16 May 2016

But Why Would You Want Him To?: The Very Strange Story of a Delusional Abandoned Wife



He Will Return
Helen Dickson Reynolds
Toronto: Ryerson, 1959

Newly-minted art school graduate Constance Manning faces the challenge of making a living as a portrait painter in Depression-era Vancouver, as detailed on the second page of this, Helen Dickson Reynold's twenty-third novel:
"You know, Ivor, this pretty little girl has just been given a diploma by the Vancouver Art School. I'm afraid you're going to find this city a poor market for pictures, Connie, and this Depression doesn't help."
     "Don't be such a crape hanger [sic], John," his wife reproved. "Our new Art Gallery will give young artists a place to exhibit and sell their paintings."
     "Oh sure,"the doctor agreed amiably. "We're a young city, you know, Ivor. It's only forty-six years since this town was completely wiped out by fire."
     "Great Scott! It's inconceivable. The houses and gardens look so well established."
Pay no attention to crape hanger John and wife – this is their only scene – focus instead on Ivor. He of the title, Ivor Owen-Jones is a thin young Welshman with "jet -black hair brushed back from a good forehead, a well-shaped nose and sensitive, mobile mouth." This is the moment of their meeting... by which I mean the meeting of Constance and Ivor, not nose and mobile mouth.


In the months that follow they play tennis in Stanley Park, swim at Second Beach, visit the Pauline Johnson Memorial and take in cricket matches at Brockton Point. One afternoon by rustic Lumberman's Arch Ivor says something about maybe one day visiting Wales together. For a reason I cannot fathom, Constance interprets this a marriage proposal. Ivor seems nearly as dumfounded, but goes with the flow just the same. In the second chapter the young couple marry and move into a small bungalow in North Vancouver.

Life isn't easy for the Owen-Joneses – this is the Depression, you'll remember. Ivor has an indescript office job with a firm called Western Imports, while Constance gives art lessons and receives the occasional commission to do a child's portrait. Things would be a whole lot easier if only the groom would make use of his God-given talents. Ivor has a voice like Devonshire cream and an extensive repertory of traditional Welsh songs. Fussy Shaughnessey matrons look to hire him to perform at their soirées – "a refreshing change from the usual ballads and arias" – but Ivor takes offence in not being permitted to mingle with the guests. "Honestly, it was like the Middle Ages, when musicians ranked with scullions," he tells his bride.

The pair live frugally, affording poor Constance precious few opportunities to don her trousseau dresses. Things go from bad to worse when Ivor is fired on the very day Constance announces that she is pregnant. Her father gets him another job, but the firm goes bust just after the baby is born. Constance becomes pregnant again, and Ivor struggles to make ends meet as a door-to-door washing machine salesman. Must've been hell on the back. When the couple fall behind on their bills, losing their electricity, Ivor decides to apply for public relief:
He stared at the window curtained with raindrops. "I'll wait till the mail comes. I've made applications to firms with box numbers... there may be something. Anyway, it's a filthy day."
     The postman came with letters held under his glistening raincoat. He shoved one legal-looking envelope through the slot in the door. Ivor snatched it up.
     "It's from a legal firm in Wales." His fingers shook as he tore the stiff paper of the envelope. "My God, it's a will... Great-aunt Gladys has died... and left me a thousand pounds. I can't believe it."
I could believe it. I'd been waiting for great-aunt Gladys to kick off ever since Constance had sent the old girl sketches of her babies.

Ivor races to the bank, leaving Constance in the dark with pencil stub and paper figuring out just how to make the inheritance stretch. He returns holding the deed to a farm outside Nelson. "I bought it at a tremendous bargain because the owner, quite an old man, has died recently, and the heirs want to wind up the estate."

Oh, dear.

The farm isn't quite as described. The Owen-Joneses manage to stave off poverty just long enough for Constance to give birth to a third child. When great-aunt Gladys's runs out, Ivor runs off, leaving behind a note promising that he'll return once he's found work. Constance carries on for several seasons, all the while expecting Ivor to walk through the door at any minute. If only he'd write. She eventually sells the farm, moves with her children back to Vancouver, and secures a position as an public school art teacher.

"The war years passed..." Yes, they did – and still no word from Ivor. Constance, cautious, manages to clothe and feed and her three children. No occasions now to dip into her trousseau. Straight-laced next-door neighbour Stephen Cochrane expresses interest, but is shot down: "Stephen, I am sorry, but I firmly believe that Ivor is alive and that in the course of time he will come back to me."

It was at this point I began to think Constance had become unhinged. After all, it had been more than eight years since Ivor had gone off in search of a job and he hadn't so much as sent a letter. In the fact of this, Constance's love and faith remain constant; she looks forward to the day he too will laugh at their children's antics.

Where once time crawled, then passed, it now flies. "Life went on fairly quietly until David's twenty-first birthday," begins the twenty-first chapter. What happens is this: David, her eldest, announces that he is going to marry a mousy pianist named Mona. The news brings on a dizzy spell. A few weeks later, daughter Faith earns a scholarship to study ballet in far off New York City. Another dizzy spell. Constance, who had demonstrated such fortitude in raising three young children, alone, is suddenly frail. When number two son Robert gets a job as pilot up north, Constance suddenly faces long evenings alone in a house that "echoes with emptiness." She fills her leisure time with visits to her elderly parents and taking shut-ins for drives. One particularly lonely night she decides to go to the cinema. There Constance takes in a bland feature, followed by a cartoon, followed by a travelogue in which she spots Ivor walking in Trafalgar Square.

You caught that, right? Ivor walking in Trafalgar  Square? I nearly missed it myself because I'd pretty much given up on his return. After all, he disappeared in the first half of the novel and hadn't been heard from since. Oh, there were times I thought he might turn up, like in the detailed description of  the VJ-Day crowd in chapter 18, but with just nine pages to go his reappearance was a real surprise.

On the next page, Constance manages to get a letter to her husband:


Come back and take care of me? When did Ivor ever take care of you, Constance? You were better off without him. That Welshman is a leach. The good folks at Western Imports will attest that he has absolutely no work ethic. Besides, what kind of husband buys a farm – sight unseen – without consulting his wife? For that matter, what kind of idiot buys a farm when he knows nothing about farming. For goodness sake, what kind of father refuses to sing for his baby's supper?

Ivor does indeed return. Before he does, "happy as a young bride," Constance shops for his favourite foods, a new tie and new socks. She picks him up at the airport. They embrace. All is forgiven. The next day they go off on what Constance describes as their "second honeymoon."

The ending is so very sudden and so very strange that I began to wonder whether it was all in Constance's head. Could it be that the omniscient narrator isn't? Might it be that this story is told by Constance herself? Is it all an abandoned wife's fantasy?

Nothing so interesting, I'm afraid. The sad truth is that He Will Return is just a very bad novel.

He will return? Sure, but only if you pay his way.

Note: Did not win the Ryerson Fiction Award.

Object: A 256-page novel in unattractive brown boards. The dust jacket illustration is by art school graduate Jon Nielsen. The back of the jacket takes the form of an advertisement for recent Ryerson titles by Will Bird, Ada Pierce Chambers, E.M. Granger Bennett, Gaie Taylor and Myron David Orr. Reynolds' previous novel, McBain's Brier Rose (1957), leads the list.

Access: Though the author's most common book, He Will Return is found in just fourteen of our university libraries. Library and Archives Canada doesn't have it, but the Calgary Public Library does.

The Canadian edition enjoyed one lone printing. The novel was published in the United States by Thomas Bouregy. Copies listed for sale online run between US$10 and US$30. I found mine six years ago at a London Goodwill. Price: $2.99.


09 May 2016

A Wild Olive of Nitrate



A short follow-up to last week's post on The Wild Olive by Basil King:

Sold at auction four years ago by eMoviePoster.com (note watermark), above is the only poster I've ever seen for The Wild Olive. Should've bought it. The Canadian dollar was trading on par back then, and the winning bid wasn't so much as five Yankee sawbucks.

The Wild Olive was, as the adverts said, adapted from the celebrated novel of Basil King. It was released in 1915, becoming the first Hollywood feature to come from a novel by an Islander. The Inner Shrine (1917) and The Lifted Veil (1917), also adapted from King novels, rank second and third. Then came The Spreading Dawn (1917). It was inspired by a King short story, so doesn't really count. Meanwhile, L.M. Montgomery fans were still waiting to see Anne Shirley on the screen.

The Wild Olive was the sixty-fifth of director Oscar Apfel's 120 films... so, mid-career, right? Myrtle Stedman and Forrest Stanley star as heroine and hero. Myrtle Stedman was a silent film star, but I'm not sure I've ever seen her in anything. Stanley I recognize from a bit part in what is just about the best episode ever of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. This would be 1955's "Breakdown", in which he plays an accountant who is fired by Joseph Cotten. Total screen time: 42 seconds. Myrtle Stedman was long dead by then. The Wild Olive was made when both were enjoying career highs.


It also stars Mary Ruby and Edmund Lowe. I know the latter best as the adulterous Dr Wayne Talbot in Dinner at Eight.


Would that I knew Lowe from The Wild Olive, but as with all adaptations of King novels, the film is lost. All I've been able to see of Lowe's performance comes in this still from the July 1915 edition of Motion Picture News:


The most detailed description of what we're missing comes courtesy of T.C. Kennedy in the 3 July 1915 edition of Motography. I present it here in full, recognizing that it will serve as a spoiler anyone who has not read the novel:
The Oliver Morosco Photoplay Company, in association with Bosworth Inc., offers as its latest release on the Paramount program "The Wild Olive," an adaptation of the celebrated novel by Basil King. The choice of story and the co-starring of Myrtle Stedman and Forrest Stanley result in a picture of sterling quality and lasting attraction, and one which deserves to enjoy the popularity of the  book from which it is adapted.
     The plot concerns itself with the romance of a wealthy mountain girl who is willing to sacrifice her own happiness to clear the name of the man she loves. The rugged, imposing country of the Alleghany lumber regions adds a virility which makes for a strong and lasting appeal. The change of background from the rough lumber camps to the gay and cosmopolitan Argentine presents a contrast which is striking. Myrtle Stedman, seen as Miriam Strange, "The Wild Olive," and Forrest Stanley as Norrie Ford, interpret their parts splendidly, and are surrounded by a capable cast, in which are Mary Ruby as Evie Wayne; Charles Marriot as Judge Wayne; and Edmund Lowe as Charles Conquest.
     Norrie Ford, accused of murdering his uncle, is convicted on strong circumstantial evidence. He escapes from the deputies, and is offered a hiding place in the cabin studio of a mountain girl, who believes him innocent. There he hides until morning, and then starts for South America, bearing letters of introduction from the girl, who, in answer to his request for her name, tells him to call her "The Wild Olive."
     In the Argentine, Ford, aided by the letters, secures a position, and through his industry and integrity soon works his way to the top. As his letters to "The Wild Olive" are returned by the postal authorities, he gives up hope of ever seeing the girl to whom he owes his life. He becomes engaged to Evie Wayne, a New York girl, and the niece of the firm's senior partner. Evie returns to New York and her uncle transfers Ford to the managership of the New York office.
     Ford, on his return to New York, finds that Evie Wayne is the girl chum of Miriam Strange, "The Wild Olive." Miriam, who has waited for him, is heartbroken when she learns that he is engaged to Evie. But she remains true to her chum, and consents to marry Charles' Conquest, whom she had previously refused, on condition that he clear the innocent Ford of the murder charge which hangs over him. Evie learns that her fiance is charged with murdering his uncle, and breaks their engagement. Ford's disguise is penetrated and he is arrested, but the death bed confession of the actual murderer leads to his acquittal at his second trial. Conquest, realizing how greatly Miriam loves Ford, releases her from her promise, leaving her free to marry him.
What else is there to say?

Well, for one, The Wild Olive appears to have been quite faithful to the original. There are minor differences: the "lumber regions" of the novel are in Vermont, Miriam offers no letters of introduction, and Ford writes no letters himself. The greatest liberty seems to have been inspired by King's title. In the novel, no one calls our heroine "The Wild Olive" – least of all Miriam herself – rather Ford likens her to a wild olive "grafted into the olive of the orchard". That same issue of Motography features a dramatic still in which we see lumbermen helping Ford escape the law (something only hinted at in the novel).


Variety praised the film's opening scenes "in which there is some good natural scenery." I'll take the magazine at its word, though I gotta say this looks a bit awkward:

The Day (New London, CT), 8 July 1915
Anything else to say about something I've never seen?

I got nothing.

Silence.

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08 May 2016

A Poem for Mother's Day from the Great War



Century-old verse by Miss Elspeth Honeyman, whose brothers served in the 29th Battalion (Vancouver). From Canadian Poems of the Great War, chosen and edited by John W. Garvin (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1918).
MOTHERHOOD, 1916 
          The night comes down and the wind is chill,
               (Are both my boys asleep?)
          Daylight tinges the distant hill,
               (Why is it I cannot sleep?) 
          A passing lad and a whistled tune,
               (France is so far away!)
          Roses bloom and the month is June,
               (The heat is the worst, they say.) 
          The list was long in the morning's news,
               (They are so young to die!)
          Which strong heart will the bullet choose —
               Where will his body lie? 
          Boys go clattering down the street,
               (Which will come back to me?)
          I hear the tramp of the soldiers' feet,
               (Dear God, that such things be!) 
          What will they buy with the blood of men?
               (Hearts break, but they do not die.)
         Victory, Honour, — and War again?
               (Dead faces turned to the sky?)


02 May 2016

The Barefoot Fugitive and Other Mysteries



The Wild Olive
[Basil King]
New York: Harper, 1910

Basil King wrote the bestselling novel of 1909.

Who knew?

Hardly anyone.

That novel, The Inner Shrine, was published anonymously. Its story of a woman's reputation sullied by the base claims of a cad captivated readers almost as much as the mystery of its authorship. Speculation centred on Henry James, Edith Wharton and the daughter of William Dean Howells as King kept to the shadows. When The Wild Olive appeared the following year it was credited only to "the author of 'The Inner Shrine'". I'll be damned if the new work didn't do nearly as well. In its summary of sales for 1910, Publishers Weekly placed The Wild Olive third, behind Florence L. Barclay's The Rosary and A Modern Chronicle by Winston Churchill.

There's no accounting for taste. The Wild Olive is a far better than the Barclay and the Churchill; it's also better than The Inner Shrine. In fact, The Wild Olive is the best
Basil King book I've ever read. It begins in mystery: a barefoot man, a fugitive, scrambles through darkness in the Adirondack wilds. Coming upon a tasteful, well-appointed house, he walks through open doors to find Judge Wayne, the very man who had just hours before sentenced him to death.

A great coincidence, I know. There will be others.

The fugitive – name: Norrie Ford – only entered the house because he thought he'd heard a noise made by one of his pursuers. 'Twas in fact the light tread of a lithe young woman dressed in white. Silently, she beckons Ford back outside, then leads him in silence to a remote artist's studio somewhere in the vicinity of Lake Champlain. There he's left, hidden from the law, surrounded by sketches and watercolours depicting trappers, voyageurs, Indians and nuns. The woman in white reappears daily, bringing food, clothing and companionship of a sort.

The clothes she brings belonged to her deceased father, a Virginian who made a great deal of money in the northwest of Canada. "I was born on the shores of Hudson Bay," she tells Ford. "My mother was married to a French-Canadian voyageur." Not a suitable topic for polite dinner conversation, perhaps, but Ford's saviour is proud of her past. Her present, however, is off-limits; she won't reveal so much as her name.

This mysterious figure may be a bastard born, but Ford recognizes her as the most refined of women; something to do with having been raised in a Quebec City convent, no doubt. And yet she retains such inhibition, such a spirit of freedom:
In her eagerness to buy the domestic place she had not inherited she reminded him of something he had read or heard of the wild olive being grafted into the olive of the orchard.
Ford is keen to impress that he is innocent of the crime for which he was convicted – the murder of an uncle – but to this wild olive his words means nothing:
"He was very cruel to you – your uncle? – wasn't he?" she asked, at last.
     "He was very cantankerous; but that wouldn't be a reason for shooting him in his sleep – whatever I may have said when in a rage."
     "I should think it might be." He started. If it were not for the necessity of making no noise he would have laughed.
     "Are you so bloodthirsty – ?" he began.
     "Oh no, I'm not; but I should think it is what a man would do. My father wouldn't have submitted to it. I know he killed one man; and he may have killed two or three."
Just as her mother helped her father escape from prison, so too the wild olive aids Ford in alluding the authorities. After an untold
number of days – a couple of weeks, I'm guessing – she serves as guide through dense forest to the shores of Lake Champlain. There he's handed a plan of escape to Canada, complete with canoe, map, money, train schedule and a ticket for England on RMS Empress of Erin (read: Empress of Ireland).

And so, Norrie Ford is given a second chance at life as "Herbert Strange", the... er, unusual name recorded on the steamer ticket. In this effort to make something of himself, Ford follows the mystery woman's suggestion that he make for the Argentine. "I happen to know a lot about it," said she. "Everybody says it's the country of new opportunities."

Indeed, it is. On a whim – he recalls passing mention made by the wild olive – the newly christened Strange seeks employment with Stephens & Jarrott, an American firm with offices in Buenos Aires. Eight years pass. Strange rises through the ranks, becomes engaged to a Jarrott relation, is transferred to New York, and then attends a dinner party at which he is seated to the left of the wild olive. To her right is Judge Wayne.


What are the chances?

Not bad, actually. One expects coincidences in an Edwardian novel, and there are several here, but setting aside the first, none beggar belief. The mystery woman's casual reference to Stephens & Jarrott, a firm to which she has the thinnest of connections, set Ford on a course that would bring him back to her. It was all quite unintentional on her part, but there you are... rather there he is.

I won't say any more for fear of spoiling the plot – it's so remarkably clever – except to say that the final page came as a complete surprise. The Wild Olive doesn't end so much as trails off leaving so many mysteries intact. What sent the wild olive's father to prison? How did her mother get him out? What of her French-Canadian husband? How did Ford escape his jailers? For goodness sake, what happened to his shoes?

Bloomer:
"You can't realize what all this means to me. If we succeed – that is, if you succeed – I hardly dare to tell you of the extent to which I shall be grateful."
     He felt already some of the hero's magnanimity as to claiming his reward.
     "You needn't think about that," he smiled. "I sha'n't. If by making Evie happy I can serve you, I shall not ask for gratitude."
     She looked down at her muff and smoothed its fur, then glanced up swiftly. "No; but I shall want to give it."
Trivia I: The most sympathetic character in the novel is Judge Wayne, a good soul who recognizes and struggles with the injustice of the justice system. When first we encounter the man – during Norrie Ford's first night on the lam – we see that he is going blind. Because he is beyond the help of the best German oculists, "poor Wayne" has descended into darkness by the time he and Ford share the same dining table. Ah, but the judge's hearing has grown more acute, right? I spoil things in revealing that he recognizes Ford's voice. However, Wayne keeps the knowledge to himself, choosing not to turn Ford in because, of course, justice is blind.

King himself was going blind when he wrote this novel.   

Moving Picture World
July 1915
Trivia II: In 1915, The Wild Olive became the first of seven Basil King novels to be adapted to the screen. A lost film, one of the very few images known to have survived is the publicity shot above of silent film star Myrtle Stedman as the Wild Olive. In the novel, she has a dog named Micmac. Forgotten English actor Forrest Stanley plays Norrie Ford.

Object: An attractive 346-page hardcover with eight illustrated plates by Lucius Hitchcock (who also provided illustrations for The Inner Shrine). My copy, a first edition, was purchased last month at Ottawa's Patrick McGaherne Books. Price: US$20.

Access: The Prince Edward Island Public Library Service succeeds were all other public libraries fail. Twenty-seven of our academic libraries have it in their holdings. Curiously, a third are found in Alberta.

Loads of copies being offered online at prices ranging from US$5 to US$564. Ignorance and greed aside, there is no reason for the wide range. Anyone looking to invest in a copy is warned that the Harper edition went through numerous printings, and was followed by a cheaply produced Grosset & Dunlap reissue. Those considering the later are warned that it features only one of the eight plates.

Speaking of ignorance and greed, print on demand vultures have been all over The Wild Olive. This post gives me an excuse to share an absurd old cover (right) from defunct Tutis Classics.

Good news is found in the fact that The Wild Olive can be read and downloaded here at the Internet Archive. I must add that an excellent audiobook recording read by Simon Evers is available gratis here through Librivox. Recommended!

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18 April 2016

Small-town Boy Makes Good, Founds Small Town



Jean Rivard
Antoine Gérin-Lajoie [Vida Bruce, trans]
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1977

"The classic novel whose themes have influenced French-Canadian literature for more than a hundred years."

So why is the translation out of print?

Jean Rivard is everything that was good and bad about our moribund, once important New Canadian Library. The thing is just about as ugly as can be, complete with clumsy cover pitch. NCL's Jean Rivard is no "classic novel," but a translation of two novels: Jean Rivard, le défricheur and Jean Rivard, économiste. Both have been bowdlerized.

A "great man," Jean Rivard is a student of nineteen when his father's death calls him back to the family home in Grandpré. He is at a loss as to what to do next. Jean Rivard's education had set him on the path to becoming a lawyer or doctor, but those professions are so overcrowded that its members scramble to feed themselves. Fearful of being a burden to his widowed mother – of twelve – Jean Rivard turns to the curé of Grandpré, M l'abbé Leblanc, who advises the young man to take up farming. Pursuit of a professional career will only lead to debt and hardship, he is warned. "Even supposing that you are one of the privileged few in your profession," sayeth the curé, "you will be thirty, perhaps older, before you can marry."

Thirty! Before lying with a woman!

The way is clear. He takes the modest inheritance left by his father and leaves fictional Grandpré "in the valley of Lake St. Pierre on the north 
shore of the St. Lawrence" for the very real Eastern Townships. There Jean Rivard buys one hundred acres of land, which he begins to clear with the aid of his jovial hired man Pierre Gagnon. All proceeds extremely well "thanks to a Providence that seemed to take our hero under its special care." Sadness comes only in the form of letters from Gustave Charmenil. Jean Rivard's old schoolmate, poor Gustave has followed the very path M l'abbé Leblanc had advised against, and is wasting money in pursuit of a career as a lawyer. What's worse, the young man is also caught up in city life, which involves significant expenditures on dress and things cultural.

Meanwhile, Jean Rivard stays the course. Three years after arriving in the Townships, one year ahead of schedule, he marries pious Grandpré girl Louise Routier, bringing Jean Rivard, le défricheurJean Rivard, Settler in the translation – to a close.

I lie.

In fact, the novel does not end with a wedding, but with prolonged discourse delivered the following day by M l'abbé Leblanc. His message:
  • of all professions, farming is most suited to bring happiness;
  • recognize and appreciate your heritage;
  • live modestly; 
  • don't get too big for your britches.
The sequel, Jean Rivard, économiste, goes along at a good clip. We all know that time passes more rapidly with age – and this is exactly what happens here. Other farmers follow Jean Rivard in clearing neighbouring woodland and become successful in turn. The great man is held in such esteem that the settlers name the new community Rivardville. The community grows. Jean Rivard becomes head to the militia, justice of the peace, and after becoming mayor founds a lyséeJean Rivard, économiste Jean Rivard, Economist – ends with a tour of Rivardville, an idyllic community in which the air is clean and the people pure.

I can see I've been a bit unfair in criticizing the NCL bowdlerization. In her Introduction, translator Vida Bruce writes that she removed much of the repetition; she also spared me from spending time on pages like these from the 1877 J.B. Rolland & Fils edition:

(cliquez pour agrandir)
In the bulk maintained, we find passages such as this:
Canada owes part of its prosperity to the manufacture of these alkalis [potash and pearlash]. In the course of these last three years alone our country exported more than fifteen million francs worth of potash and pearlash. In European markets potash from America is held in the highest esteem as long as our forests remain, this product will continue to be one of our principle sources of wealth.
What follows relates directly to Jean's ability to generate wealth:
On his return to Louisville Jean Rivard had to stop for a day or two at Lacasseville. There, while looking after various affairs he made the acquaintance of an American merchant named Arnold who had been established for some years in the same village. He knew that Jean Rivard was clearing land and asked him if he didn't intend to get some profit from the ashes produced by the wood he would be obliged to burn in the course of his operation. Jean Rivard replied that his intention had at first been to convert the ash into potash or pearlash but that the lack of roads and hence the difficulties of transportation obliged him to abandon the project.
     After a lengthy conversation, in the course of which the perspicacious American was convinced of the strict honesty, intelligence, and industry of our young settler, he proposed entering into a mutual agreement. He, Arnold, would undertake procure on credit the kettle, basins, and the rest of the things necessary for the manufacture of potash and transport them at his own expense to Jean Rivard's cabin, on the condition that Jean Rivard would commit himself to deliver to the said Arnold, in the course of the next three years at least twenty-five bushels of potash at twenty shillings a hundredweight. The ordinary price for potash was thirty to forty shillings, but Arnold in this case, paid the costs of transportation, a consideration of prime importance to Jean Rivard. 
Nothing is lost in the translation.

These arid passages speak to purpose. Gérin-Lajoie's Jean Rivard novels aren't meant to entertain or enlighten but inspire readers to follow the nonexistent great man's path – a course the author regretted not having chosen himself. Facts and figures are there to validate the author's  overly romantic depiction of rural life. 


If anything, the Jean Rivard novels proved even more influential than Patrice Lacombe's La terre paternelle (1846) in establishing the roman de la terre. It is truly remarkable that they hadn't been translated earlier. The New Canadian Library cover pitch may be clumsy but its claim is true. These two novels had an influence on French Canadian literature lasting more than a hundred years.

I'm not so sure that was a good thing.

About the author: A journalist, lawyer and civil servant, Antoine Gérin-Lajoie is best known for "Un Canadien errant." Foreigners may know it from the rather unconventional rendition found on Leonard Cohen's Recent Songs. In the clip below, from Harry Rasky's 1980 documentary The Song of Leonard Cohen, the poet translates.


His great-grandfather, Jean Jarin (Jarrin or Gérin), who originally came from the diocese of Grenoble, France, arrived in Canada around 1750 as a sergeant in the colonial regulars and took part in the Seven Years’ War. He subsequently settled in the region of Yamachiche. His high spirits and good humour earned him the nickname of “Lajoie,” which was added to his family name.
Object and Access: A 280-page mass market paperback. The last page lists the first 53 volumes in the New Canadian Library (Jean Rivard is number 134). As far as I've been able to determine, the Bruce translation enjoyed nothing more than one printing. Six copies are currently listed for sale online, ranging in price from US$1.25 to US$12.50. Condition is not a factor. I purchased my copy late last year at Attic Books in London. Price: 85¢.

Library patrons will have to rely on Library and Archives Canada, Bibliothèque et Archives nationals du Québec and our universities.

Jean Rivard, le défricheur first appeared serialized during 1862 in Les Soirées canadiennes. Jean Rivard, économiste appeared in Le Foyer canadien two years later. Editions in the original French are common, stretching back nearly fifteen decades. The two novels are currently available in a single Bibliothèque québécoise volume: Jean Rivard, le défricheur suivi de Jean Rivard, économiste.

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