Whole­some Read­ing

Geist - - Geist - Robert Everett-green

The one book by Eve­lyn Everettgreen that I own is a tat­tered copy of Lenore An­nan­dale’s Story, first pub­lished in 1884 in Lon­don, Eng­land, by the Re­li­gious Tract So­ci­ety. A leafy or­na­ment runs down its wine-coloured spine, and an in­scrip­tion in­side the front cover reads: “Pre­sented to Jim Davis for good at­ten­dance, Sal­va­tion Army Sun­day School, 1915.” It was given to me early this year by a friend who thought I might not know that there had been an­other writer named Everett-green. A coloured plate in­side shows a young woman gal­lop­ing sidesad­dle along a tur­bu­lent seashore.

Both the pic­ture and the in­scrip­tion tell you a lot about Eve­lyn Everett-green, with whom I share a sur­name but no fam­ily con­nec­tion.

Everett-green wrote nov­els for young peo­ple, of a morally im­prov­ing na­ture. Her books were also meant to en­ter­tain, with tales of whole­some ad­ven­ture and ro­mance, of­ten set in heroic times or pic­turesque lo­ca­tions.

When I first heard about this other Everett-green, sev­eral years ago, I read a few pages from one of her books as tran­scribed by Project Guten­berg. “Heigh-ho,” I said to my­self, slap­ping my rid­ing crop against my boot whilst sig­nalling for more tif­fin, “an­other long-for­got­ten provider of in­di­gestible Vic­to­rian prose!”

I was wrong, though not about the prose. Re­cently I pub­lished a novel of my own, In a Wide Coun­try, and dis­cov­ered that my lit­er­ary non-rel­a­tive was not for­got­ten. When­ever I typed my name and book ti­tle into a search en­gine—which I hardly ever did more than twice a day—my sin­gle ti­tle was swamped by re­sults for hers, some of which lead to fans of her work, who flock to sites such as Goodreads, where her average rat­ing is a re­spectable 3.93. To put that in con­text: the Goodreads average for James Joyce’s Ulysses is 3.73.

The other Everett-green’s books are prob­a­bly all out of print, but dozens are avail­able via sites such as Guten­berg, or through print­ing on de­mand. Dozens is a small quan­tity when talk­ing about her out­put, which is es­ti­mated to range be­tween 300 and 350 nov­els over a fifty-year writ­ing ca­reer. Even at the lower fig­ure, that’s a new book ev­ery two months, for fifty years straight, and th­ese were not short books. My copy of Lenore An­nan­dale’s Story runs to 383 pages.

Eve­lyn Everett-green was born in 1856 and, like me, stud­ied music. She planned to ac­com­pany her brother, whose name, like mine, was Robert, to a colo­nial post in In­dia, but he died un­ex­pect­edly in 1876, and she re­mained in Eng­land. She lived with a fe­male friend for forty-nine years, em­i­grat­ing with her in 1911 to Madeira, where Eve­lyn died in 1932.

I like the idea that a staunch Methodist writ­ing ma­chine who pub­lished with the Re­li­gious Tract So­ci­ety may have been a les­bian: it hu­man­izes her. She lived un­der­cover in an­other way, pub­lish­ing many books un­der pseu­do­nyms. Her favourite was Ce­cil Adair, whose sto­ries were pitched more to an adult read­er­ship. The Ce­cil Adair novel Gabriel’s Gar­den (1913) sold over 150,000 copies dur­ing Everett-green’s life­time, ac­cord­ing to The Cam­bridge Guide to Women’s Writ­ing in English.

Eve­lyn Everett-green set many of her books in fa­mous dis­tant pe­ri­ods, and

gave them ti­tles such as A Story of the Days of the Gun­pow­der Plot, A Tale of the Days of Good Queen Bess and (my favourite) A Story of the Young Pi­o­neers of Re­for­ma­tion at Ox­ford. She was par­tic­u­larly keen on the fall of New France, and wrote at least five nov­els about it, one of which be­gins: “Humphrey An­gell came swing­ing along through the silent aisles of the vast primeval for­est, his gun in the hol­low of his arm, a heavy bag of veni­son meat hang­ing from his shoul­ders. A strange, wild fig­ure, in the midst of a strange, wild scene: his clothes, orig­i­nally of some home­spun cloth, now patched so freely with dressed deer­skin as to leave lit­tle of the orig­i­nal ma­te­rial; moc­casins on his feet, a beaver cap upon his head, his leather belt stuck round with hunt­ing knives, and the pis­tol to be used at close quar­ters should any emer­gency arise.” There’s no ev­i­dence that Everett-green did any swing­ing of her own through the silent aisles of the primeval for­est.

She was quite suc­cess­ful in Canada, how­ever, and, like me, wrote for the pa­per now known as the Globe and Mail. In 1903, the Satur­day Globe se­ri­al­ized her novel, A Fight for a For­tune, which opens with the line: “What? Com­pan­ion to the beau­ti­ful Miss Baskerville? What a life she will lead you!” It was the third Everett-green novel pub­lished by the pa­per in as many years, but it had taken the Globe some time to come around to her mild brand of ro­mance. “Life does not con­sist in fol­low­ing to a suc­cess­ful is­sue any sin­gle emo­tion of our na­ture; and those who, ac­quir­ing too read­ily the phi­los­o­phy of the love story, have sought to make its ap­pli­ca­tion theirs, have found this out to their sor­row, and too of­ten to their de­struc­tion,” a Globe re­viewer warned, about an Everett-green novel in 1894. The num­ber of Globe read­ers de­stroyed by A Fight for a For­tune may never be known.

An Aus­tralian re­viewer in 1908 put the case for Everett-green’s fic­tion this way: “She can al­ways put be­fore us a happy ro­mance, full of sun­shine, and with a breezy buoy­ancy which is well cal­cu­lated to brush away the megrims from many a de­pressed soul.”

The megrim prob­lem seems to have found other so­lu­tions by 1927. “Fol­low­ing a rather old-timey, leisurely style of writ­ing, the story does not grip the in­ter­est of the reader,” a Globe re­viewer wrote, about one of ten Ce­cil Adair nov­els that reached the pa­per’s book edi­tor that year. “Whole­some read­ing, how­ever, is pro­vided for one who is not seek­ing ex­cite­ment.” No one at the Globe seems to have re­al­ized that Ce­cil Adair was the same old-timey writer who had pub­lished three books in the pa­per years ear­lier, as Eve­lyn Everett-green. The pa­per did note that Adair’s books had, “it is claimed, a com­bined cir­cu­la­tion of half a mil­lion copies.”

Lately, when­ever I glance at some­thing by or about ei­ther of th­ese writ­ers, I find an eerie pre­sen­ti­ment of my own novel. Adair’s Sil­ver Star-dust, ac­cord­ing to a Globe re­view, is about “two children who were un­con­scious star-gaz­ers as well as dream­ers, and who had their ap­petites whet­ted by an old as­tronomer un­cle.” That’s un­set­tlingly close to an in­ci­dent in my book, in which a twelveyear-old boy whee­dles an in­vi­ta­tion to lie on a blan­ket and look at the night sky with a girl he doesn’t dare ap­proach oth­er­wise, while her as­tronomer fa­ther sets up his cam­era to pho­to­graph a me­teor shower.

“Cooped up within frown­ing walls, Corinne felt some­times like a bird in a prison cage,” Everett-green writes in French and English: A Story of the Strug­gle in Amer­ica. I couldn’t ask for a more Vic­to­rian de­scrip­tion of the Corinne of my own novel, whose pre­ferred so­lu­tion to prob­lems is to flee her apart­ment and leave town, with her pre-teen son in tow.

If I keep look­ing, who knows what other cen­tury-old spoil­ers I might find? If Jorge Luis Borges were writ­ing this dis­patch, he would prob­a­bly tell you that all of In a Wide Coun­try can be found some­where in the works of Eve­lyn Everett-green and Ce­cil Adair. I imag­ine them tak­ing turns at a bea­t­en­down Un­der­wood, un­con­sciously com­pil­ing a frac­tured ver­sion of my book.

A 1932 obit­u­ary of Eve­lyn Everettgreen, en­ti­tled “A Fa­mous Woman Au­thor,” quotes one of her pub­lish­ers as say­ing: “She es­chewed all forms of what is termed ‘sex writ­ing,’ and al­ways had a re­li­gious el­e­ment in her books, and her hero­ines were of the Vic­to­rian type.” That sen­tence fills me with relief, be­cause my novel does not es­chew all forms of sex writ­ing. Thank God for that—and the young lady is rid­ing a horse while she does it.

Robert Everett-green writes for the Globe and Mail. He is the au­thor of Na­tional Mag­a­zine Award-win­ning short fic­tion, and his novel In a Wide Coun­try was pub­lished by Cor­morant Books in 2017. He grew up in Al­berta and lives in Mon­treal. Read more of his work at geist.com.

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