Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Life and Opinions of William Lacey Amy

The Life and Opinions of William Lacey Amy
a Forgotten Canadian Writer
Claudio Murri
English 649, Prof, John Lennox, April 15, I985.
With minor updates in italics by Doug Frizzle to Nov.2015. Many thanks to Scott James, for providing this paper and to Claudio Murri for creating it so many years ago. I lay claim to any faults in the document; it's the conversion process and poor proof reading./drf

William Lacey Amy (1877-1962), one of the most eclectic and prolific twentieth century Canadian writers, is now almost forgotten, both by scholars and by the general public of readers of fiction.
There is very little mention of his name in some of the classic surveys of Canadian literature, such as Karl Klinck's Literary History of Canada or The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, and absolutely nothing in works such as Vernon Rodhenizer's A Handbook of Canadian Literature (1930) and Desmond Pacey's Creative Writing in Canada (1961). No critical articles on Amy's works ever appeared in Canadian or American literary journals, with the exception of occasional reviews, especially of his early novels. Even's more specific book such as James Vinson's Twentieth Century Western Writers (1982) reporis little more than a long list of Lacey Amy's novels.
Yet, during the First World War, Amy's articles appeared in two of the most important Canadian magazines, and some of his novels have been popular and widely read at the time of their publication. It might seem surprising, then, that Lacey Amy's name and works have literally vanished from Canada's collective cultural memory. The reasons why this happened are many. First of all, the poor quality of most of his literary production justifies the scarce interest that scholars have taken toward it so far. In fact, his books have been examined only as sources of social history, mainly in relation to topics such as the role and popularity of the North West Mounted Police in fiction. There is also a problem caused by the fact that Lacey Amy spent many years of his life outside Canada, and most of his novels were published only in England. Between 1932 and 1954 only one out of twenty-nine of his novels was published also in Canada.[1] This fact created confusion, and in general it made it difficult for scholars to keep the association between Lacey Amy and Canada. Critic F.R. Meldrum, for instance, refers to him as "an Englishman who lived in Canada."[2]
Furthermore, other factors rendered Lacey Amy’s life and his career as a writer very complicated to reconstruct with precision. He wrote mostly under his name and under the pseudonym of "Luke Allan," but he also used a second pseudonym which is unknown. He also tended to disregard his profession as a writer of fiction as a serious activity. It is significant that Amy’s brother's second wife, in a recent telephone conversation, told me that she ignored that her brother-in-law was a writer (which probably explains why one copy of a book by Lacey Amy signed "W.B. Amy" is now in possession of the Robarts library at the University of Toronto.)
Notwithstanding all the hindrances and difficulties that are in the way of anybody who is interested in him in this paper I will try to throw some light on Lacey Amy's life and literary production, trying also to give a critical judgment on at least part of his works.
William Lacey Amy was born in Sydenham, Ontario, presumably around 1878. His father, Rev. Thomas Amy of Burlington, was a Methodist minister who was stationed in various parts of Ontario. He had a younger brother, Wilmer B. Amy, who was eventually to become a dentist, and who died in 1965.
Lacey Amy, according to A.M. Gianelli "was educated wherever his father happened to be stationed in those good old migratory days,"[3] but chiefly at Guelph Collegiate, In 1896 he entered the Faculty of Arts at the University of Toronto, and was affiliated with Victoria College, where he studied classics and athletics.
He graduated in 1899 and married Ms. Lillian Eva Payne who, during the First World War, became the first Canadian woman to be made a Member of the Order of the British Empire, the medal for which was pinned upon her by the King himself, in recognition of her work in connection with the Massey-Harris Hospital at Dulwich, and later as Lady Superintendent of one of the largest munitions factories in England, where she was in charge of more than three thousand women.
Migration would remain one of the constant characteristics of Lacey Amy's life. In fact, after his marriage, Amy began to work for trade papers, and around 1905 he moved west to Medicine Hat, Alberta, where he worked for the Medicine Hat Times, a local newspaper which, according to Clara Thomas[4], he owned and edited for three years. Lacey Amy's residency in Medicine Hat, although not long, was very important in his development as a journalist and as a writer. Here he wrote the short story: "Blue Pete, the Sentimental Half Breed”, [5] which is an initial sketch for the first novel of his lucky and long series of more than twenty western novels that have the figure of Blue Pete as protagonist. Here he also wrote his first novel: The Blue Wolf, a Tale of the Cypress Hills (1913), a mystery story set in the area of Medicine Hat with the North West Mounted Police in the role of heroes. In this book he was probably influenced by the works of Ralph Connors, particularly by Corporal Cameron, a Tale of the North West Mounted Police, published in 1912 by the same publishing house as Amy's.
More important, Medicine Hat, with its exciting atmosphere of a growing pioneer town, would remain the setting of Lacey Amy's western stories for decades after he had left it. Medicine Hat was in those years the ultimate Canadian frontier. The discovery of natural gas in its soil attracted people from all over the continent and even from England, and investors were interested in this town's industrial ambitions.
Unfortunately—besides his novels—very few records of Amy's stay in Medicine Hat have survived the wear and tear of time.
This is probably due to the fact that the Medicine Hat Times had a very brief life. It was started in 1903, but was soon overwhelmed by its competitor, the Medicine Hat News (which, on the contrary, has had an important role in the history of Canadian journalism) and in the economic downturn of 1916 it closed its doors for good. According to Peter Meher, librarian of the Medicine Hat News:
Although the references are quite vague, it is likely that Amy replaced W.C. Harris as editor in February of 1905. There is no information on whether he was brought in for the job or had been working in some other capacity with the paper and was simply promoted to the position.
It is even less clear how long he remained with the Times. He was definitely still editing the paper in 1907, and may have remained until mid 1910, when C.F. Jameson became editor.
He did not remain in the community for long, by 1913 and thereafter he was no longer listed in the Henderson Directory as a city resident. [6]

There are a few surviving copies of the Medicine Hat Times in the local Museum, but most of them are dated after Amy had left, while the earlier ones do not carry bylines, so there would be no way to tell which items he was responsible for.
However, Lacey Amy's articles began to appear in The Canadian Magazine in late 1909, the first of which is an enthusiastic portrait of Medicine Hat, described as the place "where nature’s gas is king." [7] With this article Lacey Amy inaugurated his long career as a travel reporter. A series of fifteen articles published in The Canadian Magazine between February 1910 and May 1915, not only renders a deep and colourful account of his travels all around Canada, but also represents a useful instrument to track his activities during those years. His articles on the Magdalen Islands, Labrador, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and then again on the West: Alberta, and the Rocky Mountains, are not simple descriptions of the places he visited, seen with the eye of a tourist and rendered more interesting with a touch of local colour and folklore. They are deep and thoughtful insights into the life of the local populations, their social and economical organization and their complex relationship with nature. These articles, as well as his later ones on the First World War, are real short essays of social analysis. They constitute a valuable contribution to modern Canadian journalism and historiography, and they should not be ignored by whoever intends to study the small, isolated communities of early twentieth century Canada.
In the spring of 1916 the Amys set out from the harbour at Canso, Nova Scotia, for England, and they settled in London, where Lacey began his career as a war correspondant and free-lance writer. From September 1916 on he wrote articles for both The Canadian Magazine and Saturday Night, about how the war affected the English daily life, and about the contribution of Canada to the allied efforts. His first four articles for Saturday Night were published in the magazine's women's section, and dealt with the problems of Canadian women following their soldier-husbands in England. They were generally critical of the English people’s snubbish attitude toward Canadians, and the second of them: "The Canadian Incubus"[8] provoked an indignant letter by a reader of Saturday Night who saw in it a lack of respect toward the Empire.
The magazine editor replied, firmly defending "Mr. Amy's seriousness and journalistic experience."[9]
Soon Lacey Amy's articles gained a place of prominence in the second page of Saturday Night and began to deal more specifically with the British Government policy in relation to the war. At the same time, with two series of articles for The Canadian magazine, entitled "England in Arms," and "With Canadians from the Front,"
Amy thoroughly analysed the consequences of the war on every basic part of the English social structure. The problems of women, farmers, and workers; the role of the Educational and Medical systems, and other vital sectors of the Nation's organization during wartime, such as the availability of food, the conservation of materials, and the production of weapons, were the subjects of his reflections.
All together, Lacey Amy's articles of this period are a very interesting presentation of the First World War seen with the eyes of a Canadian, even though his reports from the front lines suffer from a too "heroic" style, which later affected some of his western novels.
In 1919, with the war over, Lacey Amy returned to free-lancing and became well-known in England for his articles and sketches in the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard, In 1920 he published his second novel Blue Pete, Half Breed, that virtually marked the beginning of his astonishing career as a writer, during which he wrote at least fourty-four novels, mostly under the pseudonym of "Luke Allan".
It is difficult to keep track of his complete works, also because, by his own admission, he also wrote under a third nom-de-plume whose identity "no one knows but myself and my agent.”[10] In a letter to William Arthur Deacon, written on March 21, 1944, Amy claimed he had written "something like fourty novels," and for sure he published eleven more novels between 1945 and 1954. Therefore, if not for quality, Lacey Amy’s literary production is certainly remarkable for its quantity. In an article which appeared in the July 27, 1935 issue of Saturday Night. (significantly entitled "People Who Do Things") Adele Gianelli wrote: "How he gets time to do the work of three writers is a mystery to less competent authors."[11] By that time, according to Ms. Gianelli, about thirty books had been published under one or another of Amy’s signatures, several of them having been translated into six or seven European languages,
To render things even more incredible, after 1923 Lacey Amy began to travel around the world, and he literally "lived in trucks" until 1940. He alternated his stays in Toronto with periods during which he lived in France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, North Africa, and the United States. In 1939 he began an ill-fated trip around the world, which concluded in Tahiti with the French capitulation in 1940.
Back in Canada, he permanently settled in Toronto, where he married for the second time, to Mrs. Gladys Burston Miller, on October 22, 1941. Now in his sixties, Lacey Amy kept on writing his novels, sometimes publishing even two books a year. In that way he obviously gave up any literary pretension. His use of pseudonyms besides being a fashion of the time and the genre he began to write in, was probably an attempt to separate his public identity as a journalist (his "serious" activity) from the writer of fiction.
In his letter to Deacon, that I have already quoted, Lacey Amy did not deny his being somehow ashamed of his works, saying that "there are a few I have forgotten and some I wish I could forget."
However, Lacey Amy always considered himself as a "man of letters,” he was a member of the Savage Club of London, and an honorary member of the Insitut Litteraire et Artistique de France,
In Toronto he was a life-long member of the Arts and Letters Club,[12] where he lectured on several occasions about his travels.
William Lacey Amy died in St. Petersburg, Florida, on the 26th of November, 1962.
To provide an overall judgment on the quality of Lacey Amy's novels is an almost impossible task. For one thing, the enormous number of books he wrote in the space of thirty-five years defies any attempt to uniformly analyse the whole body of his literary production, even though variety is not one of its main features.
However, Amy's career as a writer of fiction may be usefully divided into three main periods, during which fourty-four novels that can be attributed to him with certainty were published. I deliberately excluded Lacey Amy's first novel—which, I believe, stands alone in his artistic career—from this classification.
The Blue Wolf is a youthful product, written when Amy was dedicated mainly to journalism. It is significant that seven years passed before he published his second novel, whereas from then on he very seldom let one year pass without a book of his being released to the public. To my knowledge, only in 1925, 1929, 1941, and 1946 did "Luke Allan" take a rest. Many times he published two novels a year, and in 1932 and 1937 even three.[13]
In his FIRST PERIOD, that goes from 1920 to 1928, Lacey Amy wrote nine novels: five westerns[14]—three of which have Blue Pete as a protagonist—one exotic love story set in the Rocky Mountains,[15] and three mystery stories.[16] Among them, probably, there are the best novels Lacey Amy ever wrote, or at least the ones he spent some more time and concentration on. In fact, if nine novels in eight years may seem a tremendous effort, in terms of "Luke Allan" standards this was a rather quiet and meditative period of his career.
During his SECOND PERIOD, between 1930 and 1938, Lacey Amy wrote seventeen novels. What characterizes his production in this interval of time is the sudden, almost total change of genre he began to write in. Fifteen out of seventeen novels are mystery stories, and only two early ones are westerns,[17] none of which has Blue Pete in the role of hero. Most of these books are melodramatic thrillers, set in a large city that could be Toronto or New York, but that is so vaguely described that it could be any place. In many of them, especially those written before 1935, there is a group of recurrent characters, and in particular Tiger Lillie—a young, stubborn, and imaginative reporter for the Evening Star—and George Muldrew, a detective of the homicide department of the local police.
Lacey Amy's THIRD PERIOD began in 1938, and lasted until 1954, when his last novel was published. As abruptly as he had begun to write only mysteries, Amy switched genre again, and from 1938 on he only wrote "Blue Pete" novels. Between 1938 and 1954 eighteen books narrated the adventures of the popular cow-boy. Titles such as The Vengeance of Blue Pete, Blue Pete to the Rescue, and Blue Pete and the Kid, to name only the most pictoresque of them, alone speak of the quality of such novels. The seriality of these books brings them closer to comics than to literature. Of course, after so many books, Amy's imagination could not possibly be as fresh as when he wrote his first stories, but his late novels also suffer from an increased presence of violence and of western speech. On the other hand, Lacey Amy's late production saw a progressive decrease of its "canadianness", and his works became more conventional westerns than Mountie stories. In general, his late books are only an eternal repetition of the same worn out cliché.
In analysing Lacey Amy's literary works, I will focus only on what I called his "first period", and especially on novels such as Blue Pete, Half Breed, The Return of Blue Pete, and The Beast, where literary merit, if any, might be found.
Blue Pete, Half Breed was a fairly successful novel, if for many years Lacey Amy was referred to as "the creator of Blue Pete." Published both in London and in New York, this novel received very good reviews by some influential newspapers. The Times described it as "a breathless tale which keeps up the interest without abatement till the dramatic denouement," [18] while the New York Times affirmed that "Blue Pete's escapes from the invincible police are fraught with sufficient danger to excite the most blasé reader. [19]
Blue Pete, Half Breed is a typical western novel. In his preface to James Vinson's Twentieth Century Western Writers, critic C.L. Sonnichsen provides a definition for this genre. First of all the setting is very important, even though it does not alone make a western novel. The region defined "west" is quite vague, even if it is clear that "the Rocky Mountains states are the core of the area."[20] Therefore Medicine Hat, with its strategic position, just east of the Rockies and just north of Montana, can be considered as an acceptable western setting. Second, Blue Pete, Half Breed makes use of one of the most classic themes of western literature: the struggle between ranchers and cattle rustlers. This struggle clearly assumes the feature of struggle between Good and Evil.
The western novel has often been called "the American morality play" and in it "the good guys always win; the bad guys always lose."[21]
The presence of a specific kind of hero is another decisive characteristic of the western novel. Mr. Sonnichson points out that, in spite of the general belief, the classic noble-minded hero was never as common in western fiction as in western movies, and adds that "close study reveals that unheroic, even comic, leading men have always been acceptable in western novels,"[22]
Blue Pete is a half breed, therefore he belongs to what "Luke Allan" considers to be an inferior social class. "If only he hadn't had the Indian strain!" is the narrator's comment on page 12 of The    Return of Blue Pete, and this is only one of the very many racist statements with which that book is studded. Neither is he beautiful. Blue Pete's figure, on the contrary, is quite ugly. The first time he is described, the narrator presents him as a man with "high cheek bones and swarthy color, the latter of a strangely bluish tint. The ancient stetson was thrust back on tousled hair that had been left to itself for many a day. . . " (Blue Pete, p. 14) His language is also comically stereotyped:
Gorswizzled, ef I think it 'ud made a bit o' diff'runce! . . . Never seen a Mountie before.
The jiggers over thar — we know each other mighty well — ain't half the lookers you are . . . Took hefty chances boltin'up thar like that. They might 'a’ fired again — jes’ fer luck. (p. 15)
This illiterate and rough cow-boy is all the opposite of a gentleman-hero. Yet he is brave, generous, well-natured, intelligent and, above all, he is the best cow-boy in Montana, "a half-mythical cow-puncher of the Badlands." (p. 16) His real name, in the best tradition of the morality plays, is symbolic of his character. [23]
On the other hand, what renders this story typically Canadian is the introduction of a second hero beside Blue Pete, Constable  Mahon (then Corporal and Sergeant in the space of only one novel) is an English young man, whose honesty, generosity, stubborness and faithfulness to the Mounted Police ethics are representative of almost all the qualities of this corps, with the exception of the experience, which is provided by Inspector Parker.
This unusual pair—the mythical cow-boy sided by the equally mythical Mountie—is both a sign of originality in this novel, and its distinctive mark. Historian Keith Walden sees in the opposition between Blue Pete and Mahon a conflict between disorder and order, whose resolution suggests that "laws were not simply arbitrary restrictions, and that a fundamental order did exist. Order might be thwarted by selfishness and ignorance, but those who cared to could easily perceive its presence.”[24] Blue Pete and Mahon, in fact, are opposite to each other only at the beginning of the story, and only because of a misunderstanding. However, thanks to their fundamentally good nature, they soon start a friendship that overcomes all the social barriers. In this way, Blue Pete, Half Breed becomes also a story of initiation. Blue Pete, the older and experienced prairie man, takes the young Englishman under his protective wing, and initiates him to the mysteries and the secrets of a new land. The relationship between the two is obviously of the father/son kind. Pete always call Mahon: "boy” as Mahon's mother does in her letters. Thanks to Blue Pete’s guidance Mahon soon becomes one of the best men in the Force.
I have said that, even though it is a "typical" western novel, Blue Pete, Half Breed is also a peculiarly Canadian story. This is not the only contradiction that is present in this novel. Actually, as Mr. Sonnichsen underlines, there is a contradiction in the nature itself of the genre. Taken as a morality play, the western novel carries a great amount of symbolism. Being so much rooted in the conventions of the western, the stories often come closer to epic or romance than to realism. So, in a sense, the west that appears in such novels is a "west-that-never-was”, a myth the Americans cannot do without. Yet, writers of western have always been proud to point out that their stories were "authentic" — accurate in details. Such is the case of Lacey Amy.
One of the most remarkable accomplishments of Lacey Amy's early novels is the precision with which he was able to reconstruct the atmosphere of Medicine Hat at the beginning of the twentieth century. His descriptions of the landscape where his stories are set are impressive for abundance of details, and the picture that comes out of them is very clear both geographically and historically. Being so well defined, his settings contribute decisively to the "canadianness" of his novels. Typically Canadian is not only the area where the stories take place, nor only the presence of an institution such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but also the particular time in which the novels are set. Whereas most American western novels deal with the conquest (or the raping; depends on the point of view) of the west, therefore with a period that goes roughly from 1870 to the beginning of 1900, Lacey Amy's stories talk about the civilization of the Canadian west, and they are historically placed around 1910. Actually there are no direct references to precise dates, or historical events, but the mentioning of the construction of the northern transcontinental railroad, or the constant presence of a modern apparatus such as the telephone, help us dating the story with fair exactness.
Books such as Blue Pete, Half Breed, The Lone Trail, and The Return of Blue Pete, give us very good scenes of what was the Medicine Hat people's daily life. The main character in Amy's third novel is an almost autobiographical journalist, a "tenderfoot come from the East, who is trying to understand and faithfully depict the life of westerners, and who is suddenly involved into an obscure series of murders. The opening scene of the book is a very interesting reconstruction of the cattle's branding and its shipping to Edmonton by train. In Blue Pete, Half Breed there is a vivid description of Medicine Hat, depicted as a "cosmopolitan town" that attracted pioneers from everywhere, and where, as a mark of distinction from other less important prairie towns, "professional baseball was discussed." (p. 85) In The Return of Blue Pete. the attention of the writer is concentrated on the terrible task of the men who built the transcontinental railroad (which consisted more in watching their shoulders from the evil foreign workers—the "bohunk”—than in winning the asperities of the Canadian nature.)
The journalistic training of Lacey Amy, especially his travel reports from all different corners of Canada, show itself in his novels. His descriptions of the southern Alberta prairies are as precise as a map. When Mahon goes out to explore parts of the land that have never been scouted by men, our imagination leaves with him, we can see the "wooded hills of Montana [which] seemed to justify the dividing line (between Canada and the United States)" (p. 13), the coulees, the rivers, the mazes of the Cypress Hills, and the endless vastness of the prairies.
Unfortunately, Amy's ability in description can hardly divert the critic's attention from the many faults of his texts, I already mentioned the too "heroic" style that affects parts of his novels. The main consequence of Amy's style is that the credibility of his characters is seriously compromised. Even in the light of the morality play, the characterization is far too simplistic to be thoroughly acceptable. It is hard to believe, for instance, in a rough cow-boy, accustomed to the company of the worst outlaws of Montana, who cries listening to the reading of a mother's letter to her son. Neither is easy to accept the outlaw's code of honour that compels the terrible gunman Dutch Henry to send a note to the police warning them that: "Now we shoot on sight. Look out for yourselves." (Blue Pete, p. 158)
Another problem with Lacey Amy's novels, which is even more decisive than his faltering style, is the constant repetition of scenes, sentences, and details in them. It is not that Amy lacked fantasy, but with the volume of writing he was producing he was doomed to repeat himself. It is interesting to note that in 1911 Lacey Amy had written a short story entitled: "Blue Pete, the Sentimental Half Breed," that is exactly the same story as Blue Pete, Half Breed narrated in five pages instead of two hundred and eighty. To stretch that short story into a novel, Amy simply added two love stories (by providing a woman for Mahon and one for Blue Pete,) some scenes of local colour (such as the description of a rodeo in Medicine Hat) and some dangerous circumstances to keep his audience enthralled. The latter constitute the element of redundance in the book, since they generally present Mahon who is in a desperate situation and is saved by a "mysterious shot."
However, in Blue Pete, Half Breed, the repetitions, even though annoying, do not affect the general level of the book which, on the average, is fairly good. With The Return of Blue Pete, we witness a general deterioration of the quality of Amy's writing, which is also indicative of what happened later, when he began to produce one or two Blue Pete stories per year. This novel, besides being too melodramatic and also too racist, is made incredibly heavy by a scene that occurs innumerable times. The fact that Blue Pete uses three different disguises in order not to be recognized by Mahon (who believes he is dead) and by Jim Torrance (a railroad contractor whose horses Blue Pete wants to steal), and that he keeps on switching from one into another with the same frequency of a runway model, is both tedious and impossible to believe.
The faults I have talked about, basically are the same that affect The Beast, one of Lacey Amy's best novels. The Beast is an unusual novel in Amy's production. It is neither a western nor a mystery, but simply a romance. As a love story, though, it is very uncommon. As a commentator pointed outs "It is a good story, full of unusual incidents.[25] Although built up on a cliche (the conflict of an educated man turned wanderer and leader among the Indians, with a girl who—as it is usual in such cases—is at first thoroughly disgusted, but then falls in love with him) the story is narrated in an interesting way, and the descriptions of the natural sites of the Rocky Mountains are masterly written.
The Beast is a dramatic love story, in perpetual balance between tragedy and comedy. Unfortunately, such balance results very precarious in this book. Lacey Amy exceeds in portraing his character's feelings as absolutely honest, noble-minded, and disinterested in the material aspect of life. What is intended to be presented as noble, too often appears naive, and when the atmosphere should be tragic, too often it becomes ridiculous. The Beast, therefore, easily becomes a book people laugh at. Many sarcastic comments appeared, especially in the British press.
The Times Literary Supplement's reviewer wrote an amusing piece from which it is worth quoting some excerpts:
Really she behaved very badly to the Beast. And although he was certainly rude and told her plainly how low was his opinion of women, he was always perfectly respectful and was fightfully hurt because she put up a curtain in case he passed by her window when she was dressing. "Did you think I would look?" he asked, scandalized. . . . [26]
The judgment in Punch was even harder. The reviewer wrote that: “Mr. Luke Allan failed to persuade me that any main episode or any character (except perhaps Asha, the dog) was in the least possible.”[27]
Yet, I believe that The Beast cannot be easily dismissed as a simple romance destined to the "incurably romantics."[28] What all the commentators failed to perceive is that this novel is not exactly a comedy, but rather a 'dark’ comedy. The ending is not perfectly happy; yes, Love triumphs, but at what price? In terms of the puritan ethics, which Amy often makes his own in his novels, the ending of The Beast coincides with a moral and physical degradation of the two main characters. Mabel Merrit, by destroying her beauty and renouncing to her wealth, performs an enormous sacrifice for love, but she also put herself on the same level as the Indians. By dyeing herself permanently brown as the Indians, Mabel renounces forever her social status. What an average reader of that time could think about the ending of this novel is expressed by Mabel's cousin, who, one year after her disappearance from the "civilized” world, runs into her and does not recognize his cousin:
Mabs had come out on the verandah . . . a thorough Tsimshian—outwardly.
Blake Drinnan pulled up with a gasp. Behind him a nasty smile was born in Jameson's face as he looked from the squaw to the big white man and back again.
"Wouldn't you guess it?" he asked of Sydney. "A squaw-man! What hideous wenches they pick! Ugh! Let's set out." (p. 333)

Mabel's gesture, therefore, like Eva's sin, has disgraced her lover too, As the Time’s reviewer comments: "we leave him with his dark-brown bride, a mere wreck of a man."[29] Even if we cannot share Lacey Amy's racist view, can we consider this as a happy-ending love story?
The conclusion of The Beast is, at least, ambiguous, and leaves the reader with a feeling of discontent. This feeling is not only caused by the impossibility of deciding whether the love affair between Mabel and Blake is actually a positive or a negative resolution for the novel. In The Beast there is also a vein of nostalgia, a regret for the irretrievable loss of the purity of nature (which echoes the irrecoverable loss of Mabel's beauty.)
The Beast is set in the Rocky Mountains at the time when man, by building a railroad, is going to violate them.
In the penultimate chapter of the book, significantly named: "The Last of the Old Life," Blake and Mabel are sitting in the setting sun, admiring the marvelous scenario of the mountains, and meditating on the permanence of such a scene:
"It will always be the same to us, Mats, always." A scowl gathered on his forehead. "Until the railways come. The mountains will remain, but a single puff of black smoke, the shriek of a whistle, will alter everything — like ribaldry in a cathedral. The rail­ways sacrifice all this — for what? To give a blasé tourist a thrill, to make dividends, to sell stock at the expense of the grandest nature God has given us, to find the shortest way to market . . . They'll photograph it, name and rename it in honour of some crooked politician or publicity-seeking hero. They'll search out a path to its peak and race to the top, to boast about it later in some reeking smoking room. They'll erect a caravanserai at the foot of the glacier and imagine they're camping out; they'll run a railway to the icefields and think they've scaled the peak. Some pork king will come here with his banded cigars and a bevy of ambitious daughters. They'll hire a packhorse apiece and climb a few hundred feet—and puff and pant and giggle, and call it mountaineering. And return to the hotel in the early evening to dress for dinner and lay siege in the ball-room to the title of a nonocled English lord who has tired of Switzerland and seeks a new sensation—with a dowry attached to save the estate."(p. 327)

What Blake Drinnan is foretelling is not only the conquest, but also the vulgarization of nature. Blake Drinnan's lament is the expression of Lacey Amy's own sadness in watching all these things happening. That is probably the reason why, after 1924 he ceased to write westerns (his late revival of the Blue Pete stories was only a commercial enterprise.) Where progress has arrived, there is no longer room for myth.
(...There follows an extensive bibliography which will be posted separately.)





[1]        Beyond the Locked Door.(1938).
[2]        P. R. Meldrum. "Luke Allan," in J. Vinson, Twentieth Century Western Writers, London: MacMillan, 1982, p. 20.
[3] Gianelli, Adele M. "People Who Do Things: A Triple Novelist." Saturday Night, July 27, 1935, p. 16.
[4]        Thomas, Clara. Canadian Novelists 1920-1945. Toronto: Longmans Green, 1946, p. 1.
[5]        Appeared in The Canadian Magazine, vol. 36, no. 3, January 1911.
[6]        Letter from Peter Meher to the author, February 20, 1985.
[7]        Canadian Magazine, vol. 34, no. 1, November 1909.
[8]        Saturday Night, November 11, 1916, p. 21.
[9]        Saturday Night, November 25, 1916, p. 25-26.
[10]      Quoted in A.M. Gianelli, "People Who Do Things
[11] Ibid.
[12] Penned margin notes: Joined A&L October 1912 Non-Pro 1914-Non-Res; Resigned 1932; Reinstated as Pro Dec 1940 (Resident); Trans to Non-Res April 1962 Journalist; Hon. Life Member/drf
[13] A recent discovery is ‘Stalking Death’ reported to be a serialized novel in 1932 & 33 issues of the Canadian Magazine./drf
[14] Blue Pete, Half Breed (1920); The Lone Trail (1921); The Return of Blue Pete (1922); The Westerner (1923); Blue Pete, Detective (1928).
[15] The Beast (1924)
[16] The Pace (1926); The White Camel (1926); The Sire (1927).
[17] The End of the Trail (1931); The Many-Coloured Thread (1932).
[18] The Times Literary Supplement, October 14, 1920, p. 670.
[19] New York Times, November 20, 1921, p. 30.
[20] T.C.W.W. p, vii
[21] Ibid, p, viii
[22] Ibid.
[23] Peter Maverick
[24] Walden, K. Visions of Order. Toronto: Butterworths, 1982, p. 196.
[25] Boston Transcript. September 6, 1924, p. 4,
[26] The Times Literary Supplement. June 1, 1924, p. 389*
[27] Punch. Vol. 167, July 30, 1924, p. 140.
[28] Ibid.
[29] The Times Literary Supplement. June 19, 1924, p. 389.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.