Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A brief history of Swamp Angel.

A Swamp Angel was a type of massive gun that was mounted in the swamps of South Carolina during the 1863 siege of Charleston. Subsequently, there was a series of small revolvers issued that were inscribed with the words "Swamp Angel". In 1954, Canadian author Ethel Wilson published a book about one of these small revolvers, called Swamp Angel. In 1962, that book became a part of a series called the New Canadian Library, along with such books as Barometer Rising, The Clockmaker, More Joy In Heaven, and A Candle To Light The Sun. In 1967, there was a reprinting of this short novel, and at least one copy of the novel appeared in the University of Manitoba Book Department. Originally priced at the suggested retail price of $1.50 (as printed on the cover), the Book Department quickly and bravely ignored the suggested price and reduced the cost drastically, to fifteen cents. I'm not making this up - the price tag stickers are still inside the back cover of my copy.

At a cost of fifteen cents, this book was picked up by either my mother or my father (I am guessing my father), who took it home and may possibly have read it. Or maybe not. It quickly disappeared into a box in my childhood home, languishing there forgotten among such other Canadiana as Trudeau's Federalism and the French Canadians. I managed to snag that gigantic box of books recently, and I picked up the Trudeau book. Which is really a series of essays about French Canada, Federalism, the economy, and the desire to separate. Which is fascinating but dry. So I have been getting through that one one essay at a time, which leads me to read one book between each Trudeau chapter. Yesterday, that book was Ethel Wilson's Swamp Angel. And it's good - it's about a woman named Maggie who leaves her husband in Vancouver and runs off through New Westminster (my grandmother's old stomping grounds) and ends up running a fly-fishing camp in the woods. And in the meantime, her old friend Nell, a morbidly obese woman who hasn't been outside in years and lives through old glories (she used to be a professional juggler, and keeps the juggling gun - the Swamp Angel - around for the memories).

A solid Canadian book, and one that for me broke up the monotony of Federalism And The French Canadians. It may have taken forty-one years, but that fifteen cents spent in 1967 finally paid off. I have managed to acquire many of these New Canadian Library books, which I will read while I slowly make my way through Trudeau. However, I think that by now, this series could better be called Really Old Canadian Library. Anyone read The Clockmaker? A Candle to Light the Sun? Music At The Close? I don't know where to go next. None of the other books have price tags still attached. And one of them, (I won't say which one) appears to have been stolen (or, at least, never returned) from the University of Manitoba library!


  1. Eric, looks like you stumbled on Pinch-your-nose CanLit. What you need to do is to dive into the new classics. Picking through Dad's handmedown books is one thing but I bed Dad also made you eat Brussle Sprouts. Why not check out the 2nd Canadian Book Challenge for a list of newish Canadian authors in all sorts of genres (inlcuding pinch-your-nose CanLit) and start stuffing your own box?

    Kathleen Molloy, author - Dining with Death

  2. Any I can purchase for 15 cents? I will check those out - you know, come to think of it, I have been looking over the books I've read this past year - only six of them were written in the past 20 years. And I've read about fifty from before 1900. I'm kinda an old man. And what exactly is Pnich-your-nose CanLit? The stuff that was forced on us in high school?