28 November 2012

Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow and the Bigots of Yesteryear

Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow:
     Trudeau's Master Plan and How It Can Be Stopped
J.V. Andrew
Richmond Hill, ON: BMG, 1977

Author Jock Andrew once claimed that Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow sold over 100,000 copies. While I don't doubt it, the laziest of investigations reveals that pretty much every figure contained in the book itself is false.

Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow is the work of a bigot who, expecting to be labelled as such, attempts a preemptive strike. "We are not really sure of what a bigot does," he tells the reader,  "and therefore anyone can readily be called a bigot without having anything proved."

I know what a bigot does, and will add that there's proof enough here. Let's begin with Andrew's description of French Canadians as a race. Quebec, which they control, is "an impregnable bastion, breeding-pen, and marshalling-yard for the colonization of the rest of Canada with both French-Canadians and with imported, made-in-France, Frenchmen."

When Andrew wrote these words, made-in-France Frenchmen comprised two percent of all immigrants to Canada. Never mind. What stays is the image of the breeding-pen, a fixture decried as part of "Quebec's breeding-project", in which French Canadian families are "little more than breeding units. Work, to many family-heads in this category, becomes pretty much a take-it-or-leave-it affair." Andrew will also have you know that in Quebec cars are used primarily to ferry fathers between home and the local tavern.

Andrew's contention – he dares call it conspiracy – is that Pierre Trudeau, Gérard Pelletier and shadow-player Marc Lalonde were seeking "the takeover of Canada for the French-Canadian race." The goal would be achieved within a matter of mere years under cover of programs promoting bilingualism. English-speaking Canadians would find "their country" colonized, and watch helplessly as "the relative population ratios of English-to-French swing from 75:25 to 50:50 to 30:70 to 10:90 to 0:100."

Quel désastre!

"There is nothing that has come out of Quebec or French-Canada that I can think of that is either particularly distinctive or particularly desirable", writes Andrew. Lest my French Canadian wife feel bad, I rush to add that the author thinks little of Canadians as a whole writing that we "would rather sell out and live in Florida".

Andrew's opinion of the country he swore to defend is dimmer still: "The marriage of Quebec with English-speaking Canada was at best a shotgun affair. It was brought about for the sole purpose of putting up a united front against the United States in 1867." Should Trudeau's nefarious plans be thwarted, he believes that it's just a matter of time before English-speaking Canada opts for union with the republic to the south.  "Hollywood has made Americans and English-speaking Canadians one and the same people" – or didn't you know that?

Anyone wondering why the English-speaking Canadians of 1977 couldn't see "the French racial takeover of Canada" must recognize that the media was both suppressed and in the pay of the Trudeau government; Reader's Digest is given special mention. Andrew contends that Gérard Pelletier "imposed just as an effective censorship on Canada as was exercised on Nazi Germany." Doubters will find evidence in the 1974 Dominion Day celebrations on Parliament Hill:
The program definitely put Mr. Pelletier at least on a plane with Dr. Goebbels. I can recall a movie-cut of Hitler slapping one of his cronies on the back and doing a little jig on the occasion of the French surrender during World War II. I can just imagine Mr. Trudeau in the same role, during that performance on Parliament Hill, slapping Gerard [sic] Pelletier on the back, and saying, "Hey old buddy, you sure gave it to them that time."
Yes, Andrew can imagine. He imagines that he lives in a country in which he might be imprisoned for his words. He imagines that he lives in a Canada in which those accused of bigotry are beaten, stoned and shot.  He imagines unseating Pierre Trudeau through a Progressive Conservative/Parti Québécois alliance – all the while lamenting: "in many other countries, the actions of Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Pelletier would have long since resulted in a revolt by the military and a hasty execution of those two politicians".

Most of all, he imagines "racial chaos" that has brought country to the brink of civil war. Andrew tells of an episode he witnessed in which an Ottawa bus driver hurled an insult at a Quebec motorist:
If some French-Canadian passenger on the bus, or another driver, or a pedestrian, had taken issue with that bus driver, there would have been a fight. And what is important is that there wouldn't have been just two people involved, because I would have been in it too. And I would have been on the side of the bus driver. And I would have been in that fight dressed in the uniform of a Lieutenant Commander in Canada's Armed Forces.
     My point is this. Canada is just one hot afternoon and one small incident away from open hostility.
Let us imagine a uniformed member of Armed Forces working not to diffuse, but to inflame such a situation. Let us imagine him doing so with the belief that his actions might be the spark that leads to great bloodshed. Let us give thanks that Lieutenant Commander Andrew is no longer an active member of our Armed Forces.

Object: A 137-page paperback, my seventh printing copy fell apart in the reading. The author would have me blame poor production standards on Pierre Trudeau, who cast a chill over printers operating in "the whole of the city of Ottawa."

Access: A dated, poorly produced book that has been out of print for thirty-four years, it isn't surprising that Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow has all but disappeared from our public libraries. Used copies can be purchased online for one dollar. A bookseller in Ladysmith, BC, has the audacity to ask US$39.95 for a "Fair Reprint".

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25 November 2012

This Year? Bust

Grey Cup or Bust
Tony Allan
Winnipeg: Stovel-Advocate, 1954

23 November 2012

A 19th-century Céline Dion and Her Horrible Hunchback Husband

'The Lane That Had No Turning'
The Lane That Had No Turning
     and Other Tales Concerning the People of Pontiac
Gilbert Parker
New York: A.L. Burt, 1900

To think that I nearly set this aside.

A historical novella of old Quebec, 'The Lane That Had No Turning' begins with an awful lot of backstory and a presumption that the reader is familiar with "Valmont, the bizarre but popular Napoleonic pretender." Well, this reader was not only unfamiliar but had to poke around a bit to discover that the character and accompanying plot elements are derived from Parker's 1895 novel  When Valmont Came to Pontiac.

Don't know it? Never mind. Everything you need to know can be reduced to three sentences... and I've wasted one:

The aging Seigneur of Pontiac has let it be known that his estate will go to Englishman George Fournel. The old man dies, no documentation can be found, and so everything goes to direct heir Louis Racine. He's a lawyer.

The eyes fairly glaze over until this:
On the very day of his marriage Louis Racine had made a painful discovery. A heritage of his father's which had skipped two generations, suddenly appeared in himself: he was becoming a hunchback!

"Terror, despair, gloom and anxiety", begins the next sentence. Turns out that Racine's bride, beautiful Madelinette Lajeunesse, the local blacksmith's daughter, is recognized throughout the world as "the greatest singer of her day." Three months into the marriage, the songbird leaves Quebec on a  European tour. Her groom delays his departure with a story that all sorts of seigneurial matters require attention. The truth is that Louis, who has somehow succeeded in hiding his condition, looks to arrest his "strange growth" with a secret surgical operation.

It's a failure.

His wife returns from Europe to find a hunchback husband of twisted mind and body. Madelinette retires from the stage, devoting herself to keeping Louis in check. You see, the seigneur is unstable, as evidenced by his attraction to the days of old. He flies the flag of the golden lilies, maintains a guard in the uniforms of New France and works assiduously in ridding those of English and Irish heritage from Pontiac.

But Madelinette cannot be ever-present. It's only at the last minute that she's able to prevent her husband from killing Fournel, She'll race tirelessly through the Quebec countryside so that her husband won't lose his seigneury, but will unknowingly perform during a murder. Like the 19th-century heroine she is, Madelinette will stand helplessly as a suicide takes place on the other side of a locked door.

Throughout all her trials, I couldn't help but liken Madelinette, a woman from rural Quebec whose pipes are celebrated the word over, to this much-hyped figure:

Of course, the greatest living Quebec singer is really this man:

Everybody knows.

Trivia: Today is the sesquicentennial of Gilbert Parker's birth.

More trivia: This is the earliest Canadian book I've read to feature the word "slut".

Yet more trivia: In 1922, 'The Land That Had No Turning' was adapted to the silver screen. A lost film, this surviving image of Madelinette (Agnes Ayres) and Louis (Theodore Kosloff) suggests that it was not a period piece.

Object: Though less ornate than the first edition, my A.L. Burt reprint – which is very attractive indeed – features four plates illustrating the title story. Purchased in 1998 from a Toronto Goodwill Store (price: $1.50), it once belonged to one J.P. Butler of Walden, Mass.

Access: Used Parkers are plentiful. Very Good copies of the American and British first editions can be bought online for ten dollars; expect to pay $35 for the first Canadian. At the high end, we have an Ottawa bookseller who dares ask $125 for a later, very common Doubleday reprint. He is to be ignored, as is the UK bookseller who looks to sell a crummy print on demand copy for $175.

Interestingly, I find no sign of a French translation. A Finnish edition, Umpikuja (Dead End) was published 1917 by Karisto.

20 November 2012

Harlequin Blondes: Terror Struck Them Dumb

Blondes Don't Cry
Merlda Mace
The Pale Blonde of Sands Street
William Chapman White
Come Blonde, Came Murder
Peter George
A Body for a Blonde
Ken McLeod
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19 November 2012

The Kidnapping of the President Comes to Canada

Charles Templeton's The Kidnapping of the President was enjoying its sixth month on bestseller lists when the screen rights were sold. This was in April 1975, when $3-million, the announced budget, very nearly counted for something on the big screen. True, 'twas on the low end, but newspapers held the figure high in claiming that this would be the most expensive Canadian film ever made.

Shooting didn't begin until the autumn of 1979, by which time the budget had risen by fifty percent. But even $4.5 million didn't buy much. The film features no rally in New York's Herald Square, there are no shots of a Brink's trunk racing up Broadway, nor is there a stand-off witnessed by tens of thousands in Times Square. Instead the kidnapping takes place in Toronto, with a "Bank's" truck moving at a jogger's pace from one end of Nathan Phillips Square to the other.

You can see all forty-seconds of the chase in this YouTube snippet:


I fall in line with most critics in finding Miguel Fernandes' performance strong and Hal Holbrook's steady. Canadian science fiction novelist William Shatner, fresh off the set of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, seems unusually restrained. Van Johnson and poor Ava Gardner contribute kitch as the Vice-President and his wife, but what really attracted my attention was Aubert Pallascio as "the Prime Minister"...

... a character clearly modelled on this man:

The fun continues with unknown Virginia Podesser as "the Prime Minister's wife". An old Canadian Press story reports on her trials:
Strangers in the street demand her autograph. Photographers hound her in clubs and restaurants. Stewardesses stare at her on flights.
     And occasionally, some particularly aggressive fan refuses to believe her assertion that she is not Margaret Trudeau.
     She's not.
     Virginia Podessar [sic], a Toronto model, just looks remarkably like her.
And she did. The accompanying photograph – which captures the uncanny resemblance – comes complete with a Ripley's Believe It or Not-style caption:

The Regina Leader-Post, 15 September 1979
The Kidnapping of the President turned out to be Ms Podesser's only film.

Director George Mendeluk's next two movies were Doin' Time and Meatballs III.

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15 November 2012

The Kidnapping of the President for Christmas

The Kidnapping of the President
Charles Templeton
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1974
Charles Templeton [...] will probably have some idea by mid-November whether he is launched on yet another successful career, this time as a novelist. His meticulously researched first novel, The Kidnapping of the President (McClelland and Stewart), comes out in October; within, say, 90 days from now he'll know whether he's another Arthur Hailey or just a guy who once wrote a novel. 
— Robert Fulford, The Windsor Star, 6 September 1974
It took at lot less than ninety days.

The Kidnapping of the President entered bestseller lists in the month of its release, then fought Richard Rohmer's Exxoneration and Frederick Forsyth's The Dogs of War to become the top novel of the gift giving season.

Its title pretty much says it all, but I'll expound a bit:

President Adam Scott looks to make gains in the 1978 mid-terms by holding a rally in New York's Herald Square, while Marxist Guatemalan terrorist Roberto Moreno and girlfriend Linda Rodriguez see an opportunity to further their cause. Disguising themselves as Brink's guards, they manage to hustle the President into an armoured truck and race toward Times Square. Linda is dropped off at the subway and, incredibly, manages to blend in with the crowd. Moreno emerges to give himself up, telling the secret service that someone somewhere (this would be Linda) holds a remote control device that can blow up the truck, the President and the ever-gathering crowd.

Hayseeds will appreciate these visual aids from first edition:

Robert Fulford described The Kidnapping of the President as a meticulously researched first novel. Therein lies its greatest flaw. The author shares a whole lot about the Constitution of the United States, its Twenty-fifth Amendment, and the construction of armoured trucks, but this only serves to slow the pace; expending three of 237 pages on presidents who died in office and their respective vice-presidents seems a needless waste.

Though The Kidnapping of the President was written with an eye on the massive American market, Canadians will find some things with which they can relate, like the upbringing of the Saskatchewan born Director of the FBI, the Vice-President's Newfoundland fishing trip and the acknowledged ingenuity of the RCMP. Templeton had a bit of fun with news anchor Robertson Kirk and, I think, Art R. Eagleson, whose chick hatchery the Secretary of Agriculture is visiting on the day of the abduction. I really don't know what to make of Gerry Regan, "Special Agent in Charge of the White House Detail", who in 1974 shared his name with the Premier of Nova Scotia.

This first edition of Templeton's first novel features three blurbs, the first of which comes courtesy of political strategist Dalton Camp. "I guess this must be the biggest caper in Canadian fiction...", writes my favourite Red Tory.

Guess so.

Camp was no literary critic, but I think he had this book pegged. Nearly four decades after it was published, The Kidnapping of the President remains the great Canadian caper novel... but that's not saying a whole lot.


Q: How tempting is this?


A: Not tempting at all.

Trivia (personal): Amongst those tasked with guarding the President is Secret Service agent Gil Busby. He very nearly thwarts the kidnappers' plan with his suspicions about Moreno, but is sidetracked by a collapsing barricade from which he rescues a young girl.

Good man, that Busby.

Agent Busby is only the second character with my surname that I've encountered in Canadian literature. The first, whistling Sgt Calvin Busby, is found in Earle Birney's Turvey (1949).

Object: A slim hardcover, my first edition – signed by the author – I purchased my copy in 1991 from a Montreal Salvation Army Thrift Store. Price: $2.

Access: The Kidnapping of the President is long out of print – the most recent edition I could find was Seal Books' 1980 movie tie-in – but it still makes a great Christmas gift. The McClelland and Stewart first edition can be had in Very Good condition for one dollar. Expect to pay more – but not much more – for the 1975 Simon & Schuster American first, the 1976 Quartet British first, and the mass market editions from Avon (1975) and Seal (1980). There are dozens of copies to be had for under five dollars. Ignore the bookseller trying to sell a "Good" copy of the Simon & Schuster edition for $74.99.

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12 November 2012

About Those Old New Canadian Library Intros (with some stuff on Martha Ostenso's Wild Geese)

Before I'm accused of being ungrateful, allow me this: The old New Canadian Library was good for this country. As a university student, I was happy to ignore its abridgements, poor production values and ill-advised selections. The introductions, however, were hard to stomach. I was then new to Canadian literature – we did not study such things Quebec's public schools – and yet could already see that many of the NCL intros were inept, inaccurate and factually incorrect.

Answers as to why so many were so flawed are found in New Canadian Library: The Ross-McClelland Years, 1952-1978, Janet Friskney's invaluable study of NCL's best days. The author tells us that founder Malcolm Ross was adamant that there be introductions, quoting: "I thought it would be useful even for teachers, many of whom were teaching Canadian books for the first time and who had never studied Canadian literature."

As Prof Friskney notes: "in many cases, an NCL introduction was one of the earliest, and sometimes the first piece of critical analysis to appear about a particular work."

Such a sad state of affairs. The blind led the blind... and yet things did improve. In 1962, Hugh MacLennan wrote Ross that the NCL was on its way to becoming "one of the most important things in Canadian publishing." He went on to praise the series for making available the previously unavailable and scarce, adding: "These, with the introductions, are building a true body of relationship between critic and author and the public."

(MacLennan's Barometer Rising had already found a place in the series, and would soon be joined by Each Man's Son.)

All this brings me to Carlyle King's Introduction to Wild Geese, Martha Ostenso's big book, which I reread just yesterday. The intro first appeared when Wild Geese joined the NCL in 1961, and was reprinted until 1996, when it was replaced with an afterword by David Arnason.

Thirty-five years.

I first read these words from Prof King in 1986:

Where to begin? How about with that third sentence, in which King describes the literary landscape of 1923 Canada:
Callaghan was on the Left Bank in Paris among the American expatriates, trying his hand at stories for the little magazines of experimental writing...
No, Morley Callaghan was then studying law at the University of Toronto. It was in 1929 that Callaghan first visited the Left Bank, by which time he was a published author comfortably installed within Charles Scribner's stable.
...Grove, who had written for twenty years in the intervals of an itinerant farm-hand's existence, did not get a first novel into print until 1925.
It was in 1905 that Frederick Philip Grove – or, as King seems to prefer, "Philip Grove" – published his first novel. The "itinerant farm hand's existence" included a stretch in Austrian prison, bohemian living in Berlin and Paris, drinks with Andre Gide and H.G. Wells... and I won't go into his crossdressing wife with the birdcage bustle.

The truth about fraudster and faux-Swede Grove – German Felix Paul Greve – was revealed in 1971 through the sleuthing of D.O. Spettigue. While King cannot be faulted for his 1961 Introduction, one wonders that it continued to be used as the new millennium approached.

Carlyle King informs that Grove, Callaghan and Ostenso stand outside "the Sunshine School of Canadian fiction", in which "human nature is fundamentally noble and Rotarian morality always triumphs. The main characters are basically nice people. Nobody ever suffers long or gets really hurt or says "damn.'"

Oh, dear.

In 1923, the most recent of "Louisa [sic] M. Montgomery's long series of 'Anne' books" was Rilla of Ingleside (1921). A novel set during the Great War, it sees one of our dear Anne's sons taken prisoner by the Hun as another is slaughtered on the battlefield. It's true that the latter is "killed instantly by a bullet during a charge at Courcelette", but I'm not at all convinced this is what King meant in writing that nobody ever suffers long.

Can we at least agree that in this case a character "really gets hurt"?

A good many characters are killed in Ralph Connor's The Sky Pilot in No Man's Land – some suffering long before they die.

And "damn"?

There's a whole lotta cussin' goin' on in the novel, much of which comes from the sky pilot himself:

Yes, there's venereal disease, too.

Is it any wonder that no reference to "the Sunshine School of Canadian fiction" is found outside Carlyle King's writings?

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11 November 2012

Remembrance Day

A Canadian Twilight and Other Poems of War and Peace
Bernard Freeman Trotter
Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, 1917

06 November 2012

Of War and Methodism (but mostly Methodism)

Neville Trueman, the Pioneer Preacher:
     A Tale of the War of 1812
W.H. Withrow
Toronto: William Briggs, 1900

"Towards the close of a sultry day in July, in the year 1812, might have been seen a young man riding along the beautiful west bank of the Niagara River," begins Neville Trueman. The key word is "might". A young man might have been seen riding. That young man might have been a Methodist preacher. That Methodist preacher might have done the things attributed to him in this novel. One thing is for certain, Neville Trueman was not his real name.

The author owns up to this fabrication in early editions, going so far as to append a footnote to the novel's very title. In this fourth and final edition, however, Withrow drops the bit about "slightly assumed names", along with the opening verse about "the dreadful clouds of war". Everything else is otherwise as it had been since 1879, when Neville Trueman, the Pioneer Preacher made its debut in the pages of The Canadian Methodist Magazine, a periodical edited by the author, Rev William Henry Withrow, DD, FRSC.

His Tale of the War of 1812 opens on the very first day of the conflict with Rev Neville Trueman, "a prominent figure in the history of early Methodism", riding along the Niagara bluffs toward the home of Squire Drayton, son Zenas and chaste daughter Katherine. Though a Vermonter, Trueman cannot support his country's war of aggression. "I believe the colonists were right in resisting oppression in '76", he tells his hosts, "but I believe they are wrong in invading Canada now, and I wash my hands of their crime." There are, he prophesies, horrors to come in this ruinous and unjust war.

Where it not for the reverend's next words, I might've clasped this man of the cloth to my bosom. "What I dread most is the effect on religion", says Trueman, revealing that what troubles him most is not the coming violence, the destruction and the slaughter, but the obstacle posed by the war in trying to convert Canadians to Methodism.

Such a trooper that Neville, in the years that follow he moves from battlefield to battlefield  administering to the spiritual health of the wounded and the dying. He's here, he's there... but he's not everywhere. Despite being the title character, Trueman disappears for dozens of pages at a time. We make the  reverend's acquaintance in chapter one, but do not see him again until we're well into chapter five. For those who aren't Methodists, Trueman greatest moment of glory comes in chapter nine, "A Brave Woman's Exploit", in which he happens upon Laura Secord. So weak is the Heroine of Upper Canada, that it falls upon Neville to deliver information of an American invasion to James FitzGibbon.

Rev Withrow makes much of his research in this historical novel, claiming "pains" taken in "the careful study of the most authentic memoirs, documents, and histories referring to the period; by personal examination of the physical aspect of the scene of the story; and by frequent conversations with some of the principal actors in the stirring drama of the time". To be sure, there are footnotes, but the laziest of eyes will take in the sorry fact that by far the most cited reference is Withrow's own History of Canada.

One day in the future someone might attempt to separate fact from fiction. Might that person be me? Not on your life.

Favourite sentence:
At his feet swept the broad and noble river, reflecting on its surface the snowy masses of "thunderhead" clouds, around which the lightning still played, and which, transfigured and glorified in the light of the setting sun, seemed to the poetic imagination of the young man like the City of God descending out of heaven, with its streets of gold and foundations of precious stones, while the rainbow that spanned the heavens seemed like the rainbow of the Apocalypse round about the throne of God. 
I found "the broad and noble river", the Niagara, looked quite different when I visited this past summer.  A lack of poetic imagination, I suppose.

Object: A hardcover, presumably issued sans dust jacket, Neville Trueman, the Pioneer Preacher is by far the blandest William Briggs book I've ever encountered. The frontispiece, providing the lone image, is of interest only in that it has nothing whatsoever to do with what is to follow.

My 1900 copy followed the first edition by twenty years. It once belonged to an institution known as "St. Giles S. S.", of which I can find no trace.

Access: Those looking to read this book are directed to our universities and the Toronto Public Library. The earliest copies being sold online – all dating from 1900 – go for between US$12 and US$65. Condition is not a factor.

There have been at least two English editions, both of which appeared under the title A Victory and Its Cost. The earliest, which the British Library traces back to 1893, was published by the Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School Union. 

There has never been a proper American edition – given how badly our southern cousins come off, how could there be? Of course, this hasn't stopped the POD turkey vultures. Kessinger and General Books have moved in to flog their usual expensive dreck, but the stand-out comes from BiblioBazaar (a/k/a BiblioLife). Regular readers of Caustic Cover Critic will recognize "the bicycle Heathcliff used on his trips through the moors" that graces the cover.