21 February 2022

A Woman Who Did

The Untempered Wind
Joanna E. Wood
Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1994
354 pages

In Henry James Morgan's Types of Canadian Women, published in 1903 by William Briggs, Joanna E. Wood is described as a "well known Canadian novelist."

She is not today.

She was not a half-century ago.

She was not a century ago.

"Meteor-like" is the word Barbara Goddard uses to describe Wood's career. In fact, it ended the very year Types of Canadian Women appeared.

The novelist was all of thirty-five.

Joanna E Wood was twenty-six when The Untempered Wind, her first novel, was published. Its heroine, Myron Holder, has had a child out of wedlock; she is "a mother, but not a wife," and so suffers the scorn of Jamestown, the small Ontario village in which she was born and raised. Myron's own mother is dead, as is her father. Her unloving grandmother is very much alive and shares a modest house with Myron and her baby boy.

When first published in 1894, The Untempered Wind proved a critical and commercial success, encouraging three printings, each featuring the same ten illustrations. The frontispiece was used on the cover of the Tecumseh edition:

Had I been involved in its publication, I would have chosen one of the illustrations depicting Myron. This is my favourite:

Still, I understand the selection. Myron may be the protagonist of The Untempered Wind, but more pages are given over to those so quick to pass judgement. Mrs Deans, the most prominent, leverages her employ of Myron as an act of sacrifice and charity: "I feel a duty to have her here, but it goes ag'in me, Mr. Long [the ragman] it does that; but there, we all have our cross and we must help along as well as we can." Other women of the village visit Myron's grandmother on the pretence of providing sympathy. Each hopes to be the one who uncovers the identity of the child's father, but not even old Mrs Holder knows his name.

Not everyone in Jamestown condemns Myron; some are too drunk to care, while others are oblivious to her situation. This reader was struck by young Bing White, an elfish lad who today's reader will recognise as displaying all the early interests and obsessions of a serial killer:
There was something hideously repulsive in this boy's secret cruelties, horrible to relate, sickening to contemplate. But the creatures he tormented, maimed, killed, knew neither anticipation nor remembrance; the "corporeal pang" was all.
A boy drawn to blood, including his own, Bing is unique in nineteenth-century Canadian literature, as is Jamestown. The village stands in stark contrast with the surrounding farmland as a place poisoned by an atmosphere of envy, greed, cruelty, and hypocrisy:
The Jamestown people, in making a pariah of Myron Holder, were not urged to the step by imperative feeling of hurt honor or pained surprise. Such faults as hers were not uncommon there; but never before had the odium rested upon one only. Besides, there had always been some "goings on" and some "talk" indicative of the affair. In Myron Holder's case, the Jamestown people had been caught napping. In such eases a marriage and reinstatement into public favor was the usual sequel, arrived at after much exhilarating and spicy gossip, much enjoyable speculation, much meditation upon the part of the matrons, and much congratulation that all had ended so well.

Myron is ostracised for not following that well-trod path. After a time, she comes to have a friend in Homer Wilson, by far the most intelligent person in Jamestown, whose ambitions have been crushed by manipulative, guilt-inducing parents. 

The Untempered Wind was first published the year before The Woman Who Did by fellow Upper Canadian Grant Allen. The latter, also a story of an unwed mother, was a succès de scandale. Wood's novel didn't raise as much stink, but it was a success. The three printings by original publisher New York's J Slewing Tait and Sons were followed in 1898 by an Ontario Publishing Company edition.

Together The Untempered Wind and The Woman Who Did stand as two of the most remarkable Canadian novels of the nineteenth century.

Neither was so much as mentioned in my CanLit classes.

Object and Access: A trade paperback with introduction by Klay Dyer, The Untempered Wind is the seventh volume in Tecumseh's essential Early Canadian Women Writers Series. I purchased my less than pristine copy eight years ago at London's Attic Books. Price: $2.23. It's available from the publisher at $17.95 (plus postage) through this link.

Current Literature, November 1894

The Tait and Sons first edition can be read online here, but this scan of the third printing – reproduced in the Tecumseh edition – is much easier on the eyes.

As of this writing, only the Tecumseh edition is listed for sale online.

Related post:

16 February 2022

On Pierre Poilievre's Bookshelves

What with everything going on in Ottawa these days, my focus on things political has shifted from Parliament Hill to the hot tubs and bouncy castles on Wellington Street, and so it wasn't until yesterday that I found time to watch Pierre Poilievre's three-minute YouTube announcement of his run for Prime Minister the leadership of the Conservative Party.

Last go around, two years ago, the MP for Carleton surprised us all in announcing that he wouldn't be running. “I knew it would be hard on my family life to do this,” he said. 

That concern has passed.

Pundits posit Pierre Poilievre as the next party leader. I have no doubt he'll win, if only because there's no one else in the race.

"Governments have gotten big and bossy," begins Poilievre, who once served in the largest cabinet in Canadian history. The man who provided coffee, hot chocolate, and donuts to members of the "Freedom Convoy" goes on to criticise the Grits for exploiting Covid for political purposes.

Poilievre said more, but nothing so interesting or revealing as the collection of books behind his well-oiled hair.

Invite me into your home and I will cast an eye over your bookshelves. And I will judge. 

Beginning on the left uppermost shelf we have a copy of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward next to the Bodley Head edition of August 1914.

The only volume I recognise on the top centre shelf is Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins Study Bible (sadly, lacking dust jacket).

The next shelf holds five Dickens novels belonging to the Penguin Clothbound Classics series: Bleak House, Hard Times, Oliver TwistA Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations. PenguinRandomHouse sells these volumes as part of a six-volume set. I wonder what it means that A Christmas Carol is missing.

Framed family photos dominate the second row of shelves, but look carefully and you'll see the second edition of Richard Rohmer's Patton's Gap (Toronto: Stoddart, 1998). I bought two thousand copies when working for a national book chain. Sixteen years passed before I read it. If interested, my thoughts on Patton's Gap can be found in this ageing Reading Richard Rohmer post.

There aren't many Canadian books on Pierre Poilievre's shelves. The Rohmer aside, the only others I see are Stephen Payne's Canadian Wings: A Remarkable Century of Flight and Mark Reid's 100 Photos That Changed Canada. The Americans dominate: Reagan: In His Own Hand, Henry Kissinger's Diplomacy, Karl Rove's Courage and Consequence, Thomas Maier's The Kennedys, and Peter Baker's Days of Fire: Bush and Chaney in the White House.

There are no books on Canadian politics.

What else have we got? A paperback copy of 1984 is followed by The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill. A Regnery Gateway book is next. I thought at first it might be Ann Coulter's High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton, but now have my doubts.

All in all, it's a curious collection, arranged in a manner that can make sense only to Poilievre himself. Everything seems so neat, so orderly, so tidy, but look carefully and you'll find evidence of a more chaotic fourth row of shelves, all but blocked by his well-polished desktop. As with career politicians, some lean left, but most lean right.

15 February 2022

Valentine's Day Cathode Ray Tube Afterglow

               Better than dreaming, look and you'll find
               Even more than the romance that's in your mind

For the morning after the night before, this four-decade-old advert for Harlequin's Superromance series.

That voice!

My wife identified it immediately as belonging to Luther Vandross. Further research reveals that Vandross co-wrote the song. 

I'm a fan.

It's interesting to note that the four titles representing the "4 NEW TITLES EVERY MONTH" were published over a seven-month period.

I wonder how they were chosen.

Abra Taylor wrote two of the four: Taste of Eden and River of Desire. Real name Barbara Brouse, she was the very first Harlequin Superromance novelist. Her Toronto Star obituary, found here on the Brouse family website, is provides an all too brief portrait of a remarkable woman.

11 February 2022

West Coast Canadian Noir

Arthur Mayse's Perilous Passage is now arriving in better bookstores. Its publication comes after a long search. Post-war Canadian noir is expansive, but not in terms of geography. Most novels are set in Montreal; add in Toronto and you've pretty much covered the waterfront.

Pun intended.

For years I looked for a worthwhile novel set on the West Coast; one, two, three were read and rejected before I came upon Perilous Passage.

It more than made the cut. You'll find my thoughts here in in this 2020 blog post.

Perilous Passage was Arthur Mayse's first novel. It garnered attention before publication when the Saturday Evening Post paid US$15,000 (roughly US$176,000 today) for the serial rights. The novel appeared in seven instalments running from May 14 to June 25, 1949.

That autumn, Morrow published Perilous Passage in hardcover; it was soon reprinted.

Other editions followed, the first being a 1950 Pocket paperback with cover by sometime Post illustrator James R. Bingham.

In 1952, London publisher Frederick Muller brought out a UK edition.

The Ricochet edition is the first since Frederick Muller's.

Seventy years!

There was never any question as which cover we would use in its return to print.

The new edition features a fifteen-page introduction by Susan Mayse, the author's daughter.

Again, Perilous Passage is arriving on our better bookstores. It can also be purchased online from the usual sources. Better still, you can get it directly from the publisher through this link.

Any East Coast post-war noir out there?

Related posts:

07 February 2022

The Incomplete Repent at Leisure

A follow-up to last month's post on Joan Walker's Repent at Leisure.

Repent at Leisure
Joan Walker
The Star Weekly, 5 October 1957

The Star Weekly would like the reader to know that Joan Walker's Repent at Leisure is an award-winning novel.

Do not be impressed by this. In its day, the Ryerson Fiction Award was second only to the Governor General's Award, but it had little impact, nor did it receive much notice. Unlike most literary prizes, it was presented before publication, as detailed here in this old Winnipeg Tribune piece (which I expect is a rewritten press release):

27 June 1944
"Spy, detection and crime stories are ineligible," yet other genres were just fine? Seems unfair, especially when one considers that a good number of its fourteen winners – Here Stays Good Yorkshire (1945) by Will R. Bird, Desired Heaven (1953) by Evelyn Richardson, Pine Roots (1956) and The King Tree (1958) by Gladys Taylor, and Short of the Glory (1960) by E.M. Granger Bennett – fall neatly into the historical fiction category. 

I can't quite wrap my head around Ryerson's publishing strategy. Why hand off the novel's debut to the Star Weekly?

Even more curious, Repent at Leisure wouldn't arrive in bookstores until the second half of December. Was the idea to take advantage of last minute Christmas shoppers?

Star Weekly readers who loved Repent at Leisure and longed for more of Veronica and Louis's troubled romance were in for a treat because the "STAR WEEKLY COMPLETE NOVEL" wasn't the complete novel. In fact, the Star Weekly Repent at Leisure isn't half as long as the Ryerson Fiction Award winner.


While I'm sure it's possible to publish a 94,000-word novel in fourteen tabloid-sized pages, I very much doubt it could be read with the naked eye. 

How was it done? Cut the first two chapters to start.

This Repent at Leisure begins shortly after Veronica's arrival in Canada. There's nothing of her relationship with her parents, their concerns over her hasty marriage, or the descriptions of post-war air travel that this reader found so interesting. It opens instead with our heroine sitting, waiting her turn to meet with a customs officer.

Other cuts aren't as glaring, but they are obvious. I had some fun in comparing the two versions. This is the Ryerson version with the words cut in the Star Weekly struck out:

I like this scene because the Westmount Nash family come off as snobs of the highest order, which I'm certain wasn't the author's intent. They also seem so very English -– more so than the immigrant who has just arrived from London. Gone is the awkward and unnatural dialogue about the "Indian village Cartier found in fifteen-something on his first trip up the St. Lawrence;" which shouldn't have made it past Ryeson's editor.

The most interesting thing in comparing the two came in the discovery of additions made to the condensed version. Alan smokes whilst poring over the map in the Star Weekly edition. Margaret suggests that he's found only one Giroux Street because his map isn't up-to-date. Jane hands Veronica a cup of tea and a pink linen napkin. 

All minor changes, but mysterious given that the task at hand. And who did that task? Was it the author herself? The copyright notice suggests as much.

Might it be that the added bits are things the editor at Ryerson cut?

All this begs the question: Whatever happened to Joan Walker's papers?

01 February 2022

'February' by Marjorie Pickthall

A poem for the new month from The Complete Poems of Marjorie Pickthall (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1927).