14 April 2020

A Foggy Night in Hogtown

Every Man for Himself
Hopkins Moorhouse [Arthur Herbert Moorhouse]
Toronto: Musson, 1920
342 pages

Before we get into the action, the author's foreword dismisses any suggestion that this is a roman à clef. "The present pages are purely fictitious," writes Moorhouse, "and the characters therein not even composite portraits of living personages."

It's the sort of notice typically appended to romans à clef. Sadly, this student of Canadian history didn't recognize any of the novel's characters as having been based on actual people; it wouldn't have saved the novel, but would've made it a hell of a lot more interesting.

The first we encounter is Phil Kendrick, the novel's protagonist. A likeable lad, he's newly graduated from U of T, at which he was both an honours student and a Varsity rugby star. Phil lives with his beloved aunt and uncle, Dolly and Milton Waring, on Toronto's Centre Island. In fact, Every Man for Himself opens with the young man returning home after having wasted a day and more palling around town with an old college buddy. Phil's mode of transportation – a canoe retrieved from the Canoe Club boathouse – is surrounded by fog, but he's confident that he can find his way across he harbour. Just as Phil touches shore, a woman jumps in and tells him to keep quiet. Men's voices are heard. A launch speeds past. It soon becomes clear that she's mistaken Phil for someone else. When the woman realizes the mistake, she demands he take her back to the city. She says she has a gun pointed in his direction. Phil can't make her out, and doesn't believe her, but is good enough to do as instructed.

Toronto Harbour and islands in 1923
It isn't until three 'o'clock (and the book's thirty-second page) when Phil finally arrives home. He's surprised to find the library in disarray and his uncle slumped over a desk. Milton Waring isn't dead, or even roughed up, rather he's exhausted.

Every Man for Himself is no murder mystery. Intrigue revolves around Uncle Milton's role as a member of the provincial government and a $50,000 campaign contribution made by a shady construction company. The money goes missing and all sorts of people take to its trail.

This reader wasn't at all interested in joining the chase, yet I stuck with it as the action moved from Toronto along the tracks of the Canadian Lake Shores Railroad to Algoma. Phil captures a thief, does battle with bootleggers, rescues a plucky newspaperwoman, and befriends an Icelandic couple named Thorkalson.

(The plucky newspaperwoman and Mrs Thorkelson are the novel's lone female characters. No points for guessing which of the two jumped into Phil's canoe that foggy night.)

A sophomoric effort,  there's much to dislike about Every Man for Himself – the plot is nonsensical, characters are forever explaining things to themselves and each other – but what bothered this reader most is that Phil and the newspaperwoman aren't its heroes. After all their hardships and struggles  the crook behind the questionable campaign contribution is brought down between cigars and scotch enjoyed by Toronto's captains of industry, transportation, and finance in the cozy warmth of Milton Waring's Centre Island home. They are: Benjamin Wade, President of the Canadian Lake Shores Railroad; Timothy Drexel, Director of the Interprovincial Loan & Savings Company; Nathaniel Lawson, founder of the Interprovincial Loan & Savings Company; and, of course, the Honorable Milton Waring himself. Each an upstanding and generous businessman, I list them because they are as unfamilar today as in 1920s Canada.

No, Every Man for Himself is not a roman à clef.

Favourite passage:
She was the first girl he had ever fancied he might like to go and talk to once in a while, just for the pleasure of — well, chumming with her. It wasn't a good thing for a fellow who had no sister not to have a girl chum. She was— oh, what a peacherino of a girl she was!
Trivia: According to the Bank of Canada's inflation calculator, $50,000 is equal to roughly $636,000 today.

Object and Access: A solid hardcover with dark brown boards, lacking dust jacket. I purchased my copy late last December from an Ontario bookseller. Price: C$20.00.

Print on demand vultures are all over this one, demanding prices that rage from US$13.72 to US$43.99. Hidden within their online offerings is one – and only one – listing for the Musson edition. At US$18.00, it's described by the bookseller as "First (No Additional printings)," but the image provided (right) suggests otherwise. It's boards are a much lighter brown than my copy.

Anyway, it's a bargain.

Held by Library and Archives Canada and twenty-three of our academic libraries. The ever reliable Toronto Public Library has two copies.

The novel is available online – here – thanks to the good folks at the Internet Archive.

Note: Inspiration to read Every Man for Himself came from The 1920 Club.

By far the finest Canadian novel I've read from that year is Basil King's The Thread of Flame.


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  1. Thanks for joining in with the Club! And well done for finding a suitably obscure title. Having said that, I'm sorry it was a bunch of hokum, and I imagine I shan't be rushing out to find a copy! :D

    1. My thanks for the welcome to the club. I promise to not quote Mark Twain.

  2. Sorry this one didn't turn out to be good, but thanks to adding to the tapestry of the club!

    1. I'm still taken aback by the enthusiastic reaction to the novel. "Jot down the name Hopkins Moorhouse in your notebook. It will be the most prominent name among Canadian novelists within five years," writes the reviewer for the Border Cities Star (10 Aug 1920). That same critic goes on to liken Moorhouse to Arnold Bennett. Others compare him favourably to Hugo and Dumas!