28 February 2013

Freedom to Read Week: Irving Layton's Defence of Dog Show Girl and Deviate is Not Taken Seriously

The Globe & Mail, 17 April 1973

I began by attacking the puritanism and the anti-sexuality that was in this country then, and the philistinism and the materialism, and I still go on attacking those things which I find are defects in our body politic.
– Irving Layton, 1979

27 February 2013

Freedom to Read Week: Embracing Elinor Glyn

Philip Alexius de Laszlo. Elinor Glyn (1912)
                                       Would you like to sin
                                       With Elinor Glyn
                                       On a tiger skin?
                                       Or would you prefer
                                       To err with her
                                       On some other fur? 
                                                        – Anonymous
The scandal of Three Weeks now a century past, is it not high time we take Elinor Glyn to our collective bosom as a daughter of Canada? I'm not suggesting that we confer some silly posthumous citizenship, rather that we recognize her parentage and upbringing.

In her day, our press all but ignored Mrs Glyn's Canadian roots; The Globe & Mail referred to her always as an "English novelist". This Editorial Note from the 25 November 1927 edition of the Financial Post is unusual:

Now, wasn't that uncalled for?

This film was playing in theatres across the country on the day that dig was published:

How very Canadian – flinging faeces at those who have done well – but I think there's more to this. A woman who moved to support her family when her alcoholic husband could not, Elinor Glyn was by turns a novelist, a journalist, a war correspondent, a screenwriter, a director and a producer. The staid, conservative Financial Post wouldn't have liked that, but her greater sin was that she wrote about sex and populated her stories with strong, confident women – women like herself.

I think she could take the criticism.

The Vancouver Sun, 28 October 1941

Above is the edition of Three Weeks that was seized by Toronto police back in 1911. Don't you prefer this?

Related post:

26 February 2013

Freedom to Read Week: The Police Raid Britnell's

Or maybe not:

The Globe & Mail, 10 April 1910
I was familiar with Three Weeks – it was, after all, penned by scandalous semi-Canadian Elinor Glyn – but I have Staff Inspector Kennedy and Detective McKinney to thank for bringing Cynthia in the Wilderness and The Yoke to my attention. Both products of the fertile mind of Hubert Wales, they'll soon be added to my library.

What sold me were these solid synopses found in David Trotter's The English Novel in History, 1895-1920 (London: Routledge, 1993). Of Cynthia in the Wilderness, he writes:

Cynthia's husband, Harvey, revered her spirit and is consistently unfaithful to her body. She meets a man who appreciates both. They become lovers. However, the increasingly brutish Harvey catches them in the act and beats her lover over the head with a golf club. The lover survives. Meanwhile one of Cynthia's friends has self-sacrificingly poisoned Harvey and taken the rap. Cynthia returns from the Wilderness to marry her lover.

And of The Yoke, which Prof Trotter describes as "Racier still":

Angelica Jenour, still a virgin at forty, realizes that her twenty-year-old ward, Maurice, is awakening sexually, and fears that he will resort to prostitutes. One of Maurice's friends contracts venereal disease and commits suicide. Angelica decides that she will save Maurice from a similar fate, and herself from the "yoke" of repression by becoming his lover. After educating him in love, and in "racial health", she passes him on to his future wife.

Two years after the raid, Albert Britnell was convicted of knowingly selling indecent and obscene books. He was later acquitted. The appeal can be found online in Canadian Criminal Cases, vol. XX (Toronto: Canada Law Book, 1913).

The novels themselves are available gratis to all online, Torontonians included: Cynthia in the Wilderness, The Yoke, Three Weeks.

Meanwhile, Staff Inspector Kennedy and Detective McKinney spin in their respective graves.

Albert Britnell, 241 Yonge Street, Toronto
Stationary & Office Products 1911
(cliquez pour agrandir)

25 February 2013

Freedom to Read Week: On Burning Comic Books

Young minds are so very impressionable, aren't they? How fortunate then that we have dedicated souls like Father B.W. Harrigan and Len Wynne, head of Vancouver's Junior Chamber of Commerce youth leadership committee, to serve as role-models. That's Mr Wynne above adding to a bonfire of comic books, bringing to an end a month-long campaign dedicated to moulding juvenile reading habits:

The Globe & Mail, 11 November 1954
(cliquez pour agrandir]
I wonder if Mr Deschner managed to organize that "meeting of all major Canadian book publishers". If so, he must have left feeling disappointed; later news stories have it that the cost of the exchange books came out of Junior Chamber of Commerce coffers.

Apparently, Messrs Deschner and Wynne hadn't thought to speak to the Vancouver Public Library. Director E.S. Robinson found their proposal abhorrent and refused participation. His opinion was echoed in editorials from the country, the harshest of which came from a hometown paper. "The public hangman burned books in the Middle Ages," said the Vancouver Sun, "Hitler's youth were encouraged to burn them in our day."

Hitler Youth? The Jaycees? Yikes.

Victoria's Junior Chamber of Commerce cancelled its own book burning, deciding that the whole idea smacked of "Hitlerism and communism". Mayor Fred Hume also backed away. The torch was passed to Alderman Syd Bowman, who on 11 December 1954 set 8000 comic books alight at Strathcona Park.

"It may have been a slightly melodramatic gesture," allowed Mr Wynne, "but drastic action seemed necessary to bring young reading habits to parents' attention."

Yes, young minds, so very impressionable...

The Ottawa Citizen, 3 December 1956

24 February 2013

Freedom to Read Week: Father Harrigan Moves to Protect Ontario's Girls Against 'Love' Comics

The Calgary Herald, 18 August 1950
Ah, "love" comics... much better than "sex comics", the term Father Harrigan and the OCPTA had been using. There had been such unfortunate headlines:

The Globe & Mail, 12 April 1950
The Globe & Mail, 18 January 1950
Father B.W. Harrigan turns the first sod for the Holy Rosary Parish Hall and School, Burlington, Ontario, c.April 1950.

19 February 2013

Much Ado About Anne

A friend asks why I've not weighed in on the Anne of Green Gables cover controversy. To be frank, I feel I've said all I have to say about wretched print on demand product – but more than this is the simple fact that the controversy is a media creation. I won't play along.

Let's be clear, hardly anyone noticed Blonde Anne until Greg Quill brought it to readers' attention in the Toronto Star. What he presented wasn't news but an invitation:
Remember when Anne of Green Gables leaned back on the barnyard fence, ran a hand through her shimmering blond hair and tossed off a sexy pout? You don’t? 
Then join dozens of other outraged readers of the 1908 Canadian classic who have let Amazon.com know that the most recent edition of L.M. Montgomery’s coming-of-age text got it all wrong in the cover art department.
A few hundred answered the call, littering Amazon's site with "customer reviews" that were just as silly and ill-informed as the cover being criticized.

The offending volume has since been removed from sale, the image has been scrubbed from Amazon's site, yet the outrage continues.

There have been other ridiculous print on demand Montgomerys – Rila of Ingelside [sic] is a favourite – but this depiction of our dear Anne seems to have offended so very personally. Where, one wonders, was the outrage over Toddler Anne...

Tough Anne...

Witness Protection Program Anne Edith...

or Goth Anne?

Of course, what really troubles those who've taken offence isn't the depiction of Anne as blonde or buxom, but as a sexual being. Best not acknowledge that the girl introduced in the opening pages of Anne of Green Gables is a college graduate by novel's end. In Anne of the Island, third in the offending three-novel set, Anne becomes engaged to Gilbert Blythe. They'll go on to marry and have seven children together.

Yep, Anne and Gilbert did it seven times.

At least.

Which isn't to say that I don't think the cover sucks.

17 February 2013

Jazz Age Castaways in a Lost Film

Following Friday's post:

Released under the title Half a BrideWhite Hands was the third of five Arthur Stringer novels to be adapted to the screen. I mean "adapted" in the strictest Hollywood sense. There's a Mr Winslow who lives in certain comfort with a daughter named Patience, but it's there that similarities between book and film end.

The American Film Institute provides this synopsis:
Thrill-seeker Patience Winslow hears a radio program on companionate marriage and enters into a trial marriage. It is never consummated, however, because her father breaks up the ill-advised union by kidnapping her and taking her aboard his private yacht. She escapes from the yacht in a launch, but Edmunds, captain of the yacht, jumps overboard after her. A storm arises and they are cast ashore. During the weeks of privation that precede their rescue, Patience learns to love her fellow castaway. Her previous marriage annulled, she marries, with parental enthusiasm.
Yes, but was it any good?

Hard to say. IMDb records ratings by eleven anonymous people who claim to have seen Half a Bride – four rate it 10 out of 10 – but Silent Era lists it's survival status as "unknown", while film historian Arne Andersen places it on his list of lost films. Who ya gonna believe?

Reviews of the day fairly rave:
"...a sure cure for jaded movie appetites."
– Rochester Evening Journal
"...a clever, entertaining picture."
– Evening Independent
"...a frank and entertaining treatment of the now important marriage problem... gives to the screen one of the greatest epics of all times.
– San Jose News
Montreal's Gazette not only provides the lone dissenting voice but the most detailed description of the film:

The Gazette, 10 September 1928

Whether Half a Bride was ever truly important is a question best left to academics studying trial marriage. I suspect not.

The beautiful Esther Ralston has faded from public memory; the trajectories of her career and fame aren't dissimilar to those of Arthur Stringer. Yet, Half a Bride lives on in print, if not film, due to the casting of rising co-star Gary Cooper as Captain Edmunds.

The movie poster doesn't do Esther Ralston justice, as this promotional photo for the film indicates.

Reviews tell us that the island on which Patience and Edmunds become stranded is located just off our West Coast. So, what's with the palm trees?

I don't suppose we'll ever know.

Related post:

15 February 2013

Curing the Flapper; or, Tough Love in the Jazz Age

White Hands
Arthur Stringer
Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1927

Imagine returning to your spacious Manhattan mansion after having spent five months away on business. It's after midnight, the place is unlit, sleeping servants do not serve, and your daughters – Patience ("Paddy") and Janet ("Jinny") – are nowhere to be found. Cocktail glasses, cigarette butts and a half-emptied carton of dried fruit have made a mess of the library. Your reading-table is covered with mauve-jacketed French novels. Paddy's room smells like a Turkish harem. Amongst powder-boxes, lip-sticks, rouge, mascara and "unidentifiable war-paint" you find copies of Ulysses and Casanova's Homecoming. The floor holds "a scattering of slippers, satin and suede and serpent-skin, some buckled and decorated with brilliants, vivid-colored and incredibly small and bewilderingly gay-looking, even in their careless disorder, as though they had been kicked aside by tiny feet tired of dancing , tired of the moan of saxophones and the throb of drums and negroid music that once pulsed along the banks of the Congo."

This is the scene that confronts widower John Winslow, the millionaire Pulpwood King. His nightmare worsens some time after two when Jinny – cold, beautiful Jinny – finally returns home:
"Where is your sister Patience?"
   His daughter's small shoulder-movement, insouciant and defiant, did not escape him.
   "Probably Daniel-Booning through the black-and-tans," was the deliberately callous retort.
   "Does she still sleep at home?" he demanded, prompted to match savagery with savagery.
   "When she sleeps," was the laconic reply.
Paddy does show up eventually, bandaged and brought home by young Peter Summers, the Winslow family doctor. Seems she's totalled yet another automobile, this time running into a baker's wagon carrying cream puffs.

What's a father to do? How to save his girls from becoming "empty-headed and selfish-spirited sensation-hounds?"

Winslow's answers come through his consideration Jinny's hands:
He could see the soft white skin over the phalanges, the skin that had been so carefully protected from wind and weather, from the casual blemishes of toil and time. They were futile and helpless hands, openly proclaiming their aloofness from manual labor, a symbol of her character, an index of her soul, a tribal advertisement of incompetency.
This, he realized, runs against nature. Those white hands were meant "for grasping, for intricate and cunning movements, for the accomplishment of womanly tasks."*

The Pulpwood King's plan is to install Paddy and Jinny in a rustic cabin at Adananak, his private island in Northern Ontario. A place without "beauty parlours and padded limousines and saxophone-bands and night-clubs and pink teas and putrid farces," he'll ground the girls by grounding them down, forcing them to live a life similar to their great-grandmother.

The sisters have some help in silent Indian Pierre Pecotte, who brings the odd morsel of food and instructs both in the fine art of moccasin-making.

You know, like great-grandma used to make.

How do the girls do? Well, Paddy has more than enough pluck to make a go of it, but Jinny is just too hardened.

Aside from Pierre, the only other contact with the world outside Adanak Island comes in the personages of Chief Black Hawk and brash bush pilot Casey Crowell. Like Pierre, the latter is a stereotype, but not so Black Arrow. A self-described Carlisle Indian, educated at Dickson College and Oxford, he became something of a hero in serving as a sniper during the Great War. "Then came a different kind of a fight," he tells Jinny. "I had an offer or two of inside work, after I got my discharge in Winnipeg. But I couldn't stand being shut up between four walls." He tried his hand at cow-punching, horse-breaking, but found himself turning increasingly to drink. Tired of it all, he made a decision to return to the ways of his ancestors.

Jinny is smitten by Black Arrow and her romantic vision of the noble savage. Such are her own charms that she woos the war vet into taking her back to the world he'd rejected. What happens next is all very exciting, with Casey Crowell, Peter Summers and John Winslow taking to the sky in order to save Jinny's virtue.

They needn't have worried.

Jinny might have fantasies about showing off Black Arrow at swanky Manhattan dinner parties, but beads of sweat form on his brow and body odour builds as he paddles and portages, carrying her southward. The romantic dream dissipated, Jinny strikes off on her own, gets lost and collapses, only to be rescued by Black Arrow. Unfortunately, her ill-fated trek has led both to the wall of an advancing forest fire. Black Arrow carries Jinny to safety – quite literally – but dies in the process.

Jinny learns of Black Arrow's death only after she's found by young Doctor Peter in the final pages. Any sadness and trace of guilt is swept away in what might be, before The Last Canadian, the very worst ending to a Canadian novel:
"Poor Dad," said Jinny, as Peter took her up in his arms. "I s'pose he's lost about empty million dollars' worth of timber in this awful fire."
   "But he's got you," Peter reminded her.
   "Will he want me?"
   "Well," said Peter, breathing a little heavily as he carefully lifted her over the cock-pit side, "if he doesn't, I do."
   But she wasn't listening to him. She was looking down at her hands, her sun-reddened and briar-scratched and work-hardened hands.
   "He won't be ashamed of 'em now, will he?" she said with a catch in her voice.
   You're talking too much," growled Peter, as the turning propeller flashed in the pallid sunlight. "I want you to keep quiet."
   "I won't," asserted the blanketed woman nested so close in his arms.
   "You'll have to," commanded Peter.
   "Well, I won't unless you kiss me," conceded Jinny. 
No, not Ulysses. Not even Casanova's Homecoming.

Object: My copy, fairly fragile and lacking jacket, was purchased last December at a London bookstore located just two kilometres from the author's second childhood home. I'm guessing that it's at best first edition, second state, coming after copies bound in red cloth with gold lettering.

Access: The Bobbs-Merrill edition appears to have been printed as a split-run with McClelland & Stewart. A cheap A.L. Burt reprint followed, which in turn was followed by nothing. The novel is in the public domain in Canada, but I'm not about to suggest that any publisher take it on.

Anyone wishing to add the Bobbs-Merrill White Hands to their collection will find plenty of decent jacketless copies going for five dollars and less. Expect to pay six times as much for the uncommon McClelland & Stewart Canadian edition. The only first edition – American – listed with dust jacket is going for US$165.

The novel is found in the public libraries of Chatham-Kent and London, as well as eleven of our university libraries. Once again, Library and Archives Canada fails.

* See: Case 90 in Richard von Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis.

11 February 2013

Harlequin: The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Gay Canadian Rogues
Frank Rasky
Gay Cavalier
Alex Stuart [pseud. Barbara Allen]
The Gay Gordons
Barbara Allen
The Strange Quest of Nurse Anne
Mary Burchell
Framed in Guilt
Day Keene [pseud. Gunnar Hjerstedt]

Related posts:

08 February 2013

Harper Hockey Book Watch: Year Nine, Day 237

As expected, rumours of a ghostwriter grow, fuelled in large measure by Globe & Mail columnist John Barber naming Roy MacGregor as the phantom. Short hours later, the description was scrubbed with "ghostwriter" changed to "editorial consultant". This "editor's note" has been appended to the story online:
Roy MacGregor acted as an editorial consultant on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hockey history book. An earlier version of this story referred to Mr. MacGregor as a "ghostwriter."
I repeat my belief that Mr Harper wrote the forthcoming book himself. Yep, everything except the title... and he might just get around to that, too.

Not to say that some polishing was in order... or that it wasn't done by another hand.

No, I suggest that Mr Barber's piece contains something significant that is being overlooked in all this speculation over the spectral:
The Prime Minister had no role in choosing a publisher for his book, according to Toronto lawyer Michael Levine, who brokered the deal. "These were all my decisions, these were not his decisions at all," Mr. Levine said, adding it was "extremely important" to achieve North American distribution for the English-language edition. "Obviously, we’re in a very transitional time in the publishing business here, and I talked to everybody, but I felt this was the best deal for him because of the enormous commitment on both the American and Canadian side of the border," Mr. Levine said.
An observation:

Last February, a few days before the decision was to be made, Bruce Westwood of Westwood Creative Agency – Mr Levine is Chairman – told the Toronto Star that it was the prime minister who would choose the publisher: "There’s a lot of interest in the book. We are in negotiations. We have to go with [Harper’s] decision."

Emphasis mine.

A query:

To what does Mr Levine refer when he speaks of the enormous commitment on both the American and Canadian side of the border? I'm going to say that it's Simon & Schuster. Conspiracy theorists will say that all begins with Republican consultant Frank Luntz, who in May 2006 advised our new Conservative Party to feed on Canadians’ love of the game.

Full disclosure: I've paid many a bill as a ghostwriter myself. Make of that what you will.

Note: In writing this piece I was twice logged out "from another location". Again, make of that what you will.

Related posts:

07 February 2013

Harper Hockey Book Watch: Year Nine, Day 236

What a day this turned out to be!

Activity began early with 'Details of Stephen Harper's hockey book to be revealed', a story by Marsha Lederman, posted at 5:00 am EST on the Globe and Mail website. Begins the journalist:
Publication details of Stephen Harper’s long-awaited hockey book are expected to be announced imminently, likely on Thursday, according to a source close to the deal.
Thursday? You mean today?

Oh, but who could take Ms Lederman seriously? After all, her anemic story – 123-words in length – refers to the book, which the PM has been going on about since 2005, as an "open secret".  Then we have the matter of the publisher. Ms Lederman describes this as being "kept under careful wraps", but it's been two full weeks since Stephen Maher broke the story that Simon & Schuster had won the rights. Finally, there's this: "Mr. Harper is a serious hockey fan – a member of the Society for International Hockey Research – and can often be seen attending NHL games."

Oh, for goodness sake. How many times must I address this issue? Look, it's far more difficult to join Costco than it is the Society for International Hockey Research. Much more expensive, too.

The eyes did roll, but Ms Lederman turned out to be right. Short hours later, Simon & Schuster announced a November pub date for the long-awaited tome. We learned also that there's still no title for Mr Harper's book. Roy MacGregor's name was mentioned for the first time, to no one's surprise – he's been providing our PM with "editorial services". No mention of Greg Stoicoiu... or, for that matter, George Pepki.

I look forward to the book, and am betting it will be a solid piece of work. But the most welcome bit of news is that all author royalties will go to the Military Families Fund. Makes sense. After all, our PM is well-aware of the challenges facing those who serve and have served this country, whether it be fighting his government for benefitsfighting his government for pension claims, fighting his government's clawbacks on disabled veterans, fighting his government's spying on and smearing of veterans (and cover-up of same). The very minute that Simon & Schuster's press release began to circulate, Major Marcus Brauer appeared on The Current to speak to the financial hardship incurred by today's military families.

Yes, the PM is more aware than most of the challenges facing our military. The funding provided by his hockey book will, I'm sure, be welcome. It's just a pity that he isn't more prolific.

Related posts: