20 June 2022

Good Times Never Seemed So Good


Caroline
André Norton and Enid Cushing
New York: Tor, 1983
320 pages


Caroline was published in January 1983, eight months before Enid Cushing's death. Her passing was not recognized by the Montreal Gazette, her hometown's surviving English-language daily, though her family did publish an obituary in the 30 August 1983 edition.


It's no surprise that the Gazette gave Enid Cushing's death no notice; the paper paid little attention to her writing career. Not one of her murder mysteries – Murder’s No Picnic (1953), Murder Without Regret (1954), Blood on My Rug (1956), The Unexpected Corpse (1957), and The Girl Who Bought a Dream (1957) – was reviewed in its pages. The same holds true for the titles she penned in her late-in-life resurrection as a writer of historical romances: Maid-At-Arms (1981) and Caroline (1983).

My interest in Enid Cushing began with the discovery of her 'fifties Montreal mysteries, but I'm much more intrigued by her two romances. Both Maid-At-Arms and Caroline are collaborations with celebrated American science fiction writer Andre Norton (aka André Norton; née Alice Mary Norton). While I've not been able to discover how the two came to work together, I have learned that their friendship dates back to at least 1953, the year Murder's No Picnic was published.


Maid-At-Arms stands with Rosemary Aubert's Firebrand as my very favourite Canadian romance novel. Caroline is a close third. 

The back cover copy is a touch misleading:


Caroline Warwick is indeed young, beautiful, and a free spirit, but she never expresses a wish to study medicine. This is not to suggest that Caroline isn't curious; the earliest scene has her looking to set a kitten's broken leg by consulting medical texts. There are a great many such books in her parents' Montreal home. Caroline's father, one of the city's most respected physicians, lectures at McGill. Elder brother Perry is studying medicine at the university. And then there's Richard: "Richard Harvey (he was not a Warwick at all, although he had lived with them since his mother died when he was born and his father had gone west and died in the wilderness) who seemed to be the truly devoted doctor."

Richard began his education in Canada and furthered it in Scotland. His unanticipated return, pretty new wife in tow, is met with mixed reception in the family's St Gabriel Street home. Doctor Warwick, Mrs Warwick, Caroline, and Perry are happy, but not Priscilla. The fifth member and eldest daughter of the household, Pris had a thing for Richard. It doesn't help that his bride is Lady Amelia, niece of Lord Elgin, the newly installed Governor General of the Province of Canada.

But Pris is something a coquette – "flirting and playacting" is how Irish housemaid Molly puts it – and so she's over it soon enough, turning her attentions of Lord Elgin's aides-de-camp, including Lady Amelia's bounder of a brother Captain Carruthers and dark brute Major Vickers. Before the Governor General's arrival, Pris had time for handsome Corbie Hannacker, the most eligible bachelor in all the province, but she now ignores him, much to the distress of her younger sister. Caroline sees Hannacker as everything Pris should want in a man. Like Richard, he's good, kind, and wonderful, so much so that he continues to visit because he knows how much Caroline, seventeen going on eighteen, admires his horses.

Caroline is a much more conventional romance than the gender-bending Maid-At-Arms. Seasoned readers of the genre will recognize in the early pages that its heroine is destined for Corbie's arms. The question is just how this happy union – there is a wedding – will come to be.

 

Caroline is a well-written, well-crafted novel; the headache-inducing sentence in which Richard is introduced is an anomaly. Given Enid Cushing's awkward mystery novels, one might conclude that Norton's name deserved place of prominence, but I argue otherwise. Norton had no connection with Canada, never mind Montreal – and Caroline is very much a Montreal novel. The action takes place over little more than twelve months in the city's history. Beginning in January 1847 with Lord Elgin's arrival, it incorporates the Summer of Sorrow and the opening of the Montreal & Lachine Railroad, ending in the early months of 1948. Throughout it all, I kept an eye out for historical inaccuracies, yet spotted nothing. I doubt credit goes to Norton, just as I doubt Norton, a science fiction novelist from Cleveland, Ohio, came up with the idea of a historical romance set in mid-nineteenth-century Canada. It's unlikely Caroline will ever be reprinted, but if it is, let's give Enid Cushing equal billing.

Trivia: This Montrealer has memories of a St Gabriel Street, location of the Warwick residence, but I couldn't quite place it. Investigation reveals that it is - unsurprisingly - in the oldest part of the city.

Adolphus Bourne, Map of the City of Montreal, 1843 (detail)
Three short blocks in length, it was once home to the Scotch Presbyterian Church. Its story was recorded by Rev Robert Campbell, "the last pastor," in A History of the Scotch Presbyterian Church, Saint Gabriel Street, Montreal (Montreal: Drysdale, 1887). Amongst the subscribers is a man named Charles Cushing. 

Object and Access: A decaying mass market paperback. The cover illustration is by New Brunswicker Norm Eastman, best known for men's magazine covers like this:

New Man, October 1968

I purchased my copy last year for US$5.79 from an Ohio bookseller. 

As far as I can tell, not one Canadian library holds a copy.

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