells It Like It Was

The British Barbarians: A Hill-top Novel
Grant Allen
London: John Lane, 1895

I'm not typically one for novelists' Introductions, particularly when they seek to explain, but I readily dove into that appended to The British Barbarians. This had everything to do with what I knew of its history. Allen wrote the novel in 1889, sent it to Andrew Chatto – he of Chatto & Windus – and was promptly advised that it be put in a drawer. The publisher was certain that The British Barbarians would poison Allen's career.

I won't say he was wrong.

In all likelihood, we'd have never seen The British Barbarians  were it not for The Woman Who Did. Published just months earlier, Allen's story of a clergyman's daughter who dares raise the child she bore out of wedlock was one of the great Victorian succès de scandal. With The British Barbarians, publisher John Lane looked to replicate sales.

Nothing of this history appears in Allen's Introduction; his focus is the market and concessions made to survive as a writer in late-Victorian London:
I have never said a thing I did not think; but I have sometimes had to abstain from saying many things I did think. When I wished to purvey strong meat for men, I was condemned to provide milk for babes.
This is Allen liberated, if only briefly. In Lane, he believed he'd found a publisher who "would consent to aid me in introducing to the world what I thought most important for it."


You bet.

Wait, there's more: "I propose in future to add the words, 'A Hill-top Novel,' to every one of my stories which I write of my own accord, simply and solely for the sake of embodying and enforcing my own opinions."

All this builds the promise of a tiresome read, yet I found myself enjoying The British Barbarians every bit as much as The Devil's Die, What's Bred in the Bone, Michael's Crag and other older non-Hill-top novels.

Allen's mouthpiece in The British Barbarians is Bertram Ingledew, a mystery man who appears, quite literally, out of nowhere in the comfortable, leafy London suburb of Brackenhurst. Civil servant Philip Christy is the first to encounter the stranger. Impressed by Bertram's "nobility of gait and bearing", he provides assistance in securing lodgings at Miss Blake's Furnished Apartments for Families and Gentlemen. Bertram soon becomes a fixture in not only Philip's life, but that of his beautiful married sister, Frida Monteith. Both help Bertram acclimatize himself to his surroundings. Good thing, too, because this self-described "Alien" is very much a fish out of water.

On his second morning in Brackenhurst, a Sunday, Bertram shows up at the Monteith home wearing the very same suit as the previous day. Philip suggests that his guest avoid going out as his clothing might attract attention.
"Now, that 's awfully kind of you. But it's curious, as well; for two or three people passed my window last night, all Englishmen, as I judged, and all with suits almost exactly like this one – which was copied, as I told you, from an English model.
     "Last night; oh, yes," Philip answered. "Last night was Saturday; that makes all the difference. The suit's right enough in its way, of course, – very neat and gentlemanly; but not for Sunday. You're expected on Sundays to put on a black coat and waistcoat, you know, like the ones I'm wearing."
     Bertram's countenance fell. "And if I'm seen in the street like this," he asked, "will they do anything to me? Will the guardians of the peace – the police, I mean – arrest me?"
     Frida laughed a bright little laugh of genuine amusement.
     "Oh, dear, no," she said merrily; "it isn't an affair of police at all; not so serious as that: it's only a matter of respectability."
     "I see," Bertram answered. "Respectability's a religious or popular, not an official or governmental, taboo. I quite understand you. But those are often the most dangerous sort. Will the people in the street, who adore Respectability, be likely to attack me or mob me for disrespect to their fetich?"
There is action, but as one might expect in a work written simply and solely for the sake of embodying and enforcing Allen's own opinions, conversation dominates. Topics include marriage, war, religion and property, all discussed by Bertram with the keen interest of an outsider:
"Your taboos, I foresee, will prove a most valuable and illustrative study."
     "I beg your pardon," Philip interposed stiffly, now put upon his mettle. "We have no taboos at all in England. You're misled, no doubt, by a mere playful façon de parley, which society indulges in. England, you must remember, is a civilised country, and taboos are institutions that belong to the lowest and most degraded savages."
     But Bertram Ingledew gazed at him in the blankest astonishment. "No taboos!" he exclaimed, taken aback. "Why, I've read of hundreds. Among nomological students, England has always been regarded with the greatest interest as the home and centre of the highest and most evolved taboo development. And you yourself," he added with a courteous little bow, "have already supplied me with quite half a dozen."
Just who is this Bertram Ingledew fellow?

The question frustrates Philip so that he can't help but push against the boundaries of propriety in pursuit of the answer. Bertram's claim to be "Secretary of a Nomological Society at home" fails to satisfy for the simple reason that he won't reveal just where "home" is. The answer – hinted at early early in the novel, and revealed at its climax – is that Bertram is a time traveller from the 25th century come to study the taboos of primitive societies.

What I've yet to see recognized in writings on The British Barbarians – in fairness, there's not much – is the obvious fact that the author himself was not of fin de siecle England. Alien Allen was born, raised and educated in Kingston, Ontario. The myriad of taboos in his Canada would not have been markedly different from those of England, but what little distance there was surely provided perspective and inspiration.

The British Barbarians enjoyed three printings, but sales were no match for The Woman Who Did. John Lane tried to stoke the fire by with a parody, The Barbarous Britishers: A Tip-top Novel, by journalist and literary editor Henry Duff Traill. What Allen thought of this is unknown, though it is worth noting that he never placed another book with the publisher.

Andrew Chatto was probably right in thinking that The British Barbarians would harm Allen's career. It's hard to say for certain; Allen died not four years after publication.

There were no more "Hill-top" novels. Chatto rejected Allen's intended follow-up, The Finger Post. The work is lost, presumably destroyed.

Would that I could go back in time to rescue it.

This is a Hill-top Novel. I dedicate it to all those who have heart enough, brain enough, and soul enough to understand it.
Object: A very attractive, well-produced hardcover issued sans jacket. Cover and frontispiece are by Aubrey Beardsley. My Near Fine copy is a second printing, won for 99p from a British bookseller in an ebay auction this November past.

Access: Held by pretty much every university library in the land, Toronto Public Library, the Kingston Frontenac Public Library, Library and Archives Canada, Bibliothèque et Archives nationals du Québec and the Canadian Museum of History,

Not a dozen copies are listed for sale online. Descriptions are vague, but from what I've been able to determine at least four are true firsts. They're priced between US$150 and US$350. Condition is not a factor.

The less common American first (right) published by Putnam in 1895 can be had for as little as US$45 (from "the personal collection of noted Atlantean scholar Henry M. Eichner"). Curiously, British spellings are maintained, but Frida's name is spelled "Freda".

The British Barbarians returned to print in 1904, then reappeared briefly seven decades later. It has been out of print ever since, though it can be read online here thanks to the Internet Archive.

As always purveyors of print on demand are to be ignored.