03 June 2023

Steinmetz on the Launch Pad

One week from today, I'll have the honour of interviewing Andrew Steinmetz at the Ottawa launch of Because, his sixth book.

I've known Andrew since we were young pups. We met at Montreal's Station 10. This would've been in the latter half of 1985. Andrew spent much of the evening onstage as a member of Weather Permitting. I'm pretty sure he sang this song: 

Described by publisher Véhicule Press as a "punk-rock novel about teenage daydreams and sibling dynamics," Because draws inspiration from those younger days.

Or am I wrong?  

Let's find out together!

22 May 2023

Petticoat Discipline, Please

The Tempestuous Petticoat [A Chicago Princess]
Robert Barr
London: Collins, [1908]
200 pages

Proper Englishman Rupert Tremorne serves as protagonist and narrator. If he is to be believed – I see no reason why not – Tremorne once held a good position in the diplomatic service, only to resign after receiving an inheritance of £100,000 (roughly £9.9 million today). Ten months later, he lost the entire fortune to an unscrupulous American businessman. 

The Tempestuous Petticoat opens in Nagasaki, where Tremorne had hoped to revive his career. Sadly, his best efforts failed. The reader finds him heavily indebted to Yansan, the sort of patient, polite landlord found only in fiction. The two are discussing their relationship when Tremorne spots a yacht and announces that his "ship has come in." Here I note that yachts aren't ships. In any case, a vessel sails into Nagasaki's harbour, and Tremorne's life is forever changed.

The yacht belongs to Chicago industrialist and investor Silas K. Hemster. Tremorne climbs its rope ladder, makes for its owner, and begins selling himself as a jack of all trades. This does not impress. “You spread yourself out too thin, my son," says Hemster. "A man who can do everything can do nothing. We specialise in our country. I hire men who can do only one thing, and do that thing better than anybody else.”

Recognizing Tremorne's true talents, Hemster makes him his personal secretary. The Englishman's first task is to accompany gorgeous Gertrude Hemster, his new employer's sole heir, on a tour of Nagasaki's finest shops. The two get along famously, particularly after Gertrude learns that Tremorne has met with the Emperor of Japan. Unfortunately, she takes this to mean that her father's new hire and the Mikado are fast friends.

How to explain this misunderstanding? Wishful thinking perhaps?

At twenty-one – "every one says I don't look more than seventeen" – Gertrude has enjoyed a great many privileges: exclusive schools, the best hotels, and the finest restaurants. She has met British lords, French counts, German barons, and Italian princes, but as Hemster explains:

"Gertie got tired of them, and, as she is an ambitious girl and a real lady, she determined to strike higher, and so, when we bought this yacht and came abroad again, she determined to go in for Kings, so I’ve been on a King hunt I ever since, and to tell the truth it has cost me a lot of money, and I don’t like it. Not that I mind the money if it resulted in anything, but it hasn’t resulted in anything; that is, it hasn’t amounted to much."

Upon realizing her mistake, Gertrude sets the crockery flying. The following day, she confronts Tremorne for daring to play the yacht's piano. Miss Hilda Stretton, orphaned daughter of Silas Hemster's closest friend, tries to defuse the situation:

Miss Hemster whirled around like an enraged tigress, and struck her companion a blow that would have landed on her cheek had not the victim suddenly and instinctively raised an arm to protect her face. Then with the viciousness of a harridan of Drury Lane Miss Hemster grasped the shrinking girl by the shoulders, and shook her as a terrier does a rat, finally forcing her down into a seat by the side of the table.
The scene ends in gunfire.

A Francis P. Wightman illustration from the 1905 Methuen edition.

Understandably, any interest Tremorne had for Gertrude shifts to Hilda. But do not be confused, Gertrude is the titular character.

A confession: I purchased The Tempestuous Petticoat for its title, taken from Robert Herrick's 17th-century poem 'Delight in Disorder':

from Elizabethan Songs "in honour of love and beautie"
Edmund Henry Garrett, ed
London: James R. Osgoode, McIloine & Co., 1891

I'd hoped that the novel might prove ribald and naughty; something unique in Victorian Canada. Sadly, The Tempestuous Petticoat is typical Barr, as recognized in the pages of The Bookman (April 1905): 

There are some authors whom it hardly seems necessary to review. They are definitely "placed" by their previous work. The reader knows exactly what to expect; a particular book may be a little above or below the general average, but it is unlikely either to surprise or disappoint. Among the number of these writers whose works may be taken on trust, Mr. Barr may certainly claim a place. It must be years since he wrote a bad novel, if indeed he ever wrote anything approaching a bad novel, but it is equally unlikely that he will ever produce any work much above the average level of its predecessors. The faithful reader can go to the circulating library and ask for Mr. Barr's "latest" with the comfortable assurance that he will not be disappointed. In a now famous phrase, "those who like this sort of thing will find the sort of thing they like," or in other words, those who like Robert Barr will like "The Tempestuous Petticoat." This may sound like faint praise, but in deference to Mr. Barr's numerous admirers we hasten to add that we ourselves are amongst that number.

Not a bad novel, The Tempestuous Petticoat is very much on par with the Barr's other work; Revenge! rises above, In the Midst of Alarms is a touch below, while 'One Day's Courtship' and 'The Heralds of Fame' rest on the very same plane. This means that it is superior to most Canadian novels of the time. Anyone looking for a silly, well-written diversion with plenty of flirtatious banter will be satisfied; anyone looking for sweet disorder in the dress will not.

Still, I do like the title.

Object: An unassuming petite edition in dark blue boards, ideal for a lady's handbag or gentleman's waistcoat pocket, my copy is the eighteenth title in Collins' "'Handy' Modern Fiction" series. According to the publisher, "'Handy' Modern Fiction" was "the greatest revolution the world has ever witnessed."

Robespierre, Washington, Lenin, and Mao Zedong take note.

Surprisingly, for something so cheap, the title page (top of post) and frontispiece (below) are in full-colour on glossy paper.

Object and Access: I've yet to find evidence that this novel was ever serialized. If true, The Tempestuous Petticoat first appeared in June, 1904 as A Chicago Princess (New York: Stokes). Methuen's first British edition followed the next year. My Collins' "Handy" Modern Fiction copy was published in April, 1908. It has been out of print ever since.

If you see them, buy the Stokes or Methuen editions; they have better bindings, clearer type, and each has four colour plates by Francis P. Wightman. 

Sadly, as of this writing, no Stokes or Methuens are listed for sale online. One copy of the Collins edition is on offer at £25.00. Mine was purchased two years ago from an Oxfordshire bookseller. Price £2.00.

Several editions of the novel can be accessed – gratis – at the Internet Archive. I recommend the Methuen.

12 May 2023

That Only a Mother: The Best of the Best

'That Only a Mother'
The Best of Judith Merril
Judith Merril
New York: Warner, 1976
254 pages

The Best of Judith Merril sees an anthologist anthologized. Consisting of nine short stories and two poems, the cover suggests that the selection was made by Merril herself; friend Virginia Kidd provides the introduction and notes.

The first story is "That Only a Mother." Judith Merril's greatest hit. By my count, it has appeared in more than three dozen anthologies. Curiously, its status is downplayed in Kidd's short introductory note:  

A buried newspaper item on Army denial and post-Hiroshima rumors engendered Merril's first sf story. ("Even in those days some of us automatically read certain kinds of official U.S. releases backwards.") John Campbell bought it for Astounding — October, 1948.
In fact, the story first appeared in the magazine's June issue.

In 1948, Merril herself was like something out of science fiction. She was the only woman included in the the June issue. I've gone through dozens of previous issues without finding another female contributor. Here's how Astounding – more accurately,  Astounding Science Fiction - presented Merril's story:

From start to finish, 'That Only a Mother' is an uncomfortable read. It begins with main character Margaret reaching across her bed to "where Hank should have been." Husband Hank has been absent many months. There's a war going on. Hank's not cannon fodder; he's a cog in the military industrial complex. 

Margaret is pregnant. Her mother sends letters via "facsimile machine" expressing concern: "I'm thrilled, of course, but, well, one hates to mention theses things, but are you certain the doctor was right? Hank's been around all that uranium or whatever it is all these years..."

Margaret's mother's worries are understandable. The year is 1953 and malformed infants are an issue. Infanticide is common. Margaret and Hank's baby arrives early. The hospital assures that all is well, though staff won't let the mother or father see their child. Margaret and Hank name her Harriette.

Margaret's mother never visits; she makes no effort to see her grandchild. Hank isn't granted leave until ten months after the baby's birth, by which time she speaks fluently and has begun questioning her mother.

Margaret, Hank, and Harriett form a nuclear family, but not as Bronisław Malinowski imagined.

I read the other stories and poems in The Best of Judith Merril, but not one was nearly so good as this. 

If you have nothing more than a half-hour to spare, 'That Only a Mother' is the story for you.

If you have a few hours, the best of Judith Merril is Shadow on the Hearth, her first novel. 

It too is about a mother.

Object: A mass market paperback original. The text is followed by a two-page advert for twenty-four other Warner science fiction, including The Frankenstein Factory, The Dracula Tape, When Worlds Collide, and After Worlds Collide (each twice mentioned).

American illustrator Gray Morrow, whom I remember as a co-creator of Man-Thing, provided the cover art. Much as I admire the artist's technique, I can't help but note that it in no way reflects the contents.

Access: The Toronto Public Library, which houses the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy, has a copy. The book can also be found at Library and Archives Canada and in nine of our academic libraries. 

I count two printings, which is not to suggest that it can be found on the cheap. A Michigan bookseller offers a copy online at US$6.00, but wants US$25.00 for postage and handling. Prices really take off after that. In the stratosphere, you'll find a US$107.50 copy requiring US$33.00 shipping.

01 May 2023

L.R. Wright Before She Became L.R. Wright

Laurali Wright [L.R. Wright]
Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1979
258 pages

There's so much wrong with this jacket illustration. Set aside the eyes for a moment and focus on the houses. They're nearly identical, right? The one on the left is a mirror image of the other two, yet the neighbours in Neighbours live in dwellings of differing designs separated by spacious lawns. The figure standing before the open garage in Clement Clarke Moore sleeping cap does not feature.

Returning to the eyes: I thought they belonged to a man, but Neighbours is a novel about three women. Betty Coutts is the first we meet. She lives with husband Jack and daughter Heather in a Calgary subdivision. As a travelling salesman, Jack is rarely present, which leaves young Heather in a precarious position. The extent to which Jack recognizes his daughter's peril – I do not exaggerate in using that word – is unclear. Could be he's in denial.

It's apparent from the start that Betty is suffering from a serious mental illness. She's unable to work and spends much of her day in bed eating candy. The house is a worsening filthy mess, which prompts Jack, who has returned home from yet another sales trip, to spray the kitchen with a garden hose. This early scene is uncharacteristic; Jack is otherwise sensitive and patient regarding his wife's mental health. It's due to his efforts that Betty has weekly meetings with a psychologist named Jessup.

For a time, it's suggested – by the doctor, at least – that Betty is making progress. At Jessup's urging, she makes an effort to make new friends, deciding on her two next-door neighbours. Elderly Poinsettia, lives in the house to the left. Betty insists on calling her Bertha, which Poinsettia quite likes. Sheila, to the right, lives in the house Betty considers the most beautiful on the block.

Both women have problems of their own. Bertha , who lives to garden, struggles with severe arthritis. She fights worsening pain and a son and daughter-in-law who want her to give up her home and come live in theirs. Sheila's problem is worse still. Minutes before Betty's intrusion in her life – it is very much an intrusion – husband Ed revealed that he'd been having an affair. Sheila's reaction to the infidelity amounts to the strongest writing of the novel. If you read nothing else from the novel, read this.

Neighbours was a Search-for-a-New-Alberta-Novelist winner. Pauline Gedge, Andre Tom MacGregor, Fred Stenson, Jan Truss, and Betty Wilson were fellow honourees. In reading reviews from the time, I came upon three in the Montreal Gazette, my hometown paper. Published on 1 June 1979, the first belongs to Zonia Keywan:


The second is by Walter J. Traprock, whose name I can find nowhere outside the newspaper's 3 November 1979 edition. He butts against Zonia Keywan, feeding Western alienation: 

Laurali (Bunny) Wright is the winner is of the fourth Search-For-A-New-Alberta-Novelist competition. Despite this dubious distinction, she writes well, and if her first novel, Neighbours, has problems, it also has considerable promise. 

I have no idea why the Gazette saw fit to review the Macmillan edition twice. Change in editors? Poor memory? Drunkenness? 

The third, published on 11 June 1980, was occasioned by the novel's paperback release. Written by the legendary Marion McCormick, it's the shortest and the most amusing:

All too often, young writers write the same heavily autobiographical story: the hero heroine – always the most sensitive kid on the school bus – suffers in a provincial hamlet populated by Yahoos until he she can break away and write a novel about it.
   Neighbours is something else; a well-plotted suspense story involving three families who live on a Calgary street. The author achieves a mixture of pathos and menace that sticks in the mind. 

I side with Marion McCormick.

Macmillan's dust jacket, flaps included, focus on Betty, selling the novel of one woman's hellish decent into madness. I see it as something much more. Neighbours is about neighbours. Betty brings Bertha and Sheila into the story. Again, it is a novel about three women; it is a "Chilling Story" only because the struggles each face are so consuming that they can do nothing to help one another. 

It sticks in the mind.

Object and Access: The jacket illustration is credited to Martin Springett. Richard Miller is credited with the design.

As "L.R. Wright," Laurali Wright – Rose was her middle name – went on to become the foremost Canadian mystery writer of her time. Wright's fourth book, The Suspect, was recognized in the United States with the 1986 Edgar for Best Novel. This being Canada, it is unsurprising that the Macmillan edition enjoyed nothing more than a single printing. In 1980, Signet published the novel in paperback. I've never seen a copy.

Neighbours is sadly typical of Macmillan's 'seventies output in that it is nearly impossible to read without cracking the spine. Collectors of Alice Munro and Robertson Davies know of what I speak. My copy was purchased two years ago in Montreal at S.W. Welch. Price: $5.00. The previous reader or readers broke its spine twice. I take pride in having been so careful as to not increase that number.

Mine is the only copy I've ever seen in person, but there are others – not many – being offered online. At US$13.95, a Nova Scotia bookseller has listed one as "very tight unread/unopened." Another bookseller shares this disturbing image:

At US$100, the standout is a Very Good copy signed by the author.

That is the one to buy. Careful with the spine!

27 April 2023

New Perspectives on Brian Moore

Received in the post yesterday, the latest Canadian Journal of Irish Studies. A special issue dedicated to the work of Brian Moore, it features contributions by:

Aoife Bhreatnach
Janet Friskney 
Alison Garden
Tom Groenland
Michele Holmgren
Sinéad Moynihan
Stephen O'Neill

I was invited to contribute after participating in 2021's Lonely Passions: The Brian Moore Centenary Festival. My essay 'Montreal Means Murder: Brian Moore as Canadian Paperback Writer,' concerns the writer's early pulp novels.

My thanks to Sinéad Moynihan for her editorial guidance and to Jim Fitzpatrick whose research aided my contribution.

Copies of the special Brian Moore issue can be ordered through the Canadian Association of Irish Studies website.

Related posts:

19 April 2023

Love During Wartime

Return to Today
Margerie Scott
London: Peter Davies, 1961
213 pages

Vanessa Gray and Don Temple met in a streamy wartime canteen. She was an English Rose, working the counter; he was an American serviceman who found her attractive. After Vanessa's exhausting shift, Don hired a cab, whisking them to her Chelsea flat. Once there, Dan warmed a hot-water bottle and tall glass of milk, and Vanessa fell asleep in his comforting arms. The two didn't become lovers that night, but would the next morning. They both knew their's was a was a one-time, two-time, six or seven-time thing.

Don was married to Mary Nell, a "delicate" woman born and raised in his hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan. I would've used the word "fragile" in place of "delicate." Never in the best of health, Mary Nell was convinced pregnancy would kill her, and so red-blooded American Don had been living a chaste life. Vanessa, single, was struggling with the recent deaths of her mother and RAF pilot brother Brian.

All this is backstory.

The novel's first sentence is far from brilliant, but I like it: "When the letter from Arizona arrived, Vanessa knew it was too late; twelve years too late."

You see, twelve years have passed since the lovers' last tryst, after which Don returned to Kalamazoo. In that time, Vanessa met and married Bill, a cousin of her childhood friend Philip Tennant. Injured in the war, poor Bill expired before their first wedding anniversary... tragically, before he could consummate the marriage. Vanessa now lives in the country, sharing the house in which she's been raised with her father, her elderly nanny, and a housekeeper of sorts named Marie-Teresa.

Don has written to say that he'll be visiting England in September. Because – I'm guessing – he didn't want to splurge on air mail, it is September. Don arrives on the very day his letter is received.

Marie-Teresa, who loves an audience, is positively giddy, whilst nanny refuses to hide her displeasure. The old girl remembers a weekend during the war when this married man dared visit. Vanessa's papa is displeased for much the same reason. 

Why is this man visiting now, after all these years?

Don is not so sure himself, though Mary Nell's death must have something to do with it.

The Kalamazooian has never been able to get over his wartime fling. He thinks that seeing her again might exorcise memory and desires. Or maybe, just maybe, he and Vanessa can start from where they left off, Bill be damned!

When Don learns that Bill is dead, he moves quickly in proposing marriage.

Vanessa's acceptance took me aback. Over the previous ninety-one pages, I really thought I'd come to know her. 

Return to Today is a novel of disruption – and with disruption comes action. Friend Philip is the first out of the gate. He'd had a wartime tumble with Vanessa himself, after which his own marriage proposal had been rejected. Ever since, sad sod Philip has sat, spending the intervening years thinking that the woman he loves will one day come around. Don's intrusion fires a new campaign to win Vanessa's heart.

Emily, Philip's mother, sees the American's intrusion as a threat to her own plan to wed Vanessa's father. 

And then we have Marie-Teresa; what's her reaction? Though a minor character, a refugee of unknown origin, she's is by far the most intriguing. Publisher Peter Davies is spot-on in describing Marie-Teresa as "a loveable dark-haired bundle of complications."

Peter Davies also describes Return to Today as a comedy. I'm not so sure it is, though there was one passage that raised a chuckle. It won't have the same effect out of context, so I won't bother sharing. 

Return to Today spans four days, which the author divides into six sections:

  • Friday Morning
  • Friday Evening
  • Saturday
  • Sunday
  • Monday Morning
  • Monday Evening

I recommend reading Friday Morning through Sunday; on Monday Morning the novel begins to fall apart because it's then that Scott really goes for laughs.

This is a shame, because the first four sections had me thinking that Return to Today was certain to make the annual Dusty Bookcase list of books worthy of a return to print.

It won't, which is not to suggest that it isn't worth your time.

A query: On the evening they meet, Venessa tells Dan "some people think my name is odd."

Is it?

Dan thinks so, asking "is it French or something?"

Was Vanessa such an unusual name eighty years ago?

The Windsor Star
2 December 1961

Object and Access: An attractive hardcover featuring dark blue boards, the jacket illustration is credited to Val Biro. My copy was purchased earlier this year from the very same UK bookseller who sold me Dove Cottage. Price: £8.00. There's some evidence that McClelland & Stewart published a Canadian edition, but I've never seen it.

As of this writing, two copies are offered for sale online. At £11.75, a jacketless copy of the Peter Davies edition is the cheapest. Ignore that. The copy you want to buy is listed by a bookseller in Ashland, Oregon, who offers the Peter Davies edition and the McClelland & Stewart edition of Scott's second novel The Darling Illusion (1954). Both have jackets. Both are inscribed by the author. The price for this two-book lot is US$44.00.

You know what to do.

Related posts:

14 April 2023

A Very Acadian Scandal

Quietly My Captain Waits
Evelyn Eaton
New York: Grosset & Dunlap, [c. 1943]
355 pages

I first learned of Louise de Freneuse last autumn during a visit to Nova Scotia. A historic plaque outlining her life served as my introduction. Something I came upon during an early evening stroll through Annapolis Royal, the story it told beggared belief. Her entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography will explain my reaction.

There is little wonder that Louise de Freneuse inspired a historical novel. This description of the lady comes from original publisher Harper & Bros:
As courageous as she was captivating, she defied every convention and all the wilderness in a gallant fight for love and happiness.

New York Times, 8 September 1940

Quietly My Captain Waits was a critical and commercial success; comparisons were drawn to Gone With the Wind and Hollywood came calling:

Boxoffice Barometer, 22 February 1941 

Here I note that Evelyn Eaton's novel is set well before the "French and Indian Wars [sic]" and the capture of Quebec. It's likely that Louise de Freneuse's death pre-dates the Battle of the Plains of Abraham by more than four decades.

Quietly My Captain Waits begins on an early evening in 1691 with young Raoul de Perrichet's return to his family home in the French commune of Draguigan. Not twenty-four hours earlier, he'd caught serial adulterer Vanina in the arms of the Compte de Callian, "old enough to be her father and Raoul's grandfather, Bigre!" Sixteen-year-old Raoul had wanted her for himself – he'd enjoyed Vanina's delights in the past – and in anger and frustration molests petite Marie "who had always loved him."

Raoul now finds himself under threat of imprisonment; not for the molestation, you understand, rather for what he witnessed in Vanina’s bedchamber. The Comte, who has the King’s ear, cannot entrust his reputation to a boy’s discretion. Raoul finds a saviour in his dashing uncle, Pierre de Bonaventure, captain of the Soleil d’Afrique – “the fastest vessel in the world!” – who enlists his nephew in the navy and sets sail for New France.

Armed Services Edition, 1945

Raoul doesn’t prove much of a seaman, but de Bonaventure is happy to have him aboard for games of bezique and to share the occasional bottle. One drunken evening, l’Oncle Pierre tells a tale about a raven-haired beauty. All occurred seven years earlier in New France; she was the sixteen-year-old daughter of an important man while de Bonaventure was then a twenty-six-year-old nothing. When the important man learned of the relationship, he sent the girl to a convent. She escaped, cut her hair, dressed as a boy, and made for her lover’s ship as it was about to set sail for France. Her idea was that they could marry in the Old World, but de Bonaventure turned her away.

In Quebec City, Raoul meets the raven-haired beauty, and falls in love with her himself. This is, of course, Louise de Freneuse, the girl his uncle loved – and still loves – who is now a twice-married woman with children. De Bonaventure does all he can not to avoid her, but fails. When the Soleil d’Afrique is tasked with transporting the Madam de Freneuse to her second husband’s Acadian home, the two old flames come together and things become very hot.

De Bonaventure is so ignorant of his Raoul’s love for Louise that he hands over the nephew who is so ill-suited to life at sea. Raoul arrives at the settlement built by Louise’s husband, Mathieu de Freneuse, and is tasked with tutoring her children. 

Mathieu de Freneuse is a force to be reckoned with, matrimonial bedroom excepted. His passion for Louise is equal to de Bonaventure’s, but the poor man has long recognised that her own passion lies in the memory of an old love (see: Simon-Pierre Denys de Bonaventure). A Frenchman who has come to be accepted as a member of the local “Micmacs,” Mathieu finds sexual outlet amongst the tribe’s women. He encourages the teenaged tutor to undergo the same initiation he endured, and then enjoy the same benefits.

This Raoul does, but only to prove his love for Louise.

It’s complicated.

Remarkably – improbably – Raoul grows to become a great Micmac leader, but not before Mathieu de Freneuse and his settlement are destroyed by Iroquois warriors. Mathieu expires in the arms of the miller’s daughter, with whom, it turns out, he’d been having an affair.

New York: Permabooks, 1951

Quietly, the reader turns eighty pages, awaiting Captain de Bonaventure's return.

In her Author’s Note, Evelyn Eaton writes of the research she put into writing Quietly My Captain Waits.

Let us consider the nameless miller's daughter, who enters and exits the novel during Mathieu de Freneuse's final minutes. Gervais Tibault's existence spans not more pages. In the author's fiction, he is a favoured child, the first-born of her first marriage. A sensitive soul, better suited for the salons of Paris than the backwoods of Acadia,  Gervais Tibault is killed by Iroquois arrows. Eaton places characters she created – those not based on historical figures – as if they are all of equal weight, and yet the actions of the fictitious Raoul de Perrichet are far more consequential than those of Louise and Pierre.

Eaton uses the “fragments” fro which she wove her novel to good effect, but she does not tie them to fact. It is true that, Louise did in fact cross the Bay of Fundy in open canoe in winter, but it was not to meet de Bonaventure in a remote inlet, as in the novel. In reality – sans conjecture – Louise made for English-occupied Annapolis Royal. At the time, de Bonaventure was dead and buried in France.

At its heart, Quietly My Captain Waits is a love story inspired by scandale. Louise's very public relationship with the married de Bonaventure produced a son. We have avocat Mathieu de Goutins to thank for documenting their relationship. A pathetic figure in Eaton’s novel, he sent several letters to Paris complaining of the lovers’ conduct. De Goutins' puritanical outrage was shared twenty-three decades later by an anonymous reviewer in St Petersburg Times (30 June 1940):

You will soon be hearing a great deal about this book but take this reviewer’s advice if you are thinking of buying or renting it – save your money. Wait until you can see the movie version of it that will have to be censored.
     It is said that Hollywood paid $40,000 for it before it appeared in print – only a paltry $10,000 less than was paid for “Gone With the Wind.” It is a type of book that is this reviewers particular bete noir.
     We review few novels for the present trend is toward a particularly disgusting realism that seems to be increasing.

René Baudry, who wrote Louise de Freneuse's entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, had other issues. He makes no mention of Quietly My Captain Waits by title,  rather concludes with a veiled reference:

An American novelist has written a questionable novel about Mme de Freneuse. What need is there of adding imaginary episodes to the ardent and courageous life of this woman, the heroine of a true romance filled with adventure and passion?

The late M Baudry is mistaken. Evelyn Eaton was not an American novelist, although she did take out citizenship in her forties. Eaton was born in 1902 to Canadian parents in Montreux, Switzerland, and lived much of her early life in New Brunswick. After the death of her father at Vimy Ridge, the family moved to England. She studied at Heathfield School and the Sorbonne. While at the latter, Eaton became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, Therese, whom she raised. Eaton married a Polish count, fled the Nazis, made her way to the United States, and wrote for the New Yorker. She published more than thirty books, encompassing novels, poetry, non-fiction, and biography. Her name doesn’t feature the Canadian Encyclopedia, The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, or the Encyclopedia of Canadian Literature, but she does have a highly informative entry at the Canada’s Early Women Writers.

Returning to René Baudry's comment, I remind that Quietly My Captain Waits is a historical novel.

Historical novels are works of fiction.

Works of fiction feature imaginary episodes.

Quietly My Captain Waits is a hell of a story.

Hollywood could not have done better.

At first he thought the ship was sinking, and that the two snoring men with whom he had gone to bed had left him there to die.
Trivia:  Hollywood has yet to adapt of the novel. Consensus is that another war intruded. Eaton used money from the sale to build a summer home on the Bay of Fundy.

Object: For the life of me, I cannot remember when and where I bought this book. What I can say for certain is that I paid no more than a dollar. I may have paid nothing. It once belonged to Cicely and Scottie Mitchell, a couple who lived at 12 Elmwood Avenue, Senneville, Quebec. If the notation on the frontispiece is accurate, it was added to their library on 18 March 1943. I found this postcard within its pages.

I'm happy to report that the Mitchells' house still stands. It's quite beautiful.

 The novel was first published in 1940 by Harper (New York) and Cassell (London). The Grosset & Dunlop followed a Literary Guild of America edition. In 1945, American GIs were treated to an Armed Services edition. In 1951, Permabooks' published the second paperback edition. Fifteen years later, Pyramid published a the first of its two mass market paperback editions.

The novel is currently in print from Formac as one of its Fiction Treasures titles. First editions, Armed Services copies, and vintage paperbacks are always tempting, but I recommend the Formac for its introduction by Barry M. Moody. It can be purchased through this link.

Surprisingly, there is no French translation, though there is a Portuguese: Até um dia, meu capitão!

Quietly My Captain Waits was read for the 1940 Club.

27 March 2023

A Crooked Cousin in a Cunning Cottage

Dove Cottage
Jan Hilliard [Hilda Kay Grant]
London: Abelard-Schulman, 1958
192 pages

Jan Hilliard's third novel, the curtain rises on the cramped three-room flat shared by underpaid, middle-aged bank clerk Homer Flynn, wife Dolly, and mother-in-law Mrs Bigelow. Sister-in-law Grace, a secretary at an advertising agency, lives across the hall. Grace's husband, Raymond, lost a foot in the Second World War, and with it the will to do much of anything. Mrs Bigelow thinks the world of Raymond, and very little of Homer.

Not long ago, Homer suffered the loss of Aunt Harriet, his late mother's sister. In absence of a will, solicitors Ramsey, Claxton and Stone have advised that he may be next of kin. Aunt Harriet was a widow. Her only child, Claude, ran away at sixteen, taking with him a fair amount of cash and jewellery belonging to his mother and her boarders. This crime was followed, years later, by newspaper accounts of Claude's ill-fated attempt to conquer Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Mrs Bigelow dreams that Claude's inheritance might provide just enough money to purchase a donut-making machine. She wants to start a business called "Granny's Greaseless Donuts." Dolly dares hope for $5000, all the while telling her husband that his expectations of $10,000 are far too high, and that he will only be disappointed. As it turns out, Homer inherits $250,000, roughly three million in today's dollars. Add this amount to the sale of Aunt Harriett's large Victorian house, bathed in the red lights of Lavinia Street. Mrs Bigelow is quick to question the source of the dead woman's wealth:

"I aways thought there was something funny about those boarders of hers. Her young ladies, she used to call them. 'What do they do?' I asked her, that time I went to see her. 'They're secretaries,' she said. 'Then why are they at home today?' I asked. 'It's their day off,' she told me. In the middle of the week."

Mrs Bagelow catches herself, demonstrating momentary restraint in recognition that, of a sudden, Homer has the upper hand in their relationship. She wants her son-in-law to move the family to the Riviera, but having spent a career in banking he is far too practical. Instead, Homer purchases a large country cottage for his wife and mother-in-law. Homer, who had always wanted to grow his own vegetables, fruits, and flowers, tends to his gardens with hired hand Mr Newby. Mrs Bigelow, who was never really interested in selling donuts, embraces the opportunity offered to become a landscape painter. In doing so, she attracts the romantic attention from neighbour George, an amiable wealthy widower who made his money selling fish. Dolly, the novel's least defined character, is just happy that her mother and husband are happy.

It's all very pleasant until the evening their cottage receives an unexpected, unkempt visitor. The man claims to be Aunt Harriett's son Claude, but is he? Homer, who hasn't seen his cousin in decades, is convinced. Claude – at least, the man calling himself Claude – lays claim to Aunt Harriett's riches, all the while admitting that there is a catch:
"I'm going to be perfectly honest with you. I'm going to lay my cards on the table. The minute I prove I'm Claude Jeffries, the police will move in, I'd spend the next twenty years behind bars. However," he raised his voice as Homer was about to say something, "there's no law saying a man can't inherit money because he happens to be in jail. You know of any such law?" 
   "I know very little about such things."
   "Take it from me, there's no such law. Now, the way I look at it Homer, we're both in a spot."
   "You're in a spot," Mrs. Bigelow said, but in a small voice. 
   "So here's what we'll do. I'll stay on here with you folks, share my inheritance with you. In return, you'll protect me, keep my true identity secret."
And so, Cousin Claude becomes "Claude Richards," Homer's childhood friend, back from adventures in Africa. Claude Richards is a travel writer, which serves to explain why Grace and Raymond, who are not in on the secret, had never before met the man. Because Claude believes the police are on his trail, he lies low under the pretence that he is recovering from "jungle fever." This, combined with Homer, Dolly, and Mrs Bigelow's understandable reluctance to discuss Claude only serves to make him a more intriguing figure, firing interest and desire in Grace and hired girl Eloise:
Knowing the value of first impressions, she did not want to be seen by him until tomorrow, when, her hair washed and set, she would be wearing her pink jersey sweater over her new brassière with the pointed cups.
Abelard-Schuman sold Dove Cottage as a "thoroughly delightful, completely comic and utterly frivolous novel." And it is. Enjoyable light entertainment, it reminded me of nothing so much as an afternoon attending local community theatre.

A good time was had by all.

About the author:

Object: A hardcover with Kelly green boards. The jacket illustration, depicting Claude, is by the talented William McLaren. Purchased in February from an Oxfordshire bookseller – price: £18.50 – it looks to have been a review copy.

Access: All evidence suggests that Dove Cottage enjoyed no more than one printing. The year after publication, the novel reappeared as a "new story of suspense" in the Star Weekly Magazine.

Star Weekly Magazine, 22 August 1959
There have been no paperback editions. There have been no translations.

20 March 2023

By Any Other Name: Onoto Watanna's Hyacinth

The Heart of Hyacinth
Onoto Watanna [Winnifred Eaton]
New York: Harper, 1903
251 pages

Read last month, I've put off writing about The Heart of Hyacinth because I still don't know what to think. 

To begin with, this is a novel written by a Canadian of Chinese and Scots heritage, born and raised in Montreal, who passed herself off as Japanese. The story takes place in Japan, which the author had not visited.

It's a beautifully written work. The opening pages seduce with descriptions of Sendai and the surrounding countryside. Minute, seemingly insignificant elements are added. All is dreamlike and idyllic. At some point a kindly Presbyterian missionary couple land. A modest church is built and there are some converts to the faith. Years pass, the minister's hair grows white, and his beloved wife dies. Then comes an English vessel carrying ill-behaved sailors and officers. They woo the daughters of Sendai, only to leave them; but one Englishman stays behind. He brings a young woman, Aoi, to the elderly missionary, and they marry. There the Englishman stays, loving his newfound land, loving his wife even more, and fathering a son. All of a sudden, the Old World – his old world – descends into conflict, and he is called to join the battle.

Aoi awaits a promised return that is not to be. After a lengthy silence, letters arrive in a foreign script and language. She takes them to the missionary who informs that her husband is dead.

Komazawa, the fatherless son, is a carefree child, unaffected by all that has passed. His life changes with the arrival of a dying "white" woman in the family home. She has brought with her a baby girl. The local doctor recommends that an English counsel be informed, but the boy balks; the white woman has entrusted the infant, Hyacinth, to his mother, and in her arms she will stay. If anything,
the son is the greater protector and teacher of the girl. 

The Heart of Hyacinth is a stone skipping across a lake. It touches fleetingly on scenes and events, leaving the reader to imagine what has happened in between. The ageing missionary reaches the point at which he must hand the mission to another. His replacement, Mr Blount, has the strength that comes with youth, but is in every other way a lesser man. He lacks his predecessor's appreciation of the local people and their culture; love is absent.

At Blount's insistence, the adolescent Komazawa is sent off to study in England:
"He is, in fact, one of us. He has the physical appearance, somewhat of the training, and, let us hope, the natural instincts of the Caucasian. It would be not only ludicrous but wicked him to continue here in this isolated spot, where he is, may we say, an alien."
Komazawa does not return until four years later. In his absence, Hyacinth attends school in Sendai. Classmates laugh, pointing at her brown hair, and the sensei views the girl as a curiosity. She is taught that people from the West are barbarians and savages. When Komazawa reappears in English clothing, Hyacinth shuns him. When he changes into Japanese dress they embrace.

Hyacinth knows she is the adopted daughter of Aoi, whom she considers her mother. Born and raised in Japan, the girl thinks of herself as Japanese. Crisis comes with her betrothal to Yamashiro Yashida, son of the wealthiest family in Sendai. In opposing the union, Blount discovers that Aoi is not Hyacinth's natural mother – like the Yamashiro family, he had assumed that she and Komazawa shared the same parents. Then comes the discovery that both of the girl's parents were "Caucasian." The revelation comes as no surprise to the reader, who will remember her mother's dying hours, but to Hyacinth it is shocking and devastating. 

The Heart of Hyacinth is a novel about identity and self-identity. At its heart – there is no better word – it confronts issues of race and nationality, questioning how we perceive ourselves and others. The beauty of its prose contains an ugly reality that sadly remains twelve decades later. 

Object: The Heart of Hyacinth is one of the most beautiful books in my collection. The "decorations," which appear on every page, are credited to Kiyokichi Sano, about whom I can find next to no information.

I'm not so sure whether his hand also produced the four full-colour book plates. I suspect not.

My copy was purchased four years ago in Toronto.

Access: In 2000, after languishing out-of-print for nearly a century, The Heart of Hyacinth was revived by the University of Washington Press. Its edition includes an introduction by Samina Najmi.

Remarkably – astonishingly – copies of the 120-year-old first edition can be purchased online for as little as US$3.25. An Ontario bookseller hopes to sell his for US$105.00, but the one to buy is offered by a bookshop in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. Wrapped in wax paper in original presentation box, it can be purchased for US$71.65.

I expect it to be gone within minutes of this post.

No one who buys this novel will be disappointed.

The Heart of Hyacinth can be read online through this link to the Internet Archive.