Since the response to this blog-thing has been overwhelmingly heartwarming (I particularly thank the gentleman from Atlanta for his kind and thoughtful comments), I feel obliged to digress from my stated intentions to continue the narrative –such as it was- into Quebec, and instead offer the reader an update on the book upon which I am now working, an excerpt from which will shortly appear in EXILE magazine. It is titled Queen Victoria’s Secret, and is a fictionalized, though largely factual, account of the life of Victoria’s father, Prince Edward, later Duke of Kent, who died when she was only six month’s old. She thus obviously never knew him, and the novel is constructed almost as a letter to her from the father she would never have, confessing certain reprehensible aspects of his life, and setting straight many misconceptions. He wanted her to know him as he really had been. For Edward was maliciously, and highly successfully, maligned by his elder brothers, partly for his widespread popularity and socialist leanings, partly because he had produced an heir to the throne, and they had not. So maligned was his reputation that Victoria, who had never been told a good word about him ever, forbade any mention of him whatsoever in her presence (one may recall that in the film Young Victoria, the sole mention of Edward is a highly disparaging, and a historical comment made by that column of virtue, the Duke of Wellington). Indeed, the only formal biography of Edward presents such a loathsome image that one wonders why the writer bothered with the project at all. Yet all the historical evidence points to the opposite: he was a sober, decent man, much concerned with the welfare and education of the poor, and much loved by all who encountered him, many of whom were in Canada, where he spent a number of years, first at Quebec, then later at Halifax. As some wag recently remarked, “No man is an island, unless you happen to be Prince Edward”. We also have a Prince Edward County. The man was clearly not disliked.Yet few can tell you that the prince in question was also Queen Victoria’s father. But the book is more than a quixotic effort to restore the reputation of a man more sinned against than sinning. It is the portrait of an age in momentous transition, extending from the French Revolution, through the Napoleonic Wars, and up to what is recognizably the dawn of our modern era. Edward experienced aspects of all these events first-hand, and was certainly the first member of the royal family – if not of the general aristocracy – to recognize that the new future lay in the hands of entrepreneurs, inventors, industrialists, and so on. He also realized the need for mass-education as a means of creating a more egalitarian society without violent revolution to precede it. He wrote many letters (too many, in fact – an average of three per day), so we do know much about his activities. Since all letters of these periods were assumed to be perused by many more than just those for whom they were intended – ditto with most diaries – we rarely glimpse the writers’ innermost thoughts, emotions, real opinions, etc. But if action is character, Edward’s actions speak volumes in his favour. He begins life with a father, George III, who inexplicably hates him, ending with one who is blind, deaf, mad, and still hates him. Love was what he craved, and love was what he found. Tragic love, war, villainy and stupendous decadence in high places – what’s not to like? Hence the book, which, thanks to Barry Callaghan and Exile, may soon see a glimmer of daylight.
A word about Barry: I have known him for, God, 30 years. Indeed, he published excerpts from my first novel (butchered by a major publisher in the end – in fact I might put the proper version on here one day). Not always the easiest person to get along with – unlike me – Callaghan has done more for Canadian literature than anyone of whom I am aware. I am too English, of course, to dream of saying what follows to his face: but he is a great poet, translator and novelist; he is also a very fine painter (one of whose works I would gladly accept in exchange for the rights to all of my extant books); he plays and sings a mean blues and jazz piano; and he has hosted the only real literary salon in Canada for, well, ever since I was here, at least. All this while keeping Exile Publishing alive while financial carnage destroyed virtually all truly Canadian publishers. Oh, and also, he’s among the three or four best guests on TV or radio I’ve ever heard. In fact, Rex Murphy recently said that himself. Being blind, I do listen to an awful lot of radio, and in five years of rarely missing Cross-Country Check-Up, I have never heard Rex say that about any other guest. So there it is, Barry, I have put down my feelings in writing, assuming, of course, that you do not read Blogs (man, I hate this term, which makes me think of Black men who have somehow become loggers, as in ‘lift a bale of wood’, or otherwise blocked toilets –—– in England a crapper is also known as the ‘bog’). I say to Ottawa, give the man an award; few deserve one more.
No doubt I will return to my main theme (which was what?) next entry.
But, as always sincerely, love from Paul William Roberts.