12 August 2019

Bach to the Future, Part II: Le Dernier Voyage



Le dernier voyage: Un roman de la Gaspésie
     [A Voice is Calling]
Eric C. Morris [trans. Martine Hébert-Duguay]

Montreal: Chanteclerc, 1951
255 pages
A brief addendum to last week's post on Eric Cecil Morris' A Voice is Calling.
A debut novel by an unknown, A Voice is Calling received little attention when published and has been pretty much ignored ever since. So, how to explain this translation?


Consider this: A Voice is Calling was published in 1945, the very same year as Hugh MacLennan's Two Solitudes, described at the time as "the GREAT Canadian novel" (Chicago Sun). "Two Solitudes may well be considered the best and most important Canadian novel ever published” said the Globe & Mail. MacLennan's second novel, following the acclaimed Barometer Rising, Two Solitudes received the 1945 Governor General's Award for Literature and has been on high school, college, and university curricula ever since.


Two Solitudes wasn't available in French until 1963, a full eighteen years later... and, curiously, long after published translations in Spanish, Swedish, Polish, Dutch, and Estonian. Le dernier voyage, in contrast, appeared a mere six years after its English-language original.

I first heard of A Voice is Calling through Jean-Louis Lessard, who wrote about Le dernier voyage eight years ago. I'm a touch – just a touch – more positive about the work, though his review left me wondering whether we'd read the same novel. Had anything been cut in translation? A Voice is Calling is 487 pages long, while Le dernier voyage numbers 255. French translations of English texts are typically longer, not shorter.


And so, I bought and read Le dernier voyage. I can report that nothing was excised. Differences in layout, design and font size explain the divergent page counts. Translator Martine Hébert-Duguay is faithful to the original. My only criticism is that she is a touch – just a touch – more liberal in her use of exclamation marks.

Her efforts did not bring a change of mind concerning the original text.

The best Canadian novel of 1945 was, of course, Bonheur d'occasion – it, not Two Solitudes, is the GREAT Canadian novel.

Object: A nicely designed, well-bound paperback printed on good paper stock. Sadly, the cover image is uncredited.

Access: Held by Library and Archives Canada, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, and thirteen of our universities, Le dernier voyage is nearly as common as A Voice is Calling.

I purchased my uncut copy last month from a Montreal bookseller. Price: US$8.00.

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05 August 2019

Bach to the Future: A Voice is Calling



A Voice is Calling
Eric Cecil Morris
Montreal: B.D. Simpson, 1945
487 pages

The strangest novel I've read this year, I struggled to make time for A Voice is Calling between reference materials for my next book. This distraction may explain why it wasn't until late in the book that I remembered its prologue. In my defence, the scene depicted is uneventful: A middle-aged man and young girl enter a Montreal barber shop. A paperboy delivers a copy of the Gazette, and talk turns to the news that Andre Brousseau, wanted in the deaths of six people, has himself been found dead.

Still, I shouldn't have forgotten, because Andre Brousseau is the protagonist of this strange novel. His past is something of a mystery. An architect by training, Andre once worked in Quebec City, but something happened that made him quit both the profession and the city. Prologue aside, the novel opens with the poor sod working away as a lumber company clerk in the fictitious town of Trois Lupins. As a sophisticated city boy, he had attracted and married Suzanne Cote, the prettiest girl in town. It was her now-deceased father who got him the job. Fifteen years have passed – more than enough time to put to rest any idea Suzanne had that her husband will make something of himself. The couple have settled into a routine in which Suzanne nags him to remove his boots when arriving home from work. At the end of a particularly memorable workday, Andre brings news that his boss, M Lalonde, is transferring him to the Gaspé village of Ste Michele, where he will oversee lumber orders in the construction of a new factory. Suzanne, who once dreamed of Quebec City – and even Montreal – can't bear the thought. She confronts Lalonde in his office... and comes away defeated.

Unbeknownst to Andre, Suzanne and Lalonde have been having an affair. She's now pregnant with his child and the boss wants her out of the way. The story Lalonde gives his clerk involves Ste Michele's new church, built in anticipation of the influx of factory workers. Andre will be expected to play the organ on Sundays.

There's no exaggeration in writing that Andre lives for the organ. His love for Suzanne is dead. Though he does love Anne, their only child, it's not nearly with the depth one might expect of a father. No, his passion is invested in the organ and, with near-exclusivity, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Something can probably be read into the fact that he keeps the great man's music underneath the marital bed.

The Brousseau family's arrival in Ste Michele is not a happy one. The village is much smaller and less refined than Trois Lupins – as is the house found for them by the parish  priest – and the winter weather is miserable. Suzanne spends the better part of her days in bed crying, while twelve-year-old Anne attends to her needs. Andre, on the other hand, settles in quite nicely. He finds a loyal friend and confident in goodnatured neighbour Lawrence Nixon, a cultured Englishman who has taken refuge in the Gaspé after having suffered some sort of tragedy.



Dust jacket copy describes A Voice is Calling as "a book for everyone – for those who like romances, thrills and adventure, for lovers of music, but most particularly for the countless thousands of readers who like a good, strong, interesting plot that will hold their attention on every page." To the point of Andre's budding friendship with Lawrence, the book held my attention, but this had more to do with it being something of a curiosity. Not many English-language Canadian novels feature French Canadian protagonists, and I can't think of another set in the Gaspé.

Then the novel took a very strange turn.

One evening, while playing the organ alone in the church, Andre senses a ghostly presence. This frightens him, but not so much that he doesn't return. He comes to believe that Bach is guiding his hands in performance. And then, on a later evening, a figure appears in coat, flowered waistcoat: "I am a friend of your's Andre Brousseau – you know me very well, said the  man, in a deep quiet voice, "I am Johann Sebastian Bach."

In order to allay skepticism, the composer invites Andre to visit his afterlife, which is an idealized version of 1735 Leipzig. Once there, the lumber  company clerk is treated to a chamber performance by members of the Bach family and falls in love with his host's dark-eyed daughter Katherina. He returns to twentieth-century Ste Michele intent on seeing her as much as possible, but doesn't want to press his welcome. Drama ensues when Suzanne attempts to abort the baby. Her departure by ambulance to a hospital in Rimouski fairly coincides Andre's discovery by two members of Montreal's Casavant Society, and an invitation to perform at Montreal's ill-fated First Unitarian Church.

First Unitarian Church, Montreal
27 May 1987
Andre's recital is a great success, but tragedy intrudes on his triumph with the news that Suzanne has died. Then comes further tragedy when the roof of the newly-constructed factory collapses. Andre is suspected of criminal negligence. He's taken to Quebec City for questioning, manages to escape, and heads back to Ste Michele in chapters loaded with tension and exclamation marks. Andre is convinced that by playing its church organ one last  time he'll be able to leave this world and live for all eternity with Bach and his beautiful dark-eyed daughter.

I won't reveal more for fear of spoiling things.

Or have I already?

Not as much as the prologue.

Trivia: Catharina Dorothea Bach was the first of the composer's twenty children. Morris errs in spelling her name "Katharina."

Dedication:



A bonus:


Object: An attractive, bulky book in navy blue boards. The dust jacket is by C.W. MacDonald.

Access: Held by Library and Archives Canada, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, and sixteen of our university libraries.

Four copies are currently listed for online. The good news is that they're going cheap, ranging in price from US$5 ("lightly rubbed," lacking dust jacket) to US$23 (Very Good in Very Good dust jacket). I purchased my copy in 2017 from a bookseller in Tacoma, Washington. Price: US$13.50.

Translated by Martine Hébert-Duguay as Le dernier voyage: Un roman de la Gaspésie (Montreal: Chanteclerc, 1951), the subject of next week's post.

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01 August 2019

Margaret Murray Robertson Matrimonial Mystery (& Canadian literature's most tear-stained novel)



Summertime, and the livin' is busy. Many irons in the fire add to the heat, the pressure is on, and I'm enjoying each and every day. This week I finished a Dusty Bookcase review of Margaret Murray Robertson's 1866 novel Christie Redfern's Troubles for Canadian Notes & Queries.

A forgotten bestseller published by the Religious Tract Society, I expect a fair percentage of sales came through purchase as gifts and prizes. My own copy, which I bought last year from a London bookseller, was presented in 1893 to Hattie Seymour, winner of Miss Moore's Prize at the Mall Board School, Brading.


The author herself taught at the Sherbrooke Academy in Sherbrooke, Quebec. Lorraine McMullin, who wrote the the Dictionary of Canadian Biography entry for Margaret Murray Robertson, records that "as a teacher, she was devoted to her pupils, she never called a student by a pet name; instead, she looked to the intellect. Correspondingly, her students revered rather than loved her."


I think of Margaret Murray Robertson as "Miss Robertson." That she never married renders this undated edition curious.


That the scene depicted on its cover does not feature in the novel adds to the mystery.

My thoughts on Christie Redfern's Troubles will appear in the next issue of CNQ. What did I think? Well, I found the  following passages worthy of note. Préparez vos mouchoirs.

Night after night did her weary little head slumber on a pillow which her tears had wet. (15)

Amid a rush of angry tears, there fell a few very bitter drops to the memory of her mother. (22)


Christie did not speak; but the touch of her sister's lips unsealed the fountain of her tears, and clinging to her and hiding her face, she cried and sobbed in a way that, at last, really frightened her sister. (26)


If Christie could have found words with which to answer him, she could not have uttered them through the tears and sobs that had not been far from her all the evening. (39)


The disappointment was a very bitter one; and she turned her face away, that her sister might not see the tears that were gushing from her eyes. (41)


The tears that wet her pillow were very different from the drops that had fallen on it a little while before. (45)


Christie sank down, struggling with her tears. (64)


She was not a demonstrative child, usually; but now she dropped her face upon her father's hand, and he felt the fall of her warm tears. (80).


But she enjoyed the kind greetings and looks of sympathy that awaited them in the kirk-yard, though they brought many tears to Effie's eyes, and sent them gushing over her own pale cheeks. (90)


Her cheeks were crimson, and there was a light in her eyes that bade fair to be very soon quenched in tears. (121)


Her tears fell fast for a moment; but her heart was lightened, and it was with a comparatively cheerful face that she presented herself in the little back parlour, where she found Mrs, Mclntyre taking tea with a friend. (123)


There were tears in Christie's eyes as she raised them to look in Mrs. Lee's face, called forth quite as much by the gentle tones of her voice as by the thought of 'the bairns' at home. (130)

She was very much afraid that if Mrs. Lee were to speak so gently again her tears must flow; and this must not be if she could possibly help it. (137)

It was a troubled, tearful face that Christie laid down on her hands as she said this. (147)

It was only by a great effort that she restrained a flood of tears till her sister had gone. (156)

She went early, as usual, and had time for the shedding of some very sorrowful tears before the congregation gathered. (157)

Turning her aching eyes from the light, she did not, for a moment or two, try to restrain her tears. (166)

In a little while she grew unconscious of the tears she had tried to hide, and her hands fell down on her lap, and her wet cheeks and smiling lips were turned towards the face that her dim eyes failed to see. (169)

It was almost like seeing Effie herself, she told him, amid a great burst of tears that startled the grave John considerably. For a moment her sobs came fast. (191)

His words were light, but there was a meaning in his grave smile that made Christie's heart leap; and her answer was at first a startled look, and then a sudden gush of happy tears. (200)

Christie ceased to struggle with her tears now, but they fell very quietly. (214)

Remembering all they had passed through together, Christie could hardly restrain her tears. (221)

A few tears fell on the leaves of her little Bible; but by and by the former peace came back again, as she felt herself half resting indeed on the only sure foundation. (253)

The letter fell from her hands, and her face, as she burst into happy tears, was hidden by them. (260) Her face was flushed, and the tears filled her eyes, but she spoke very modestly and humbly too. (275)

To say that the surprise was a joyful one would be saying little, yet after the first tearful embrace, the joy of both sisters was manifested very quietly. (315)

Of Mrs. Lee's kindness she could not speak without tears. (317)

She was weak and worn out, and she could not manage to say what she had to say without a flood of tears, which greatly surprised her mistress. (323)

Her first night in the hospital was very dreary. No one can be surprised to hear that she shed some sorrowful tears. (327)
Was it any wonder that many a time her pillow was wet with tears? (332)

It was of no use to try to check her tears. They must flow for a minute or two. (333)

Christie's countenance lighted up with pleasure as he read, and the tears that had been close at hand flowed freely. (339)

Christie's face brightened as she turned her bright, tearful eyes upon him. (342)

Too many teardrops for one heart to be crying, wouldn't you say?

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18 July 2019

Reviving a Searching Novel about Drug Addiction



Kenneth Orvis' The Damned and the Destroyed arrives in bookstores this week. The fourteenth in Ricochet Books' series of post-war Canadian noir reissues, I'm particularly keen on this one. If anything, Lee Child is even more of a fan, choosing the novel for his entry in Books to Die For: The World's Greatest Mystery Writers on the World's Greatest Mystery Novels (New York: Atria, 2012).


Child writes about purchasing a copy – the 1966 Belmont edition (above) – after having been drawn by the cover:
What lay inside was not quite as advertised – although by no means a disappointment. Quite the reverse, actually. This was a solid, high-quality thriller.
First  published in 1962, set in 1954 Montreal, I first read The Damned and the Destroyed four years ago. My opinion of the novel – shared here – was at the time lukewarm. That I pushed to have it republished as a Ricochet Book says something about first impressions. The Damned and the Destroyed has never let go. My interest in the novel and its author is such that I wrote the introduction to this, the first print edition in more than half a century.

Enjoy... as much as you can a story of smack and death.

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02 July 2019

Getting to Know the Woman Who Did



The Woman Who Did
Grant Allen
Boston: Roberts Bros, 1895
223 pages

The Woman Who Did was the first Grant Allen novel I ever bought. For nearly two decades, it sat on the shelf as I read later Allen purchases – more than a dozen – most of which I've come to consider the better Canadian novels of the nineteenth century. Some, like The British Barbarians and What's Bred in the Bone (winner of the £1000 Tit-Bits Prize!), garnered a fair amount of attention in their day, but none so much as The Woman Who Did. The novel's publication was countered by damning editorials, preaching from the pulpit, and calls for censorship (it was banned in Ireland), all of which helped make it the author's best selling work.

There's no risk in writing that The Woman Who Did continues to receive more attention than Allen's other books – and he published more than fifty. Anyone at all interested in the "New Woman" novel or nineteenth-century feminism will have encountered discussion of the work. References are hard to dodge. The accumulation of tit-bits encountered here and there over the years had me thinking that I knew a  thing or two about The Woman Who Did... and so, I put off reading it. I mean, why bother with this Grant Allen novel when there were dozens more of which I knew nothing at all?  When I finally pulled the book off the shelf last week, I expected no surprises.

The Woman Who Did begins much as I'd imagined. Its heroine, schoolteacher Herminia Barton, is holidaying in Surrey when she's introduced to London lawyer Alan Merrick by a mutual acquaintance:
"You'll like him, Herminia," Mrs. Dewsbury said, nodding. "He's one of your own kind, as dreadful as you are; very free and advanced; a perfect firebrand. In fact, my dear child, I don't know which of you makes my hair stand on end most."
Mrs Dewsbury is spot on in her prediction; not only does Herminia like Alan, the feeling is mutual. The two prove to be kindred spirits, sharing identical opinions on all topics, the foremost of which are the education and emancipation of women.
"They're trying hard enough to develop us intellectually; but morally and socially they want to mew us up just as close as ever. And they won't succeed. The zenana must go. Sooner or later, I'm sure, if you begin by educating women, you must end by emancipating them."
     "So I think too," Alan answered, growing every moment more interested. "And for my part, it's the emancipation, not the mere education, that most appeals to me."
     "Yes, I've always felt that," Herminia went on, letting herself out more freely, for she felt she was face to face with a sympathetic listener. "And for that reason, it's the question of social and moral emancipation that interests me far more than the mere political one, – woman's rights as they call it. Of course I'm a member of all the woman's franchise leagues and everything of that sort, – they can't afford to do without a single friend's name on their lists at present; but the vote is a matter that troubles me little in itself, what I want is to see women made fit to use it. After all, political life fills but a small and unimportant part in our total existence. It's the perpetual pressure of social and ethical restrictions that most weighs down women."
These exchanges test the reader's patience, but not that of the couple caught up in the bloom of new love. The challenge to their relationship comes when, three weeks after Mrs Dewsbury's introduction, Alan proposes marriage. Here, at last, is something on which they don't see eye to eye. Replies Herminia:
"My conscience won't let me. I know what marriage is, from what vile slavery it has sprung; on what unseen horrors for my sister women it is reared and buttressed; by what unholy sacrifices it is sustained, and made possible. I know it has a history. I know its past, I know its present, and I can't embrace it; I can't be untrue to my most sacred beliefs."
Alan tries to convince Herminia that their marriage wouldn't be like others. The ceremony would be a mere formality, and would save them both – her particularly – from scorn, hardship, and martyrdom.


The Woman Who Did is a suggestive title, particularly in the context of the time. But what did Herminia do exactly? From the tit-bits, I knew hers to be the story of a woman who has a child out of wedlock and then dares raise it on her own. And so, I anticipated Alan abandoning our heroine. Early on, the narrator appears to confirm expectations, sharing: "...it adds, to my mind, to the tragedy of Herminia Barton's life that the man for whom she risked and lost everything was never quite worthy of her; and that Herminia to the end not once suspected it." But the man Herminia loves proves loyal to the end.

Short months after what is described as her "bridal evening," Herminia becomes pregnant. Alan convinces her that it would be best to have the child abroad. They travel to Perugia, Italy, where he dies of typhoid. After giving birth to a girl she names Delores, Herminia returns to London intent on raising the child as the first "born into this world as the deliberate result of a free union, contracted on philosophical and ethical principles."


Oh-so-earnest in intent, The Woman Who Did barely skirts silliness, and has some of the worst dialogue I've read in an Allen novel. Still, I found myself caught up in the drama of it all, and grew to admire Alan and Herminia. The tit-bits led me to expect a tragic ending, but it wasn't anything like I anticipated.  The concluding pages were as moving as they were depressing, putting me in a funk that lasted well into this past holiday weekend.

Never have I been affected by so flawed a novel.

Dedication:


Bloomer:
Alan observed almost without observing it that she was gone but for a second. She asked none of that long interval that most women require for the simplest matter of toilet.
Trivia I: Remarkably, The Woman Who Did novel inspired no less than three responses that took the form of novels: Victoria Crosse's The Woman Who Didn't, Mrs Lovett Cameron's The Man Who Didn't, and Lucas Cleeve's The Woman Who Wouldn't, all published in 1895.

As might be expected, Punch weighed in with a parody, "The Woman Who Wouldn't Do," which can be read here courtesy of Allen biographer Peter Morton.

This Punch cartoon is a favourite:


Trivia II: Twice adapted to the silver screen – The Woman Who Did (1915) and Die Frau mit dem schlechten Ruf (1925) – both, sadly, lost. The latter featured Lionel Barrymore as Alan.

Object: A small hardcover. The decorations on the cover and title page are by Aubrey Beardsley. Ten pages of adverts for other "Messrs. Roberts Brothers' Publications" feature at the end. A first American edition, I purchased by copy in 2000 for US$9.99 from a Pennsylvania bookseller. The receipt records that I paid a further three dollars in shipping. Have rates really increased so dramatically?

Access: Common in university libraries, but not in those serving the public. The most recent editions are the 1995 Oxford University Press (above; now out-of-print) and a fine Broadview Press book with critical introduction and a generous gathering of appendices. Edited by Nicholas Ruddick, the latter is recommended.

The novel has been translated into French (Le Roman d'une féministe), German (Die es tat), Yiddish (Di froy velkhe hot es gethon), and twice into Swedish (Hon vågade det and Hennes livs historia).

The first edition is available for download here through the Internet Archive.

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25 June 2019

Love, Love, Love, Love, Love, Tiresome Love



The Side of the Angels
Basil King
London: Methuen, 1917
316 pages

Thorley Masterman is another of Basil King's good young men. A son of wealth, he has chosen to devote his life to others as a medical doctor. Such is Thor's dedication that he has purchased a runabout in order to reach patients with the greatest of speed. Thor borrowed money to purchase the automobile, but that wouldn't have been necessary had he waited a year or so. The novel opens in 1910 with the doctor approaching his thirtieth birthday, on which day he will inherit his maternal grandfather's vast fortune.


Thor's need for speed is unwarranted. He hasn't managed to attract so much as a single patient until eccentric Uncle Sim puts him on to Mrs Fay. The Fays were once the Mastermans equals. A couple of generations back, they worked neighbouring fields, and often lent each other a hand. Now, Mr Fay operates a gardening centre of sorts on land he rents from Thor's father. Mrs Fay isn't so much ill as fed up. She's tired of the struggle. The city encroaches, the rent rises, and Fays fall farther and farther behind the families who had once been their peers.
Faced with impending defeat, Mr Fay has retreated into book reading. Matt, the son, is doing time for stealing money he'd intended for the rent.  Hardworking daughter Rosie is the only thing keeping their failing operation together.

Thor doesn't quite fall in love with Rosie Fay at first sight, but he is shaken. Since boyhood, he'd intended to marry Lois Willoughby, daughter of Mr and Mrs Len Willoughby, whose considerable investment had aided in making his father's banking and broking house a real concern. Now, leaving the Fays to call on Lois, something has changed:
It did not escape his eye, quickened by the minutes he had spent with Rosie Fay, that Lois lacked color. For the first time in his life he acutely observed the difference between a plain woman and a pretty one.
The doctor begins frequenting the Fay home, ostensibly to care for the ailing Mrs Fay, but really in hopes of seeing Rosie. What Thor doesn't know is that for months she has been sneaking away for moonlight trysts with his caddish half-brother Claude. Because this news, delivered by his father, is too much to be believed, Thor confronts Rosie. In the ensuing exchange, the doctor allows it to slip that he is in love with her. Rosie, in turn, reveals that she'd have married Thor to save her family from financial ruin.

It's all a bit uncomfortable.

Thor decides to use part of his inheritance to enable Claude to marry Rosie, while he, of course, follows through with his decades-old plan to wed plain Lois Willoughby. But Claude, cad that he is, puts off marrying Rosie. And then Lois discovers that Thor was in love with Rosie, Claude learns the very same thing, and the novel dissolves into a very long treatise on the nature of love. For the most part, this takes the form of letters exchanged between Thor and his now estranged wife:
"You ask me what love is, and say you don't know. I'm more daring than you in that I think I do know. I know two or three things about it, even if I don't know all.
     "For one thing, I know that no one can do more than say what love is for himself. You can't say what it is for me, or isn't, or must be, or ought to be. That's my secret. I can't always share it, or at any rate share it all, even with the person I love. But neither can I say what it is, or isn't, or should be, or must be, for you. You have your secret. No two people love in the same way, or get precisely the same kind of joy or sorrow from loving. Since love is the flower of personality, it has the same infinite variety that personalities possess. We give one thing and we get back another. Do not some of our irritations – I'm not speaking of you and me in particular – arise from the fact that, giving one thing, we expect to get the same thing back, when all the while no one else has that special quality to offer? The flower is different according to the plant that produces it. When the pine- tree loved the palm there was more than the distance to make the one a mystery to the other.
     "Of the two things essential to love, the first, so it seems to me, is that what one gives should be one's best – the very blossom of one's soul. It may have the hot luxuriance of the hibiscus, or the flame of the wild azalea in the woods, or no more than the mildly scented, flowerless bloom of the elm or the linden that falls like manna in the roadway. Each has its beauties and its limitations; but it is worth noticing that each serves its purpose in life's infinite profusion as nothing else could serve it to that particular end. The elm lends something to the hibiscus – the hibiscus to the elm. Neither can expect back what it gives to the other. Perfection is accomplished when each offers what it can.
     "Which brings me to the remaining thing I know about love – that it exists in offering. Love is the desire to go outward, to pour forth, to express, to do, to contribute. It has no system of calculation and no yard-stick for the little more or the little less. It is spontaneous and irrepressible and overflowing, and loses the extraordinary essence that makes it truly love when it weighs and measures and inspects too closely the quality of its return. It is in the fact that love is its own sufficiency, its own joy, its own compensation for all its pain, that I find it divine. The one point on which I can fully accept your Christian theology is that your God is love. Given a God who is Love and a Love that is God, I can see Him as worthy to be worshiped. Call Him, then, by any name you please – Jehovah, Allah, Krishna, Christ – you still have the Essence, the Thing. Love to be love must feel itself infinite, or as nearly infinite as anything human can be. When I can't pour it out in that way – when I pause to reflect how far I can go, or reach a point beyond which I see that I cannot go any further – I do not truly love."
The most tedious Basil King novel I've read to date, it says something that its most passionate characters are those who don't philosophize.

Object: A poorly produced book in light brown boards, my copy was published in 1917, during the Great War. The "New and Cheaper Issue," it lacks the eight Elizabeth Shippen Green illustrations (above) found in the older and richer issue. The novel is followed by a 31-page list of other books published by Methuen. Basil King favourites The Wild OliveThe Street Called StraightThe Way Home, and The Letter of the Contract figure, as do novels by fellow Canadians Robert Barr and Gilbert Parker.


Access: The Side of the Angels first appeared serially in Harper's Magazine (August 1915 - April 1916). The first edition was published in January 1916 by Harper & Brothers, followed nine months later by Methuen's first British.


The novel is held by Library and Archives Canada and most university libraries. Once again, our public libraries fail.

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12 June 2019

The True Crime Book That Spawned an Industry



The Black Donnellys
Thomas P. Kelley
Toronto: Harlequin, 1962
158 pages
Oh you who hail from Ontario
Know the tale of the Donnellys Oh
Died at the hands of a mob that night
Every child and man by the oil torch light

                         — Steve Earle, 'Justice in Ontario' (2002)
It's likely because I hail from Quebec that I didn't know much about the Donnellys until well into adulthood. My introduction came through a work colleague when I was living in Toronto. Together, we made up a very small department in a very large book retailer – so large that it had its own publishing arm.

We were it.

After a few months working together, he suggested we reprint Orlo Miller's The Donnellys Must Die. I nodded in agreement, though Miller meant nothing to me, and I'd never heard of the book. The new edition of The Donnellys Must Die we ushered back into print sold twelve thousand copies. It's success led us to consider reviving Miller's next book, Death to the Donnellys. We joked about commissioning a third book to be titled Die, Donnellys, Die!

What Steve Earle refers to as "the tale of the Donnellys" is infused with bloodshed of a sort that we Canadians like to think of as foreign. It begins with the 1842 arrival of Irish farming couple James and Johannah Donnelly in what is today Lucan, Ontario. They had with them a son, who had been named after his father. Six more boys and a daughter would follow, all born on Canadian soil their parents had cleared. The respective births were punctuated by violence and murder. First to be killed was neighbour Patrick Farrell – "John Farrell," according to Kelley – whom patriarch James hit on the head with a handspike. The murderer then hid in the woods, and dared work his fields disguised in his wife's frocks:
Johannah was almost as tall and heavy as her husband; appareled in her clothes, Donnelly was taken for her by those traveling the road and seeing him in the fields, and he was able to get in the seeding. Later, still dressed in women's clothing, he brought in the crops, working with his sons, and did the fall plowing.
Murder by handspike aside, this episode is the lightest part of the Donnelly story. Kelley doesn't do as much with it as I thought he might, though he does go for laughs here and there throughout the book. Poor Johanna receives the brunt:
She looked like and should've been a man; her sex undoubtably robbing the bare-knuckle prize ring of a prospective champion. In later years she sprouted a miniature Vandyke, wore red flannels, and told of never having been "much of a beauty." Her picture proves the words to be an understatement.
In Kelley's account, the matriarch directed many of the misdeeds attributed to her offspring. Beginning in 1855, various members of the Donnelly family were charged with larceny, robbery, assault, and attempted murder, amongst other crimes. The events that most troubled this reader concerned animal mutilation. It all came to an end on February 4, 1880, when a mob descended on the Donnelly farmhouse, beat its residents to death, and set the building alight. They then moved on to the home of second son William Donnelly, where they killed third son, John Donnelly. 


Steve Earle is wrong. Not every child and man died that night. There was a survivor in John O'Connor, a hired farm boy, who hid under a bed when the mob broke in. No doubt that mob would've murdered him, too, just as they did Bridget Donnelly, James' twenty-two year-old niece, who was newly arrived from Ireland. No one was ever convicted of the slaughter.

That Kelley records John O'Connor's surname as "Connor" is typical. He made his living as a speedy magazine and paperback writer. He had a reputation as a man who could be relied upon to fill pages in a pinch. The Kelley technique is on full display in this passage:
The writer first heard of the Donnelly feud – bits of it, at least – more than twenty years ago when travelling around the Lucan area. Twenty at the time – ah, my lost youth – the history of Lucan and its violences of bygone years did not interest him. A pair of blue eyes in the nearby village of Exeter, did. Eventually marrying the owner of the eyes, and as time went on, learning more of the feud, it became apparent at last, however, that mere hearsay, a thorough knowledge of the Lucan district or even the tales of oldtimers, would not be enough to write the true story of the Donnellys.  Seemingly endless hours of research were and did become necessary – the reading of old files, old newspapers, police and court records, etc.
It's unlikely that the seemingly endless hours Kelley spent researching the Donnellys were many, but they were lucrative. They resulted in "The Donnelly Feud," a 1947 article written for New Liberty Magazine. It was reprinted in his book Famous Canadian Crimes (Toronto: Collins White Circle, 1949) and then reworked as "The Terrible Donnelly Feud" for his next book, Bad Men of Canada (Toronto: Arrow, 1950). The Black Donnellys, which followed four years later, is said to have sold more than a million copies.


The Black Donnellys is not the best place to begin reading about the family and its fate; I recommend The Donnellys Must Die or, better still, The Donnelly Album by Ray Fazakas. Kelley's book is a fun read, but is wholly unreliable – which is not to say that it is without value. What I find most remarkable about the book has less to do with its contents than it does its impact. Sure, those who hail from Ontario know the tale of the Donnellys, but this wasn't always so. I don't doubt that Kelley (1905-1982), an Ontario boy who toured the province with his medicine man father, claims he hadn't heard of the family until "travelling around the Lucan area" at the age of twenty. After they faded from the headlines, very little was written about the Donnellys. Published a full seventy-four years after the bloody events of February 4, 1880, The Black Donnellys was the first book about the family and its fate. It's inaccuracies and – here I'm betting – commercial success encouraged Miller to write The Donnellys Must Die. More than a dozen Donnelly books have followed.

In this way, it is Kelley's greatest achievement as a writer. Would that we could all have such influence. He's owed a debt of gratitude.


Postscript: I left the very large book retailer in 2001, and began writing books that were published under noms de plume. Eight years later, when living in the Ontario town of St Marys, roughly twenty-five kilometres east of Lucan, I was commissioned to write a YA book on unsolved Canadian mysteries. A chapter on the Donnellys – "Who Killed the Donnellys?" – seemed a given. The St Marys Public Library then held seven books on the family, each of which was represented on the shelves by a block of wood bearing its title. Patrons interested in checking out a volume brought the appropriate block to the front desk. This system had been put in place to prevent theft.

Object: A paperback original, The Black Donnellys was first published in 1954 by Harlequin. My well-read copy, a seventh printing, was won for $7.50 in a 2009 auction at a St Marys, Ontario, thrift store.

Access: A 2002 Globe & Mail story reported that The Black Donnellys had to that point sold over one million copies in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. I point out that that same article refers to The Black Donnellys as a novel. The only American edition (right) is a 1955 paperback published by Signet. I've found no trace of a UK edition.

The Black Donnellys helped build Harlequin. The original 1954 printing was followed by fourteen others. The last was in April, 1968, long after Harlequin had (otherwise) come to focus exclusively on romances. Subsequent editions have been published by Greywood, Pagurian, Firefly, and Darling Terrace (it's current publisher).

Unsurprisingly, dozens of used copies are listed for sale online. Prices begin at US$2.99.

Easily found in academic libraries, but uncommon in the public. I suggest instituting the St Marys Public Library block system.

Related posts:




27 May 2019

Gone Fishin' (without Frank and Joe Hardy)



The Phantom Freighter
Franklin W. Dixon [pseud. Amy McFarlane]
New York: Grosset & Dunlap, [c. 1958]
216 pages

I think I read a Hardy Boys book in elementary school. Was "Clock" in the title? It could be I'm wrong. It could be I'm thinking of the Three Investigators. Truth be told, I never cared much about Frank and Joe; not even when played by Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy. My interest in the Hardy Boys – very limited – came later in life, when I learned that fellow Canadian Leslie McFarlane had penned their earliest adventures. In fact, he wrote the very first Hardy Boys mystery: The Tower Treasure (1927).


McFarlane churned out twenty in total, but The Phantom Freighter isn't one of them. The twenty-sixth Hardy Boys Mystery, it stands alone as the only novel ever written by wife Amy. One story is that Leslie was away on a fishing trip when the outline came in. Could that be true? In a 19 July 1946 letter to the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which commissioned the novel, Amy writes: "Was interrupted in the middle of the job by a dental operation that meant the loss of 22 teeth at one fell swoop."

Whose teeth isn't clear. Either way, I'd like to see it as a Heritage Minute.

Would The Phantom Freighter make for a good twelve minutes of television? I ask because the first half of the 27 December 1969 episode of The Hardy Boys animated series shares the same title. I haven't seen it, but can imagine the challenges in adapting the story for the small screen. The novel Amy McFarlane wrote involves arson, impersonation, blackmail, sabotage, fraud, theft, smuggling, forgery, counterfeiting, several kidnappings, several assaults, an attempted murder, a second attempted murder, a third attempted murder, a fourth attempted murder, and numerous examples of poor customer service.

What to leave out?

It begins with a letter sent Frank and Joe from a man named Thaddeus McClintock, who is staying at a local hotel. He's looking to meet the boys because they have their "feet on the ground." Then Aunt Gertrude arrives. Their father's headstrong sister, she's ready to move into the Hardy home and give up her "nomadic life." An expressman delivers her trunk, along with a carton that is not hers. She learns that her carton, containing "irreplaceable family papers," was left in error at a farmhouse on the outskirts of town. Frank and Joe head off, arriving at the address to find its barn ablaze. Joe risks his life in rescuing what he mistakenly believes to be the carton in question. Firefighters arrive, followed by the property owners. The appearance of the latter is coincidental; they've been away for several days. Next to arrive is the inept expressman, who reports that he was met at the farmhouse earlier in the day by a mysterious figure who called himself James Johnson. And then the boys are off to meet Thaddeus McClintock. A worn-out curmudgeon, "past middle age, and a little sloop-shouldered," he wishes to take a long trip with the two boys... as unattached men do.

This is rough sketch of the first sixteen pages. I wonder how it compares to the outline sent the McFarlanes. An awful lot happens in very few pages, rushed along by matter-of-fact prose and a police department that is as speedy as it is helpful:
From the hotel, the boys went to the police headquarters and talked to Chief Callig. He listened attentively, then reached for a telephone and asked for information about the motor launch Wasp. Apparently, little or none was available, for when the chief turned back to the boys, he said:
     "The launch doesn't seem to be listed. But we'll make some more inquiries."
It is, of course, Frank and Joe – not the police – who crack the case. Though there is no singular mystery in this Hardy Boys Mystery, Aunt Gertrude's missing carton and Thaddeus McClintock's curious desire for a lengthy getaway with the boys are both related to the phantom freighter of the title. This too is coincidental.

Fishing figures in the plot. Dentistry does not.

Favourite sentence:
"A man just made us a proposition and we have to do some thinking about it."
Second favourite sentence:
The Hardys were about to get into their car and drive home when Frank remembered that Mrs. Hardy had asked him to buy some socks and handkerchiefs for their father.  
Trivia: I don't remember the cartoon Hardy Boys, despite the series having its own Gold Key comic book. The cover of the second issue informs: "The Hardy Boys use their rock group as a 'cover' to solve spine-tingling mysteries!"

Here's something for those itching to hear Frank and Joe rock out:


Object: First published in 1947, it's likely that my copy dates from 1958. These are the clues:
  • the brown endpapers featured were introduced in 1958;
  • the list of Hardy Boys Mystery Stories printed on the front fly does not include The Mystery at Devil's Paw (1959).
Purchased in 2017 at London's Attic Books. Price: $1.00.


Access: The book I read features the original text. In 1970, a revised version edited by Priscilla Baker-Carr, first appeared. My understanding is that this is The Phantom Freighter being sold today. If I ever come across a copy, I'll  make a point of seeing whether this passage was made more contemporary:
Frank stopped the car in front of the hotel haberdashery again, and Hoe went in to purchase the socls and handkerchiefs for his father.
Hundreds of used copies of The Phantom Freighter are being sold online, the cheapest beginning at one American dollar. A first edition "according to the Carpentieri Bibliography (1947A-1)" is offered at one hundred American dollars. Pay no more than a buck.

13 May 2019

Grant Allen's Breezy Read



An Army Doctor's Romance
Grant Allen
London: Raphall Tuck & Sons, [1893]
113 pages

The publisher lowers expectations with a note presenting this novella as part of its Breezy Library, "an attempt to dissociate a shilling from a shocker." Rafael Tuck & Sons would like the reader to know that this is no Shilling Shocker, rather it is a "Shilling Soother." The unpleasant elements of other Grant Allen tales – adultery (A Splendid Sin), fraud (Miss Cayley's Adventures), arson (The Devil's Die), rail disasters (What's Bred in the Bone), suicide (Under Sealed Orders), assassination (For Maimie's Sake), poisoning (A Terrible Inheritance), and cannibalism (The Cruise of the Albatross) – will not feature. No man will be butted off a cliff by a savage moorland ram (Michael's Crag).

I don't believe I've read so slight a story as An Army Doctor's Romance since childhood. We open on "fresh English rosebud" Muriel Grosvenor, the object of affection of two men serving in the Royal West Badenochs. Oliver Cameron, the first we meet, is a handsome doctor of modest means. His rival, Captain Wilfred Burgess, is just as handsome, and has the advantage of being enormously wealthy. Of the two, Muriel's mother prefers the latter, but the heart wants what the heart wants. During an English garden party on an idyllic English summer's day, the army doctor professes his love and proposes marriage. Muriel in turn declares her love, but stops short of accepting the proposal for the reason that she promised her mother she would not. Her promise to Oliver Cameron is that she will accept no other proposals.

Thwarted by scheming widow Mrs Talbot, who threw Muriel and the doctor together, Capt Burgess has no opportunity to make his own play for Muriel's hand, and so has to resort to a proposal sent by Royal Mail. Mrs Grosvenor pressures her daughter into accepting by post. After the response has been sent, Muriel writes a quick follow-up, breaking off the engagement and "blaming herself not a little for her moral cowardice." But she misses the postman! To make matters worse, Dr Cameron, Capt Burgess, and the rest of the Royal West Badenochs have shipped out to deal with the Matabeles in Matabeleland!


Curiously, surprisingly, in something touted as a "Shilling Soother," there is unpleasantness in the form of a Matabele attack on the Badenochs. Cameron is captured and Burgess is injured horribly. Each thinks the other has been killed. The doctor is released by the enemy and eventually makes his way back to England. Meanwhile, the captain is nursed back to health by Miriam, the beautiful daughter of a famous missionary. Burgess falls in love... but what to do about his engagement to Muriel? The situation is resolved with ease, and everyone goes off happily.

Breezy indeed, An Army Doctor's Romance passed before my eyes without once causing me to pause and give thought. Following Eden Phillpotts'  Summer Clouds and Other Stories (1893), it was the third volume in the Breezy Library. Only three more followed.

I'm not surprised.

Trivia I: By far the least imaginative of the fourteen Allen novels and novellas I've read to date, I was surprised to discover that An Army Doctor's Romance was well-received by contemporary reviewers.

The Publishers' Circular (Christmas 1893)
The most puzzling was a review in The Speaker (25 November 1893), which describes the plot as "distinctly ingenious."

Trivia II: In reading this novel – written for the money, surely – I came to believe that Allen was having some fun with the Breezy Library name because the words "breeze" and "breezy" appear four times in the text. However, research revealed that the words appear no less than nineteen times in the The Devil's Die (1890), my favourite Allen novel.

Object and Access: An attractive, somewhat unusual volume, the image and writing on the flexible chromolithographic cover are raised. The character depicted is Dr Oliver Cameron. His actions are a mystery to me. The interior features seven more images. All are by military artist Harry Payne.

Six of our university libraries hold copies, but not Library and Archives Canada. I've found five copies listed for sale online US$70 to US$250. I won my copy for US$16.99 in an online auction. As is often the case with things Allen, I was the only bidder.

The novella can be read online through this link thanks to the University of Alberta and the Internet Archive.

I don't recommend it.