21 December 2020

Best Books of 1920: Beware the Bolshevik Poets

The Globe, 4 December 1920
The 1920 Globe round-up of the year's best books was published on the first Saturday of that December. Twenty-four months had passed since the Armistice, and the introduction takes pains to position the conflict in the past:

This bold pronouncement follows:

The war has passed into history and even the "aftermath" is over.
Sure, but a good many titles concerning the Great War feature, and a new category makes its debut:

No, the conflict is still very much felt. Loss and sacrifice continue to inspire poetry, such as Our Absent Hero by Mrs Durie, the widow of Capt William Arthur Peel Durie.

Captain Durie died at Passchendaele on 29 December 1917 in an effort rescue wounded comrades in No Man's Land. 

Capt William Arthur Peel Durie
1881 - 1917

Another of the newspaper's poetry selections, J. Lewis Mulligan's The Beckoning Skyline and Other Poems (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1920), includes fifteen pieces of verse inspired by the war.

The 1920 Globe list recognizes a total of seven Canadian books of poetry, the others being:
               Acanthus and Wild Grape - F.O. Call
               Leaves on the Wind - Rev D.A. Casey
               Apple Blossoms - Carrie Wetmore McColl
               Lady Latour - Rev W.I. Morse
               Rhymes of a Northland - Hugh L. Warren
This is something of a return to form. Where in 1918, the paper gave notice to eight Canadian volumes of verse, the 1919 list featured all of two (one of which, Pauline Johnson's Flint and Feather, had been published seven years earlier).

As is so often the case in the paper's annual book list, the "Poetry" section brings columns of comment, much if it designed to distance we Canadians from our American cousins:
We usually write in metre and dislike poetical as well as other kinds of Bolshevism. It is merely the affectation of free verse that makes American 'poetry' more distinctive – or notorious – than Canadian. It is a cheap substitute for originality.
   There has been a great deal more verse published this year than appears in the publishers' lists. Nearly all of it has been printed at the authors' expense, and it has been circulated largely 'among friends.' This practice is not to be despised or discouraged, unless it raises false hopes in authors who have merely the faculty of rhyming without possessing poetical talent or literary judgement.
There are 264 titles in the 1920 Globe list, fifty-three of which are Canadian. Just six of the fifty-three – all novels, no poetry – feature in my library:

Going by the Globe, 1920 was as good year for the country's novelists and short story writers; twenty of the 114 fiction titles are Canadian:
          Aleta Dey - Francis M Beynon
          The La Chance Mine Mystery - S. Carleton
          Glen of the High North - H.A. Cody
          Sheila and Others - Winifred Cotter
          The Conquering Hero - Murray Gibbon
          Eyes of the Law - Ethel Penman Hope
          Daisy Herself - Will E. Ingersoll
          The Luck of the Mounted - Sgt Ralph Kendall
          The Thread of Flame - Basil King
          A Son of Courage - Archie P. McKishale
          Graydon of the Windermere - Evan McKowan
          Every Man for Himself - Hopkins Moorhouse
          The Forging of the Pikes - Anson North
          No Defence - Gilbert Parker
          Poor Man's Rock - Bertrand W. Sinclair
          Dennison Grant - Robert Stead
          The Prairie Mother - Arthur Stringer
          The Rapids - Alan Sullivan
          The Viking Blood - Frederick William Wallace
          Stronger Than His Sea - Robert Watson
For the first time, the newspaper lumps together Canadian fiction, though it errs in failing to recognize Basil King, Prince Edward Island's second bestselling author, as a fellow countryman. The Thread of Flame, Rev King's sixteenth novel, is listed with This Side of Paradise under the heading "By Other Authors."

I've read all of two of the twenty. The Thread of Flame ranks as my favourite King novel after The Empty Sack. The other, Hopkins Moorhouse's Every Man for Himself didn't make so much of an impression. I found it even less interesting than described: 

Of the remaining novels, The Prairie Mother was reprinted for a decade or so. In 1972, Alan Sullivan's The Rapids enjoyed a brief second life with the University of Toronto Press. It can' be argued that the most enduring Canadian novel of 1920 is Aleta Dey, which was revived in 1988 as a Virago Modern Classic. It remains in print to this day in a Broadview Press edition.

This country fares much worse in other categories. Where in 1919, Canadian authors took six of the coveted "Economics" titles, the 1920 showing amounts to A Study of Canadian Immigration by Prof W.G. Smith and Occupations for Trained Women in Canada by Mrs Vincent Massey. If forced to choose, I guess I'd read the latter. It might be interesting to see what advice Mrs Massey, daughter of Sir George Robert Parkin, wife of one of Canada's most privileged men — a future Governor General, no less — might have for the working woman.

The Canadian titles in the "Historical" category are a touch more tempting:
Hydro-Electric Development in Ontario - E.B. Biggar
The Cross-Bearers of the Sanguenay - Very Rev W.R. Harris
The Evolution of the Oil Industry - Victor Ross
The Life and Times of Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt - O. D. Skelton
The Life and Work of Sir William Van Horne - W. Vaughan
A new edition of Katherine Hale's biography of Father Lacombe and a revised edition of George H. Locke's When Canada was New France. also feature, but the real standout is George T. Denison's Recollections of a Police Magistrate, which is deemed "our outstanding Canadian book of the year."

This is something new; the Globe had never before made such a pronouncement. Here's its description:

I haven't yet cracked open Recollections of a Police Magistrate — copies begin at $245 — but it can be read for free here thanks to the Internet Archive,

I prefer paper, myself.

Consider me old fashioned.

Tempted as I am to leave it there, this being 2020, I can't help but note that the 1920 Globe list — like those of 1918 and 1919 — features not so much a passing reference to the Spanish Flu.

Not one mention,

Not one book.

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