This Week's Acquisitions
9 hours ago
A CASUAL EXPLORATION OF CANADA’S SUPPRESSED, IGNORED AND FORGOTTEN LITERATURE
She was crouched in the bottom of the boat close beside him. He bent his head until his lips touched her hair, and lower still until his lips touched hers. And a long time passed. And the boat drifted on. And he drew her closer into his arms, and held her there. She was safe now, safe for always – and the road of fear lay behind. And into the night there seemed to come a great quiet, and a great joy, and a great thankfulness, and a wondrous peace.And so, another happy ending.
And the boat drifted on.
And neither spoke – for they were going home.
Where were its advocates when the destruction started and the first of its many abysmal additions took form? Each a tumorous growth, defacing and deforming the once elegant building into a grotesque lump of bricks, as a mass it attracts no sympathy. The final insults now come through acts of vandalism committed by clueless, aimless, aggressive teens. But then, why should they care about this school when preceding generations did not? Children learn by example.The building spent its last days as Arthur Meighen Public School, named in honour of the prime minister who had been educated within its walls. The nicest thing I can think to say about Meighen is that he considered Shakespeare the greatest Englishman of history. Meighen was a better speechwriter than politician, which is to say that he demonstrated real talent in putting words on paper but was otherwise a bastard. Fellow Collegiate alumnus Rev Dr Charles Gordon recognized him as such. Of course, we Canadians know Gordon as "Ralph Connor," the novelist who one hundred years ago dominated bestseller lists.
Modern man was the heir to such a mountain of knowledge. Even had he limited his curiosity to that which was published in his own day, he could never have succeeded in absorbing it all. And where did truth lie in all this mass of writing? Alexandre lived in the age of propaganda.The Cashier was never suppressed, nor is it forgotten, but it was ignored by me. I found my copy, a first edition, in the summer of 1985 at a bookstore on St-Laurent, a street on which Alexandre Chenevert walks. I'd been meaning to read it for three decades, taking care to ship the book in moves from Montreal to Vancouver, Vancouver to Toronto, Toronto to Vancouver, Vancouver to Ottawa and Ottawa to St Marys. I was twenty-two when I bought it. I'm fifty-three today, one year older than Alexandre Chenevert.
|The Gazette, 15 October 1955|
This is a cheap trick that we've all seen before; indeed, Heaps himself recognizes it as such in his response. But before I get to that, O'Flaherty's conclusion is worth presenting in full:
- "I hope to God there's no armed revolution in Quebec."
- "Let's get down to business."
I have been away from Canada for some time and have grown accustomed to having my books read by literate people who are concerned both with their prose and the philosophical content of their reviews. If Mr. O'Flaherty is a professor of English in Newfoundland who is there to protect us from the academics who teach in our schools?Fair question. I've been asking variations since my graduation from Beaconsfield High School.
At first I thought it was a bad Newfie joke. Then my reaction turned from disbelief to anger. Mr. O'Flaherty's judgement, in my opinion, ranks slightly below that of a Rhesus monkey and I have nothing against monkeys.
The letter from Jack McClelland (Aug. 4) comes out with abusive, racist talk – "Newfie," "monkey," etc. This letter, contemptible though it is, merits a few words of reply.I imagine the professor does to this day, ignoring the simple facts that The Quebec Plot received no taxpayer support and was never sold as anything other than a thriller.
In recent years I have reviewed a number of silly books published by McClelland and Stewart Ltd. rather harshly. Looking back over my reviews, my only regret is that they were not harsher.
What does a reviewer do when he is sent a trashy book to review? Normally, I, for one, return the item to the editor with a note saying that it is not worth reviewing. But there is so much writing in Canada – especially at the "creative" level – and so much of it is published with the assistance of the Canadian taxpayer, that it is hard to resist occasionally damning bad books. And so I stand by my review of Leo Heaps' book.
I cannot resist taking a parting shot at my friend Patrick O'Flaherty who reviewed my book The Quebec Plot in your columns. I will miss the professor from Memorial College, Newfoundland, at his departure.Yes, Heaps is owed the last word... but I can't quite bring myself to let him have it.
Professor O'Flaherty has in his letter to your newspaper on Aug. 24 presented such a perfect and inviting target that I felt it was irresistable. His remarks either hide a character of infinite subtlety and wit or one of enormous pomposity and self-righteousness. Personally, I am inclined to favor the latter view. Mr. O'Flaherty has sounded like the budding parliamemtary candidate he is when he protests against the waste of taxpayers' money on behalf of Canadian authors struggling to make ends meet. (Unfortunately, I have never had any grants. All my books have been published abroad, except one, which won a Governor-General's Award.) Perhaps the professor might tell us where the subsidy came from to publish his somewhat obscure anthology of Newfoundland and Labrador writing, which he co-edited some years back.
If Patrick O'Flaherty remains as severe as he is, "untroubled," as Browning said, "by the spark," and if he is allowed to indecently expose himself in book review columns, then one can begin to understand his concern about Canadian prose. One only has to read what the professor writes.