18 July 2022

What Is a Canadian Fiction?

Several months ago, The Dorchester Review asked me to review David Staines' A History of Canadian Fiction.

Who am I to turn down an invitation.

Professor Staines' book was read at great sacrifice. Going through its 304 pages I ignored Stephen Henighan, a favourite critic, who shared his opinion of A History of Canadian Fiction in the pages of the Times Literary Supplement. A blind eye was turned to Stephen W. Beattie, another favourite, who reviewed the book for the Quill & Quire.

After submitting my review I read the two Stephens, sat back, and watched for more. I was more than rewarded with John Metcalf's newly published The Worst Truth: Regarding A History of Canadian Fiction by David Staines (Windsor: Biblioasis, 2022).

The Worst Truth quotes Henighan's TLS review, in which he makes this criticism of Staines:
He provides a useful introduction to Inuit literary culture, paying the 39,000 native speakers of Inuktituk an attention he denies to Canada's 7.3 million native speakers of French.
Well, the Spring/Summer Dorchester Review has now landed, bringing with it my review of Professor Staines' history, some of which adds to Henighan's observation:

How is it that a book titled A History of Canadian Fiction would exclude work written in French? Remarkably, Staines does not address this issue. In fact, he doesn’t so much as recognize the existence of Canadian fiction written in French. Of the hundreds of writers of fiction named in this book, we find two French names: Roger Lemelin and Gabrielle Roy. They first feature in a short list of “important people” who were once interviewed by Mavis Gallant and reappear as in another list of writers whose fiction Mordecai Richler had read. Roy’s name is in a third list, this of writers with whom Sandra Birdsell corresponded. 
     And that’s it. 
     The only mention of a work written in French appears in a nine-page "Chronology of historical, cultural, and literary events" that precedes the text itself. Next to the year 1632, we find: “Jesuit Relations, an annual, begins and continues until 1673.” But of course, they weren’t the “Jesuit Relations,” they were the Relations des jésuites.

More in The Dorchester Review.

And I have even more to say.

Invitations accepted.

16 July 2022

Charles Sangster's Birthday Poem

Son of Kingston, Charles Sangster was born two hundred years ago today. I can't claim to remember much of his verse, the following from The Saint Lawrence and the Saguenay, and Other Poems (Kingston: Creighton & Duff, 1856) excepted. It's thought to have been written in 1855 for Mary Kilborn, whom the poet married in 1856... and who died in 1858. 

                         One of the Fourscore years, Mary,
                            Has passed like a dream away,
                         A dream of laughter and tears, Mary,
                            Like a showery summer's day,
                                 With its rainbow bright,
                                 In the warm twilight,
                            Fair pledge of a happier day, Mary,
                            God's pledge of a happier day.

                        Swiftly the seasons roll, Mary,
                           Like the waves o'er a mighty sea,
                        Searching the depths of the soul, Mary,
                           With their power and mystery.
                                Every hour that flies,
                                Tells in distant skies
                           The words that it heard from thee, Mary,
                           The deeds that are done by thee.

                       See that the tale be pure, Mary,
                          That the Hours may have to tell;
                       Goodness and Truth, we are sure, Mary,
                          Heav'n loveth exceeding well;
                               And the beauteous mind
                               Where Truth is shrined,
                          Glows bright as a sunny dell, Mary,
                          Glows bright as a sunny dell.

                       More of the Fourscore years, Mary,
                          Must pass like the first away,
                       Each, as its turn appears, Mary,
                          May not be a summer's day;
                               But Hope's rainbow bright,
                               With its smile, will light
                          The close of a happier day, Mary,
                          The dawn of Eternal Day.

11 July 2022

Gothique Canadien

Cameron of Lochiel [Les Anciens Canadiens]
Phillipe[-Joseph] Aubert de Gaspé [trans Charles G.D.
Boston: L.C.Page, 1905
287 pages

Pulled from the bookcase on la Fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste, returned on Canada Day, I first read this translation of Les Anciens Canadiens in my teens. It served as my introduction to this country's French-language literature. Revisiting the novel four decades later, I was surprised at how much I remembered.

Les Anciens Canadiens centres on Archibald Cameron and friend Jules d'Haberville. The two meet as students at Quebec City's Collège des Jésuites. Cameron, "commonly known as Archie of Lochiel," is the orphaned son of a father who made the mistake of throwing his lot behind Bonnie Prince Charlie. Jules is the son of the seigneur d'Haberville, whose lands lie at Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, on the south shore of the Saint Lawrence, some eighty kilometres north-east of Quebec City.

Montreal's Lakeshore School Board – now the Lester B. Pearson School Board – was very keen that we study the seigneurial system.

And we did!

We coloured maps using Laurentian pencils; popsicle sticks and papier-mâché landscapes were also involved. There was much focus on architecture and geography, but not so much on tradition and culture.

We were not assigned Les Anciens Canadiens – not even in translation – which is a pity because I find it the most engaging historical novel in Canadian literature. 

It was through Les Anciens Canadiens that I first learned of Marie-Josephte Corriveau – la  Corriveau – who was executed in April 1763 for the bloody murder of her second husband, Louis Étienne Dodier. Her corpse was subsequently suspended roadside in a gibbet (left). Just the sort of thing that would've caught the attention of this high school Hammer Horror fan.

La Corriveau owes her presence in the novel to José Dubé, the d'Haberville's talkative trusted servant. Tasked with transporting Jules and his "brother de Lochiel" Archie from the Collège to the seigneury, he entertains with legends, folk stories, folk songs, and tall tales. José's story about la Corriveau has nothing to do with the murderess's crime, rather a dark night when "in her cage, the wicked creature, with her eyeless skull" attacked his father. This occurred on on the very same evening in which his dear père claims to have encountered all the damned souls of Canada gathered for a witches' sabbath on the Île d'Orléans (also known as the Île des Sorciers). Says José: "Like an honest man, he loved his drop; and on his journeys he always carried a flask of brandy in his dogfish-skin satchel. They say the liquor is the milk for old men."

Seigneur d'Haberville [Les Anciens Canadiens]
Phillipe Aubert de Gaspé [trans Georgians M. Pennée]
Toronto: Musson, 1929
Les Anciens Canadiens is unusual in that José and other secondary characters are by far the most memorable. We have, for example, M d'Egmont, "the old gentleman," who was all but ruined through his generosity to others. The account of his decent, culminating in confinement in debtors' prison, is most certainly drawn from the author's own experience. And then there's wealthy widow Marie, "witch of the manor," who foretells a future in which Archie carries "the bleeding body of him you call your brother."

The dullest of we high school students would've recognized early on that Archie and Jules' friendship is formed in the decade preceding the Seven Years' War. The brightest would've had some idea as to where things will lead. The climax, if there can be said to be one, has nothing to do with the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, rather the bloodier Battle of Sainte-Foy.

Not all is so dark. Aubert de Gaspé, born twenty-six years after the fall of New France, makes use of the novel to record the world of his parents and grandparents: their celebrations, their food, and their games ("'does the company please you,' or 'hide the ring,' ''shepherdess,' or 'hide and seek,' or 'hot cockles'"), while lamenting all that is slipping away:
In The Vicar of Wakefield Goldsmith makes the good pastor say:
     "I can't say whether we had more wit among us than usual, but I'm certain we had more laughing, which answered the end as well."
     The same might be said of the present gathering, over which there reigned that French light-heartedness which seems, alas, to be disappearing in what Homer would call these degenerate days.
Les Anciens Canadiens is so very rich in detail and story. Were this another country, it would have been adapted to radio, film, and television. It should be assigned reading in our schools – both English and French. My daughter should know it. In our own degenerate days, she should know how to make a seigneurial manor house out of popsicle sticks. 

Object: Typical of its time. As far as this Canadian can tell, what's depicted on the cover is the Cameron tartan. The frontispiece (above) is by American illustrator H.C. Edwards. 

The novel proper is preceded by the translator's original preface and a preface written for the new edition.

Twelve pages of adverts for other L.C. Page titles follow, including Roberts' The Story of Red FoxBarbara Ladd, The Kindred of the Wild, The Forge in the Forest, The Heart of the Ancient Wood, A Sister to Evangeline, By the Marshes of Minas, Earth's Enigmas, and his translation of Les Anciens Canadiens.

Access: Les Anciens Canadiens remains in print. The first edition, published in 1863 by Desbarats et Derbyshire, can be purchased can be found online for no more than US$150.

First editions of the Roberts translation, published as The Canadians of Old (New York: Appleton, 1890), go for as little as US$28.50.

In 1974, as Canadians of Old, it was introduced as title #106 in the New Canadian Library. This was the edition I read as teenager... and the edition I criticized in middle-age. Note that the cover credits the translator, and not the author:


That said, the NCL edition is superior to Page's 1905 Cameron of Lochiel – available online here thanks to the Internet Archive – only in that it features Aubert de Gaspé's endnotes (untranslated).

Les Anciens Canadiens has enjoyed three and a half translations. The first, by Georgians M. Pennée, was published ion 1864 under the title The Canadians of Old. It was republished in 1929 as Seigneur d'Haberville, correcting "printer's errors" and "too literal translation." Roberts' translation was the the second. The most recent, by Jane Brierley, published in 1996 by Véhicule Press. is the only translation in print. It is also the only edition to feature a translation of the endnotes.

Jane Brierley's translation, Canadians of Old, can be purchased here through the Véhicule Press website. Ms Brierley also translated Aubert de Gaspé's Mémoires (1866; A Man of SentimentVéhicule, 1987) and Divers (1893, Yellow-Wolf and Other Tales of the Saint Lawrence, Véhicule, 1990).

Lester B. Pearson School Board take note.

Related posts:

04 July 2022

A Forgotten Novelist's Hidden Debut

Joan Suter was thirty-seven when her first novel, East of Temple Bar, was published. She'd begun her working life as a fashion illustrator, then headed for Fleet Street, east of Temple Bar, where she found employment as an editor for Amalgamated Press and the George Newes Firm. Suter also wrote short stories under the name "Leonie Mason," which led to some confusion when the London Daily Herald (18 August 1938) reported on the marriage of "Miss Leonie Mason who writes fiction under the name of Joan Suter" to journalist Ogilvie "Punch" MacKenzie Kerr.

London Daily Herald, 18 August 1938
According to the Daily Herald, the wedding followed "a romance of 14 days, which began when they met in a darts match."

Sadly, by the time East of Temple Bar was published, Joan and Punch were no more. She had yet to divorce, but had already met second husband James Walker, a major in the 12th Canadian Tank Regiment. They married in Toronto on 20 September 1946. From that point onwards she wrote as "Joan Walker," and erased East of Temple Bar and her Leonie Mason fiction from her bibliography.

I was on a bit of a Walker tear earlier this year, reading and reviewing her novels Murder by Accident (1947) and Repent at Leisure (1957). In April, I spoke about the author with Dick Bourgeois-Doyle on his Canus Humorus podcast.

I review East of Temple Bar in the new issue of Canadian Notes & Queries. The exercise brought to mind my work on A Gentleman of Pleasure, a biography of self-described "great practitioner of deceit" John Glassco.  

Speaking of Glassco, Carmine Starnino's The Essential John Glassco (Porcupine's Quill) is one of the three reissues I chose for the What's Old feature; No Crystal Stair by Mairuth Sarsfield (Linda Leith Publishing) and The Tangled Miracle by Bertram Brooker (Invisible Publishing) are the two others.

All three belong on your bookshelves.

Invisible, let me know what you're up to!

As always, Seth provides the cover. The Landscape, his regular feature, concerns the long-dead Montreal Standard's magazine supplement.

Margaret Atwood looks at the the short stories of Clark Blaise.

Other contributors include:
Marc Allen
Barry Baldwin
Elaine Coburn
Robert Colman
Jeffery Donaldson
sophie anne edwards
Sadie Graham
Brett Josef Grunisic
Tom Halford
Rhiannon Ng Cheng Hin
Kate Kennedy
Marius Kociejowski
Kim Johntone
Robin Mackay
David Mason
Dominik Parisien
Alice Petersen
Jean Marc Ah-sen interviews Dimitri Nasrallah.

Megan Durnford interviews Céline Huyghbaert.

Sindu Sivayogan adapts Shyam Saladurai's Cinnamon Gardens.

As always, the last page belongs to Stephen Fowler, who serves up Melva E Adams' Marshmallow Magic. Self-published in 1978, it belongs in every Canadian kitchen.

Subscribers receive John Metcalf's The Worst Truth: Regarding A History of Canadian Fiction by David Staines.

Sixty-one pages in length, I read it in one sitting.

Subscriptions to Canadian Notes & Queries can be purchased through this link.

My review of Prof Staines' history was written for another magazine.

It's coming.

01 July 2022

Verse by the First of Dominion Poetesses

Verse for the day by Agnes Maule Machar from Lays of the 'True North' and Other Canadian Poems (Toronto: Copp, Clark, 1899). No less a critic than Edwin Arnold considered Miss Machar "the first of Dominion poetesses." See if you don't agree.


With feu de joie, and merry bells, and cannons' thundering peal,
And pennons fluttering on the breeze, and serried rows of steel,
We greet once more the birthday morn of our Canadian land,
Wide stretching from Atlantic shore to far Pacific strand,
With sweeping rivers, ocean lakes, and prairies wide and free,
And waterfalls and forests dim, and mountains by the sea;
A country on whose birth there smiled the genius of romance,
Above whose cradle brave hands hung the lilied flag of France;
Whose infancy was grimly nursed in peril, pain and woe,
When gallant hearts found early graves beneath Canadian snow;
When savage raid and ambuscade and famine's sore distress
Combined their strength in vain to crush the gallant French noblesse;
While her dim, trackless forests lured again and yet again
From silken courts of sunny France her flower, the brave Champlain;
And now her proud traditions guard four ancient rolls of fame,
Crécy's and Flodden's combatants for ancestors we claim!
Past feud and battle buried far behind the peaceful years,
While Gaul and Celt and Saxon turn to pruning-hooks their spears;
Four nations welded into one with long, historic past,
Have found in these our western wilds one common life at last.

Through the young giant's mighty limbs that reach from sea to sea
There runs a throb of conscious life, of waking energy;
From Nova Scotia's misty coast to far Pacific shore
She wakes, a band of scattered homes and colonies no more,
But a young nation, with her life full beating in her breast;
A noble future in her eyes, the Britain of the West.
Hers be the generous task to fill the yet untrodden plains
With fruitful, many-sided life that courses through her veins:
The English honour, nerve and pluck, the Scotchman's faith in right,
The grace and courtesy of France, the Irish fancy bright,
The Saxon's faithful love of home and home's affections blest,
And chief of all, our holy faith, of all her treasures best!

May she, though poor in luxuries, wax rich in noble deeds,
Knowing that righteousness exalts the people that it leads.
As yet the waxen mould is soft, the opening page is fair;
It rests with those who rule us now to leave their impress there,
The stamp of true nobility, high honour, stainless truth,
The earnest quest of noble ends, the generous heart of youth;
The love of country, soaring far above all party strife,
The love of culture, art and song, the crowning grace of life,
The love of science reaching far through Nature's hidden ways,
The love and fear of Nature's God, a nation's highest praise;
So, in the long hereafter, our Canada shall be
The worthy heir of British power and British liberty,
Spreading their blessings 'neath her sway to her remotest bounds,
While with the fame of her fair name a continent resounds,
True to the high traditions of our Britain's ancient glory
Of patriots, prophets, martyrs, saints, who live in deathless story,
Strong in their liberty and truth, to shed from shore to shore
A light among the nations, till nations are no more!