26 October 2015

The Most Depressing Canadian Novel of All Time?

The new issue of Canadian Notes and Queries has landed in my Wellington Street post office box, bringing with it my thirteenth Dusty Bookcase column.

Lucky thirteen.

The subject this time is The Wine of Life, Arthur Stringer's dispiriting 1921 novel about the doomed marriage of Owen Storrow and Torrie Thorssel. Substitute Arthur Stringer for "Owen Storrow" and Jobyna Howland for "Torrie Thorssel" and you get some idea.

If this in any way seems familiar, it may be because some months back I mentioned my discovery of twenty-three uncollected illustrations the great James Montgomery Flagg undertook for the novel's newspaper syndication.

The Pittsburgh Press, 23 December 1921
Like Owen and Torrie's, the Stringers' relationship played itself out in the papers. Together they were fêted as New York's handsomest couple; apart they were irresistibly tragic figures.

The Times Dispatch [Richmond], 23 March 1913
The Times Dispatch [Richmond], 8 November 1914
"Peculiar Romance-Tragedy of an Actress and a Poet", which appeared in newspapers across the United States the year after the couple split, paints Stringer "a man of sorrows":
For know you, all girls and women who have wept and glowed and smiled over the poems of Arthur Stringer, that he is living a romance as sad and as surcharged with longing love as ever were any of his poems.
The new CNQ has me thinking about The Wine of Life again. In truth, the book never left me. It's hard to forget such a depressing a novel – doubly so a roman à clef. I won't mention Mencken's descriptions of the latter day Jobyna; it would only spoil your day.

But just look how sunny Seth's cover is! Sure to cheer you up. Also contributing to the new CNQ are:
Caroline Adderson
Chris Arthur
Marc Bell
Emily Donaldson
Kathy Friedman
Douglas Glover
Jason Guriel
Kim Jernigan
David Mason
Susan Olding
Peter Sanger
Robin Sarah
Carrie Snyder
JC Sutcliffe
Jess Taylor
Anne Marie Todkill
As always, subscriptions can be had through the CNQ website. A bargain!

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20 October 2015

Trudeaumania II

One prime minister weeps over the coffin of another. I doubt anyone at McClelland & Stewart was thinking this back in 2000 when they put together that cover. It's not something I saw coming – not until last month, anyway – and certainly not in so decisive a victory. The results aren't quite what I would've liked, but I'm thrilled just the same. 

And so, the country's darkest decade ends with Stephen Harper defeated by the son of a man he'd demonized leading a party he'd vowed to destroy. There's a certain justice in that.

In recognition and celebration, ten favourite books by and about Trudeau père from my collection.

Ottawa: Deneau, 1984
A souvenir from the 1984 Liberal convention at which Pierre Trudeau stepped down as party leader. I bought my copy at a local Goodwill at precisely 4:00pm on 28 September 2000 – I kept the receipt – then arrived home to learn that Trudeau's death had just been announced on the CBC.

Federalism and the French Canadians
Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1968
Ex-libris John Robarts, 17th Premier of Ontario.

Sex and the Single Prime Minister
Michael Cowley
[Don Mills, ON]: Greywood, 1968
The first of three pieces of similar silliness published during Trudeau's first term. Glimpses of each can be found here and here.

Keswick, ON: High Hill, [1972?]
A mysterious book I picked up sixteen years ago at a United Church book sale in Merrickville, Ontario. I've never seen another copy.

Conversations with Canadians
Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Toronto: University of Toronto, 1972
A signed first edition, excavated just last year in a local thrift store. Price: $1.00. 

The Trudeau Question
W.A. Wilson
Montreal: Montreal Star, 1972
Written "to make both the issues and the politics more comprehensible to the voters who will make their judgement this year."
Thanks, Montreal Star!

A Time for Action:
Toward the Renewal of the Canadian Federation
Pierre Elliott Trudeau
[Ottawa]: Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1978
Found amongst a pile of newspapers left behind by the previous owner of our first house. Bonus!

Trudeau and Our Times
Volume 1: The Magnificent Obsession
Stephen Clarkson & Christina McCall
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1990

"He haunts us still." Great first line. I was mistaken for Alexandre Trudeau at the launch.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1993

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17 October 2015

Ian McGillis on Montreal's Writers' Chapel

In today's Gazette, a full page devoted to Montreal Writers' Chapel penned by Ian McGillis. Yours truly is quoted.

You can read it online here. And there's a video!

13 October 2015

The Most Offensive Author's Bio of All Time?

Time has been tight, so tight that I've read no more than the front and back flaps of Jane Layhew's Rx for Murder, next up in my stroll through Canada's suppressed, ignored and forgotten writing. The author's debut, it wasn't suppressed, nor was it ignored – the novel was reviewed widely – but it is forgotten.

There may be good reason for this; the front flap doesn't describe any book I'd want to read. The most memorable thing about it is a typo – which isn't something you see every day on dust jackets.

In contrast, the back flap is unforgettable:

The 8 February 1947 edition of the Ottawa Citizen informs that the "small village" is Alert Bay, which would make the "Indian reservation [sic] whose inhabitants were only two generations removed from the days of scalping parties" that of the Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw.

The Ottawa Citizen, 7 February 1947
Jane Layhew never published another novel. Nearly everything I know about her is found in the above, though I can add that the author eventually returned to British Columbia, where she served for a time as Head Nurse of the Medical Ward at Prince George Regional Hospital. Here she is in the May 1970 issue of The Canadian Nurse, showing off her unique method for moving bedside lockers:

The last trace I've found of Jane Layhew is in an ad that lists supporters of Prince George alderman Phillis Parker (The Prince George Citizen, 13 November 1986).

There's a Jane Layhew Nursing Bursary, which is awarded annually to a worthy British Columbia nursing student.

Further digging will bring more, I expect, but as I say, time has been tight… and, to be frank, I'm not sure I care.

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02 October 2015

Mavis Gallant Memorial Plaque

Cast earlier today at Alloy Foundry in Merrickville, Ontario, a plaque honouring the great short story writer Mavis Gallant. Next Friday,  October 9th, will see its installation at Montreal's Writers' ChapelSt James the Apostle Anglican Church.

John Metcalf and Claudine Gélinas-Faucher will be speaking.

The Venerable Linda Borden Taylor will officiate.

All are welcome.

Friday, 9 October 2015, 6 p.m.

Church of St James the Apostle
1439 St Catherine Street West (Bishop Street entrance)

A wine and cheese reception will follow.

 Join us in celebrating the life and work of this great writer!

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