25 June 2021

Dustiest Bookcase: P is for Price-Brown

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

The Mac's of '37: A Story of the Canadian Rebellion
Price-Brown [John Price Brown]
Toronto: McLeod & Allen, 1910
332 pages

The December 1931 issue of Outlook for the Blind, published by the American Foundation for the Blind, features the most thorough biography yet of John Price Brown. It's found within a review of Laura the Undaunted (Toronto: Ryerson, 1930), the last of the author's five historical novels. Through book critic S.C. Swift we learn that Brown was born in Manchester on 30 March 1844 and emigrated to Upper Canada as a child. As a young man, Brown earned distinctions as a medical student at the University of Toronto. He came to specialize in otorhinolaryngology, an interest which would lead to the publication of his first book, Diseases of the Nose and Throat (Philadelphia: F.A. Davis, 1900).

You can read it here, courtesy of the Internet Archive. The illustrations – it is heavily illustrated – are not for the squeamish. Amongst the easier to take, this is my favourite:

Might Laura the Undaunted be even easier to swallow?* The novel's titular character being Laura Secord, it can't avoid touching on the bloody War of 1812, but S.C. Swift informs that the novel's focus is on Laura's life before that conflict. In that same review, the critic devotes several paragraphs to The Mac's of '37, beginning with a bit of background for his American readers: 
You must know that in the year 1837, Upper and Lower Canada (the present provinces of Ontario and Quebec) staged a little flurry termed a rebellion, the result of discontent at the slow progress of complete self- government. The affair in itself was not of much moment, but its results were far-reaching, since they were responsible in the long run for the birth of the present Dominion of Canada thirty years later. The Macs of '37 [sic] is a novel dealing with the rebellion. It achieved considerable popularity and is rated in present-day histories of Canadian literature as one of the best books of Canadian vintage dealing with a purely Canadian topic.
Outlook for the Blind reviewed biographies and autobiographies of the blind, so why this historical novel about the heroine of the Battle of Beaver Dams? Well, as Swift explains, John Price Brown was himself blind: "he has been without sight for close on twenty years."

The Mac's of '37 was published twenty years before Laura the Undaunted. At the time, Brown was Associate Professor of Laryngology and Rhinology at the University of Toronto. Was he without sight then? I somehow doubt it, but wonder if he didn't know he was losing his sight. Skimming over the novel, I was struck by this paragraph:

In 1914, Brown resigned his position at the University of Toronto. He was in his seventieth year. It's tempting to think of Doctor Brown as a man who, like Reverend King, gave up his vocation and turned to fiction as his sight began to fail; however, in doing so, one would be ignoring Brown's earliest novels, How Hartman Won: A Story of Old Ontario (Toronto: Morang, 1903) and In the Van; or, The Builders (Toronto: McLeod & Allen, 1906).

Swift concludes his review by claiming that Price-Brown is "doubtless the oldest living blind man creating and publishing in the literary world." I imagine he was right. King sold many more books, but was a younger man, and was three years in his grave when Laura the Undaunted appeared.

My copy of Laura the Undaunted was rescued in the melancholy final hour of a library book sale. As reflected by its state, the book was well read.

You can't fake that kind of wear. Compare its title page to that of Diseases of the Nose and Throat


24 June 2021

Debout, Canadiens-français!

George William Alphred Chapman
13 December 1850, Saint-François-de-Beauce, Canada East
23 February 1917, Ottawa, Ontario

For la Fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste, this William Chapman poem from his critically-acclaimed Les fleurs de givre (Paris: Éditions de la Revue des poètes, 1912).


                         Nous sommes des fils de guerriers,
                         Et nos pères, pleins de vaillance,
                         Vinrent au bord d’un fleuve immense
                         Planter leurs étendards altiers.
                         Durant un siècle, sur nos plages
                         Ces lutteurs au bras redouté
                         Pour la France et la chrétienté
                         Déployèrent tous les courages.

                         Debout, Canadiens-français!
                         Luttons comme ont lutté nos pères!
                         Au milieu de races prospères.
                         Déroulons au vent du Progrès,
                         Qui souffle à travers les forêts,
                         Nos vieilles et saintes bannières!
                         Luttons comme ont lutté nos pères!

                         Debout, Canadiens-français!

                         Forts d’une foi que rien n’émeut,
                         Comme les Croisés, leurs ancêtres.
                         Ces preux, marins, soldats et prêtres,
                         Partout répétaient: «Dieu le veut»!
                         Jusqu’aux glaçons géants du Pôle,
                         De l’Équateur au Groenland,
                         Ils dirent, dans leur noble élan,
                         Les refrains bénis de la Gaule.

                         Debout, Canadiens-français!

                         Ils furent grands dans le danger,
                         Ils furent beaux dans les batailles...
                         Mais, hélas! la cour de Versailles
                         Céda leurs bords à l’étranger.
                         Orgueilleux, malgré la conquête,
                         Ces hommes au cœur de lion
                         Sous la bannière d’Albion
                         Ne courbèrent jamais la tête.

                         Debout, Canadiens-français!

                         Fidèles aux maîtres nouveaux,
                         Et toujours pleins d’ardeurs guerrières,
                         Pour chasser l’Aigle des frontières,
                         Nous avons suivi leurs drapeaux.
                         Des conscrits, altérés de gloire,
                         Vainquirent un peuple aguerri;
                         Et le nom de Salaberry
                         Luit comme un soleil dans l’Histoire.

                         Debout, Canadiens-français!

                         Le sang ne rougit plus nos prés;
                         L’astre du Travail y flamboie,
                         Et sur tous nos foyers en joie
                         La Paix répand ses fruits dorés.
                         L’Espoir de ses rayons inonde
                         Tous les cœurs et tous les cerveaux...
                         Demain nous serons les rivaux
                         Des grands peuples de l’ancien monde.

                         Debout, Canadiens-français!

Bonne fête!

14 June 2021

The Dustiest Bookcase: O is for Oxley

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

North Overland with Franklin
J Macdonald Oxley
New York: Crowell, 1907
286 pages

I'm not sure what's going on here, but the image does remind me of this iconic cover:

I read Bear as a twenty-year-old, and have not revisited.

Do the two novels have much in common?

Doubt it. North Overland was Franklin was first published by the Religious Tract Society. My copy features this bookplate:

I'm a bit peeved. As a boy, my father, an Anglican, was awarded many books for regularity and punctuality at the Church of St John the Baptist, Pointe Claire, Quebec. Walter Scott's The Black Arrow was one, but the novel that made he greatest impression was Number 44 by Harold M Sherman.

Not only that, my father was presented pins recognizing these accomplishment to be worn proudly on his lapel.

I too was raised an Anglican. Regularity and punctuality were not rewarded at my childhood church – St Marys, Kirkland, Quebec – though we children enjoyed juice and cookies after Sunday School.

The 2011 Canadian Census records George Bee (born 1895) as the eldest son of David and Catherine Bee. The Bee family lived at 240 Gerrard Street, now home to the Virginia Hamara Law Office.

I can't quite recall how I came to have George Bee's copy of North Overland with Franklin in my collection, but am fairly certain that I picked it up somewhere in Ontario and paid no more than two dollars. I do remember thinking that the Franklin of the title might just be Sir John Franklin, and that Oxley had penned a fantasy in which the explorer had somehow overcome the terror of HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, and had made his way toward Rupert's Land.

But then it would've been South Overland with Franklin, right?

To be fair – to myself – I wasn't far off. The hero of North Overland with Franklin is the very same John Franklin, though Oxley's adventure imagines the explorer's ill-fated Coppermine Expedition, which ended over three decades before his ill-fated Northwest Passage Expedition began.

Because the former featured a murder, dinners made of boiled boots, and suggestions of cannibalism, North Overland with Franklin might make for an interesting read; remember, it  began as a Religious Tract Society publication.

That said, because I believe in placing books in the best hands, I'm eager to return this copy of North Overland with Franklin to the Bee family, whether it's a descendent of George Bee or of one of his siblings: Ethel (b 1894) and Edward (b 1899).

Please contact me in the comments or by email through my profile.

11 June 2021

Love is a Long Shot on the Nose

The Calgary Herald, 29 September 1978

This weekend the 29th Toronto Jewish Film Festival presents Love on the Nose.

Do you know it?

I didn't before being contacted by the Toronto Jewish Film Foundation. A made-for-TV movie, Love on the Nose, aired on the CBC in September 1978... and then never again. The screenplay, credited to  "John Smith" (read: Ted Allan), tells the story of David (Saul Rubinek), a young Trotskyite who, thanks to his uncle (Paul Soles), lands a job at Keller's cigar store in Depression-era Montreal. The establishment is a front for a bookie joint, which allows David a good amount of time for on-the-job studies of Karl Marx.

Love on the Nose received glowing reviews; I've yet to find a critic who said a bad word. Much of the praise landed on Saul Rubinek. He played a character a decade younger than himself, though you'd never know it. Al Waxman was singled out for playing a crime boss, a character so very different than the Larry King we'd come to love on The King of Kensington. Reading the reviews, it's clear that to that point the critics hadn't recognized the actor's range.

Months later, the Windsor Star was still going on about it.

The Windsor Star, 9 January 1979

I was contacted by the Festival because of my writing on Allan this blog, in Canadian Notes & Queries, and in my most recent book. It was my pleasure to provide a short video postscript to the film in which I discuss Love on the Nose, its relationship to Allan's 1949 pulp Love is a Long Shot, and the lighter 1984 version published by McClelland & Stewart.

What I didn't mention – but should've – is that Love on the Nose is the best of the three.

Tickets for Love on the Nose can be purchased through this link.

You will not be disappointed.

Related posts:

07 June 2021

Criminal Notes & Queries

The most recent number of Canadian Notes & Queries – The Crime Issue – arrived last week in our Upper Canada rural mailbox. I was honoured to serve as Guest Editor. It was a pleasure putting it together, though I must admit that the heavy lifting was done by regular editor Emily Donaldson.

As always, Seth's provides the front and back covers. Tell the truth, do you not see yourself in one of his mugshots?

In The Landscape, Seth shares an undated, uncredited insert from The Weekend Magazine – which, as he notes, was itself an insert.

"What’s Old," our regular salute to reissues, coupled with offerings from the country’s antiquarian booksellers features Austin Clarke's When He Was Free and Young and He Used to Wear Silks (Anansi, 2021),  Carmine Starnino's Dirty Words: Selected Poems, 1997-2016 (Gaspereau, 2021), a new translation of Markoosie Patsauq's Hunter with Harpoon (MQUP, 2021). Windsor's Juniper Books offers The Executioners (Harlequin, 1951) and French for Murder (Fawcett, 1954), two old Brian Moore pulps that the late author's estate has kept out of print.

The Guest Editor’s Note, in which I recall childhood trauma brought on by a speeding ticket, is followed by the issue's Dusty Bookcase. This one is unusual in that the volume covered, Grant Allen's fin de siècle novel An African Millionaire, is not only in print, but is a certified Penguin Classic. We all remember studying it in high school, right?

Adam Sol and Manahil Bandukwala provide verse.

The issue's features begin with "Sin City," Will Straw's look at Police Journal, the post-war Montreal crime tabloid that anticipated Allô Police.

In "A Requiem for Skid Row," Amy Lavender Harris writes about a Toronto that has fallen to condos, but lives on in the works of Juan Butler, Austin Clarke, and Hugh Garner.

Novelist Trevor Ferguson (aka John Farrow) writes of his encounters with the criminal element in  "Fringe Elements."

Dedicated readers will remember my interest in the mysterious Kenneth Orvis (aka Kenneth Lemieux), author of Hickory House, The Damned and Destroyed,  Cry, Hallelujah!, and four other novels. You may even remember my 2016 plea for information about the man. Imagine my surprise in discovering that former 39 Steps frontman Chris Barry – whom I've seen onstage in Montreal and onscreen in Hannah and Her Sisters – is the mystery man's nephew.  Chris' "Uncle Ken, We Hardly Knew Ye: Kenneth Orvis’ Nephew Surveys the Writer’s Life, Hustles, and Mysterious Disappearance" helps fill in the gaps.

In "Vale of Fears," Monika Bartyzel looks at the influence of a 1935 murder on the fiction of Phyllis Brett Young, our most unjustly neglected novelist.

Jennifer Hambleton disturbs with "Shut Out: How University Libraries are Increasingly Limiting Public Access.

David Frank writes on the relationship between Jack London and all but forgotten Canadian socialist Wilfrid Gribble.

Chris Kelly looks at Blue City, the 1986 adaptation of the 1947 Ross Macdonald novel of the same name. You remember it, right? Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy starred.


This GIF may refresh you memory.

I intrude again with an interview with Danny McAuley of Brome Lake Books in Knowlton, Quebec.

David Mason's Used and Rare column concerns book thieves and a revelation about a certain famous author.

In the North Wing - selections from the Lost Library of CanLit Graphic Novels -  Nathan Campagnaro adapts Thomas King’s DreadfulWater.

We've also got a new short story from Caroline Adderson, “All Our Auld Acquaintances Are Gone.”

At a time when newspapers and magazines are slashing space devoted to book reviews, we buck the trend with:
Bruce Whiteman on Erin McLaren’s Little Resilience
Rohan Maitzen on Anna Porter’s The Appraisal and Deceptions
Laura Cameron on Amanda LeDuc’s The Centaur’s Wife 
Brett Josef Grubisic on Michael Melgaard’s Pallbearing 
Alex Good on Pasha Malla’s Kill the Mall 
Paige Cooper on Carrie Jenkins’ Victoria Sees It 
Dancy Mason on Patricia Robertson’s Hour of the Crab 
James Grainger on Andrée A Michaud’s Mirror Lake
Emily Donaldson on Sarah Berman’s Don’t Call it a Cult
The Shelf Talker belongs to The Bookshelf in Guelph. Catherine Bush's Blaze Island is one of their four titles.

As always, we finish off with Stephen Fowler's Exhumations. His pick this issue is Writing Thrillers for Profit: A Practical Guide by Basil Hogarth (London, Black, 1936), a volume that once belonged to "a recently deceased author of detective novels." Stephen suggests that it may have been a "joke gift." I'm betting he's right.

The CNQ Crime Issue can be purchased through this link.

It's a steal.

01 June 2021

Little Willie, Willie Won't Go Home

Willie the Squowse
Ted Allan
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1977
57 pages

What I admire most about Ted Allan was his ability to take an idea and rework it repeatedly, in the process supporting himself, his wife, and his children. "Lies My Father Told Me," a very, very short story – 782 words – was written on the instant for a 1949 issue of The Canadian Jewish Congress Bulletin. It went on to become a radio drama, a television drama, a stage drama, and a feature film for which Allan earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

On March 29, 1976, the evening of the award gala, Allan joined Federico Fellini (Amarcord) and Robert Towne (Shampoo) in learning that he'd lost to Frank Pierson, who'd written the script for Dog Day Afternoon. The bad news came from Gore Vidal:

Allan's screenplay is brilliant and moving, but it was not original. I think he received the nomination because the story had been published in a monthly Canadian newspaper, and not, say, The New Yorker. I'm guessing that not too many people in Hollywood heard the adaptation he'd written for CBC Radio. I'll wager fewer still saw the hour-long European television production, in which Allan moved the setting from Montreal to Dublin. I've yet to meet anyone who remembers the play. From what I understand, it included musical numbers.

The very same year that "Lies My Father Told Me" appeared in The Canadian Jewish Congress Bulletin, Allan dashed off a pseudonymously published pulp novel, Love is a Long Shot, for News Stand Library, the paperback imprint of Export Publishing. Thirty-five years later, he rewrote the novel and managed to place it with McClelland & Stewart. It won the 1985 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. In between the two different versions, as "John Smith," Allan adapted the plot as a CBC movie titled Love on the Nose. As I understand, he later shopped another adaptation, this one titled Love is a Long Shot, around Hollywood. 

All this brings me to Willie the Squowse, which is by far the shortest and most enjoyable book I've read this year. It began as a story written for his children – unpublished, it would seem – which was bought by George Pal. It was reimagined by Hungarian expat László Vadnay as The Great Rupert. Look carefully, and you'll see Allan's name on the movie poster:

Sadly, Pal didn't direct the film, and Allan had nothing to do with its screen adaptation. According to son Norman Allan, Ted Allan hated the film.

In 1950, the year The Great Rupert was was released, the CBC broadcast Allan's radio adaptation. I find it charming. You can hear it through this link

Twenty-three years after that, Allan entered "Willie the Squowse" in the 1973 Times Children's Story Competition. It earned earned second place, was published in The Times Saturday Review, and was subsequently included in The Times Anthology of Children's Stories (London: Cape, 1974). I believe it's on that strength of this late notice that, at long last, "Willie the Squowse" appeared as a book on its own. Printed in Great Britain, all indications point to my McClelland & Stewart edition as a Cape co-publication; no effort has been made to alter the anglicisms.

The story takes place somewhere in England, in two houses – one well-kept, the other run-down – built back to back. Mr and Mrs Pickering live in the nicer place. They're supported by their son, Richard, who teaches at a university. An impoverished animal trainer named Joe lives in the lesser house. Willie, his most recent project, is a squowse – squirrel father/mouse mother – who swings on a trapeze, marches like a soldier, and can hum "Alouette." Seems pretty impressive, but theatrical agent Pete has a better understanding than I of the box office: "Sorry. The women would scream. There'd be panic in the theatre. No manager could risk it. An elephant act, a dog act, a seal act, even a cat act, but not a squowse act, Joe."

The failure to attract interest means Joe and Willie must leave their squalid lodgings the very next day. Joe falls asleep quite easily, but not Willie. The restless squowse paces about until he notices a small hole in the wall separating his home from the Pickerings'. While exploring, he's knocked out by a chunk of falling plaster. Because Joe can't find the squowse the next morning, he comes to the conclusion that pal Willie has left him. 

Money means nothing and everything in Willie the Squowse. Mr and Mrs Pickering are troubled by their reliance on Richard until they receive a fantastic letter stating that stock purchased long ago will now be paying off in weekly cheques of two hundred pounds. These they convert into ten pound notes which Mrs Pickering pushes through a hole she's made in the kitchen wall. "I want to know the money is near us," she explains to her husband. "I want to feel it around us." They never touch the money, nor do they tell Richard about their windfall, and so he continues to support his parents. 

Just the thought that the money is near brings the Pickerings peace of mind:
During their walks around the the park they noticed two trees they'd never noticed before. They heard music they had never heard before. And most of the neighbours seemed to be very neighbourly, which was something else they had never noticed before. They didn't worry when it rained and they didn't worry when the sun shine and sometimes they giggled thinking how silly they had been to worry so much.
What they don't know is that the money isn't there. For reasons I won't describe, Willie, who has taken up residence in the wall shared by the two houses, has begun pushing ten pound notes toward the new residents of his former home. 

Because Willie the Squowse is so short I'll say no more, except to recommend it. I'm even more keen on Allan's 1950 CBC radio adaptation. Ted Allan played Joe in that production. As I say, he really knew how to make money from his work.

Sadly, I'm nowhere near so savvy.

Object: A very slim hardcover with black boards. The jacket is, of course, by Quentin Blake. I count fifty Blake illustrations in the book itself. 

Access: Sadly, Willie the Squowse is no longer in print. Happily, used copies are plentiful online. The most common is the American edition, published in 1977 by Hastings House. The last edition was published in 1980 by Puffin.

Willie the Squowse
has been translated several times: French (Histoire d'un souricureuil), Spanish (Willie el ratiardilla), German (Willi die Eichmaus), Finnish (Ville Hiirava pankkiirina), and Chinese (松老鼠阿威).

The complete text to Willie the Squowse can be found here on Norman Allan's website.