Posts Tagged ‘1949 Novel’

Turvey by Earle Birney ~ 1949. This edition: McClelland and Stewart, New Canadian Library N34, 1963. Introduction by George Woodcock. Paperback. 286 pages.

Earle Birney, Canadian master-poet of power, grace and poignant reflection, occasionally wrote off-genre.

Perhaps most notably so in 1949, just a few years after Birney’s service in the Canadian Army during World War II, when he produced this bawdy and satirical novel – “a military picaresque”, as it is sometimes subtitled – combining a farcical account of a common soldier’s adventures during his quest to get to the front lines in Europe with a critique of the absurdities of military bureaucracy (Birney served as a personnel officer so had an insider’s knowledge) and a scathing if understated depiction of the horrors and human toll of war.

We follow one Thomas Leadbeater Turvey, originally native to (fictional?) Skookum Falls, British Columbia, as he enlists in the Canadian Army and goes through an interminable saga of slow advancements and sudden setbacks on his mission to join his best friend Mac Macgillicuddy in the (fictional?) Kootenay Highlanders as they head to Europe to take on the Nazis.

First edition dust jacket.

Private Turvey is of the species amiable innocent, and though he goes through an astounding series of mild-to-dire accidents and ailments, he always manages to crawl out from under with a sheepish grin. We are ever on his side, fingers tightly crossed, especially after he does eventually achieve Europe and a reunion with the ultimately ill-fated Mac.

Hedy Lamarr snuggled tighter into Turvey’s arms. The other dancers cleared the floor to watch, entranced with their grace. Her fingers slid down and caressed his wrist. Lifting her luminous eyes she murmured:

“Come on, lug. Open up your trap ‘n lift that tongue.”

Turvey awoke in time to gag before the little icicle of a thermometer could slide down his throat. The orderly, who had been holding Turvey’s wrist with a thumb and forefinger as if it were a piece of bad meat, dropped it. The time was 0600 hrs.  Turvey began his thirteenth day in Ward Two of Number Umpteen Basic Training Centre Hospital…

Turvey takes hit after hit and comes out each time a little bit wiser; on his post-VE Day return to Canada he finally develops a righteous sense of indignance (anger is too strong a term for this sweet-natured man) at the powers that control the fates of lowly privates and hies himself off in pursuit of his left-behind English sweetheart and a well-deserved happily ever after.

I thoroughly enjoyed this engaging and deeply funny novel; its serious moments hit hard in contrast to the lightheartedness; the combination works perfectly; Earle Birney’s touch is sure and precise.

Turvey won the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour in 1950. Reviews of the book are easy to find online, and a short but interesting post on the novel appears here, at the Canus Humorous blog.

My rating: 9/10

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because of the lockwoods dorothy whipple 001Because of the Lockwoods by Dorothy Whipple ~ 1949. This edition: Longmans, 1949. 1st Canadian edition. Hardcover. 358 pages.

Provenance: Purchased (via ABE) from A Biblio-Omnivore Harvey Lev, Montreal – March 2014.

My rating: 9/10

Sound the trumpets! I have finally read a Dorothy Whipple. And thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, too.

A satisfyingly nasty family of antagonists, and an absolutely feeble (though gentle and well meaning) family of protaganists, saved from themselves by the spunky youngest daughter, with the help of a lower-class social climber who has fallen in love with said daughter and uses his keen wits to their joint advantage.

Shortly after the end of the Great War, meek Mrs. Hunter, an architect’s wife, is suddenly left a widow with three young children, and who should she turn to but her husband’s business acquaintance, lawyer Mr. Lockwood, for help with her affairs. Mr. Lockwood, fully occupied with feathering his own nest and the care and nurturing of his beloved wife and three daughters, rolls his eyes and sorts things out in a resentful way. While going through the late Mr. Hunter’s papers, Mr. Lockwood comes upon a situation which he can twist to benefit himself to the detriment of the surviving Hunters; he immediately does so, and the stage is set for our emotionally heart-rending story.

Mrs. Hunter insists on being grateful to Mr. Lockwood, and cherishes the benevolent friendship of Mrs. Lockwood, which is – to give Mrs. Lockwood credit – meant well, even if it doesn’t turn out to be truly kind in practice.

because of the lockwoods 1st page dorothy whipple 001


The Hunter children grow up under the shadow of the Lockwoods, and as the youngest child, Thea, watches her older sister, Molly, withdrawn from school and forced into an unsuitable post as a governess at the age of fifteen on Mr. Lockwood’s advice (“Your children must start earning,” he sternly informs the compliant Mrs. Hunter), and her older brother, Martin, placed into a bank rather than being allowed to train as a doctor (“Does anybody need a boy?” casually inquires Mr. Lockwood of his banking acquaintances at his club), she sets herself to avoid her siblings’ fate. Thea will not be shunted off into an uncongenial occupation, oh no, not she!

Thea, cleverest of the Hunters by far, sets herself on an upward path, and eventually, at the age of eighteen, manages to make it to France in company with the Lockwood girls; they to be “polished” and to learn French, Thea to teach English at the same school for her keep. But Thea’s ascendant star is about to tumble from the sky, when she is caught in a compromising situation with a handsome young Frenchman, and is sent home in deep disgrace.

Social injustice, deliberate wrongdoing, frustrated hopes, romantic yearnings – what a fruitful set of circumstances for a novelist! Add to that romance and revenge, plus a dash of remorse, and we have an engaging story with which to while away several most diverting hours.

Dorothy Whipple is now very much on my radar, and I will be actively questing for more of her titles. Happily Persephone Press is actively reprinting the Whipple oeuvre, so some at least will be easy to acquire.

What bookish joy, making the acquaintance of Bryher yesterday, Whipple today. And what a happy time I will have exploring more by both of these congenial (though rather different) novelists!


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the innocent traveller ethel wilsonThe Innocent Traveller by Ethel Wilson ~ 1949. This edition: New Canadian Library, 1982. Paperback. ISBN: 0-7710-9316-0. 277 pages.

My rating: 9/10

Every once in a while a book comes along which, unexpectedly, completely delights me. The Innocent Traveller is one such novel.

There’s not much in the way of drama in this joyfully written book, but it struck a chord of shared experience and of common humanity in its delicious narrative of the irrepressible Topaz. Always witty and occasionally poignant, the tale spans a full century of one woman’s life, and simultaneously gives a lightly drawn but absolutely fascinating portrait of the times she moved through, and of the society of her peers.

From the Author’s Note:

This is the story – part truth and part invention – of a lively woman who lived for a hundred years and died triumphant in Vancouver and is nearly forgotten after her small commotion of living.

The metaphors are not mixed. The drop of water, the bird, the water-glider, the dancer, the wind on the canal, and Topaz, are all different and all the same…

British Columbia

Our story – Topaz’s story –  begins in the 1840s,  in a respectable and prosperous London house, at dinner with the family (and important dinner guest) all decorously present.

Far away at the end of the table sat Father, the kind, handsome and provident man. At this end sat Mother, her crinoline spread abroad. On Mother’s right was Mr. Matthew Arnold. On each side of the table the warned children ate their food gravely, all except Topaz, on Mother’s left. Topaz, who could not be squelched, was perched there on top of two cushions, as innocent as a poached egg. Mother sat gracious, fatigued, heavy behind the majestic crinoline with the last and fatal child.

Topaz in a few moments makes the expected scene and ends the evening under the table amongst the trouser legs and skirts of her elders; poor Mother is indeed doomed, perishing along with her “last and fatal” baby within the next 48 hours. After a suitable period of mourning, Father remarries in order to provide a suitable mother and guide for his large family, choosing his late wife’s sister Jane as replacement and new helpmeet.

Stepmother is absorbed into the Edgeworth family, and life goes on. We watch the brothers and sisters blossom, go forth into the world, marry, have children, and flourish (or decline into early death) each in their turn, and we return again and again to take a look at little Topaz, who, still innocent of deliberate intent to speak out of turn, does indeed manage to do so continuously.

Boarding school, an unfulfilled love affair, travels with her older siblings, and the long gentle transition into adult, then middle-aged daughter-at-home with elderly parents; through this all Topaz burbles as irrepressibly as a forest spring. Stepmother dies, and Topaz finds herself in control of the household, and sadly at a loss. Others step in, as always, and Topaz goes back to her comfortable niche as universal companion to all, talking her way through her days, greeting each new thing with cries of alarm or delight (mostly delight); persisting in her perennial girlishness until she finds herself at fifty, Mother, Stepmother and Father now all gone, at last on her own.

Now this could go very badly indeed, but luckily (for Topaz) the Victorian custom of family looking after family is one the Edgeworths faithfully and automatically practice, and Topaz is absorbed into a new family grouping, one which will see her out to the end of her days. She moves, along with her elder widowed sister Annie and her unmarried cousin Rachel, across the Atlantic to Canada, via sea journey and long train trip, all the way to Vancouver, where Annie’s sons welcome the three adventurers, “whose years added up to over one hundred and fifty”, and helped them to establish a new home.

Topaz embraces her new life with typical enthusiasm, and we follow her for the last five decades of her life until her peaceful ending, a full century after her birth.

Ethel Wilson writes this semi-biographical tale with a very personal touch – she appears just a little over half way in in the person of recently orphaned eight-year-old Rose, born in South Africa to English parents – Annie’s son and daughter-in-law. Annie, Rachel and Topaz warmly enfold this fourth person into their world, and subsequently raise her in to womanhood in her turn.

Through the fabulous social and scientific changes of the turning of the nineteenth into the twentieth century, through two world wars and the stunning growth of the colonial city of Vancouver and change after change after change, Topaz remains the same, endlessly curious, endlessly outspoken, endlessly optimistic and reaching for the next adventure. Her death is sad but not tragic; her memory persists in those whose lives she fluttered in to and out of.

Lovingly written, with warm humour and an unsentimentally analytical eye, this is a lovely ode to an individual and a family, and an absolute joy to read.

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A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor ~ 1949. This edition: Penguin, 1984. Softcover. ISBN: 0-14-00.2587-1. 176 pages.

My rating: Easily a 9/10 for the writing, perhaps a bit less for the dark mood it engenders.

Well, no, I don’t really mean that. There are abundant gleams of light. As a middle-aged person myself, fast approaching the half century mark, much in this novel resonated with me, and I felt a strong sympathy and emotional kinship for all three of the female main characters, “maiden, woman, and crone”, as another reviewer referred to them.


There are several excellent reviews on this early Elizabeth Taylor novel, only her fourth, which I’ve linked for your enjoyment below. Anything I have to say merely echoes what these others have said, so I won’t go into too much detail, or describe my response to this interesting novel except to say that I found it much more enthralling than expected.

Three women spend a summer holiday together year after year, but this visit highlights the inexorable march of time, and is one of those “years where everything changes” which happen to everyone from time to time; markers which we think of later in the context of “before” and “after.”

Frances, the eldest, owns the cottage where the three convene. A retired governess and a confirmed spinster, she has for years pursued a secondary career as a modestly successful painter. Liz, the youngest, was once Frances’ charge, and in the year past has married a much older clergyman and has borne a child, whose inclusion in the party is looked upon with something like apprehension by the adult trio. Camilla, a school secretary, is approaching middle-age; she too is a spinster, though not by choice; circumstances and her fastidious personality have left her out in the cold in the mating ritual, and her pride reinforces her smooth shell; she pretends not to mind her state, and the pretence is so finely wrought that she has begun to believe in it herself.

It is Camilla who has the most outwardly eventful time. Her journey to the cottage has been horribly punctuated by a suicide at the railway station; shaken out of her usual reserve, she has made the acquaintance of a handsome young man who turns out to be going to the same village. Claiming to be a writer on a trip of nostalgic research, it is soon apparent that Richard is not averse to weaving a web of lies about his past and present. Camilla is attracted to him and he returns her interest, to the concern of Frances and especially Liz, who sense something “off” in Richard’s manner and constantly shifting explanations.

All three of the friends are “paired up” as the summer progresses. Liz’s husband Arthur drops in from time to time, and Liz flits between her home and the cottage. Frances apprehensively prepares to meet a man who has been a long-time artistic patron and correspondent. Film director Morland Beddoes is himself uncertain as to whether the woman of his long-distance friendship will be the kindred spirit he yearns for.

As the various personalities clash with each other, self-analyze and readjust, the truth about Richard slowly becomes revealed, with deeply disturbing repercussions.

I must also add that Frances’ dog Hotchkiss is one of the most unpleasant canines I’ve yet met in literature. I suspect that Elizabeth Taylor was more of a cat person, as she uses feline comparisons in a rather favorable way in describing some of the characters, and incidentally gives a beautiful cameo appearance to a pregnant Siamese.


Check out the following for more detail and some very thoughtful analyses of this work:

Bentley Rumble: A Wreath of Roses

Laura’s Musings: A Wreath of Roses

Buried in Print: A Wreath of Roses

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Rest and Be Thankful by Helen MacInnes ~ 1949. This edition: Little, Brown & Co., 1949. Hardcover. 368 pages.

My rating: 9/10

Every so often I find myself re-reading, with great enjoyment, this pleasant, humorous and thoughtful romantic novel by an author better known for her suspense and spy-versus-spy World War II and Cold War-era thrillers.

After almost twenty years living as expatriates in the literary and artistic circles of Europe, Margaret Peel and Sarah Bly are reacquainting themselves with their native America by taking a cross-country road trip in their 1933 Bugatti (purchased new in Rome in those faraway, idyllic times) with their Hungarian chauffeur Jackson. Living in France at the outbreak of the war, Margaret and Sarah had turned their abundant energy from sponsoring and promoting struggling poets to using their private printing press to create clandestine Free French materials, until their betrayal to the German occupying forces in 1941 forced their precipitous flight to eventual haven in England.

The war is over, Margaret and Sarah are back in the U.S.A. and are feeling rather untethered. They are hoping the road trip will give them time to think and refocus and decide on their next project. Heading for California, straying off the highway via a shortcut gone wrong, the trio find themselves lost in the Wyoming mountains with evening coming on. They encounter a group of cowboys, led by ex-soldier Jim Brent, and end up spending the night at his remote ranch house, “Rest and be Thankful”, nestled among tall cottonwoods on the banks of twisting Crazy Creek.

Immediately smitten by their beautiful surroundings, which they favourably compare to the Dolomites and the Alps, Margaret and Sarah concoct a scheme to set up a literary retreat at the ranch, to nurture and encourage struggling authors.

Margaret was a best-selling author before the war, though her most financially successful work, a “non-literary” romance, was written under a secret pseudonym, and she thinks her capital will be sufficient to support the scheme. Sarah, soon finding herself  renamed”Sally” as the simpler charms of Wyoming country life work their magic, has some funds left from her pre-War travel and cookbook sales. With this new project in hand, Margaret and Sally spread the word amongst the New York literary community, and the writers’ retreat is soon underway with “six authors in search of a character”.

And a disparate and difficult lot they prove themselves to be! Helen MacInnes has written a tongue-in-cheek expose, sometimes straying into parody, of stock New York literary characters of the 1940s, and their varied reactions to the “simple locals” of rural Wyoming. Those locals are handled with a much gentler tone; MacInnes obviously had some experience with and a deep fondness and respect for the ranching community of the area she writes about in this novel; though sometimes stereotyped and parodied she presents them in an overall very admirable light. (The book is dedicated “To Gilbert and Keith, my favorite cowboys”, so I suspect a back story is involved in the setting of this tallish tale.)

I also have a strong feeling that Helen MacInnes had a most enjoyable time writing this book. She has some cutting comments to make about various characters in the “high literary” world, which I suspect were based on people MacInnes personally knew. There is much discussion about the dangers of Communism; the Cold War is looming and MacInnes is keenly and vocally aware of the European and American political situation; themes she elaborates on in her later spy thrillers are very evident here.

But ultimately, for all the trimmings, this is a simple romance – or, more accurately, two or three – a love story lies at the heart of this appealing novel.

Flaws? Oh, yes – many! Very much a period piece, and should be read with this in mind. Stereotypical characters and situations abound, but these are balanced, in most cases, by the author’s open acknowledgment that she is writing something of a satire, and she generally allows her most outrageous characters and comments the grace of an explanation as to why they appear as they do.

Final verdict: an enjoyable vintage novel, of interest to fans of MacInnes’ thrillers and to those seeking an intelligently written comfort read.

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