29 November 2021

Talking John Glassco With Patricia Godbout

Last week, I has the pleasure of joining Alexandra Irimia, Bilal Hashmi, Patricia Godbout, Phyllis Aronoff, and Arianne Des Rochers for the 2021 John Glassco Translation Prize Gala.

My congratulations to this year's recipient Luba Markovskaia for Notes de terrain pour la toundra alpine, her translation of Elena Johnson's Field Notes for the Alpine Tundra.

The streamed event has been preserved for posterity on YouTube:

Arianne Des Rocher delivers the jury statement at 51:40, which is followed by Luba Markovskaia's acceptance speech.
Beginning at 19:45, my participation takes the form of a discussion of Glassco's life and work with Patricia Godbout. Host Alexandra Irimia serves as moderator. What a pleasure it was to finally meet Prof Godbout... if only virtually. She's does such good work. I've long admired her Traduction littéraire et sociabilité interculturelle au Canada (1950-1960).

Here's hoping for a healthier 2022, and that the John Glassco Translation Prize Gala can return to being an in-person event.

I need an excuse to buy a new suit.

22 November 2021

The Dustiest Bookcase: T is for Trueman

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

Cousin Elva
Stuart Trueman
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1955
224 pages

I prefer my humour dark, which pretty much explains why I haven't read this mid-century comic novel. The jacket copy discourages:

What does it say about me that I have have no interest in a group of lovable characters? What does it mean that I don't want to read "a truly happy book."

Nothing good, I expect.

Did McClelland & Stewart do its author a disservice? It wouldn't be the first time. And I do like Trueman's illustrations.

Do Cousin Elva, Mr Bogson, Dr Fergus, Nathaniel Scribner, and luscious Beth Hailley rank amongst the most extraordinary characters in Canadian literature?

I'll be the judge of that... just not this year.

15 November 2021

No Weddings and Three Funerals

Quebec in Revolt
Herman Buller
Toronto: Swan, 1966
352 pages

The cover has all the look of a 1960s polemic, but Quebec in Revolt is in fact a historical novel. Its key characters are depicted on the title pages:

At far left is Joseph Guibord, he of the Guibord Affair.

The Guibord Affair?

Like Gordon Sinclair, one of twelve columnists and critics quoted on the back cover, the Guibord Affair meant nothing to me.

It most certainly didn't feature in the textbooks I was assigned in school. This is a shame because the Guibord Affair would've challenged classmates who complained that Canadian history was boring.

Here's what happened:

In 1844, Montreal typographer Joseph Guibord helped found the Institut canadien. An association dedicated to the principles of liberalism, its library included titles prohibited by the Roman Catholic Index – the Index Librorum Prohibitoru. These volumes, combined with the Institut's cultural and political activities, drew the condemnation of Ignace Bourget, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Montreal. In July 1869, Bourget issued a decree depriving members of the sacraments. Guibord died four months later.

Here's what happened next: 

Guibord's body was transported to a plot he'd purchased at Montreal's Catholic Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery, only to be refused burial by the Church. The remains found a temporary resting place at the Protestant Mount Royal Cemetery, while friend and lawyer Joseph Doutre brought a lawsuit on behalf of the widow Guibord. In 1874, after the initial court case and a series of appeals, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council ordered the burial. In response, Bourget deconsecrated Guibord's plot.

The second attempt at interment, on 2 September 1875, began at Mount Royal Cemetery:

At Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, a violent mob attacked, forcing a retreat to Mount Royal.

The third attempt, on 16 November, was accompanied by a military escort of over 1200 men. Guibord's coffin was encased in concrete so as to protect his body from vandals.

The sorry "Guibord Affair" spans the second half of the novel. The focus of the first half is the man himself. Young Guibord woos and weds Henriette Brown, the smallpox-scared orphaned daughter of a poor shoemaker. He moves up the ranks within Louis Perrault & Co, the printing firm in which he'd worked since a boy, eventually becoming manager of the entire operation.

Louis Perrault & Co, c.1869
Henriette and husband come to be joined by Della, the daughter of one of her distant Irish cousins. Poor girl, Della was part of the exodus brought on by the Potato Famine. Her father and lone sibling having died whilst crossing the Atlantic – mother soon to follow – she clings to life in one of the "pestilential sheds" built for accommodate diseased immigrants. The most dramatic scene in the novel has Joseph defying authority by lifting he girl from her sickbed and carrying her home. 

"Skin and bone had given way to flesh and curves," Della recovers and grows to become a headstrong young woman. Buller makes much of her breasts. Ever one to buck convention and authority, Della spurns marriage, has a lengthy sexual and intellectual relationship with journalist Arthur Buies, and ends up living openly with Joseph Doutre ("Josef" in the novel). Truly, a liberated woman; remarkable for her time.

I've yet to find evidence that Della existed.

Joseph Guibord's entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography informs that he and Henriette, a couple Buller twice describes as childless, had at least ten children. The entry for Joseph Doutre, whom the author portrays as a lifelong bachelor, records two marriages.

Were it not for the novel's Author's Note, pointing out that Guibord began his career working for John Lovell (not Louis Perrault), or that he was born on 31 March 1809 (not 1 April 1809), or that women didn't wear bustles in 1820s Montreal, might seem nit-picky.

The Swan paperback quotes Al Palmer, author of Montreal Confidential and Sugar Puss on Dorchester Street):

In fact, what Palmer wrote is this:

The Gazette, 19 November 1965
I expect there many more fabrications and errors in this novel and its packaging, but can't say for sure. Again, we didn't learn about the Guibord Affair in school.

About the author: Herman Buller joins Kenneth Orvis and Ernie Hollands as Dusty Bookcase jailbird authors. A lawyer, he rose to fame in the 'fifties as part of a baby-selling ring.

The Gazette, 13 February 1954
Buller was arrested at Dorval Airport on 12 February 1954 whilst attempting to board a flight to Israel with his wife and in-laws. The worst of it all – according to the French-language press – was that the lawyer had placed babies born to unwed Catholic women with Jewish couples.

La Patrie, 11 February 1954
Remarkably, Buller served just one day in prison. He paid a $20,000 fine, was disbarred, and was good to go.

Though Quebec in Revolt was published just eleven years after all this, not a single review mentioned of Buller's criminal past.

I hadn't heard of the Buller Affair (as I call it) until researching this novel, despite it having been  dramatized in Le berceau des anges (2015) a five-part Series+ series. Buller (played by Lorne Bass) is mentioned twenty-two seconds into the trailer. 

Fun fact: I read Quebec in Revolt during a recent stay at the Monastère des Augustines in Quebec City. 

Object and Access: A bulky, well-read mass-market paperback, my copy was purchased for one dollar this past summer at an antiques/book store in Spencerville, Ontario.

Quebec in Revolt was first published in 1965 by Centennial Press. If the back cover is to be believed, McKenzie Porter of the Toronto Telegram describes that edition as a "Canadian best seller." I've yet to come across a copy.

As of this morning, seven copies of Quebec in Revolt are listed for sale online. At US$6.00, the least expensive is offered by Thiftbooks: "Unknown Binding. Condition: Fair. No Jacket. Readable copy. Pages may have considerable notes/highlighting," Take a chance! Who knows what will arrive!

There are two Swan copies at US$8.00 and US$12.45. Prices for the Centennial edition range from US$10.00 (sans jacket) to US$24.00. 

Surprisingly, Quebec in Revolt enjoyed an Estonian translation: Ja mullaks ei pea sa saama... Google translates this as And you don't have to become soil... 

There hasn't been a French translation.

Is it any wonder?

11 November 2021

Remembering Calvin Dale Williamson

A sixty-page booklet published by William Southam, father of the Southam newspaper empire, Regimental Songs was distributed to members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The first song is "Alexander's Ragtime Band;" the second, "Alouette," is followed by "Annie Laurie." My favourite is the fourth: "Any Little Girl That's a Nice Little Girl is the Right Little Girl for Me." Regimental Songs provides only the chorus:

The song in full is quite ribald.

Southam's booklet contains 168 songs – some bowdlerized, some not. "God Save the King" is sandwiched between the chorus of "Every Little Bit Added to What You've Got Makes Just a Little Bit More" and select lines from "Good-Night, Ladies."

Regimental Songs isn't all King, Country, and girls. 

I purchased the booklet ten years ago at a library book sale. It once belonged to Calvin Dale Williamson of St Marys, Ontario, who at nineteen enlisted to serve as a private in the 55th Overseas Battery, Canadian Field Artillery.

Après la guerre, Cal Williamson worked as a plumber. A life-long bachelor, he lived in a modest house on Jones Street East (likely the same house in which he was born). A friend who hired him in his later years remembers Mr Williamson as a hoarder and something of an eccentric. Calvin Dale Williamson died in 1983, at the age of eighty-seven. "When he died, the contents of his house were cleared out and dispersed," writes my friend. "The house was demolished and there is no trace of this interesting man left in St. Marys – except, perhaps, at some drilled wells."

Calvin Dale Williamson lies next to his parents, Thomas and Cordelia, in the St Marys Cemetery.


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01 November 2021

We All Win With May Agnes Fleming!

Who Wins?; or, The Secret of Monksworth Waste
May Agnes Fleming
New York: New York Book Company, 1910
180 pages

A woman trudges by night, babe at breast, though England's bleak marshes and ghastly commons. She begs for rest at Leamington, the nearest town, but her brute of a husband is insistent on making a ship that is scheduled to depart from Plymouth the next day. Yet, upon reaching Leamington, he's drawn to the warm lights of the Vine Inn. He does decide stop – but not before blackening his wife's one unblackened eye. "I'm going in for a pot o' porter, mistress," says he; "wait you here till I come back. The poor woman does just that. Upon her husband's return, she takes up a long, heavy, sharp-pointed stone, "deadly as a dagger," and brings it down on his head:

There was one convulsive bound, one gurgling cry, a spout of hot, red blood, and then—
      The woman turned away with sickening horror from what lay before her. It was very still, too; there was no need to repeat the blow. She flung the stone away, took one last glance at the sleeping child, one last, shuddering gaze at that other still form, then turned swiftly and flitted away into the night.
Time and place shift abruptly to a crowded French vaudeville on the Surrey side of the Thames, where dark-eyed danseuse Miss Rose Adair is giving her farewell performance before returning to Paris. It's the cheapest hot ticket in all of London. A small gathering of slumming military men sit in the more expensive seats:
Very harmless young heroes, their maiden swords still unfleshed — their maiden pistols preserving their pristine glitter — dainty carpet knights, great in the dance, and mighty at the mess-table. They lounged about the boxes, amusing themselves with sarcastic criticisms on their neighbors, while waiting for the curtain to rise.
The most envied of their circle is nineteen-year-old Lieutenant Cyril Paget Trevanion; this has less to do with his striking good looks – he has the proportions of "a muscular Apollo" – than it does with his  future as Lord of Monkswood Hall, Trevanion Park, and heir to an estate with a rental income of £15,000 per annum (roughly £1,830,000 today). In the immediate, young Trevanion has caught the eye of la belle Rose... and she his. Trevanion's fellow officers see short-term fun, but no future:
"A man can not marry his grandmother — no more can he marry a little danseuse, particularly at the innocent age of nineteen. Not but that Miss Rose Adair is pretty enough and sparkling enough to almost warrant such folly. Trevanion’s deucedly spooney about her, but there’ll be no marrying, take my word for it. He comes of a race as proud as the devil.”
What is the connection between these two disparate scenes? Who is the murderess? What happened to her baby? Will Trevanion marry Rose? Can an aristocrat and vaudevillian share a future?

And then there's the title. Who Wins? Against whom? What's the prize?

As in all May Agnes Fleming novels, answers come in time. Who Wins?, being one of her shortest, they come more quickly and are a touch more obvious. This is not to suggest that the standard elements of a Fleming novel are lacking; murder, extreme wealth, extreme poverty, inheritance, disinheritance, secret identities, secret passages, more murder, and romance all figure.

Hermit or hag? There's always one.

In this case, it's the latter.

Much as I'm loath to use the term, I can't help but describe Who Wins? as the most meta of the Flemings I've read to date. This has much to do with the mysterious character Angus Macgregor's occupation as a writer of popular fiction. In this scene, acquaintance Charley Chudleigh stops by for a tongue-wag:
"Busy, as usual?" he remarked, lounging in, looking inexpressibly handsome and cool in his summer suit of spotless linen. "If I disturb the exercises, I'll go." (Macgregor, in the deep, rose-shaded window-seat, was writing.) "Whereabouts are you? Is Lord Charlemagne Charlemount on his knees to the lovely Lady Sleepshanks? Or is the Black Bandit in the act of leaping from the top of the Martello Tower with the shrieking Aureola Pasdebasque in his arms, or has Rinaldo Binaldi, the magnificent hero of the tale, the dazzling son of 'poor but honest parents,' just been consigned to the deepest dungeon beneath the castle moat by that black-hearted scoundrel, the gouty old Marquis of Carabas? Egad! Macgregor, you sensation novelists are tremendous fellows, and play the very mischief with the women's noddles. Say the word, and I'll go; I've the greatest awe of the profession, and wouldn't interrupt a thrilling chapter for countless worlds."
I laughed aloud when reading this passage, in which the valet M François resigns his position:"Mr. Macgregor's valet may seem to have little to do with this veracious history, but Mr. Macgregor's valet was the direct means of bringing about a rapid dénouement."

Who Wins? isn't my favourite Fleming novel – that would be The Midnight Queen –but as I'm learning there is no bad place to start reading her work.

Give Who Wins? a try if you're looking for one of her shorter reads; whether female or male, she will play with your noddle.

Trivia: Google informs that Plymouth is a 317-kilometre hike from Leamington, estimating sixty-five hours of steady walking between spa town and port city. I expect May Agnes Fleming, a New Brunswicker who never visited England, was unaware of this fact.

Object: My copy was purchased last year from a bookseller in upstate New York. Price: US$12.00. It was once owned by a man named Gerald E. Rule ("from Mother"). The title on its cover and spine drop the question mark, but the title page (above) gets things right. Likely the most recent edition, it was published as part of the New York Book Company's Famous Fiction Library. Amongst the other Canadian titles in the Famous Fiction Library, we find only Mrs Fleming's The Baronet's Bride.

Access: Lauren McMullen's invaluable "Checklist of Works by May Agnes Fleming" suggests that Who Wins? made its print debut serialized in Philadelphia Saturday Night (16 April and 23 July 1870). She records a second serialization under the title The Mystery of Mordaunt Hall, which ran anonymously from 16 July 1870 to 1 November 1870 in the London Journal. Prof McMullen notes that the names of settings and characters are altered in the latter serial.*

Prof McMullen's research suggests that Who Wins? may have first appeared as a book published by New York's Surprise Library. No date is given. The earliest edition that can be read online – New York: Munro, 1895 – is here at the Internet Archive. Those looking to purchase a copy online have two choices: a 110-year-old or so New York Book Company bind-up of The Baronet's Bride and Who Wins? (price: US$15.93) or a nearly-equally-as-old paper-covered Street & Smith edition (price: US$25.00).

I'd be torn.

No pun intended.

The Mystery of Mordaunt Hall is not to be confused with another novel of the same title serialized in New Zealand's Thames Star (4 February-14 April 1896). It too was published anonymously.

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