Return of The Golden Dog

  • William Kirby (Author) and Mary Jane Edwards (Author)
    Le Chien d’or/The Golden Dog: A Legend of Quebec. McGill-Queen's University Press
Reviewed by Cynthia Sugars

It is regrettable to see the acclaimed Centre for Editing Early Canadian Texts (CEECT) series come to an end. Established in the early 1980s at Carleton University under the directorship of Mary Jane Edwards, the CEECT series has produced a set of reliable and widely cited Canadian editions— including such texts as Wacousta, The Clockmaker, and Roughing It in the Bush. The publication of The Golden Dog, edited by Edwards, marks the twelfth and final edition in the series. For the first time, The Golden Dog appears in its full, unabridged, and authoritative form, thereby avenging the long history of publishers’ fraud that plagued the book from its beginnings. Le chien qui ronge l’os has finally taken its promised revenge!

Published in 1877, The Golden Dog is one of the most well-known novels of nineteenth-century Canada. Set in 1748 in the decade leading up to the Conquest, the book is a historical romance that places the blame for the fall of Quebec on the decadence of the French ancien régime. Writing in the years immediately following Confederation, William Kirby sought to produce a novel that not only relayed the unique character and antiquity of New France (replete with local folk traditions), but also, as Dennis Duffy has observed, one which explicitly “enfold[ed] Quebec’s history within that of anglophone Canada.”

The introduction, at 145 pages, offers a thorough discussion of the novel’s publication history. The story behind The Golden Dog is a tortuous one. Kirby, for almost ten years, attempted to find a publisher for his manuscript, with British publishers asserting that a story of Canada’s “past history . . . would fail to secure the favour of many English readers.” And yet, the novel would eventually meet with enormous success—championed by both Queen Victoria and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The novel was first published in 1877 by Lovell, Adam, and Wesson in New York. Its post-publication history, however, was what Kirby’s friend William Withrow termed “an Iliad of disasters.” When the company filed for bankruptcy in 1878, Kirby learned that the publishers had not secured Canadian copyright for the novel and, indeed, had sold the plates to an American. As a result, Kirby had lost the rights to any subsequent editions. As he bitterly stated in a letter to L. C. Page in 1897, “I have been shamefully cheated out of my right in the Golden Dog and any body is at liberty to make a prize of it. . . . If a thief had run off with my horse or purse I could retake it whenever found but the product of my pen made with immense work & cost I cannot recover.” Over the years, Kirby became increasingly frustrated because he had no control over the countless editions that were appearing. When L. C. Page of Boston offered to create a new set of plates on the condition that Kirby identify their edition as the “only” authorized one, Kirby agreed. Upon publication, however, Kirby learned with chagrin that Page had substantially abridged the book without his knowledge, including having removed an entire chapter. The “authorized” edition was a dud. Edwards provides a compelling and full history of these and other controversies in order to stress the importance of the CEECT edition. Critics, she asserts, have for years been “interpreting a flawed text.” The publication of a reliable edition of The Golden Dog is a welcome and long-overdue event.

This review “Return of The Golden Dog” originally appeared in Gendering the Archive. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 217 (Summer 2013): 163-64.

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