- “Collecting Stamps Would Have Been More Fun”: Canadian Publishing and the Correspondence of Sinclair Ross, 1933–1986
Although there is a Sinclair Ross fonds at the Canadian Library and Archives, it contains very little of his correspondence. In producing this collection of letters, Jordan Stouck provides scholars with access to an excellent range of letters that would otherwise remain scattered over a dozen archives, both public [End Page 222] and private. In bringing these letters together, the editor attempts to do two things. As she explains in the introduction, “Ultimately, these letters to, from, and about Sinclair Ross reveal important shifts within Canadian publishing history and expose the crucial roles that community and audience can play in the reception of fiction,” while, simultaneously, “the collection of letters allows Sinclair Ross to speak for himself. . . . These interactions convey Ross’s remarkable humour and humility, aspects of his personality which public shyness often concealed” (xxv–xxvi). This well-researched book will be of interest to scholars of Canadian literary publishing history and to students and fans of Ross himself.
The letters, beginning at the start of Ross’s writing career, in his mid-twenties, and ending with his death at the age of eighty-eight, are presented chronologically and are “loosely categorized according to the five major periods of Ross’s writing life: the early short stories and As for Me and My House, the mid-career short stories and The Well, The Whir of Gold, Sawbones Memorial, and his final period of reflection and correspondence as a literary mentor and forefather” (xi).
The first section—“American Dream”—is the most relevant to readers of this journal, as it focuses partially on Ross’s struggle to find periodicals willing to publish his short stories. Even though Queen’s Quarterly published Ross’s work with some regularity between 1935–1940, a number of his correspondents encouraged him to submit his stories to American periodicals. One of his correspondents, for example, writes: “I would suggest that you try magazines like the Atlantic Monthly who, if they accepted a story, would pay a good price” (6). These suggestions often noted that American periodicals paid better than Canadian ones, but there is also the implied notion that Ross would not be considered a serious writer until he was published in an American periodical: “Why not submit your material to the publishers of magazines such as the Atlantic Monthly. . . . You have exceptional gifts as a writer and it seems a shame not to capitalize on them” (9). Whatever the reason, Ross did try to get his short stories published in the States without success, which he blamed on the subject matter of his stories: “I have a New York agent—but he is always chasing me for ‘slick’ magazine material, and I just can’t turn it out. I get horribly depressed at times—being ‘doomed’ to write what no one wants to read” (34).
The strength of this book, however, comes from reading the letters as a whole. Despite Ross’s opinion to the contrary—“I was too isolated to be representative” (225)—this book does offer some interesting insights into the Canadian publishing scene of the 1950s, such as the lack of funding and support for authors, even after their literary importance had been assured. A good example is the collection of letters, sent between 1955–1958, during the time that Ross was trying to get his second novel, The Well, published. In 1955, Ross sent John Gray, editor-in-chief at Macmillan, a copy of his novel, asking him if Macmillan [End Page 223] would be interested in releasing a Canadian edition of the novel if an American publisher decided to publish it. Ross subsequently found an American agent who was encouraging and wanted to represent Ross and his novel. The novel was also being seriously considered for the Maclean’s novel award. After making the extreme revisions and condensation...