29 September 2016

A.M. Klein Memorial Plaque

A week today will see the installation of the eighth memorial plaque at Montreal's Writers' Chapel. This year we will be honouring the great poet, novelist and lawyer A.M. Klein.

Esther Frank will speak.

Thursday, 6 October 2016, 6 p.m.

Church of St James the Apostle
1439 St Catherine Street West (Bishop Street entrance)

A wine and cheese reception will follow.

All are welcome.

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26 September 2016

Behind Every Successful Man from Glengarry

The Man from Glengarry: A Tale of the Ottawa
Ralph Connor [pseud. Rev. Charles W. Gordon]
Toronto: Westminster, 1901

I think it likely that my paternal grandfather had a complete collection of Ralph Connor's novels. Uniform in size, but not in design, they took up the bottom shelf of the largest bookcase in the family home. My father inherited the books, but a decade or so after his death my mother donated the lot to our church's annual rummage sale. She offered them to me beforehand, but I was a teenager; family history and Canadian literature were nowhere near so interesting as Low or the tall Icelandic girl who was in the grade below mine.

Four decades later, family history and Canadian literature obsess. Sixteen Connors sit on my shelves, including two editions of Glengarry School Days and signed copies of The Major and The Prospector.

I have rule when it comes to collecting Connor: I pay no more than two dollars. The Man from Glengarry didn't cost me a thing. I rescued it from a pile of books that were to be stripped of their covers and pulped. The thing is in rotten shape. At some point in its past, an anonymous bookseller identified it as a first edition and hoped to sell it for twenty dollars. I'm betting he didn't.

The Man from Glengarry may be Connor's longest book – at 473 pages it's certainly the longest of those I own – but then the author has a lot to say.  This is a novel with a message. It was to Presbyterian aspirations what Antoine Gérin-Lajoie's Jean Rivard novels were to the Catholic. The Preface is essential reading:

There are many men from Glengarry, but the one who takes centre stage is Ranald Macdonald, lone son of ill-tempered lumberman Black Hugh. A boy in the opening pages, young Ranald bears witness to his father's bloody, ultimately fatal, beating by Louis LeNoir of the Murphy gang. The mid-nineteenth-century timber trade is dangerous place, but its gloomy forests are brightened by the Word of the Lord, as brought by Mrs Murray, wife of the local Presbyterian preacher. There is no more accurate word than "saintly" to describe this woman. Mrs Murray
is flawless, which means she is also two-dimensional. What makes her interesting is that she is modelled on Connor's dear mother, a highly-educated, sophisticated woman who devoted herself to her husband and his ministry.

It is through Mrs Murray's guidance – and not, tellingly, that of the flawed Rev Murray – that Ranald grows to become the most intelligent and virtuous of young men. Ultimately, his principles cost him both a partnership in a lumber company and the hand of Maimie St Clair, the woman he has loved since boyhood. However, we know our Father, who seeing what is done in secret, will reward him (see: Matthew 6:4).

This tale of the Ottawa is a good one. I found myself caught up in the struggles between rival gangs and the final days of the romance between Ranald and Maimie. The only eye-rolling moments come at the last chapter, which sees Ranald meeting with Sir John A. Macdonald (no relation, one presumes) to press the importance of the national railway in keeping British Columbia in the federation. The scene brought to mind René LaFlamme, the young hero of Connor's War of 1812 novel The Runner, who kills the man who killed Brock, rescues Laura Secord, etc, etc. "I have heard a great deal about you," Lady Mary Rivers says to Ranald. "Let me see, you opposed separation; saved the Dominion, in short."

So many novels are weakened by their final chapters.

"It is part of the purpose of this book to so picture these men and their times that they may not drop quite out of mind," Connor writes in his Preface. In this, he succeeds. The Man from Glengarry gives a good sense of what Glengarry was like in the day. While it doesn't have anything like the readership it once had, but it remains in print, continues to be studied. More than this, through Mrs Murphy, it has kept the memory of his mother alive.

Family, you understand.

I would appreciate hearing from anyone who has Ralph Connor books bearing the signatures of Edward Busby or Maurice John Busby.

"What a wonderful boy he must be, Hughie," said Maimie, teasing him. "But isn't he just a little queer?"
     "He's not a bit queer," said Hughie, stoutly. "He is the best, best, best boy in all the world."

Trivia: As an adolescent, the author attended Ontario's St Marys Collegiate Institute, which sat on the property that borders ours. Until this summer, when the 141-year-old structure was torn down, I could see it from my desk.

Object and Access: First edition? I'll take the unknown bookseller's word for it, though I've seen variants in colour of cloth. The American first edition was published by Revell. The first British edition came from Hodder & Stoughton.

I'm pleased to report that pretty much every academic library in the Dominion and more than a few public libraries have it in their collections.

The Man from Glengarry is currently in print as part of the moribund New Canadian Library, but you'd be better off buying a used copy. Connor claimed that the novel sold five million copies (and here I remind you that he was a clergyman). Hundreds are listed online, starting as low as one Yankee dollar.

Pay no more than two Canadian dollars.

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16 September 2016

Montrose en français II: le retour de Russell Teed

It's nowhere near over, but already this looks to have been David Montrose's year. Damn shame that he's not around to see it. Last month, Gambling With Fire, his fourth and final novel returned print, hitting bookstore shelves for the first time since the 'sixties. This month sees publication of Meurtre dans le ciel de Dorval, a translation of Murder Over Dorval, courtesy of Editions Hurtubise and tireless translator Sophie Cardinal-Corriveau.

Meurtre dans le ciel de Dorval follows Meurtre à Westmount (The Crime on Cote des Neiges) as the second Montrose she's translated. It's also the second of three novels to feature Montreal private detective Russell Teed. A wild ride, this particular enquête begins in New York, then moves to Dorval, Montreal and Pointe Claire.

My agent insists I add that Meurtre dans le ciel de Dorval features a new Préface by yours truly... again translated by Sophie.

She really is tireless.

Félicitations, Sophie!

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15 September 2016

'A Canadian Day, September 15th, 1916'

Century-old verse by Captain Theodore Goodridge Roberts, younger brother of Sir Charles God Damn, inspired by the Canadian victory at Courcellette.

"A Canadian Day, September 15th, 1916" is one of two Roberts poems included in John W. Garvin's anthology Canadian Poems of the Great War (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1918).

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12 September 2016

Grant Allen Dons a Woman's Blouse

The Type-Writer Girl
Grant Allen (writing as Olive Pratt Raynor)
Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2003

Juliet Appleton is a Girton girl; she knows the meaning of "mandragora" and can spell it with confidence. Though Juliet suffered tragedy in her mother's early death, hers was an otherwise happy childhood. Papa was both loving and kind, but now he too is gone. At twenty-two, Juliet finds herself not only alone but facing a life of poverty. The reasons don't matter – Allen barely mentions them – the important thing is that poor Juliet Appleton has hardly a two-bob bit to her name.

What's a Girton girl to do?

This one answers an advert placed by the legal office of Flor & Fingelman, where she secures a position as "Shorthand and Type-writer (female)". That she could supply her own machine – a Bar-lock
– may have played to her advantage, but they would have hired her just the same. Truth is, Juliet is a significant asset to any firm; she's intelligent, creative, and has a wonderful personality. This is not to say that her character is without flaws; criticism may be made that Juliet is prone to throw caution to the wind. "I was born to take no heed for the morrow," she tells us. "I belong to the tribe of the grasshopper, not that of the ant."

Juliet resigns her post within the week, producing one of the greatest letters of resignation ever written:

You see, Juliet had been unhappy in the unseemly offices of Flor & Fingelman. During lunch break on her third day, she happened to sit within earshot of a Cambridge man who was telling his companion of a colony of agrarian anarchists just outside Horsham. Juliet pawns her typewriter and sets off by bicycle to join their number. The colony is not the quite the utopia of her dreams, nor is it the disaster I was expecting. The anarchists know not what they do and toil inefficiently, yet manage to harvest enough to get by. No, the real problem with the Horsham anarchists is found in their leader Rothenburg, who pressures Juliet to "fraternise".

Our heroine is not long with these people – no longer than she was with Flor & Fingelman – but then The Type-Writer Girl is not a long book. At sixty-six of 119 pages, the third and final act takes up the most
space. However, it is in these same pages that the novella falters and eventually falls flat. Juliet returns to London, where she finds employment in a publishing house run by a romantic figure not much older than herself. She refers to him as "Romeo". Juliet falls in love with her new employer (as she knew she would), while Allen falls back on coincidence (as he invariably does).

The Type-Writer Girl is one of two Allens available from Peterborough's Broadview Press. My pleasure in this is tempered somewhat by the absence of supplementary material of the sort included with other novels Broadview has reissued.

I must add that it is odd Broadview chose to reissue the novella. By far one of Allen's lesser works, its true value lies only as a further sign of
evolution in the author's thought ("evolution" being a word Allen would have appreciated). The Type-Writer Girl may be weak, but its heroine, Juliet Appleton, is strong. As with the title character of his final work, Hilda Wade: A Woman with Tenacity of Purpose, our Juliet is more intelligent, industrious and capable than any who surround her. Both are a far cry from the fragile Blackbird of Under Sealed Orders, whose high education strains to the point at which she takes her own life.

Ultimately, The Type-Writer Girl is as slight as its page count. I find myself agreeing with Allen scholar Peter Morton in judging that The Type-Writer Girl could have been so much more. In his study The Busiest Man in 
England, Prof Morton writes of Allen:
If he (and his readers) had been willing to confront the darker side of sexual harassment, it could have been an effective piece of social realism like Wells' Ann Veronica of a few years later. As it is, it ends as little more than a romantic romp.
Damn, now I've got to track down a copy of Ann Veronica.


Favourite line:
"I am anarchic by nature. Wherever there is a government, I am always against it. Let me join your band – and I promise disobedience."
A critic raves:

Athenaeum, 11 September 1897
Object: A slim trade-sized paperback, feauring an Introduction by Clarissa J. Suranyi. Copies can be ordered for $18.95 through the publisher's website. I purchased mine three years ago at Cheap Thrills in Montreal. Price: $6.00.

Access: The Type-Writer Girl was first published in 1897 by C. Arthur Pearson. The first American edition appeared three years later, courtesy of cheapo publisher Munro (above). Street & Smith put out an even cheaper edition later that same year. The Pearson edition can be read online here courtesy of the University of Alberta and the Internet Archive.

The Broadview edition is held by sixteen of our universities, Library and Archives Canada, and Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. I don't see any other anywhere. Surprisingly, no copies of any edition is to be found in the Kingston-Frontenac Public Library.

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06 September 2016

The Last of James Benson Nablo?

The life of James Benson Nablo has always intrigued. A Niagara Falls native who had never before appeared in print, he came out of nowhere in 1945 with The Long November, a solid novel from a major New York publisher. It was then off to Hollywood, where three motion pictures featuring big names like Mickey Rooney, George Raft and Edward G. Robinson were made from his stories. A fourth, China Doll starring Victor Mature, was in production when Nablo died at age forty-five.

There's more to the writer's story, of course. For one, there was a second novel, And Yet Another Four, he had under contract with Scribners. Nablo wasn't satisfied and set it aside. The manuscript is now lost.

Two years ago, I helped bring The Long November back into print as part of the Véhicule Press Ricochet Books series. It's now joined by Stories, a collection of Nablo's previously unpublished short fiction. This attractive hardcover, handset and printed using a Vandercook SP-15 press in an edition of fifty, is the latest title from J.C. Byers' Three Bats Press.

Five stories in all, they're preceeded by my Introduction. Also included is an Afterword and memorial verse by Nancy Nablo Vichert, Nablo's daughter. The latter dates from her years as a student at McMaster University.

With Stories, all known surviving writing by James Benson Nablo is now in print. Until today, they existed only as a series of manuscripts the author had entrusted to Nancy.

But what are they? As I write in the Introduction, Nablo couldn't have intended these stories for the movies, and yet Nablo never published any short stories. What's more, there's no evidence that he so much as tried. Were they written for his own amusement? Are they false starts? Fragments of larger works?

All these years later, he remains the Mysterious Mister Nablo.

Copies of Stories by James Benson Nablo can be purchased by contacting Three Bats Press: 

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05 September 2016

A Poem for Labour Day by A.C. Stewart

"On the Drowning of a French-Canadian Laborer" by A.C. Stewart from his self-published tome Dust and Ashes (n.p., 1910).

Sadly, I have not been able to identify the victim... nor the year... nor the location. "Jacques Cartier Rapids" does not exist. There are rapids in Jacques Cartier National Park. Was it there that the tragedy took place? Doubt it. Still, knowing Stewart, it's a safe bet that the drowning of the French-Canadian labourer happened somewhere, and just as he described.

Dust and Ashes was a gift from Vanessa Brown and Jason Dickson of Brown & Dickson in London, Ontario. This past weekend, saw the couple celebrating their move to a new, larger location on Richmond Row.


Now, get to work you two.

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