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The Wrong World

The Wrong World: Selected Stories and Essays of Bertram Brooker

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 340
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  • Book Info
    The Wrong World
    Book Description:

    Bertram Brooker won the country's first Governor General's Award for literature in 1936 for his novelThink of the Earth, and his explosive, experimental paintings hang in every major gallery in the country. He was Canada's first multidisciplinary avantgardist, successfully experimenting in literature, visual arts, film, and theatre. Brooker brought all of his experimental ambitions to his short fiction and prose.The Wrong Worldpresents a rich sampling of his prose work, much of it previously unpublished, which adds new insight into his aesthetic ambitions.Working during an incredible period of transition in Canadian society, Brooker's stories document Canada's evolution from a provincial colony into a modern, urban country. His essays participated in that evolution by advocating a passionate awakening of the arts, the end of prudish sentiment and censorship, and a radical rethinking of the nature of war. They capture the limitations and hypocrisies of the Canadian social contract and argue for a more just and spiritual society. His stories humanize his social vision by dramatizing the psychological and emotional cost of Canada's transition into a modern civilization. In turn devastating, penetrating and poignant, Brooker's prose works offer a sharply focussed window into the turbulent interwar years in Canada.

    eISBN: 978-0-7766-1803-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction (pp. xi-l)

    From the turn of the twentieth century to the post–Second World War period, Bertram Brooker’s prose documented the dramatic transformation of Canadian society from a primarily agrarian and colonial culture to a modern and industrial post-colonial nation. Brooker sought to use his art and writing to encourage the transformation. Indeed, his vision of the great potential of Canada was dependent on the opening up of its prudish society, including, but not limited to, conservative attitudes that discouraged experimental artists and the arts. Brooker’s prose captures his enthusiastic and idealistic response to the rapid and broad social change of the period:...

    • Like Old Jehovah (pp. 3-6)

      The old man who lived over the corner drugstore turned restlessly in his bed. His eyes were old, but in the blue square of night framed by his window he could detect the pallor of morning. Crooking his elbow under his head, he turned to the east, and lay waiting for the day. He had spied on the coming of dawn many times, as a younger man might spy on a woman. He knew many strange and secret things about the way a day is born and dies.

      The day never starts in the city. It starts in the country...

    • The Gilliland House (pp. 7-20)

      When it was first noised around in Zenith that Mrs. Hugh Gilliland was going to stay in the East, and that the house was to be put up for sale, there were few who took the story seriously. But when an item appeared in theArgus, and a sign, bearing the familiar legend—“For Sale: Robt. Bonnick”—was stuck in the lawn facing High Street, there was gossip at once. The families in the town who might conceivably buy it were few. Bob Fleming had the number reduced to six, and would stand straddle-legged at the door of his implement...

    • Bad Order (pp. 21-27)

      Things happened thick and fast up there, as they have a habit of doing when a few hundred men of the rough, tough sort get together to trail steel over new country. And this is only one of a hundred stories I could tell you of the things that occurred on the M.M.B. We were building a branch from Moose Mirror to Edmonton, through brand new country. The only town of any size we struck the whole way through was Jasper. There’s a girl in Jasper—but I’ll tell you about her again. She doesn’t come into this story.


    • Mrs. Hungerford’s Milk (pp. 28-35)

      Joe Snell drove his dray into the yard and unhitched the team. The yard was muddy and the hooves of the horses made a sucking sound as they plodded side by side into the stable. Joe followed them in and dipped some oats out of the bin with a rusty basin. After a long day in the sun, the darkness of the stable and the cool smell of wet straw and manure were like a soothing hand passed down over the back of his head. He slapped the shining rump of the roan mare as he went beside her with...

    • A Glass Of Catawba (pp. 36-45)

      The idea came to him the last thing one night as he stood looking out of the window just before going to bed. Vangie was sitting there reading as usual. Eternally reading. In the same chair, squeezed in between the piano and the hallway arch. Saying nothing for hours on end. Just quietly turning the leaves. Her large, shortsighted eyes perceptibly moving from left to right and from right to left across the page. There. Slowly to the right. Quickly to the left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Jove!

      He went to the window.

      Every night when they were home together...

    • Head Waitress (pp. 46-57)

      Every now and again you see a man or a woman (with me it is more often a woman), who somehow strikes you. The man may not look particularly distinguished, perhaps not even very intelligent, and the woman may not be exactly beautiful—but they have a quality that makes them interesting, and for no reason at all you start wondering about them. Of a woman, perhaps, you say to yourself, “I’d like to know where that girl came from and what has happened to her to make her like that.”

      There was a head waitress in a restaurant in...

    • Youth’s Manuscript (pp. 58-73)

      After the swarming Sunday evening traffic on the highway the city seemed deserted. Scarcely a soul was to be seen in Kendal Park as D.J. McConnell drew his luxurious new car quietly to the curb under the chestnut trees.

      Edna always asked him to stop there, in the crescent opposite her boarding house, so that she would not be seen arriving “in state,” as one of the roomers had remarked a few months back.

      “Your obedient servant, Mrs. Colby,” said D.J. with heavy playfulness, seeking her hand and fondling it.

      A loud whack on the roof of the car startled...

    • (from) The Tangled Miracle (pp. 74-80)

      Coffee was served on a long, stone-flagged veranda overlooking the wide lawns at the back of the house. Behind the guests, as they sat facing the Sound, were the open windows of the morning-room, and Rhoda thought she heard a muffled noise inside as they settled down in a semi-circle.

      “It’s been arranged this way,” she thought, turning her chair a little in the hope of observing the windows, “so that somebody inside can hear what Hood is going to say. Is it Mrs. Leckie Smith they’re keeping out of sight?”

      But her speculations were halted by a sudden hush...

    • Chapter One (pp. 83-96)

      The two men had barely exchanged the usual greetings which occur after long separations when Gawthorpe’s visitor experienced a queer sensation. A moment before he had been conscious of a gap between them; but, in a moment, the parenthesis of all those dissociated years was swept away.

      “What do you smoke?” Gawthorpe had asked.

      But it was far from a casual question. In the tone of his voice and the lift of his eyebrows the older man betrayed a half-mocking expectancy which amounted almost to a challenge, as though an answer which lacked a degree of fine discrimination would constitute...

    • Chapter Two (pp. 97-104)

      On the following Sunday night Densham sat in his old place in the choir. Before the service he had been surrounded by what remained of his former cronies, and it seemed strange to him that he did not feel more elation at rejoining them. All that had happened to him in the few crowded days since his talk with Gawthorpe had been vaguely disappointing. He was seeking a new experience, and all these people he had met, all the places he had revisited, were of the past.

      He was getting no nearer to his conception of Ecstasy. More than once...

    • Chapter Three (pp. 105-111)

      When George Pethick entered his dressing room at the Hippodrome on Monday night he found a note from Densham.

      Dear George:

      It may surprise you to find that I am back in England. Being unable to locate you today I got a couple of aisle seats for this evening. One of them is enclosed, and I hope you will be able to join me as soon as your turn is over. Till then, au revoir—Griff.

      In the stalls Densham was glancing over the programme. He experienced a queer sensation on turning over a leaf and finding the Russian Ballet...

    • Chapter Four (pp. 112-120)

      Two lean greyhounds came bounding toward him down the drive when Densham entered Madame Milónoff’s gate on the Wednesday afternoon. He paused and fondled the long, damp noses snuffing at his legs.

      “Princely creatures,” he thought, as he dallied there, talking to them caressingly, while they leaped about him.

      They were part of the scene, vivid because of its strangeness, and drenched in an atmosphere of damp, mouldering, ancient calm, into which he found himself strolling with grave thoughtfulness. It was indicative of his mood that he could spend precious moments, just inside the gate, teasing the dogs with the...

    • Chapter Five (pp. 121-129)

      That night in his room, after sitting for an hour with bowed head, gazing fixedly before him, Densham suddenly jumped up and went to the tiny secretaire which he had scarcely used since taking up his lodging there.

      With characteristic impulsiveness he drew a sheet of paper towards him, removed the stopper of the ink-well, and selected a pen. The corners of his mouth were drawn down in that accustomed grimace which accentuated the stern line of his upper lip. Deep lines appeared in his forehead. His glance roved over the wall above the writing desk.

      How would he address...

    • Chapter Six (pp. 130-135)

      During the next few weeks Densham spent a great deal of time at the British Museum, delving among old folios and volume after volume of Shakespeariana of every sort. His evenings he spent in his room at the Suffolk, arranging the mass of material he had gathered during the day.

      At week-ends and on occasional odd evenings he ran down to Croydon, becoming a constant visitor at the Milónoffs and the Gawthorpes.

      Milónoff, who was rarely to be found at home, nevertheless ran into him at times, greeting him with effusive cordiality and displaying an apparently deliberate anxiety that he...

    • Chapter Seven (pp. 136-141)

      Madame Milónoff awoke two mornings later to find her maid already in the room, drawing the blinds. It was chilly. Rain was beating against the windows. A fire, started an hour before, was cracking gaily in the tiled chimney-piece, on the mantel of which an old-fashioned glass-enclosed clock, with a swinging shepherd boy for pendulum, told her that it was past her usual breakfast hour.

      The accustomed “tick … tick … tick,” faint and familiar, beat its delicate rhythm into her awakening ears—the pulse of a new day.

      “It is a grey morning, little mother,” said the maid, in...

    • Chapter Eight (pp. 142-150)

      Towards the end of that week, at a late hour one evening, Kalinova and Prince Bienjonetti entered a fashionable restaurant within a stone’s throw of the theatre district. They were merry. Thedanseuseclung to her stately, middle-aged companion with an abandon of manner which made the pair unmistakably conspicuous as they moved toward the table that had been reserved for them.

      Not far away sat George Pethick, Mr. and Mrs. Gawthorpe and Densham. It was Pethick’s birthday and he had celebrated it by asking the Gawthorpes up to the city for the performance at the Hippodrome, with a little...

    • To All the Nations ….! (pp. 153-156)

      I am not as conceited as Bernard Shaw. I hesitate to call myself “an exceedingly clever man”; but I am at least, a moderately clever man. I have made a comparative success of various occupations calling for considerable education, foresight, intelligence and ingenuity, and I am at present deriving an income sufficient to keep me alive from the sale of scenarios to Moving Pictures concerns. I commenced to write when I was eight years old, a week after I had devoured “Robinson Crusoe,” and I have been writing ever since—and reading ten times as much as I have written....

    • The Spread of Negativism (pp. 157-167)

      Today we are in the midst of an age of analytical criticism. Today all thought is destructive. We have become a race of iconoclasts.

      When Greece ejected its Gods and entered its age of Agnosticism, it created the finest examples of sculpture the world has ever seen. When Europe ejected a host of out-worn dogmas and became Protestant, it gave birth to the Renaissance in Architecture, Letters, and Art. And with the inundation of iconoclastic tendencies in the realm of thought, which we today are witnessing, has come this much-despised but worthy thing Commercialism. And Commercialism stands for construction. It...

    • The Decay of Art (pp. 168-171)

      The death-knell of Art is sounding!

      Boom! Doom!—Boom! Doom!

      With Botticelli or Brangyn, with Pre-Raphaelitism or Post-Impressionalism, with Symbolism or Realism, we here have no concern.

      Art is not entirely a thing of colours and academies. It lies far-flung athwart the world. It is born of the womb of Imagination. It is the child of ecstatic moments, half-remembered, half-immortalized in form or colour, in rhythm or in tone. And Art is dying.


      Art was inspired by the idea of God. The Gods are dead. Art was inspired by the greatness of Kings. Today we have only Republics; or...

    • The Price of Peace (pp. 172-174)

      Oh, the splendours of war! Oh, the glamour, the banners, the tramp of marching men, the flashing bayonets, those erect heads, those flushed cheeks, those eyes burning with the fire of a great resolve, the comradeship, the irresponsible gaiety, the clinging grip of friendly hands … the goodbyes … the first glimpse of the sea, the embarkation, the voyage, the mere fascination of shipboard, the immensity of sea and sky, the sudden glistening of cliffs in the sun—land!—a harbour bristling with life, long marches across a countryside filled with the singing of birds never heard before, the fever...

    • Free Prose (pp. 175-176)

      The idea came to me probably two or three weeks ago.

      A sort of defence of my method of writing, but really much more than that.

      Today at the office I wrote—

      “We do not write for this time—Homer and Shaw as much together in the brief objective span—subjective span just starting—thousands of years

      “We do not write for posterity in the same sense as the older poets—so called finished works of art—not concerned with ending anything—only starting—not personal glory or a great name—names are nothing—but to contribute to the new...

    • (from) Notes for the Free Prose (pp. 177-178)

      WroteDayspringin present tense because all is now.

      Not concerned, as were former writers of fiction, to present a picture of objective life, but to get at the subjective underground of it. It is a process of exploration, rather than of presentation. We explore continents, why not individuals, and why not into the unknown quarters of mind. The geography of the soul more important than the geography of the earth.

      Must be fluid, because all is passing. We do not want to create complete, superb works. We realize that all work is but a step to something other. We...

    • Nudes and Prudes (pp. 179-188)

      There lives in Toronto an artist, a native of France and a frequenter of Paris, who has not been long in Canada. I first met him in a downtown store whither he had come looking for a picture of a horse. After we had been introduced by the keeper of the store, he mentioned his quest. In musical broken English he said:

      “I want a picture of a ’orse.”

      When asked what kind of a horse and for what purpose, he very pleasantly explained:

      “Tonight I give lecture to Art Students’ League, and I want to show that animal is...

    • When We Awake! (pp. 189-205)

      Perhaps it has not occurred to many people that the artist in Canada is more difficultly placed than artists have ever been before in any country. My original conception, in planning this book, was that it should deal as much with the handicaps and complications which beset artists in Canada as it does with their achievements. As editor I have attempted to provide contributions that discuss what might be called the soil of our art, as well as others which chronicle its blossoming. And as contributor—in this general introduction—my hope is to sketch a composite picture of the...

    • Prophets Wanted (pp. 206-216)

      “It is the heaviest stone that Melancholy can throw at a man,” wrote Sir Thomas Browne, “to tell him he is at the end of his nature; or that there is no further state to come, into which this seems progressionall.”

      Such a statement might almost be taken as a contemporary diagnosis of the temper of the present day. Modern scepticism, with a Canute-like gesture, says to mankind—“Thus far, and no farther”. Modern pessimists are feverishly scribbling “Finis” all over the latest page of history; while the “new” Humanists, with more practical minds, are engaged in building a palatial...

  8. Textual Chronology and Editorial Procedures (pp. 217-220)
  9. Explanatory Notes (pp. 221-244)
  10. Textual Emendations and Revisions (pp. 245-280)
  11. Works Cited (pp. 281-288)
  12. Back Matter (pp. 289-290)