15 January 2021

The Dustiest Bookcase: K is for Keith

Short pieces on books I've always meant to review (but haven't).

The Bells of St. Stephen's
Marian Keith
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1922
336 pages

My rule when buying books by Marian Keith is to pay no more than two dollars. I ignored this with The Bells of St. Stephen's, which set me back four dollars. The cover, depicting a young woman with volume in hand, seduced.

I don't know what to make of Marian Keith because I've never read her. She exists in a fog, as do so many once-popular Canadian novelists. Keith was more successful than the vast majority, and yet she's still miles below contemporaries like Gilbert Parker, Ralph Connor, Basil King, and L.M. Montgomery (with whom she co-authored 1934's Courageous Women.) I doubt one of Keith's novels sold as well as Robert E. Knowles' St. Cuthbert's, but her literary career lasted much longer, stretching from Duncan Polite (1906) to The Grand Lady (1960).

I've been meaning to read Keith for years. Is The Bells of St. Stephen's the best place to begin? In Canadian Novelists: 1920-1945 (1946), Clara Thomas suggests that Keith's best is A Gentleman Adventurer (1924).

I've yet to cross paths with anyone who has read Keith, but I'm sure you're out there.

Where should I begin?

My Marian Keith collection.
Total expense: $11.00


  1. I'd be seduced into buying it for the library card catalogue depicted on the cover. (Is it?)

    1. I'm not sure what it is, Susan. Could be a card catalogue, I suppose, but why is it so low to the ground? It's a shame no one is credited.

  2. I've read her! I first read The Grand Lady, which I thought was delightful. Haven't found many of her books, but I'd spend $4 on one if I did ;) I think of her alongside Luella Creighton and Grace Campbell as forgotten Canadian women writers of this era.

    1. Her last novel, right? If you liked it, I think it's a safe place to start.

      My hesitancy comes through reading Fire Will Freeze in 1987. My first Margaret Millar, I didn't like it, and so two decades passed before I read anything else by her. And you know how much I love Margaret Millar!

      I've been meaning to read Grace Campbell since we now live so close to Glengarry.

      By the way, nearly every book in my Keith collection was purchased at Friends of the St Marys Library book sales. I found The Bells of St Stephens in London's City Lights.