05 December 2016

The Season's Best Books in Review — A.D. 1916

The Globe, 2 December 1916
The 2016 Globe 100 was published last week. As with any other, one could quibble with this year's list – whither John Metcalf's The Museum at the End of the World? – but it's really quite good. I was pleased to see Kathy Page's The Two of Us and Willem De Kooning's Paintbrush by Kerry Lee Powell. The Party Wall, Lazer Lederhendler's translation of Catherine Leroux's Mur mitoyen, was also welcome. And then there's Madeleine Thien's Do Not Say We Have Nothing, though that was pretty much a given.

An embarrassment of riches.

How far we've come.

Consider "THE SEASON'S BEST BOOKS IN REVIEW" above, published a century ago in the very same newspaper. It begins on a fairly upbeat note:
The third year of the war finds no appreciable diminution in the output of books. The demand for good reading grows apace, although publishers are in difficulties over the increased cost of production. One result of the paper shortage across the border is the growing tendency to place orders for printing and binding in Canada. The examples of workmanship recently turned out by Canadian printers show what this country may yet accomplish in the production of books.
The downer comes with the next paragraph:
Canadian fiction is still in a stagnant condition. The attractions of the American market have proved too strong as yet to admit the development of a Canadian school of novelists.
Take heart, our poets are being recognized south of the border:
In a New York publisher's circular the following appeared: "Canadians or Americans? In 'Canadian Poets and Poetry,'* an anthology collected by John Garvin and recently published by Stokes, the verse of Bliss Carman and Arthur Stringer along with that of Roberts and more generally recognized Canadians somewhat surprise the average reader who thinks these poets are native Americans. It is true, however, that Arthur Stringer's birthplace is Fredericton, New Brunswick, and his A.B. [sic] is from the university there, while Carman was born in Ontario and educated at the Universities of Toronto and Oxford."
Though the copywriter has confused Stringer and Carman – the former is the Ontario boy and Oxford man – this is just the sort of recognition that makes glowing hearts glow. The anonymous Globe reviewer – William Arthur Deacon, I'm betting – fans the flames in writing that the war has brought "a renaissance of Canadian poetry," as exemplified by Canon Scott's In the Battle Silences and Rhymes of a Red Cross Man by Robert W. Service (the lone book I own on the list).

Meanwhile, on the home front, "Canada is discovering fresh talent. Two gifted writers have attracted notice in the past year – Robert Norwood and Norah M. Holland."

Being somewhat familiar with his verse, I dismissed Robert Norwood. I couldn't do the same with Norah M. Holland because I'd never heard of her. Imagine my surprise in learning that Miss Holland, a native of Collingwood, Ontario, was a cousin of Yeats.

Spun-yarn and Spindrift
Norah M. Holland
Toronto: Dent, 1918
"THE SEASON'S BEST BOOKS IN REVIEW" features no books by Holland because she had none. The intrigued waited two years before publication of Spun-yarn and Spindrift, the first of her two collections. Even without Holland, our poets dominate the 1916 list; nine if the twenty volumes of verse listed are at least kinda Canadian:
Canadian Poets* – John Garvin, ed.
In the Battle Silences – F.G. Scott
Rhymes of a Red Cross Man – Robert W. Service
The Witch of Endor – Robert Norwood
The Watchman and Other Poems – L.M, Montgomery
Maple Leaf Men and Other War Gleanings – Rose E. Sharland
Lundy's Lane and Other Poems – Duncan Campbell Scott
Rambles of a Canadian Naturalist – S.T. Wood
The Lamp of Poor Souls and Other Poems – Marjorie Pickthall
I read nothing into the misspelling of Miss Pickthall's Christian name (nor the brevity of the review).

There are 127 best books in "THE SEASON'S BEST BOOKS IN REVIEW", thirty-six of which are Canadian. Stephen Leacock leads the very short of list of Canadian fiction with Further Foolishness. The Secret Trails by Charles G.D. Roberts, H.A. Cody's Rob of the Lost Patrol, and Marshall Saunders' The Wandering Dog follow. Though I've not read the last, I like to think it served as inspiration for The Littlest Hobo.

We writers of non-fiction aren't particularly well represented. Ten more volumes of the sketchy Chronicles of Canada series feature, as does R. Burton Deane's Mounted Police Life in Canada (a book I helped return to print – briefly – fifteen years ago). Much is made about William Boyd's With a Field Ambulance in Ypres, which I really should've read... but haven't.

Still more is made of the fact that the year saw not one but two biographies of Sir Charles Tupper.

Of course, we all remember Tupper as our sixth prime minister. He served for 59 days.

Not a single one of the Canadian books on the 1916 Globe list is in print today.

Not a single one.

* In Canada, the anthology was published as Canadian Poets (Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, 1916).

Related posts:


  1. 127 Best Books! That's a lot for a small country!

    1. And 27 more than the paper allows for today's much bigger country!

    2. Although I suppose that if the list was enlarged to, say, 250 books that "making it" wouldn't be the feat it is.

  2. The Canadian Encyclopedia asserts that it was said in 1911 that more people had heard of Stephen Leacock than had heard of Canada. (I'm not familiar with how tongue-in-cheek the Canadian Encyclopedia entries are.)

    Very interesting post - thank you for the research!

  3. Whew! Quite a trip through literary time.

    I can't help thinking that perhaps the dearth of CanLit back then was in part due to the attitude promoted in the Globe: "Canadian fiction is still in a stagnant condition [because US.]"