28 February 2010
26 February 2010
J.W.L. Forster. Adelaide Hoodless (c. 1897)
One hundred years ago today, Adelaide Hoodless collapsed and died while delivering a speech to the Women's Canadian Club in Toronto. She was a foe of suffragettes, thought a woman's place was in the home and believed the education of girls should focus on making them good wives and mothers. Still, she's owed a debt of gratitude for recognizing the importance of nutrition and sanitation in an increasingly urban Canada.
"Educate a boy and you educate a man, but educate a girl and you educate a family", she would say; but to Mrs Hoodless, education for girls centred on domestic science. Her efforts made Canadian home and hearth healthier, but helped keep women out of the workplace. Under her watch, the Hamilton YWCA phased out commercial courses, replacing them with classes in domestic science. Mrs Hoodless' influence expanded greatly with the 1898 publication of her Public School Domestic Science, a textbook used in schools across Ontario, and less than two years later she found herself president of the new Ontario Normal School of Domestic Science and Art. All went south from there: financial problems, a nervous breakdown and dismissal, ending with her hitting the stage, literally, in Toronto.
An ignoble end to an interesting woman from another time. Tonight I raise a glass to Mrs Hoodless... anyone who dismissed proponents of prohibition as "temperance cranks" can't be all bad.
25 February 2010
The Globe and Mail, 31 December 1964
Oh, Policewoman Davies, you tried your best, but you were no match for Mistress Hill and Lady Chatterley.
A note to collectors: Lust for Two is an early pseudonymous work by science fiction writer Robert Silverberg.
Related post: Freedom for Fanny
22 February 2010
Yesterday marked the beginning of Freedom to Read Week; I spent much of it stripping wallpaper. Truth be told, I don't much feel like joining the charge led by the Book and Periodical Council and their Freedom of Expression Committee. Their slapdash "Challenged Books and Magazines List" hasn't changed in over a year – still nothing about Rodolphe Girard, Jean-Charles Harvey, the 1961 RCMP raid on the Vancouver Public Library or the temporary embargo placed on The Satanic Verses. Not even the committee's error-ridden work on Lady Chatterley's Lover has been added. A bit of a surprise, really, since the organization saw fit to spread this misinformation by email last August. An "important legal victory", their researcher noted at the time, adding that it is "poorly documented by the historians of literary freedom in Canada".
Not only poorly documented, but entirely ignored in material being distributed by the council and its committee.
It goes without saying that F.R. Scott's defence of Lady Chatte in Brody, Dansky, Rubin v. The Queen is one most important cases in the fight against censorship in this country... and nearly 48 years after the man emerged triumphant from the Supreme Court we're still waiting for the story to be told. When it is written, I think a chapter should be devoted to the coup de grâce delivered two years later by Fanny Hill.
The Globe and Mail, 2 March 1964
John Cleland's "woman of pleasure" received something of a delayed reception in Canada. She was ignored for two centuries, until November 1963 when local police moved in on a Richmond Hill Coles seizing eight copies. Not to be outdone, two months later Toronto police raided two Yonge Street branches, rounding up a couple of thousand more. It was all laughable; even the staid Globe and Mail thought the raids ridiculous, dismissing the police in a 28 January 1964 editorial as a group of "merry men".
During subsequent court proceedings Robertson Davies testified that Fanny Hill was "a Jolly sort of book". Saturday Night editor Arnold Edinborough joined in, praising Cleland's work as "funny, gay and light-hearted." Oh, but then there was the morality squad's Detective-Sergeant William Quennell, who declared that he'd read the book and had found it to be obscene. On 17 February, Judge Everett L. Weaver sided with critic Quennell: "Jollity in its presentation does not purge it of its pornographic taint." Ontarians who have a copy of Cleland's classic need not worry, that December the decision was overturned by the province's Court of Appeal, securing Fanny Hill a place on the bestseller lists.
Chief Justice Dana Porter, father of Julian, father-in-law of Anna.
So, during a week in which the Book and Periodical Council would have me fret over the anonymous Toronto Public Library patron who in 2003 complained about violence in a Richard North Patterson novel, I'll be watching for real threats... and thinking about the words of Chief Justice Dana Porter in rendering the ultimate decision over Fanny Hill:
The freedom to write books, and thus to disseminate ideas, opinions and concepts of the imagination – the freedom to treat with complete candor an aspect of human life and the activities, aspirations and failings of human beings – these are fundamental to progress in a free society.
21 February 2010
20 February 2010
18 February 2010
Those adverts at the back of The Last Canadian have had me scouring local thrift shops for Leo Orenstein's The Queers of New York. How could I not? The very idea that a respected director of Anton Chekhov, Henrik Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw, not to mention Harlan Ellison (The Starlost), wrote a "novel of the homosexual underworld" intrigues. What's more, according to one online bookseller, it features a "gay glossary", a "Yiddish glossary" and "camp pictorial wraps (painted by the author)".
While I can't confirm the bookseller's description, I don't doubt the accuracy. Covers for Pocket's Canadian originals look like they were done on the cheap, so we might expect that the firm appreciated writers who could supply an image. In terms of quality, they're to be all over the map. Series editor Jock Carroll's photo of a faux Marilyn Monroe isn't so bad, but what are we to make of the flower-carrying girl exiting an outhouse?
That is a girl, right?
Daddy's Darling Daughter
"A shocking novel of today's children and their life-style."
Down the Road
"Uninhibited talks with Marilyn Monroe and other famous sex symbols. Photos."
Backroom Boys and Girls
John Philip Maclean
"A novel that raises basic questions about Canadian politicians – and sex."
Earl L. Knickerbocker
"The bitter-sweet romance of two young schoolteachers."
Right Now Would Be a Good Time to Cut My Throat
"A bawdy sailor adrift in Toronto publishing circles."
15 February 2010
The Last Canadian
William C. Heine
Markham, ON: Pocket Books, 1974
In the opening chapter of The Last Canadian, protagonist Gene Arnprior leaves his suburban home and speeds along the Trans-Canada toward Montreal. A to B, it's not much of a scene, but the image has remained with me since I read this book at age twelve. The novel was the first in which I encountered a familiar landscape. Of the rest, I remembered nothing... nothing of the sexism, the crazed politics or the absurdity.
Penned by the editor-in-chief of the London Free Press, it begins with late night news bulletins about mysterious deaths in Colorado. Gene recognizes what others don't and takes to the air, flying his wife and two sons to a remote fishing camp near James Bay. As a virus sweeps through the Americas, killing nearly everyone, the Arnprior family live untouched for three idyllic years, before coming into contact with a carrier. As it turns out, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger... Gene lives on, but must bury his wife and children.
The Last Canadian is a favourite of survivalists everywhere. Someone calling himself Wolverine writes on the Survivalist Blog:
The immediate response reaction is instructive. Second there are the North country survival techniques. Third there are psychological factors of being a survivor in a situation where most others die. And there is more, dealing with post-disaster situations, though I won't go into that because it would spoil the book for you.
I won't be as courteous. Spoilers will follow, but first this complaint: the title is a cheat. Gene is not "The Last Canadian" – there are plenty of others – rather he considers himself such because his citizenship papers came through the day before the plague struck. Gene is an American who came north for work. He'd enjoyed his time in Canada, had made many friends and "had come to understand the Canadian parliamentary system, and agreed that it was far more flexible and effective than the rigidity of the American system of divided constitutional responsibility."
Reason before passion.
Is it then surprising that, there being no parliament, he's drawn back to the United States? Heading south, Gene resists all invitations of the Canadians he meets, whom he considers "eccentric" because they've chosen to stay put, supporting themselves through farming and whatever might be found in local shops. There's much more excitement to be found south of the border.
First, he stumbles into a Manhattan turf war – but that's hardly worth mentioning. As a carrier, Gene succeeds in killing a number of Soviet military types in Florida. In doing so, he becomes Enemy #1 of the USSR. They send frogmen assassins, set off bombs, plant land mines, and lob nuclear missiles in his general direction, but still Gene beetles on. When a Soviet submarine destroys his Chesapeake Bay home, killing the woman he considers his new wife, Gene seeks revenge.
Though he has no evidence, Gene comes to blame the Soviets for the plague (in fact, it's a rogue Russian scientist), and dedicates himself to infecting the USSR. He begins with a short wave radio broadcast directed at the Kremlin: "If the Russian people were half as smart as your literature says they are, they'd have tossed you out long ago. Because they haven't, I have to assume they're as stupid as you are."
You see, because they are stupid, Gene has decided that all citizens of the Soviet Union should die. He cares not one bit that the plague will spread beyond the borders of the country, killing the rest of Asia and Europe, never mind Africa.
It's all crazy, but the reader is not surprised. Though Heine spills an awful lot of primary colours in an effort to paint the man as a hero, concern has been growing for quite some time. Remember when he hit his wife, just so she'd understand the gravity of their situation? How about when he'd threatened to tie his young son to a tree and whip him until he couldn't stand – all because he'd fallen asleep while tending a fire? Then there's that little glimpse of Gene's psyche provided when his new love, Leila, tells him a horrific story of being kidnapped, beaten and raped repeatedly by a psychopath:
"You can't imagine the things he made me do. And he killed a man to get one of his girls."Gene felt another chuckle welling up. In the few years he'd spent in Korea and Japan, he'd read about most of the sex things there were to do, and tried a few himself. He stifled it, however, recognizing her revulsion.
Yep, pretty funny stuff... and don't forget to add that boys will be boys.
Intent on killing billions, Gene makes his way up the Pacific Coast, dodging Soviet and American forces, before crossing the Bering Strait into the USSR. Hundreds of Americans and an untold number of Russians die as a result. His journey and life are finally ended by a clusterfuck of nuclear strikes – Soviet, Chinese, American and British – which obliterate the Anadyr basin.
Lest the reader agree with the Soviets that Gene had become a madman, Heine is at the ready to set things right. You see, Gene's actions were perfectly understandable; the British prime minister tells us so.
We're left with the image of radioactive clouds composed of the people and terrain of Anadyr. They drift across Canada, sprinkling poisoned dust over the land. Some settles on the graves of Gene's wife and children:
In time the rains washed the radioactive dust down among the rocks and deep into the soil.Something of Eugene Arnprior, who had suffered much and had done more to serve mankind than he could ever have imagined, had come home to be with those he loved.
Thus ends what I believe to be the stupidest Canadian novel.
Trivia: Published in the US under the snicker-inducing title Death Wind and in the UK as – go figure – The Last American, in 1998 the novel was turned into something called The Patriot starring Steven Seagal. There he is below as Dr Wesley McClaren, a small town immunologist doing battle with Montana militiamen and the lethal virus they've released. Sure sounds like Gene Arnprior could help out, but he's nowhere to be found. Maybe he's up on Parliament Hill taking in the House of Commons. Who knows? The Dominion to the north is never mentioned, nor is the Soviet Union, for that matter. Truth be told, The Patriot has as much to do with the novel as it does with good cinema.
Object: A typical mass market paperback. The cover photo is by Jock Carroll, who also served as editor of this and other paperback originals published by the Pocket Books imprint. The final pages advertise more desirable titles in the series, including:
FESTIVAL by Bryan Hay. A modern novel which reveals the rip-off of drug-crazy kids by music festival promoters.THE QUEERS OF NEW YORK by Leo Orenstein. A novel of the homosexual underground.THE HAPPY HAIRDRESSER by Nicholas Loupos. A rollicking revelation of what Canadian women do and say when they let their hair down.
Access: The copies listed for sale online are expensive. Where do survivalists get their money? Third printings, seventh printings, none rated as anything better than Good condition, they range from C$50 to C$85. Interestingly, a Sudbury bookseller stands out for offering the best copy ("Very Good") at what is by far the lowest price (C$20). Seems hard to beat... and yet just last week I found a copy for 99¢ in our little town's Salvation Army Thrift Shop. I'll happily send it – gratis – to anyone who wants the thing (email on my profile page).
14 February 2010
13 February 2010
12 February 2010
08 February 2010
A comment left last week had me thinking – obsessing, really – about those horrible old New Canadian Library covers of my youth. That McClelland and Stewart used the series design for ten years begs the obvious question: Why?
It seems no one much liked them. In New Canadian Library: The Ross-McClelland Years, 1952-1978 (University of Toronto, 2008), Janet Friskney writes that from the start "booksellers, consumers, instructors, and students found the new cover art decidedly unappealing." I think the longevity is explained, at least in part, by those "instructors and students". Ms Friskney places them last, but they were very much at the front of NCL's sales. Captive readers, where else were they going to get The Tin Flute or The Double Hook?
That said, I wonder whether there wasn't something else going on. Ms Friskney tells us that in reacting to the design's poor reception Jack McClelland "balked at the kind of financial outlay another new cover would represent." I may be reading too much into Ms Finskey's use of "cover" as opposed to "design", but it occurs to me that each new cover must have been very cheap to produce. One simply positioned the text in the centre – more or less – of the appropriate box. No need to worry over images, never mind permissions, just choose from the abstracts provided by series designer Don Fernby. It seems any old one would do; the image used for Down the Long Table (above) is also featured on the covers of Susanna Moodie's Roughing It in the Bush, Ralph Connor's Glengarry School Days and no less than two Stephen Leacock titles (My Remarkable Uncle and Last Leaves).
The production values were extremely poor. With the new design, printing shifted from England's Hazell, Watson and Viney to our own T.H. Best. Not only did they use inferior paper, the new covers were invariably skewed. Worse still, even the gentlest touch appeared to cause injury. Though younger, some by as much as two decades, they usually show more wear than their earlier counterparts.
I do go on... perhaps because semester after semester, year after year, I was obliged to spend my meagre earnings on these ugly looking things. Yet, for all my complaints, I miss the content of the old NCL books. Offerings were diverse and often surprising. Germaine Guèvrement's The Outlander, Philip Child's God's Sparrows and Percy Janes' House of Hate have no place in the series' current safe and commercially-driven incarnation.
Right again, Joni Mitchell.
06 February 2010
Nothing at all remarkable about the inscription here to critic Hugo McPherson, interest is to be found in the book itself. Nearly half a century after publication, Das Romanwerk Hugh MacLennans still ranks as one of a very few foreign language works of criticism devoted to a Canadian author. Its existence reflects the once great spread of MacLennan's work outside the English speaking world. His novels were translated into French, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Swedish, Estonian, Czech, Romanian, Polish and German. In Hugh MacLennan: A Writer's Life (University of Toronto, 1981), biographer Elspeth Cameron writes that between 1963 and 1969 the German language edition of Barometer Rising sold over 100,000 copies.
I venture to say that not one of these translations is in print today. Here, in his home and native land, the fall of MacLennan's star has been even more dramatic. Two of his seven novels are out of print, as are every one of his collections of essays. I'd like to think that a revival is on the horizon. In Canadian letters there are so few second acts.
05 February 2010
Another fine example of the New Canadian Library's incredibly ugly second series design. Thirty-two years ago, this book belonged to neighbours of the Cohen family on Westmount's Belmont Avenue. I bought it in 1991, just as prices for things LC were on the runway about to take off.
04 February 2010
Bought for $2.99 in 1990, when Gérald Godin and Pierre Vallières were still with us. How this ended up in such an inelegant place, a warehouse-like bookstore across from Montreal's Central Bus Station, I do not know.
A chance meeting – I noticed it only because the cover reminded me of a Cindy Sherman photo.
03 February 2010
In 1991, six or so months after his death, Hugh MacLennan's personal library was put up for sale through Montreal's Word bookstore. It wasn't exactly a pretty sight. MacLennan treated his books badly, and it was clear that he cared not one whit about fine editions. Looking through the battered volumes made me respect the man all the more. Here was someone who cared for the word, not the vessel. He'd read and reread with great appetite, while I'd worried over sunlight and fragile spines.
I bought a dozen of these worn volumes, including a presentation copy of Alistair MacLeod's As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories and an old 95¢ Signet Classics edition of Robinson Crusoe (my cost: $1.95). All were books I'd been wanting to read for some time, with the exception of The Conscience of the Rich. C.P. Snow's name meant little to me then, but I was amused and intrigued by MacLennan's critique.
02 February 2010
Though most of John Glassco's library – some 526 books – was sold to Queen's University a couple of years after his death, items do show up from time to time. Of those I've managed to pick up, Telling Lives (New Republic, 1979), a collection of essays on modern biography, is an obvious favourite. It's made all the more interesting by Leon Edel's inscription to old university pal Glassco and his wife Marion McCormick.
01 February 2010
It was interesting to see Whit Burnett's name appear so frequently in news stories dealing with the death of J.D. Salinger. Burnett is an overlooked figure in American letters – he doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry, for goodness sake – yet in his day he held considereable sway and respect. Charles McGrath wrote in the New York Times that Salinger "bragged in college about his literary talent and ambitions, and wrote swaggering letters to Whit Burnett, the editor of Story magazine." According to McGrath, "Mr. Salinger’s most sustained exposure to higher education was an evening class he took at Columbia in 1939, taught by Whit Burnett, and under Mr. Burnett’s tutelage he managed to sell a story, 'The Young Folks,' to Story magazine."
What does all this have to do with Canadian literature? Not a whole lot, I suppose – though Salinger's influence outside the ever-tightening borders of the United States cannot be denied. And it should be recognized that Story published a small number of Canadian writers, including those old standbys Stephen Leacock and Morley Callaghan.
I'm not sure what to make of the inscription in this copy of Sackcloth for Banner (Macmillan of Canada, 1938), purchased seven years ago from a Philadelphia bookseller. Jean-Charles Harvey was not amongst the Canadians featured in Story, and I can find no evidence of a friendship between the two men. Perhaps it's nothing more than a warm greeting from a writer to an admired editor... a "friend in letters", so to speak.
With another deadline approaching, another change of pace. The next week or so will feature images of books from others' libraries that have somehow ended up in my own... along with a word or two of explanation. Wouldn't want anyone to think I lifted these things.