02 December 2022

Best Books of 1922: Amidst a Flood of Mediocrity

Published one hundred years ago today, the 1922 Globe round-up of the year's noteworthy books doesn't display much by way of enthusiasm. The three pages – previous years had five – begin with a reference to something once said by long-dead Englishman George Crabbe. It really sets the tone:

The trend may be away from fiction, but fiction makes for nearly half of the Globe's list. And I can't help but note that not one science title features.

The newspaper's greatest focus is on "GENERAL FICTION," by which it means fiction that is not Canadian. Babbit is recognized as the year's big title. I can't quibble because I still haven't read it. I have read The Beautiful and Damned, which doesn't feature.

My copies of the first Canadian editions
The big work of "CANADIAN FICTION" is Ethel M. Chapman's God's Green Country, a novel that is new to me. Here's what the Globe has to say:

God's Green Country is long out of print, as is every other Canadian fiction title selected by the Globe:
The Return of Blue Pete - Luke Allan [Lacey Amy]
Flowing Gold - Rex Beach
Chalk Talks - J.W. Bengough
Indian Legends of Vancouver Island - Alfred Carmichael
God's Green Country - Ethel M. Chapman
King's Arrow - H.A. Cody
Caste - W.A. Fraser
Pagan Love - John Murray Gibbon
D'Arcy Conyers - Bertal Heeney
Mortimer's Gold - Harold Horn
The Timber Pirate - Charles Christopher Jenkins
The Bells of St Stephens - Marian Keith
The Dust Flower - Basil King
The Twenty-first Burr - Victor Lauriston
Openway - Archie P. McKinshie
Over 'ere and Back Home - P. O'D
Tillicums of the Trail - George C.F. Pringle
Poisoned Paradise - Robert W. Service
Neighbors - Robert Stead
The Prairie Child - Arthur Stringer
Salt Seas and Sailormen - Frederick William Wallace
The Shack Locker - Frederick William Wallace
Ignore Flowing Gold; a Texas adventure by American Rex Beach, its inclusion is a mistake. Of the twenty-one truly Canadian titles, I've read only Basil King's The Dust Flower.  It may be the author's weakest novel – I have ten left to tackle – but I'm not surprised that it made the cut. What does surprise is the absence of Bertrand W. Sinclair's The Hidden Places, which may just be the best Canadian novel of 1922.

My collection of the Globe's 1922 Canadian fiction titles.
Four that didn't make the list.
In its selection of Canadian fiction titles, the Globe demonstrates a certain preference. Hinted at in the praise of God's Green Country, it is stated plainly in the description of D'Arcy Conyers.* 

We get all too few of such?


Most Canadian novels dating from this time have rural settings.

More, please?

The Globe is most complimentary in its opinion of Canadian verse, but not before taking a dig at the Mother Country: "In Britain, during the past year, deflation has not been confined to finance, and poetry scarcely rises above the horizon." But Canada, young Canada, imbued with "national sentiment stimulated by the war, receives refreshing satisfaction from the study of the poet's message."

Nine of the fourteen volumes of verse are Canadian:
Jean Blewett's Poems - Jean Blewett
Complete Poems of Wilfred Campbell - Wilfred Campbell
Contrasts - Lawren Harris
Complete Poems of Archibald Lampman - Archibald Lampman
Fires of Driftwood - Isabel Ecclestone Mackay
The Woodcarver's Wife and Later Poems - Marjorie L. Pickthall
Christ in the Strand and Other Poems - James A. Roy
Verse and Reverse - Toronto Women's Press Club
Impressive... until one realizes that Complete Poems of Wilfred Campbell and Complete Poems of Archibald Lampman do not exist. Going by the descriptions, I'm sure what's being referred to are The Poetical Works of Wilfred Campbell and yet another edition Archibald Lampman's Poems (first published by Morag in 1900). I own two earlier editions of the latter and a very nice copy of Isabel Ecclestone Mackay's Fires of Driftwood. Am willing to trade all three for a first of Lawren Harris's Contrasts.

We Canadians don't do nearly as well in the rest of the list, nearly falling flat in the "JUVENILE" category – two titles in a list of thirty-four – but we hold our own overall in contributing 47 of the Globe's 167 titles.

Of the forty-seven, Over Prairie Trails by Frederick Philip Grove is in print today as a New Canadian Library title. New Canadian Library being no more, it's old stock now housed somewhere in a Penguin Random House warehouse.

What else is in print?


Oh, Canada.

* In researching Bertal Heeney's D'Arcy Conyers, I stumbled upon the work of British actor, director, and screenwriter Darcy Conyers (1919-1973). Amongst his many accomplishments is the screenplay for the 1961 comedy The Night We Got the Bird. The IMDb summary promises an evening of good fun:
Cyril's family is unaware that he and his cabinet-maker employee are making and selling false antique furniture. It is only when he dies and his salesman Bernie marries his widow Julie that the truth comes out through Cecil re-appearing as a parrot, puzzlingly given as a wedding gift. When a local Brighton heavy realises he's been conned the family band together to try and fix things. 

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