30 January 2019

Sam Steele: Himself Not God

Major General Sir Samuel Benfield Steele KCMG CB MVO died one hundred years ago today. A man of great accomplishment, Steele's Dictionary of Canadian Biography entry begins by describing him as a "NWMP officer and army officer," then goes on to detail so much more, including his service in the Second Boar War and the Great War. In our family, Steele is remembered for his interactions with Edward Stewart Busby, my great-grandfather, who served as a customs inspector during the Yukon Gold Rush. A younger man, E.S. lived to see Louis St Laurent become prime minister, while Sam Steele fell victim to the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Much of what I know about Sam Steele comes from his unreliable 1914 memoir Forty Years in Canada, which I once helped usher back to print. Until now, I've ignored his verse – there was at least one poem – and so am taking advantage of this sad anniversary to present this, which Steele wrote in 1915, during the dark days of the Great War:

               "When Greek meets Greek" the battle's fair;
               Kaiser and I: gods! what a pair:
               For weapons we will choose — Hot Air,
                                     I need no God. 
               Bill may be there with shot and shell,
               His arms first may fair quite well,
               But, people, I can talk like Hell:
                                     I can by God. 
               That God created sun and rain
               In seven days, is told in vain,
               It took six weeks for me to train
                                    My men — by God. 
               At my command my men arise,
               Parade past me with right turned eyes,
               These warriors — mark you — symbolize
                                   Myself — not God. 
               When in Valcartier's latter days,
               My Troops assembled 'neath my gaze
               Thy merged each creed in one to praise
                                  Myself — not God. 
               In language of poetic flow
               I'll write my epitaph, you know,
               (That's if I condescend to go
                                 Beneath the sod)
               My tombstone will need a P.T.O.
                                 So help me God.

22 January 2019

The Dusty Bookcase: Ten Years, 100 Titles

The Dusty Bookcase turns ten today. How is that possible? What was meant to be a six-year journey through the obscure and forgotten titles in my library has turned into something of a career. Is "career" the right word? This blog doesn't pay the bills, but it has resulted in a book, a regular column in Canadian Notes & Queries, and the odd gig with other magazines. It's also responsible, in part, for my position as Series Editor of the Véhicule Press Ricochet Books imprint.

True to the plan, I pulled the plug on this blog the day after The Dusty Bookcase turned six... only to be coaxed back by friends. I was easily swayed. I've enjoyed my time here; The Dusty Bookcase has brought much more than work, and has never seemed like work.

Though I don't see an end to The Dusty Bookcase, posts will be less frequent this year. I owe my publisher two books – and, as they'll pay at least a few bills, I aim to deliver the first. Still, let's see if I can't make it through these:

For this tenth anniversary, I've put together a list of the one hundred books that have brought the most enjoyment on this journey. The very best feature, as do the very worst. And so, Ralph Allen's cutting satire The Chartered Libertine (praised by Northrop Frye) is followed by two of Sol Allen's gynaecologist novels, which are in turn followed by the paranoid delusions of lying, hate-filled bigot J.V. Andrew. What fun!

All are recommended reading. You can't go wrong.

Hey, wasn't blogging supposed to be dead by now?

All Else is Folly - Peregrine Acland (1929)
Love is a Long Shot - Ted Allan (1949)
For Maimie's Sake - Grant Allen (1886)
The Devil's Die - Grant Allen (1888)
What's Bred in the Bone - Grant Allen (1891)
Michael's Crag - Grant Allen (1893)
The British Barbarians - Grant Allen (1895)
Under Sealed Orders - Grant Allen (1896)
Hilda Wade - Grant Allen (1900)
The Chartered Libertine - Ralph Allen (1954)
Toronto Doctor - Sol Allen (1949)
The Gynecologist - Sol Allen (1965)
Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow - J.V. Andrew (1977)
Firebrand - Rosemary Aubert (1986)

Revenge! - Robert Barr (1896)
The Unchanging East - Robert Barr (1900)
The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont - Robert Barr (1912)
Similia Similibus - Ulric Barthe (1916)
Under the Hill - Aubrey Beardsley and John Glassco (1959)
The Pyx - John Buell (1959)
Four Days - John Buell (1962)
A Lot to Make Up For - John Buell (1990)

Mr. Ames Against Time - Philip Child (1949)
Murder Without Regret - E. Louise Cushing (1954)

Soft to the Touch - Clark W. Dailey (1949)
The Four Jameses - William Arthur Deacon (1927)
The Measure of a Man - Norman Duncan (1911)

Marion - Winnifred Eaton (1916)
"Cattle" - Winnifred Eaton (1923)
I Hate You to Death - Keith Edgar (1944)

The Midnight Queen - May Agnes Fleming (1863)
Victoria - May Agnes Fleming (1863)

Present Reckoning - Hugh Garner (1951)
The English Governess - John Glassco (1960)
Erres boréales - Armand Grenier (1944)
Everyday Children - Edith Lelean Groves (1932)

This Was Joanna - Danny Halperin (1949)
The Door Between - Danny Halperin (1950)
The Last Canadian - William C. Heine (1974)
Dale of the Mounted: Atlantic Assignment - Joe Holliday (1956)

Flee the Night in Anger - Louis Kaufman (1952)
No Tears for Goldie - Thomas P. Kelley (1950)
The Broken Trail - George W. Kerby (1909)
The Wild Olive - Basil King (1910)
The Abolishing of Death - Basil King (1919)
The Thread of Flame - Basil King (1920)
The Empty Sack - Basil King (1921)
The Happy Isles - Basil King (1923)

Dust Over the City - André Langevin (1953)
Orphan Street - André Langevin (1974)
Behind the Beyond - Stephen Leacock (1913)
The Hohenzollerns in America - Stephen Leacock (1919)
The Town Below - Roger Lemelin (1944)
The Plouffe Family - Roger Lemelin (1948)
In Quest of Splendour - Roger Lemelin (1953)
The Happy Hairdresser - Nicholas Loupos (1973)
Young Canada Boys With the S.O.S. on the Frontier -
Harold C. Lowrey (1918)

The Land of Afternoon - Madge Macbeth (1924)
Up the Hill and Over - Isabel Ecclestone Mackay (1917)
Blencarrow - Isabel Ecclestone Mackay (1926)
Fasting Friar - Edward McCourt (1963)
Shadow on the Hearth - Judith Merril (1950)
The Three Roads - Kenneth Millar (1948)
Wall of Eyes - Margaret Millar (1953)
The Iron Gates - Margaret Millar (1945)
Do Evil in Return - Margaret Millar (1950)
Rose's Last Summer - Margaret Millar (1952)
Vanish in an Instant - Margaret Millar (1952)
Wives and Lovers - Margaret Millar (1954)
Beast in View - Margaret Millar (1955)
An Air That Kills  - Margaret Millar (1957)
The Fiend - Margaret Millar (1964)
Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk - Maria Monk (1836)
Murder Over Dorval - David Montrose (1952)
The Body on Mount Royal - David Montrose (1953)
Gambling with Fire - David Montrose (1969)
Wreath for a Redhead - Brian Moore (1951)
Intent to Kill - Brian Moore (1956)
Murder in Majorca - Brian Moore (1957)

The Long November - James Benson Nablo (1946)

The Damned and the Destroyed - Kenneth Orvis (1962)

The Miracle Man - Frank L. Packard (1914)
Confessions of a Bank Swindler - Lucius A. Parmalee (1968)
The Canada Doctor - Clay Perry and John L.E. Pell (1933)
Adopted Derelicts - Bluebell S. Phillips (1957)

He Will Return - Helen Dickson Reynolds (1959)
A Stranger and Afraid - Marika Robert (1964)
Poems - Richard Rohmer (1980)
Death by Deficit - Richard Rohmer (1995)

Dark Passions Subdue - Douglas Sanderson (1952)
Hot Freeze - Douglas Sanderson (1954)
The Darker Traffic - Douglas Sanderson (1954)
Night of the Horns - Douglas Sanderson (1958)
Catch a Fallen Starlet - Douglas Sanderson (1960)
The Hidden Places - Bertrand W. Sinclair (1922)
I Lost It All in Montreal - Donna Steinberg (1983)
The Wine of Life - Arthur Stringer (1921)

For My Country - Jules Paul Tardivel (1895)

The Keys of My Prison - Frances Shelley Wees (1956)
Arming for Armageddon - John Wesley White (1983)

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17 January 2019

A Novel Every Bit as Good as Its Title

The Fiftieth Anniversary Issue of Canadian Notes & Queries arrived in my mailbox this week. I should've received it last month. I blame Deepak Chopra – not the Ageless Body Timeless Mind Deepak Chopra, this one.

Being the Fiftieth Anniversary Issue, much of the focus is on books from 1968:
Les Manuscrits de Pauline Archange - Marie-Claire Blais
Sarah Bastard's Notebook - Marian Engel
I Am Mary Dunne - Brian Moore
The Shattered Plinths - Irving Layton
John Metcalf writes on the short story "Images" from Dance of the Happy Shades, Alice Munro's debut. Not to be outdone, I chose to review A Lover More Condoling, the first novel by then-Take 30 co-host Adrienne Clarkson. Despite her fame, it enjoyed one lone printing, and never appeared in paperback. As I note in my review, the novel isn't so much as mentioned in Heart Matters, Clarkson's 2006 memoir.

Might A Lover More Condoling be a forgotten treasure? Not wanting to spoil things, I'll say only that it has the most memorable sex scene I've read since Donna Steinberg's I Lost it All in Montreal.

Other contributors include:
Randy Boyagoda
Andreae Callanan
Scott Chantler
Paige Cooper
Trevor Corkum
Kayla Czaga
Rachel Décoste
Daniel Donaldson
Antony Easton
Jesse Eckerlin
André Forget
Stephen Fowler
Alex Good
James Grainger
Benjamin Hertwig
Doyali Islam
Tasneem Jamal
Anita Lehey
Sibyl Lamb
Tracey Lindberg
Rabindranath Maharaj
Rohan Maitzen
David Mason
Patricia Robertson
Mary H. Aurbach Rykov
JC Sutcliffe
Vit Wagner
Bruce Whiteman
Martha Wilson
The fifty-first year sees CNQ striking out in a new direction. "We decided a radical expansion of our reviewer estate was necessary given ever-shrinking critical space the nation's newspapers, online journals, and periodicals," writes editor Emily Donaldson.

And so, we have the very first CNQ book review supplement, with contributions by:
Michael Barrett
Michel Basilières
Stephen Beattie
Jeremiah Bertram
Jeff Bursey
Kerry Clare
Allison Gillmor
Monique Giroux
Alex Good
Brett Joseph Grubisic
Stephen Henighan
Amanda Jernigan
Tess Liem
Domenica Martinello
Dilia Narduzzi
Ruprapriya Rathmore
Mark Sampson
Sarah Tolmie
Jonathan Valelly
Derek Webster
Jared Young
If you haven't already, now seems just the time to become a subscriber... easily done through this link.

The Canada Post carrier who delivered this magazine to our rural mailbox chose not to fold it.

She is not paid enough.

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14 January 2019

A Novelist and His Heroine Give Up on Movies

An addendum to last week's review of Basil King's The Dust Flower
Earthbound is one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. Don't take my word – I haven't seen it – consider instead these sentences from the August 5, 1922, edition of the Regina Leader:
A new photoplay by Basil King, the author of "Earthbound," one of the greatest motion pictures ever made, is coming to the Allen Theater on Monday for three days. It is called "The Dust Flower" and has been made by Goldwyn from the famous writer's new novel of the same name under the direction of Rowand V. Lee.
Earthbound was a sensation in its day. The story of a murdered man who is tormented in the afterlife, it inspired special screenings augmented by sets, musical performances, colour light projections, and elaborate lobby displays.

Motion Picture News, May 1920
In his 1923 essay "Reflections on the Seventh Art," early film theorist Ricciotto Canudo describes Earthbound as an "astonishing and perfect drama," praising it for combining of "the real and the immaterial, the living and the dead." He had nothing to say about The Dust Flower.

The Regina Leader, 5 August 1922
Of the eight King novels given the Hollywood treatment, The Dust Flower is unique in that the author himself adapted the work to the screen. I'm convinced he wrote the novel with the motion picture in mind. How else to explain so simple a story from a writer who was renowned for clever, complex plots. If anything, The Dust Flower on film is simpler still. Like the novel, it begins with an engagement-ending argument between Rashleigh Allerton (Torontonian James Rennie) and his fiancée Barbara Wallbrook (Mona Kingsley).** Rash storms out, announcing that he'll marry the first woman who will have him. He finds a wife in a young woman named Letty Gravely (Helene Chadwick) whose suicide he prevents.

Poor Letty, her stepfather had been pressuring her to work as a cigarette girl in a sleazy nightclub – apparently, a fate worse than death. Once married to Rash, Letty is coached into becoming a proper lady by Steptoe (Claude Gillingwater), the Allerton family butler. The scene that I liked so much in the novel, in which Letty and Steptoe visit an exclusive dress shop, made it into the film.

While Rash grows to love Letty, she comes to believe her husband is still in love with his former fiancée. Letty returns to her stepfather and accepts the cigarette girl work she so dreaded. Rash tracks her down to the nightclub, and proves his love by punching steppapa.

The Dust Flower is a lost film, which is why I didn't hesitate in giving away the ending; it's nothing like the novel. Tellingly, I think, the greatest difference between The Dust Flower on paper and on celluloid concerns Letty's life before Rash. An orphan, she'd struggled to support herself and her stepfather by taking on bit parts with various New York motion picture studios. When finances hit rock bottom, Flack robs Letty of what little she owns and throws her out of their tenement flat. Letty doesn't head for the nearest bridge, rather sits on a park bench. She feels liberated, not suicidal.

In September 1923, roughly a year after The Dust Flower hit the silver screen, Picture-Play reported that Basil King was "through with movies," adding that the "results of his endeavors for the Goldwyn company – both financial and artistic – were far from satisfactory to him."

Far from satisfactory may be an understatement.

In the novel, Letty would rather a life as a prostitute than a return to studio work.

Trivia: Reviews of The Dust Flower were extremely positive. The only negative words I've found come in the January 1923 issue of Screenland. Boy, are they bitchy:

* It's worth noting that in the very same essay Canudo states that the first motion picture of any value is The Miracle Man (1919), based on the novel  of the same name by Montrealer Frank L. Packard. I've written about both the book and the movie. Sadly, it's another lost film.
** The surname is 'Walbrook' in the novel. 
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07 January 2019

A Gentleman's Gentleman Cultivates a Lady

The Dust Flower
Basil King
New York: Harper, 1922
350 pages

Basil King wrote the two best novels I read last year. The first, The Thread of Flame, is about a wealthy American who loses his memory and identity to shell shock on the Great War battlefields of France. He manages to make his way home to the United States, where he finds work as a labourer, and comes to embrace his new, modest life. The later novel, The Empty Sack, also features a wealthy American man
who has been transformed by the conflict. In this case, grave injury results in spiritual awakening, and he looks to better the lives of a less fortunate woman and her family through marriage.

The Thread of Flame was published in 1920. The Empty Sack was published in 1921. My expectations for The Dust Flower, Basil King's 1922 novel, were high. Though the book disappointed, it did so in an unexpected fashion.

The Dust Flower begins with a flap between New York lawyer Rashleigh Allerton and his fiancée Barbara Walbrook:
She was standing over him, high-tempered, imperious. "So it's come to this," she said, with decision; "you've got to choose between a stupid, vulgar lot of men, and me."
     He gritted his teeth. "Do you expect me to give up all my friends?"
     "All your friends! That's another matter. I'm speaking of half a dozen profligates, of whom you seem determined – I must say it, Rash; you force me to it – of whom you seem determined to be one."
Rash had shown up the previous evening after having had a drink at his club and Barbara isn't at all happy. She removes her engagement ring, fully expecting Rash to beg for forgiveness. But he doesn't:
"I picked up a book at the club the other day."
     Not being interested, she made no response.
     "It was the life of an English writing-guy."
     Though wondering what he was working up to, she still held her peace.
     "Gissing, the fellow's name was. Ever hear of him?"
     The question being direct, she murmured: "Yes; of course. What of it ?"
     "Ever hear how he got married?"
     "Not that I remember." "When something went wrong – I've forgotten what – he went out into the street with a vow. It was a vow to marry the first woman he met who'd marry him."
Rash, being rash, does just that, proposing to Letty Gravely, a penniless, homeless young woman he encounters on a Central Park bench. She's assured that the marriage would be nothing more than a business relationship; its purpose is to wring Barbara's heart. "I'm not looking for a wife," he tells Letty. "I only want a woman to marry – a woman to whom I can point and say, See there! I've married – that."

This reader thought those words would bring an abrupt end to the conversation, but Letty is unworldly and impressionable. After much urging, Rash convinces her to marry him that afternoon. By the following morning, both are regretting their union. Rash considers suicide, before rushing off to tell Barbara what he's done. Meanwhile, Letty, left alone in the Allerton mansion on East Sixty-seventh Street, "only a few doors from Fifth Avenue," finds a friend in Steptoe,  Rash's elderly butler and valet. A foundling of uncertain parentage, the servant raised himself up from the gutter and sees an opportunity to help Letty do likewise.

Steptoe and Letty, as depicted by Pruett Carter
in the October 1921 issue of Good Housekeeping.
Letty's education under the old man brings some unexpected comedy to the novel. I say "unexpected" because I can't remember humour of any sort in other King novels. Steptoe isn't nearly as refined as he believes, and his first attempt at being Henry Higgins very nearly fails when he mistakes a parade of models in an exclusive boutique for ladies come to cast haughty, disapproving glances at Letty:
The spectacle grew dazzling, difficult for Steptoe to keep up with. He and Letty were plainly objects of interest to these grand folk, because there were now four or five of them. They advanced, receded, came up and studied them, wheeled away, smiled sometimes at each other with the high self-assurance of beauty and position, pranced, pawed, curveted, were noble or coquettish as the inner self impelled, but always the embodiment of overweening pride. Among the "real gentry" as he called them, there had unfailingly been for him and his colleagues a courtesy which might have been called only a distinction in equality, whereas these high-steppers.... 
Good Housekeeping, November 1921
More than laughs, the thing that really sets the The Dust Flower apart from other King novels – the six I've read, anyway – is simplicity of plot. Where their stories are intricate and so very, very clever, things here progress much like the reader might anticipate. Rash is forced to choose between the woman to whom he was engaged for no good reason and the "wife" who proves to be a kindred spirit. In other King novels the answer wouldn't be at all clear, but here King follows Hollywood convention. I think it worth noting that the silent screen adaptation of The Dust Flower coincided with the novel's publication in book form.

The Gazette (Montreal), 29 July 1922
I don't expect that anyone reading this review will bother with this novel. No flower in the dustbin, it may be the least interesting of King's twenty-two books. My recommendation – because the man is worth reading – is to begin with The Empty SackThe Thread of Flame comes next.

My first read of the year, I'm hoping The Dust Flower will end up as the most disappointing.

Trivia: Rash follows fellow wealthy Manhattanite Chipman Walker of King's 1914 novel The Letter of the Contract in planning revenge on a woman by turning to drink. Neither man is able to follow through.

Object: A bulky hardcover with four illustrations by Hibbert V.B. Kline, including that used on the jacket. I purchased my copy last month from an Albany bookseller. Price: US$19.50.

Access:  The Dust Flower first appeared serialized in Good Housekeeping (September 1921 - April 1922)with illustrations by Pruett Carter. I much prefer Carter's illustrations. This is his imagining of the very same encounter between Rash and Barbara depicted above by Kline:

The University of Prince Edward Island, in Basil King's home province, does not hold a copy of The Dust Flower. It can be found in five Canadian universities, but not one of our public libraries. Once again, Library and Archives Canada fails.

At the time of this writing, only one copy of the Harper first edition was being offered online. Stamped "Property of U.S. Government," purchase at your own risk. Price: US$15.00. As far as I've been able to determine, the only other edition is a long out-of print Grosset & Dunlop cheapo. The Harper first edition can be read here – gratis – courtesy of the Thomas Fisher Rarte Book Library and the invaluable Internet Archive.

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