23 August 2021

Double Fantasy

One Day's Courtship and The Heralds of Fame
Robert Barr
New York: Stokes, 1896
219 pages

Novellas both, "One Day's Courtship" and "The Herald's of Fame" were first gathered for book publication with a third tale, "From Whose Bourne." That the resulting volume was titled From Whose Bourne, etc. says much, I think.

"From Whose Bourne" is one of the earliest attempts at marrying the supernatural with what was then the emerging mystery genre. In the story, the spirit of a murdered man, William Brenton, follows the investigation of his widow, Alice, who is accused of having committed the crime.

From Whose Bourne, etc.
Robert Barr
London: Chatto & Windus, 1893

"One Day's Courtship" and "The Heralds of Fame" are lighter fare and aren't nearly so groundbreaking. Both are woven from tired worn threads we continue to today in today's romantic comedies. Each relies heavily on coincidence and unfortunate misunderstandings. Neither is recommended, though both may appeal to those interested in nineteenth-century depictions of artistic and literary life. Lovers of rom coms will find more satisfaction with Netflix.

"One Day's Courtship" concerns landscape painter John Trenton, who returns to Shawinigan Falls – "Shawenegan Falls" in all editions – with the intent of capturing its beauty on canvas. He was first made aware of the natural wonder through a letter sent by an admirer and lesser talent.

Shawinigan Falls, 1904

As it will turn out – I spoil things a bit here – that letter came from a young woman named Eva Sommerton. A very pretty, very wealthy American, Miss Sommerton has hired a canoe and crew to take her to the falls. Owing to a comical mix-up, John Trenton has hired that very same canoe and crew. Each thinks the other the interloper! What's more, neither knows the identity of the other!

You can imagine to possibilities.

"The Herald's of Fame" is lighter still, though I enjoyed it more. It's hero, Kenan Buel, is a young Englishman with two published novels under his belt. Neither did all that well, so it comes as some surprise when American publisher L.F. Brant expresses interest in his third. Brant reads the proofs when visiting Buel's London publisher and pays £20 for the American rights. Because he'd entered negotiations with the expectation of paying £100, Brant gives the author the difference.

It's all too wonderful. Buel now has more money than he's ever had, and so accepts his American publisher's invitation to visit New York. At the dock, the novelist enters W.H. Smith and Sons, where he spies a young woman looking over the "New Books" shelf. She hesitates over Buel's latest before settling on a title written by our hero's idol, the great novelist J Lawless Hodden. Owing to a comical mix-up, that young woman – a very pretty, very wealthy American named Caroline Jessop – finds herself with a copy of Buel's new novel.

Buel himself ends up sharing his ship's cabin with none other than J Lawless Hodden. The latter proves a mean, cheap, and deceitful bastard, and pretends that he paid for a private cabin. Miss Jessop, who just happens to be in the neighbouring suite, overhears the conflict and clasps her hands together in glee at the drama of it all. Of a sudden, Hodden, whose work she'd admired, is out; Buel is her new favourite. And so begins the flirtation.

I found this exchange between Miss Jessop and Mr Buel clever:

“I only wish I could write. Then I would let you know what I think of you.”
     “Oh, don’t publish a book about us. I wouldn’t like to see war between the two countries.”
     Miss Jessop laughed merrily for so belligerent a person.
     “War?” she cried. “I hope yet to see an American army camped in London.”
     “If that is your desire, you can see it any day in summer. You will find them tenting out at the Metropole and all the expensive hotels. I bivouacked with an invader there some weeks ago, and he was enduring the rigours of camp life with great fortitude, mitigating his trials with unlimited champagne.’’
     “Why, Mr. Buel,” cried the girl admiringly, “you’re beginning to talk just like an American yourself.”
     “Oh, now, you are trying to make me conceited.”
     Miss Jessop sighed, and shook her head.
     “I had nearly forgotten,” she said, “that I despised you. I remember now why I began to walk with you. It was not to talk frivolously, but to show you the depth of my contempt!      Since yesterday you have gone down in my estimation from 190 to 56.”
     “No, that was a Wall Street quotation. Your stock has ‘slumped,’ as we say on the Street.”
     “Now you are talking Latin, or worse, for I can understand a little Latin.”
I was never nearly so good at flirting, but imagine my readers are.

For that reason, I cannot recommend.

You heartbreakers have nothing to learn.

Object: A very attractive book with frontispiece by Edmund Frederick (above). Following the two novellas, the publisher tacks on five pages of adverts. The earliest are the most interesting, but only because of the series title:

The twentieth century, then several years in the future, didn't treat any of the titles well. Robert Barr's In the Midst of Alarms, a semi-comic novel of the Fenian Raids, saw no editions in the twentieth century. The same is true for his short story collection The Face and the Mask, despite high praise from Arthur Conan Doyle. The other books are unfamiliar – even the Ouida – but I'd buy I Married a Wife for the title alone. The author's name is a bonus.

My copy was purchased earlier this year from a bookseller in Florida. Price: US$9.95.

Access: Copies of One Day's Courtship and The Heralds of Fame can be found at Library and Archives Canada, the Canadian Museum of History, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, and thirty-three of our academic libraries. 

No copies are listed for sale online.

My edition can be read through this link thanks to the good folks at the Thomas Fisher Library and the Internet Archive.

Related post:

16 August 2021

The Brian Moore Centenary Festival (and Me)

This coming Thursday, August 19th, marks the start of Lonely Passions: The Brian Moore Centenary Festival. A seven-day celebration organized by Belfast's Paradosso Theatre, it kicks of with an evening event featuring Colm Toíbín, Bernard McLaverty and Tara Ison. Hugh Odling-Smee will host.

The festival features sixteen events in total. I'm participating in one, this coming Saturday, in which I'll discussing Brian Moore's Montreal years and seven pulp novels with the brilliant Joanna Braniff.

Because of bloody Covid, this is a virtual event. On the positive side, the only ticket you'll need to attend is the one that can be purchased through this link.

Please do consider.

09 August 2021

Dustiest Bookcase: R is for Richardson

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

Desired Haven
Evelyn M. Richardson
Toronto: Ryerson, 1953
286 pages

Contemporary newspaper accounts record Evelyn M. Richardson's surprise when her first book, We Keep a Light, received the 1945 Governor's General Award for Creative Non-Fiction. I wonder whether she felt something similar when her second book, Desired Haven, won the All-Canada Fiction Award.

A debut novel, Desired Haven revolves around Mercy Nickerson, the desirable daughter of a Nova Scotia sea captain, and her romance with "Dan Redmond, the handsome son of an Irish gentleman."*

I'm pretty sure that's meant to be Mercy and Dan on the jacket, as depicted by American illustrator Walter Seaton.

My copy was rescued seven years ago from an outdoor book stall on a sunny, busy street in London, Ontario. You'll note that the dust jacket doesn't quite fit. This may be because it's a Sears' Peoples Book Club jacket wrapped around a Ryerson Press book.

The Peoples Book Club existed from June, 1943 through 1959. Literary historian Christine D'Arpa informs: "Sears established a publishing house in Chicago that designed and printed the book club editions and the club’s monthly catalog." As she notes, very little has been written about the Peoples Book Club, despite it once having over 350,000 members.

Desired Haven was published the year after Sears – as part of Simpsons-Sears – began operating in Canada. Was its Peoples Book Club also operating in Canada?

I've yet to uncover evidence.

The copy I picked up all those years ago in London adds intrigue by including this, which I took to be the front flap torn from the Ryerson jacket:

It led to the discovery that Walter Seaton's cover illustration was not the original. This is the cover of the Ryerson edition:

I'm betting it's the work of Arthur Steven.

Note the difference in trim sizes between the People Book Club edition (left) and Ryerson's:

There's so much to explore, including this, which appears on the front free endpaper:

Desired Haven set me back a dollar.

Clearly, I've more got more than my money's worth... and I haven't even read it.

* Here I quote the Peoples Book Club jacket.

Related posts:

02 August 2021

Shorter Moore

Dear Departed: Selected Short Stories
Brian Moore
[Belfast]: Turnpike, 2020
102 pages

Brian Moore was first and foremost a novelist. He received Governor General's Awards for The Luck of Ginger Coffey and The Great Victorian Collection, and was thrice nominated for the Booker. Dear Departed is the first collection of his short stories. Its appearance last year was so late in coming as to be unexpected. The publisher added to the surprise; there was a time in this country when a collection of Moore stories would have been published by McClelland & Stewart or Knopf Canada.

"Grieve for the Dear Departed," lends the collection its name. It was first published alongside Hemingway, Wilder, Frost, Thurber, and Dinesen in the November 1957 centenary edition of The Atlantic. In the story, a recently widowed woman grieves, but the dear departed of the title isn't so much the husband as the son who had left Ireland for a new life in the New World.

The longest and best of these short stories, "Uncle T," is one Moore salvaged and reworked from the aborted novel that was to have followed Judith Hearne. Vincent Bishop, newly married to Barbara, gazes out of their hotel room overlooking Times Square. The two met in Canada, to which he had fled from a future teaching secondary school in an Ulster town, "forty lumps of boys waiting at forty desks, rain on the windowpanes, two local cinemas, a dance on Saturday nights."

As a refuge, Canada was as good as anywhere. Vincent had applied for work as a clerk in the Shan State, a shipping aide in Takoradi, a plantation overseer in British Guiana, ending up teaching secondary school in Toronto. There's unstated irony in this.

Vincent is convinced Toronto is but a stop on the way to much greater things, and has convinced his bride as much. Uncle Turlough, whom he has yet to meet, has offered him a senior position with his New York publishing house.

There are elements of autobiography in these stories, particularly in the troubled relationships between fathers and sons. Moore described "A Vocation," the first story in the collection, as "about the only thing I can consciously remember writing about my early childhood.

Its first two sentences.
 In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was "No."
Biographer Denis Sampson tells us that "Off the Track," easily the darkest of these stories, reflects a holiday Moore and his first wife took to Haiti. "Hearts and Flowers," easily the lightest, was surely inspired by Moore's time at the Montreal Gazette. A Christmas story set in the "Old Bowerie Mission" (read: Old Brewery Mission), it's a mystery that it hasn't appeared in any collection of Canadian Yuletide stories.

Moore published only fourteen short stories during his lifetime, eight of which are collected here. Added to the remaining six are unpublished stories found amongst his papers. 

One hopes Turnpike is considering a second volume. The press is doing God's work.

Object and Access: A slim trade-size paperback. This collector placed an overseas order, hoping for a first edition. Instead, I received his:

Still, I was pleased to see it had done so well in such a short time.

McGill University has a copy.