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Hugh Garner’s Best Stories: A Critical Edition. Hugh Garner. Emily Robins Sharpe, ed. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2015. Pp. xxxiii + 281. $34.95 (paper).

Emily Robins Sharpe’s critical edition of Hugh Garner’s Best Stories recovers the 1963 short-story collection of Hugh Garner, a Canadian modernist, non-partisan leftist, and working-class writer. Sharpe implicitly argues for the interrelated dynamics of historical persona and body of literary work as they materialize in Garner’s public persona and oeuvre. Garner emerges as a savvy navigator of the print industry, a self-fashioned pragmatic “writer-for-hire” (xix), and a champion for marginalized subjects. The collected stories have appeared in over 260 print venues in addition to adaptations for stage, screen, and radio. Composed between the 1930s and the early 1960s, the stories are compact in style and complex in their portrayal of “the immense flux of the midcentury, including the Great Depression, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Civil Rights movement, and second-wave feminism” (xi).

In recent years, Canadian modernist literature has been the subject of wide-ranging recovery projects like Editing Modernism in Canada and the Canadian Writing and Research Collaboratory, many of which have been facilitated by digital platforms. Part of the Canada and the Spanish Civil War sub-series of the University of Ottawa Press’s Canadian Literature Collection, Best Stories is the second literary work brought out in print as part of spanishcivilwar.ca, a more holistic digital archival recovery platform. In addition to the context of Canadian modernist recovery projects, Sharpe’s collection engages in the global recovery of leftist literature. Cary Nelson has elucidated the history of American revolutionary left politics and literature, and Valentine Cunningham has collected British leftist poetry on the Spanish Civil War. Sharpe’s collection joins scholarship by Candida Rifkind on Canadian leftist modernism and Michael Petrou on Canadian volunteer combatants in the Spanish Civil War. Her specific intervention demonstrates the integration of these contexts: international conflicts like the Spanish Civil War and domestic working-class leftist politics shape Garner’s modernist-realist perspective of Canadian life.

Sharpe’s introduction concentrates on Garner’s representation of working-class conditions in the early- to mid-twentieth century and features the history of Canadian and international participation in the Spanish Civil War as a subset of working-class history. The introduction also attends carefully to the stories’ broad publication across mainstream, middlebrow, “slick,” and literary venues and accounts for the varied contemporaneous critical reception of the collection’s 1963 publication. Among Sharpe’s most skillful critical moves is a series of readings that contravene [End Page 268] Garner’s self-construction. By evaluating Garner’s self-fashioning as one of the many texts that constitute Garner’s cultural impact, Sharpe allows the persona and the oeuvre to mutually inform one another. One example is Sharpe’s treatment of the “sophisticated ways in which [Garner’s] stories evaluate the same classed technologies upon which he relied and frequently benefited” (xix). Garner’s “multimedia publication” in periodicals, short-story collections, and adaptations for stage, screen, and radio was, in part, a pragmatic adjustment to the changing demands of his profession. His writing also reflects that “technology accentuates class differences at the same time that it offers new routes of social access” (xix). By drawing upon Garner’s multimedia publication strategy, adeptly reading across and through his self-mythologization, and analyzing the working-class thematics of his writing, Sharpe recovers in Garner an intertwined body of literary work, historical personality, and navigation strategy for publication.

Sharpe’s introduction and critical apparatus illustrate the centrality of the Spanish Civil War in Garner’s oeuvre. Himself a volunteer in the Abraham Lincoln battalion of the International Brigades, Garner has cited the Spanish Civil War as the most influential event of his life. Sharpe indicates that the war in Spain is a recurring theme across Garner’s short stories, novels, non-fiction, and autobiography, that he participated in documentary and oral-history projects on the war, and that the content of the stories finds parallels in Garner’s biography and nonfiction; Sharpe suggests that this repetition across fictional and nonfictional forms imbues the writing with a realism based on the intertextuality within Garner’s written works, particularly in the case of the Spanish Civil War stories. The explanatory notes for the three stories on the Spanish Civil War are some of the most extensive in the collection, speaking to the richness of the stories’ historical context and to the linguistic, cultural, and international experience of the combatants they portray.

The critical apparatus of this edition consists of an introductory essay, a bibliography, the 1963 text of Hugh Garner’s Best Stories, and editorial notes supplying explanations for cultural context and outdated vocabulary. Additionally, the editorial intervention is explicit in the textual notes and variants. The list of variants accounts for variations amongst the earliest printing of each story, any stories included in Garner’s previous collection The Yellow Sweater and Other Stories (1952), the 1963 copy text, and two 1975 Simon and Schuster editions. Although this edition limits its account of textual variants, the list remains extensive; the profound editorial changes that become evident in stories like “The Father,” “Red Racer,” and “A Manly Heart” speak to the texts’ rich and varied print history.

This edition’s bibliography is comprehensive. Despite the relative dearth of critical material on Garner, Sharpe’s discussion balances between original publications of his writings and biographical and critical works about him. She also addresses the scholarship available on the collection’s immediate Canadian literary and historical context, including some recent, foundational works on middlebrow culture, Canadian modernist realism, leftist and working-class history, and the country’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Sharpe does not include scholarship on the stories’ American, British, or Irish contexts; however, these unspoken, parallel recovery projects support Sharpe’s own, and the critical materials she explicitly mentions in her bibliography have drawn upon recovered American contexts. The bibliography, then, supplies the Canadian context to match the recovery of international contexts.

Sharpe’s edition provides a tidy, if implicit, parallel to Garner’s collection. Sharpe’s edition fits into broader digital and print publications, draws together multiple critical contexts, and features a writer whose work appeared primarily in Canadian venues. Thanks to Sharpe’s editorial treatment, Garner’s “multimedia production” across print, film, and radio spans outwards from the print instance of the stories; the multiplicity of international, Canadian, classed, gendered, and radicalized contexts emerge as networked connections across Garner’s short fiction. The connections of Canadian literary production and archival recovery to their international contexts come to light. [End Page 269]

Emily Christina Murphy
Queen’s University, Canada