19 February 2024

My Mistake in Reading Richardson

Hardscrabble; or, The Fall of Chicago
Major [John] Richardson
New York: Pollard & Moss, 1888
113 pages

A forgotten novel about forgotten bloodshed, Hardscrabble isn't about the fall of Chicago because at the time there was no Chicago. It does concern an April 1812 assault on a farm, Hardscrabble, which was located south of the South Branch of the Chicago River. Winnebago warriors killed two men, while two others escaped.

And so the fiction begins. In Richardson's imaginings, the farm belongs to a man named Heywood, who "by dint of mere exertion and industry" amassed a small fortune in the wilds of Kentucky. He then moved on to South Carolina, where he took as his wife a woman with an even greater fortune. After that, it was back to the Bluegrass State, where he killed a man just to watch him die.

I jest.

Heywood kills a lawyer from a prominent family in a duel – no cause of contretemps given – and then fearing retribution, flees west with his wife and daughter. In the Territory of Illinois they establish two homes, the nicer being a charming cottage across the river from Fort Dearborn. The other dwelling is, of course, the farmhouse at Hardscrabble.

News of the attack on the farm is carried by a hired hand, but Captain Headley, fearing an attack on the stockade, decides against sending his men. This puts him at odds with "high-spirited Southerner" Ensign Harry Ronayne, who is in love with Heywood's daughter Maria. The smitten man disguises himself as a drunken Pottawattamie so as to be ejected from the fort and sets out to rescue the man he hopes will be his future father-in-law.

As in many a historical novel, romance trumps fact. Hardscrabble existed, but it belonged to men named Russell and Lee, neither of whom were present at the time of the killing. Heywood, his wife, and his daughter are fictions. Ensign Ronayne too is a fiction, as is Captain Headley, though a strong argument may be made that the latter is modelled on Captain Nathan Heald, who was from 1810 to 1812 Fort Dearborn's commander.

This student of the War of 1812 expected Fort Dearborn to fall – something to do with the title, you understand – but this never happens. I suggest nothing ribald in writing that the climax comes during the July 4, 1812 wedding of Maria Heywood and Ensign Ronayne. I won't spoil anything either, except to say that there is strong implication that another man's love for Maria will lead to Fort Dearborn's destruction.

The ending is abrupt, as if Hardscrabble, like Richard Rohmer's Ultimatum, is the first half of a longer novel. Sure enough, Wau-nan-gee; or, The Massacre of Chicago, followed its publication. 

I've not read it, and likely never will.

Clearly, Hardscrabble is not the place to start in on Richardson. I read it only because I happened upon a copy being sold for a dollar and had long been intimidated by Wacousta. Richardson's big book in more ways than one, my Carleton University Press Centre for Editing Early Canadian Texts edition amounts to 688 dense pages. The Canadian Brothers, its sequel, is very nearly as long. Hardscrabble seemed much more manageable.

My judgement is no doubt influenced by irritation over its bait and switch title. While the romantic dialogue between Maria and Ronayne is strained, Hardscrabble is well written. At the very least, it's interesting as a novel of the months leading up to the War of 1812 written by a man who had lived through the conflict. And so, I'm willing to read more Richardson.


No, I'm more interested in his risqué The Monk Knight of St. John, which is set during the Crusades and features a countess Richardson scholar David Richard Beasley refers to as a "Fatal Woman."

Now, if I can only find a copy for a dollar.

At this early period of civilization, in these remote countries, there was little distinction of rank between the master and the man – the employer and the employed. Indeed the one was distinguished from the other only by the instructions given and received, in regard to certain services to be performed. They labored together – took their meals together – generally smoked together – drank together – conversed together, and if they did not absolutely sleep together, often reposed in the same room.

Object and Access: A cheap, very delicate paperbound book. Mine is falling apart, revealing a glue remarkably similar in colour to that used on the front cover. It was was purchased five years ago.

The novel first appeared serialized in Sartain’s Union Magazine of Literature and Art (February - July, 1850). It was first published in book form in 1854 by DeWitt & Davenport, two years after Richardson's death. My 1888 Pollard & Moss edition appears to have been the last.

As I write this, no copies of the first edition are listed for sale online, though two American booksellers are offering hardcover copies – in variant bindings – of the 1888 Pollard & Moss edition. At US$150.00 and US$159.50 respectively, War of 1812 obsessives may find them tempting.

You're out there, right?

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12 February 2024

Behold the Translation of a Savage on Film!

Being an addendum to the recent post on The Translation of a Savage by Gilbert Parker.

Hollywood has blessed us with twenty-three adaptations of Gilbert Parker stories. I've managed to see just one, but not for want of effort. This post concerns the three adaptations of The Translation of a Savage, Parker's 1893 bestselling novel. As I'm intent on getting through all three in one post, criticism and snide comments will be kept to a minimum.


The Translation of a Savage

A "short," but how short? Amongst lost silent films, Translation is so lost that even its run time is unknown. The Edison Films advert above from the May 1913 Moving Pictures World provides a glimpse of what we are missing. Do not be tempted by Newcombe's Necktie, it's The Translation of a Savage we're interested in here.

The description, "little savage" included, is in keeping with Parker's novel. The very same issue of  Moving Picture World issue provides this synopsis:

In Parker's novel, Greyhope, the Armour family home, is in Herefordshire, not Staffordshire; a minor, seemingly inexplicable change. Much more significant is the description of Lali as "the daughter of a primitive trapper" and not the offspring of an "Indian chief." The surviving credits include a character named "Henri - the Trapper," suggesting French Canadian or possibly Métis heritage. We may never know. What I do know is that in Parker's imaginings Lali never runs and hides in the hedges.

Oh, how I wish I could include an image of Lili "looking beautiful in the dress of a woman of to-day," but I've yet to find a single image related to this film.

Behold My Wife!

A better title, would you not agree?

This second adaptation holds no ambiguity; Lali is an "Indian." Of all the material attached to the film, this lobby card is my favourite by far:

Here we see Lali, as portrayed by Mabel Julienne Scott. Are those foothills in the background? If so, they're far from the novel's "Hudson's Bay country" setting. I'll add that cacti aren't native to Manitoba, northern Ontario or  northern Quebec.

The most detailed description I've read is found within a Photoplay Magazine review (January 1921):

The "two-fisted surveying gang foreman" aside, everything fits with Parker's story.

What the reviewer picks out as the film's flaw is shared with the novel:
The only weakness the story reveals is in the lack of sufficient excuse for the English hero's determination to be revenged upon his family. He had little reason to believe they had conspired against him, which weakens his subsequent action and the effect of Lali's arrival in England.

I wonder what's going on here: 

Do you think that's meant to be a Navajo hogan? In Hudson Bay country?

Another lost film, alas. 

Behold My Wife!

Not a lost film! In this final adaptation – I can't imagine that there will be another – the "Indian" wife is played by Sylvia Sidney, the New York-born blue-eyed daughter of Russian and Rumanian immigrants. I'm guessing I first saw her as Juno in Beetlejuice, though its just as likely that I caught Sidney in stray episodes of My Three Sons, Eight is EnoughMagnum, P.I., and WKRP in Cincinnati. Her final role was as Clia in the Malcolm McDowell fin de siecle reboot of Fantasy Island.

The 1934 Behold My Wife! owes so little to The Translation of a Savage that it is pretty much unrecognizable. In this telling, the story takes place entirely in the United States. Frank Armour is reimagined as Michael Carter (Gene Raymond), a sauced son of the East Coast leisure class. His family are overly concerned with appearance, and so conspire to break his engagement to perfectly nice stenographer Mary White (Ann Sheridan). She commits suicide, which is not the result they expected.

Michael is met with the awful news on what he'd thought would be his wedding day. Despite a hangover, he's sharp enough to recognize that his mother, father, and sister are to blame for the dive Mary took out of her apartment window. Michael sets off on a drunk driving tour of the United States, winding up in a New Mexico saloon, where he's shot – accidentally – by an Apache named Pete (Dean Jagger). Gentle beauty Tonita Storm Cloud, Pete's sister, removes the bullet, and gets off the best line: "My father sent me to school. I learned many things in college."

Somehow, Tonita falls in love with a man who is entirely unworthy. I've seen similar tragedies play out in real life.

If anything, Michael Carter is even more dislikable than Frank Armour. In Parker's novel, an inebriated Frank marries Lali upon learning that his fiancée has married another. In Behold My Wife!, alcoholic Michael – sober, for once – is much more calculating. He marries the woman who saved his life as a means of revenge over his fiancée's suicide. Like Frank, he insists that Lali wear "Indian" dress when meeting her new in-laws, then sinks several levels further in asking her to do the same for a formal soirée intended to introduce her to "society." Here Tonita appears in a Parisian evening gown proves charming, clever, and quite a wit, particularly when confronting prejudice. In short, she is a sensation. Michael is enraged, revealing his motivation in marrying her.

A remarkable scene, this is the film's climax. Others may disagree as there's still a murder to come.

Yes, murder.

As I say, this adaptation owes little to Parker's novel. It's a strange film, shifting abruptly between comedy, slapstick, pathos, and tragedy. The plot is absurd, but is held together by strong dialogue and Sylvia Sidney. I acknowledge my promise to keep criticism to a minimum, but her performance is so heartbreaking, when it is not comedic or endearing. Behold My Wife! and The Translation of a Savage have one important thing in common, that being that they are well-intentioned works with flaws flaws that become more evident with each passing decade.

Both Behold My Wife! (1934) and The Translation of a Savage are available – gratis – online.

I recommend them both.

For good or bad, they are part of our heritage.

Fun fact (personal): In the 1920 version, Lali's father, Chief Eye-of-the Moon, was played by Englishman Fred Huntley, who was born one hundred years to the day before yours truly!

05 February 2024

Gilbert Parker's Savage Novel

The Translation of a Savage
Gilbert Parker
London: Methuen, [c.1897]
240 pages

I'm writing this after having spent several hours shovelling heavy slushy snow and stacking firewood. It may not be the best time – the mind is less than sharp and the body is tired – but I can't put off sharing my discovery of The Translation of a Savage, which is by far the most unpleasant and problematic novel I've ever read.

The Camden Democrat
6 October 1894
I mean discovery in a personal sense, of course; The Translation of a Savage was a bestseller in Canada, Great Britain, and the United States. Lippincott's Monthly Magazine devoted much of its June 1893 edition to publishing the novel in full. It was serialized in newspapers throughout the United States, and was thrice adapted by Hollywood. In the introduction provided for his 24-volume Works, Parker remarks on the novel's "many friends – sufficiently established by the very large sale it has had in cheap editions."

Sadly, those friends are long dead, and there is precious little evidence the novel is being read today.*

The Translation of a Savage begins in uninteresting fashion as yet another tale of the Canadian North. Frank Armour is a son of English privilege come to "Hudson Bay country" to further his fortune through mining. In doing so, he leaves behind his betrothed, beautiful Miss Julia Sherwood. The Armour parents aren't terribly keen on favourite son Frank's fiancée because she doesn't come from money; they'd much rather he marry Lady Agnes Martling, who "had long cared for him, and was most happily endowed with wealth and good looks." In their son's absence, mama and papa conspire to prevent the union.

Easily done! They invite Miss Sherwood to Greyhope, their Herefordshire home, then bring in young Lord Haldwell, and Bob's your uncle!

It's quite a blow to Frank, who receives his "Dear John" letter after reading about Julia and Hopewell's wedding in the society pages. He knows to blame his parents for the broken engagement, though as I've suggested, they didn't put in much effort. Nevertheless, brandy in his belly and revenge in his heart, he looks to "bring down the pride of his family" by marrying Lali, daughter of Chief Eye-of-the-Moon. After a brief honeymoon, the bride is dispatched to Greyhope in buckskin dress.

Lali, as portrayed by Mabel Julienne Scott, in Behold My Wife!, the 1920 Hollywood adaptation of The Translation of a Savage.

Lali's arrival in England is preceded by a well-crafted letter in which Frank acknowledges his parents' anxiousness that he wed "acceptably." He takes pains to note that Lali is of "the oldest aristocracy, in America." Because they'd wished him to marry wealth, he has sent them a wife rich in virtues, "native, unspoiled virtues." Frank trusts that they will take his bride to their hearts and cherish her, ever aware of their firm principles of honour. They will be kind to Lali until his return, "to share the affection which he was sure would be given to her."

The letter lands in the second of the novel's fifteen chapters. Twenty-first-century readers familiar with Victorian literature and mores will anticipate the reaction. I did, but was taken aback by a racial epithet entirely new to me. As I'm not one for censorship, I present it here. If you want to read it, click on the image below.

Richard Armour is the hero of this story. Frank's younger older-looking bookish brother, "not strong on his pins," has devoted his life to helping pensioners, the poor, and the infirm. Lali's acceptance at Hopewell is all Richard's doing. He is her defender. With gentle touch, he manipulates his family to her side, and provides the guidance she needs in navigating English society. 

Lali is the heroine. A young bride – her age is never disclosed – she wed Frank for love. Because that love is not blind, Lali quickly comes to recognize the awful truth behind her marriage.

Frank is the villain. After marrying Lali, he remains in Canada, and never so much as writes. His ventures are unsuccessful, in large part because his wife's people come to question what has become of Lali. Frank's people – by which I mean his family – do not trust his judgement. By the time Lali gives birth to a son, seven or so months after arriving at Hopewell, she has won over the Armour family. They recognize how badly she has been treated, and so respect her wishes that they keep the child's existence a secret.

Four years pass before Frank's return, during which Lali has adapted to her new surroundings. The woman he encounters in the halls of Greyhope is very different than the "heathen" he married.

Lali (Mabel Julienne Scott) and Frank (Milton Sills) are reunited in
Behold My Wife! (1920).

That word – "heathen" – is the used by Lali at the novel's climax, in which she is pushed to confront her husband:

Years of indignation were at work in her. “I have had a home,” she said, in a low, thrilling voice, — “a good home; but what did that cost you? Not one honest sentiment of pity, kindness, or solicitude. You clothed me, fed me, abandoned me, as — how can one say it? Do I not know, if coming back you had found me as you expected to find me, what the result would have been? Do I not know? You would have endured me if I did not thrust myself upon you, for you have after all a sense of legal duty, a kind of stubborn honour. But you would have made my life such that some day one or both of us would have died suddenly. For” — she looked him with a hot clearness in the eyes — “for there is just so much that a woman can bear. I wish this talk had not come now, but, since it has come, it is better to speak plainly. You see, you misunderstand. A heathen has a heart as another — has a life to be spoiled or made happy as another. Had there been one honest passion in your treatment of me — in your marrying me — there would be something on which to base mutual respect, which is more or less necessary when one is expected to love. But — but I will not speak more of it, for it chokes me, the insult to me, not as I was, but as I am. Then it would probably have driven me mad, if I had known; now it eats into my life like rust!"

Ultimately, of course, "heathen" is Parker's word, as is the measure of what a woman can bear. Lali existed only in his imagination, and remains with us today solely through the printed page.**

Frank tries to make amends, though His motivation is unclear. Is it, as Lali suggests, a sense of duty and a stubborn kind of honour? Might it have something to do with her "translation" to a woman who has been accepted by Society? Or is it simply because the two have a son? I have no answer, though will direct the curious to an associated theological question (below).

The very definition of a forgotten novel; The Canadian Encyclopedia, The Encyclopedia of Canadian LiteratureThe Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, and The Cambridge Companion to Canadian Literature don't so much as mention The Translation of a Savage. This old Canadian Studies, English, and History major always saw it as just another of the dozens of Parker titles. I knew nothing about the novel, but feel I should have been made aware.

The Translation of a Savage begins as a story of the Canadian North. Aforementioned racial epithet aside, its attitudes and depictions of First Nations people are typical of Victorian literature; Lali's father, for example, is the very example of the "noble savage." What sets the novel apart is Lali and her translation.

She receives love in the Old World, in the main from the Amour family, making life sufferable, but her story is terrible. The entire story is terrible. Lali would like to return to Hudson Bay country, but feels she is too much changed. The novel's final sentences hint at reconciliation with Frank, but it is in no way a happy ending.

After all the time that has passed since reading those final words – some of it spent shovelling snow and stacking firewood – I'm still not sure what to think. What I can say, without hesitation, is that The Translation of a Savage should be read, studied, and discussed.

* Highly unscientific I know, but I do note that Goodreads features one lone readers' rating (one star), whereas Parker's The Right of Way has fourteen (3.36 stars average).

** I acknowledge that variations of Lali have appeared throughout the years on the silver screen – 1913, 1920, and 1934, to be precise – but Parker had no input in those depictions.

The subject of a future post.

Trivia: Frank receives news of Julia's marriage at Fort Charles – twice "Fort St. Charles" – a Hudson Bay Company outpost not far from the Kimash Hills and the White Valley. All exist only in Parker's fiction, most notably Pierre and His People (1894) and A Romany of the Snows (1898).

Interestingly, in 1907 poet Harmony Twichwell submitted an outline of an opera titled 'Kimash Hills' to her future husband Charles Ives.

Not trivia: In The Works of Gilbert Parker the author writes that the story "had a basis of fact; the main incident was true. It happened, however, in Michigan rather than in Canada; but I placed the incident in Canada where it was just as true to the life."

A theological question (spoiler): The novel ends suddenly with a contrived crise, after which we learn that Lali accepts "without demur her husband's tale of love for her." The suggestion is that this brings the couple together. Then come the last two ssentences:

Yet, as if to remind him of the wrong he had done. Heaven never granted Frank Armour another child.
If this is God's punishment is He not also punishing Lali?

Criticism: In his Works introduction, Parker notes that the novel was well-received. Despite the author's misgivings, Sir Clement Konloch-Cooke was eager to publish it in The English Illustrated Magazine. This was followed by enthusiasm from an unexpected source:  

The judgment of the press was favourable, – highly so – and I was as much surprised as pleased when Mr. George Moore, in the Hogarth Club one night, in 1894, said to me: “There is a really remarkable play in that book of yours, The Translation of a Savage.” I had not thought up to that time that my work was of the kind which would appeal to George Moore, but he was always making discoveries.

Object and Access: The novel made its debut in the June 1893 edition of Lippincott's Monthly Magazine. My copy was purchased online late last year from a French bookseller. Price: US$14.65. It was advertised as the 1894 first British edition; indeed the title page suggests as much, but the novel itself is followed by a 40-page catalogue of Methuen titles dated March 1897. Included are seven Parker novels and Robert Barr's disappointing In the Midst of Alarms.

Je ne regrette rien.

This copy, the copy that now rests in my Upper Canadian home, once belonged to Parker's fellow Tory Sir Henry Drummond Wolff, who from 1892 to 1900 was British Ambassador to Spain.

Sir Henry was also the father of prolific novelist Anne Cleeve, author of The Woman Who Wouldn't (1895), written in response to Grant Allen's The Woman Who Did (1895).

In its first three decades, The Translation of a Savage went through plenty of editions from plenty of publishers. I'm betting most used booksellers can't be bothered listing them for sale online. Of those who have, the least expensive – an undated Nelson at £2.80 – is offered by a UK bookseller. The most expensive is a cocked copy of Appleton's 1893 American first edition at US$75.00.

Those with an aversion to previously-owned books – I knew one such person – will see that both Indigo and Amazon sell this Esprios World Classics print on demand edition. 

The photograph used on the cover was taken in 1902 at the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, Wasco County, Oregon, adding further insult.

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