30 November 2022

John McCrae: 150 Years

November 30, 1872, Guelph, Ontario
 January 28, 1918, Boulogne-sur-Mer, France


28 November 2022

The Dustiest Bookcase: Z is for Zink (Again)

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

The Uprooted
Lubor Zink
Toronto: Longmans Canada, 1962
343 pages

The Bombardier Guide to Canadian Authors places satirist Lubor Zink in the same league as Rabelais, Swift, and Ayn Rand, yet few outside the Canadians at National Lampoon truly understood his talent. He worked for decades as a columnist in Toronto, with the Telegram and the Sun, but his humour went over the heads of most readers. Zink will be forever linked to Pierre Elliott Trudeau, toward whom he feigned obsession and hatred, but I think his best columns date from the Pearson era. In July 26, 1965 edition of the Toronto Telegram he criticizes medicare, suggesting "legalcare, morticare, carcare, housecare, leisurecare, and endless other possibilities" are to follow.


Lubor J Zink
[Toronto]: [Toronto Sun], 1972

Zink coined "Trudeaumania," which Larry Zolf credits with boosting PET in the 1968 Liberal leadership race. "Trudeaucracy," the title of his 1972 book, didn't catch on in the same way. Lubor Zink's greatest influence was on Stephen Colbert, who clearly used the "Lubor J Zink" character as the inspiration for his own on The Colbert Report.

Zink wrote three novels, The Uprooted, a Cold War thriller, being the only one that was written and published in English. Does it not have the look of a late-seventies indie album?

If his mastery of satire is anything to go by, Zink's thriller will be even better than Richard Rohmer's Starmaggedon.

21 November 2022

A Romance of Toronto: CanLit Most Verbose

A Romance of Toronto (Founded on Fact)
Mrs Annie G. Savigny
Toronto: William Briggs, 1888
229 pages

The first chapter, 'Toronto a Fair Matron,' begins:
Two gentlemen friends saunter arm in arm up and down the deck of the palace steamer Chicora as she enters our beautiful Lake Ontario from the picturesque Niagara River, on a perfect day in delightful September, when the blue canopy of the heavens seems so far away, one wonders that the mirrored surface of the lake can reflect its color.
Dale and Buckingham are the two gentlemen friends. In their sauntering, the former teases the latter for being a bachelor. Dale brags that he has not only wed, but has managed to father a child, whilst friend Buckingham prefers the company of his gentleman's club.

I describe this opening scene because it suggests an intriguing read.

Sadly, A Romance of Toronto is not.

Buckingham has joined Dale, Mrs Dale, their child, and pretty governess Miss Crew on a voyage from New York to Toronto. His presence aboard the Chicora is something of a mystery, but then the same might be said of the Dales and young Miss Crew. All may or may not involve a certain Mrs Gower, who has put to pen "a letter descriptive of Toronto." Dale reads it aloud as the palace steamer approaches Ontario's capitol. Four pages are consumed, these being the middle two:

Cliquez pour agrandir.
A Romance of Toronto is not a long novel but it demands a good amount of time and a great deal of concentration and patience. The reader may feel lost in the early chapters, but will eventually come upon a path. That same path will split in two, and then come together in the final pages.

In her introductory note, Mrs Savigny describes A Romance of Toronto as a novel consisting of two plots.

Dale and Buckingham have nothing to do with either.

The first involves young Charles Babbington-Cole. He knows Mrs Gower through his father, Hugh Babbington-Cole. A widower in frail health, Babbington-Cole père was once engaged to a wealthy Englishwoman. Tragically, the union was prevented through conniving and lies told the bride-elect by the sister of his late wife. The Englishwoman instead married her guardian with whom she had a daughter. When the sister-in-law's malfeasance was exposed Hugh Babbington-Cole and the Englishwoman – identified only as "Pearl" – vow that their offspring will one day wed and together inherit her riches.

And so, Charles Babbington-Cole bids Mrs Gower adieu, embarking for England and a storyline that reads like a very bad imitation of May Agnes Fleming; kidnapping, false identity, forced marriage, and a gothic manor house will figure.

The second plot – much more absurd, yet somehow less interesting – concerns Mrs Gower herself. A woman who has has twice worn the black robes of widowhood, she is cornered into accepting a marriage proposal from Mr Cobbe, by far the most repellent of her social set. Mrs Gower tells Mrs Drew how this came to be in 'The Oath in the Tower of Toronto University,' the novel's sixteenth chapter. This is its beginning:

Cliquez pour agrandir.
Several more pages pass in Mrs Gower's telling, but it comes down to this: Cobbe, who has been pestering Mrs Gower to marry him, fools her into believing that they've become locked in the tower overnight. Fearing scandal, Mrs Gower promises to marry Cobbe if he can only find a way out of their situation. The two descend only to find that the tower door isn't locked, and yet she holds herself to the oath.

Is Mrs Gower doomed to marry Cobbe? Is there not a means through which she can be released from her promise? Might the mysterious woman who has been haunting the grounds of Mrs Gower's home hold the key? The situation is made all the more dire when she meets and falls in love with Alexander Blair, a barrister newly arrived from Scotland.

Nothing is spoiled in reporting that all ends happily; the first of the novel's two epigraphs suggests as much.

Mrs Savigny's note makes it plain that A Romance of Toronto (Founded on Fact) is a roman à clef. but who are its models? Her two plots – "one of which was told to me by an actor therein; the other I have myself watched" – are "living facts." Who are the originals?  

A Montrealer, I hope to hear the answer from one of Toronto's fair children.

Trivia: The epigraph attributed to Charles Darwin – "I would like the Government to forbid the publication of all novels that did not end well." – is a false quote. Sleuthing led to the December 3, 1887 number of The Illustrated London News, which cites "Darwin's delightful biography [sic]" as the source. In The Autobiography of Charles Darwin (1887), the naturalist writes of the pleasure he receives from novels, adding: "A surprising number have been read aloud to me, and I like all if moderately good, and if they do not end unhappily—against which a law ought to be passed."

Mrs Savigny attributes her second epigraph – "What would the world do without story-books" – to Charles Dickens. I've not been able to find this quote or anything resembling it outside the pages of her novel.

Trivia II: The University of Toronto is referred to only once as such; "Toronto University" is used throughout the rest of the novel. I asked Amy Lavender Harris, author of Imagining Toronto, about this. She suggests that "Toronto University" might have been used to connote familiarity.

Bloomers: There are two, both expressed by Mrs Gower. The first is upon learning of Charles Babbington-Cole's departure for England:
"Don't you think, Lilian, that the opposite sex is usually chosen to lend an ear?" she said, carelessly, to conceal a feeling of sadness at the out-going of her friend; for she is aware that the old friendly intercourse is broken, now that he has gone to his wedding.
In the second, Mrs Gower is speaking of the man she loves:
"I am so glad he has come into my life: I feel lonely at times; and he is so companionable, I know. What dependent creatures we are, after all—houses and lands, robes a la mode, even, don't suffice. Intercourse we must have."

Object and Access: A deceptively slim hardcover. Fifty years after publication, my copy was added to the library of the Department of the Secretary of State. One wonders why. Might it have something to do with the suggestion that A Romance of Toronto is a roman à clef? I'm guessing not, but like to imagine otherwise. 

I don't know what to make of the binding, which is markedly different than Harvard University's copy:

I purchased A Romance of Toronto three years ago. As I write this just two copies are listed for sale online. The least expensive – $65 – is "good only." At $247, the alternative is "very fine." Take your pick.

A Romance of Toronto was reprinted in 1973 by the University of Toronto. If anything, that edition is even more rare. Long in the public domain, it continues to be picked over by print on demand vultures. This cover is my favourite by far:

12 November 2022

Murray and the Argonauts

Arizona Argonauts
H Bedford-Jones
New York: Doubleday, 1923
120 pages
Note: Arizona Argonauts is a novella infused with racial epithets.
Reader discretion is advised.
The cover is deceptive. Arizona Argonauts is not a western. The scene depicted comes from another writer's story. The main characters in this novella drive automobiles.

The first chapter is very strong. It begins with a conversation between Piute Tompkins and Deadoak Stevens, men of prominence in the dried-up former mining town of Two Palms, Arizona. There are two topics, the longest running involves their five-year-old investment in wells, pumping machinery, cement irrigation pipe, pear trees, and almond trees. They hope to see some return in another five years.  Of more recent interest is Tom Lee, a "Chinee" who is staying at Piute's hotel. The proprietor sees his lodger as a mystery:

"Ain't he? He is. Him, and that girl, and what in time they're a-doing here."
   "Even so," echoed Deadoak, as he rolled a list-less cigarette. "Who ever heard of a chink ownin' a autobile? Not me. Who ever heard of a chink havin' a purty daughter? Not me. Who ever heard of a chink goin' off into the sandy wastes like any other prospector? Not me. I'm plumb beat, Piute!"

The second chapter – there are thirteen in total – is even better. The focus here is Sandy Mackintavers. Six weeks before Piute and Deadoak's conversation, Sandy had been a player in New Mexico. A man whose "unscrupulous fingers had been clutched deep in a score of pies, sometimes leaving very dirty marks about the edge." However:

Somewhere a cog slipped; he had been indicted for bribery. That had broken the thick crust of fear which had enveloped him, had released his enemies from the shackles of his strong personality. Overnight, it seemed, a dozen men went into the courts against him, backed by the evidence of those who had taken his money and had done his dirty work.
Now broken and very nearly broke, Mackintavers drives aimlessly with the remnants of his once significant wealth tucked in his sock. He stops to offer two tramps a ride. The more talkative of the pair is skilled surgeon Douglas Murray. Two years earlier, Mackintavers paid the good doctor an even thousand dollars to remove his appendix. Murray was on top of his game back then, earning big money hand over scalpel:
"It was success that downed me — too much work. I had to keep going twenty hours a day to save human lives during the influenza epidemic. It started me working on dope. I knew better, of course, but thought myself strong.
   "The dream book got me at last, like it gets all the fools. One day, in the middle of an operation, I broke down. I had to have a shot quick, and I got it. I had to do it openly, if the man on the table were not to die; so I did it."

Though Murray managed to conquer "the dream book," the addiction left his reputation in tatters and emptied his wallet. The doctor's travelling companion is a reformed safecracker named Hobbs. Murray discovered Hobbs lying in a ditch, performed a roadside operation, and the two have been fast friends ever since. Mackintavers finds himself in the company of two men who, taken down a peg or three, look to become better people. Having recently suffered his own comeuppance, he's all of a sudden keen to follow their example.

Mackintavers, Murray, Hobbs meander into Two Palms, where they are immediately taken for a trio of rubes. Piute and Deadoak conspire to unload a worthless piece of land. Mackintavers, who knows a thing or two about mining, takes the deal. And then Tom Lee makes a more generous offer. 

Arizona Argonauts
 is the first thing I've ever read by Bedford-Jones. Because he was so very prolific – the man published twenty-five novellas and short stories that same year – I'd made the mistake of thinking he couldn't be any good.

I should've known better; no one publishes that much without some degree of talent.

Bedford-Jones weaves a really good story of mystery, intrigue, violence, and romance. His dialogue is sharp and characters uncommon. Murray is one of two who've struggled with drug addiction, the other being "yellow man" Lee.

The racist epithets and attitudes are jarring. They come from Piute, Deadoak, and an unnamed desert rat  who Murray happens to overhear in conversation with the owner of an ice cream parlour:
As I was sayin', Bill, it was the gosh-willingest thing I ever struck! Think o 'me purposin' mattermony, right off the bat like that — and a good-lookin' girl, I'm sayin'! And when she was feelin' around for the right words to accept me, prob'ly meanin' to fish around an' make me urge her a mite, I seen her ol' man come walkin' along. In about two shakes I seen he was a chink."
   "Yes?" The proprietor tipped Murray a wink, and set forth the ice cream.
   "What then?" "I faded right prompt," said the desert rat. "Right prompt! I dunno — It kind o' dazed me fer a spell. When I got into Two Palms next day, I was tellin' Piute Tomklns about it, and he up an' says them two was stayin' at his hotel — the chink and the girl, which same bein' his daughter, he allowed it was all right an' proper. I judge Piute was soakin' them right heavy, else he wouldn't ha' stood for chinks boardin' on him. Piute has his pride — .
Piute, Deadwood, and the desert rat speak as men of a time sadly not yet passed. Murray doesn't share their vocabulary, but he does share their racism, and so is troubled by his attraction to Claire, Tom Lee's daughter. As the novella progresses, and the doctor gets to know Lee, he undergoes a transformation.

It's trite to put it this way – "undergoes a transformation" –  but the words are apt. Murray comes to recognize his prejudice and believes it's been conquered. And yet the doctor is surprised to feel relief upon learning that Lee is Claire's adoptive father.

Arizona Argonauts first appeared in the May 1920 edition of Short Stories. Did its early readers focus on issues of  race? I'm guessing not. The budding romance between Claire and Murray is just one of the story's many threads. What I can say for certain is that Arizona Argonauts is not at all what I expected.

Appearances can be deceiving.

Object and Access: A cheap early American paperback with blank back cover. I believe my 1923 copy marks the novella's first appearance in book form. A 1924 Doubleday edition can be read online here at the Internet Archive. Date aside, the only difference I see is the inclusion of an illustration (above) not found in the former. As might be expected, the scene does not feature in the novella.

Library and Archives Canada and three of our academic university libraries have one or another of Doubleday's editions.

The Nick Eggenhofer illustration used by Doubleday comes from 11 April 1922 edition of Short Stories. It would appear to depict a scene in George Clifford Shedd's story 'The Man from Mirabito.'

The very same issue features 'The Silent City,' a short story credited to  H Bedford-Jones and "W.C Robertson" (which is thought to be one of Bedford-Jones's pseudonyms). 'Guilty,' by fellow Canadian Theodore Goodridge Roberts also features.

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11 November 2022

Remembrance Day

A plaque dedicated to the congregants of St Matthew's Anglican Church who fell during the Great War. Henry Hutton Scott (second column, eighth down), was killed during the Battle of the Somme in the taking of Regina Trench. He was the second eldest son of Frederick George Scott, rector of St Matthew's. During the Great War, Rev Scott served as chaplain in the First Canadian Division. The clergyman wrote of the search for his son's body in his memoir The Great War as I Saw It (Toronto: Goodchild, 1922):
When I got into Regina Trench, I found that it was impossible to pass along it, as one sank down so deeply into the heavy mud. I had brought a little sketch with me of the trenches, which showed the shell hole where it was supposed that the body had been buried. The previous night a cross had been placed there by a corporal of the battalion before it left the front line. No one I spoke to, however, could tell me the exact map location of the place where it stood. I looked over the trenches, and on all sides spread a waste of brown mud, made more desolate by the morning mist which clung over everything. I was determined, however, not to be baffled in my search, and told the runner who was with me that, if I stayed there six months, I was not going to leave till I had found that grave. We walked back along the communication trench and turned into one on the right, peering over the top every now and then to see if we could recognize anything corresponding to the marks on our map. Suddenly the runner, who was looking over the top, pointed far away to a lonely white cross that stood at a point where the ground sloped down through the mist towards Regina Trench. At once we climbed out of the trench and made our way over the slippery ground and past the deep shell holes to where the white cross stood out in the solitude. We passed many bodies which were still unburied, and here and there were bits of accoutrement which had been lost during the advance. When we came up to the cross I read my son's name upon it, and knew that I had reached the object I had in view. As the corporal who had placed the cross there had not been quite sure that it was actually on the place of burial, I got the runner to dig the ground in front of it. He did so, but we discovered nothing but a large piece of a shell. Then I got him to try in another place, and still we could find nothing. I tried once again, and after he had dug a little while he came upon something white. It was my son's left hand, with his signet ring upon it. They had removed his identification disc, revolver and pocket-book, so the signet ring was the only thing which could have led to his identification. It was really quite miraculous that we should have made the discovery. The mist was lifting now, and the sun to the East was beginning to light up the ground. We heard the crack of bullets, for the Germans were sniping us. I made the runner go down into a shell hole, while I read the burial service, and then took off the ring.
Henry Hutton Scott
April 6, 1890, Drummond, Quebec, Canada -
October 21, 1916, Picardy, France


02 November 2022

Blue Plaque Special: Maritime Edition

The latter half of October was spent on a long road trip through Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Anyès and I travelled over four thousand kilometres in all, and yet didn't come close to hitting Prince Edward Island or Cape Breton. My European cousins would laugh at the notion that the Maritime provinces are small.

A first leg of the drive, getting to New Brunswick from our eastern Upper Canadian home, involved a stopover at Quebec City. We spent the first night at le Monèstere des Augustines, in which we'd stayed two years earlier. This time, instead of a suite, we chose to sleep a nun's cell. As I discovered, I'm considerably taller than a seventeenth-century woman.

I won't dwell on our time in Quebec City, though I would like to share a plaque I'd somehow missed on our previous trip.

I'm pleased to report that plaques are every bit as common in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Fredricton, New Brunswick (pop. 58,200) may have more plaques per capita than any other Canadian city. Amongst the earliest is one affixed to the side of a house that once belonged to Loyalist poet Jonathan Odell.

The plaque honouring Odell can found across from Christ Church Fredericton's Anglican cathedral. Its former rectory once served as home to Sir Charles G.D. Roberts.

Across the street, a few doors down, we found the home of sister Elizabeth. This discovery brought us to a very interesting news story:
In fact, the heritage plaque was not altered to identify her, as the headline suggests, rather it was replaced with another:

Can't help but feel the Fredericton Heritage Trust missed a teaching opportunity there.

Remarkably, there are no plaques dedicated exclusively to Sir Charles G.D. Roberts, though I know of one in Westcock, New Brunswick. It would appear brother Theodore Goodrich Roberts has no plaques at all! The home in which cousin Bliss Carman was raised has two, the earliest of which was installed at his Shore Street home by the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire in New Brunswick.

The more recent is the doing of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

Halifax was the easternmost point of our travels. We found blue plaques aplenty, including this one affixed to the house in which we stayed:

Sadly, the city's blue plaques aren't terribly informative.

I doubt Halliburton House has anything to do with Thomas Chandler Haliburton, but can't say for sure.

Curiously, given its rich literary history, Halifax has little in the way of plaques honouring writers. The only one I encountered was affixed to the mothballed Court House.

That's me taking a photo at the top of this post.

The discovery surprised in that it honoured Philippe-Ignace-François Aubert de Gaspé. The author of L'Influence d'un livre, Canada's first French-language novel, lived his final months in Halifax.

The last night of our trip was spent in Rivière-du-Loup. We had trouble sleeping, and so got up early. The place I'd most wanted to visit this trip was the reconstructed Aubert de Gaspé manor, but St-Jean-Port-Joli was pitch black when we passed.

Next year.

I'm a huge Aubert de Gaspé fan.

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