Slavery in Canada

While in Quebec City, we visited a museum — the Musee des Beaux Arts — that features Inuit works from across Canada (stunning) and well-known Quebec artists such as Jean-Paul Riopelle, Alfred Pellan and others.

One exhibit – Devenir or Becoming – grabbed my attention. Not only did it include a collection of paintings – primarily portraits – from the 18th and 19th centuries, but it also included a series of drawings of runaway slaves alongside advertisements seeking their whereabouts that had been posted in Quebec newspapers.

In my naivety, I thought slaves running away from the US sought refuge in Canada.

While this is true, it seems that slavery was practiced by our indigenous people (usually as a result of wars with other tribes) and also by some who came from France and Britain to colonize Canada and acquired slaves in part to deal with the shortage of labour in the new land. Another source of slaves occurred when America declared its independence from Britain and many of those loyal to the crown moved to Canada and brought slaves with them.

The drawing above is one artist’s depiction of Bell, a slave who had runaway and whose owner advertised for her return in the Quebec Gazette in August 1778 (shown below).

 

Definitely a tragedy and a shameful period in Canada’s history. My writer brain is already imagining a story.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

A WRITER’S JOURNEY INTO AN ARTIST’S WORLD

Arthur Hittner and his wife are longtime collectors of American art of the Depression era. To share his passion for the topic he’s written an intriguing novel ARTIST, SOLDIER, LOVER, MUSE set in the New York City art world of the late Thirties.

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A large wooden crate arrived on my doorstep on a winter morning in early 2006.  Inside was the painting Eventide, a 1936 work by the artist Harold J. Rabinovitz (1915-44), a poignant depiction of a crouching young mother in a rose-colored dress clutching her naked infant, the child looking out the open doorway at the approaching figure of his father, a lunch pail in his hand, an expression of exhaustion on his face.  As a collector of American paintings executed during the Great Depression, this 1936 work was irresistible, though I’d never before heard of the artist.  That so talented a painter could have gone unnoticed for much of the seven decades since Eventide’screation mystified me—and motivated me.

Years later, I self-published a brief biography and catalogue raisonne, At the Threshold of Brilliance: The Brief But Splendid Career of Harold J. Rabinovitz (The Rabinovitz Project, 2014; rev. ed., 2017).  I’d traced the living descendants of the artist, determining that the bulk of his output resided in the attics and basements of his nephews and nieces, and in the vaults of an art museum in Springfield, Massachusetts. I viewed and photographed the collections of the descendants and the paintings in the museum. Many were brilliant works, very much the product of the times in which he painted: a blind beggar in a subway car, his hand turned upward in supplication; a jobless man on a curb, his face etched with dejection and hopelessness; an old woman, clad in rags, selling pretzels outside a subway station. Along with the paintings, I’d gained access to an old scrapbook that had been lovingly maintained by the artist’s parents. Inside were yellowed newspaper clippings from the Thirties and early Forties, chronicling the young artist’s triumphs and later, his tragic demise.

Not surprisingly, no market exists for a biography of a long-forgotten artist, however talented. Except for the Frick Art Reference Library and the Yale University Library (where Rabinovitz obtained his degree), I could count the proud possessors of the fruits of my labor on two hands.

But no matter.  I wrote that book out of a compulsion to discover the story behind my painting. Yet I learned much more: I’d become immersed in another time and place—the New York City art world of the late Thirties, a metropolis teeming with struggling artists, many surviving on meager paychecks from government-sponsored artist support programs. At some point I had an epiphany. I realized that I could share this world with a wider swath of readers by turning to historical fiction.

Inspired by the life I’d just documented, I created my own young artist, Henry J. Kapler, placing him in the heart of the world I’d uncovered in my research. Buoyed by further research and honed by an endless succession of drafts, Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse (Apple Ridge Fine Arts Press, December, 2017) was ready for publication.

Henry J. Kapler is not Harold Rabinovitz, although their lives share a number of salient facts, a common timeline, and even some of the same artworks. Henry is a figment of my imagination, as are his thoughts, desires, motivations, quirks, and foibles. Beyond this, I sought to portray the world in which Henry resides, the New York art world of the late Depression, including the artists, athletes, politicians, events, and institutions that contributed to the rich history of the period, with as much historical accuracy as possible.

In tackling historical fiction, one often uncovers little known characters and facts that prove the adage of Mark Twain that truth is stranger than fiction. In seeking a villain, an author could have done no better than New York Yankee outfielder Jake Powell, whose on-field belligerence was the perfect resume for his violent encounters with Alice and Fiona, the two women in Henry’s life, and whose ill-fated radio interview in 1939 and the events that followed are little-known footnotes in the shameful history of segregation in professional sport.   Similarly, the saga of “Bunny” Taliaferro, the gifted African-American athlete from Henry’s hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts and target of a 1934 racial incident in Gastonia, North Carolina, seemed a natural inspiration for Henry’s imaginary masterpiece, Gastonia Renaissance.

Scores of artworks make at least a cameo appearance in Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse. Paintings by artists other than Henry Kapler are works that might have been seen by a young artist in New York City at the time. Some are monumental murals that still adorn important buildings in New York. The paintings attributed to Henry are about evenly divided between purely fictional creations and works painted by Harold Rabinovitz, although the inspiration behind all of Henry’s paintings, as well as the details of their creation, derive solely from my own imagination.

As many writers of historic fiction will attest, it is a delight to experience the will of the characters we create. They gradually assume their own personalities, dictating their actions in ways that are often serendipitous. Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse became their story, and the journey on which they took me was gratifying, mystifying, illuminating and, at times, heartbreaking. I invite you to share the journey.

What an intriguing story, Arthur. You’ve given us a great insight into the spark that lights historical fiction.

Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse by Arthur Hittner – Freshly graduated from Yale, Henry J. Kapler parlays his talent, determination, and creative energy into a burgeoning art career under the wing of painters such as Edward Hopper and Reginald Marsh. The young artist first gains notoriety when his painting of a symbolic handshake between a young, African-American baseball player and his Southern white rival is attacked by a knife-wielding assailant while on display at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. Yet even as his art star rises, Henry’s personal life turns precarious—and perilous—when his love for Fiona, a young WPA muralist, collides with his growing attraction to the exquisitely beautiful Alice, an ex-chorus girl who becomes his model and muse.  Alice is the girlfriend of Fiona’s cousin, Jake Powell, the hotheaded, hard-drinking outfielder for the New York Yankees baseball club whose jealousy explodes into abuse and rage, endangering the lives of all three.  While Henry wrestles with his hopelessly complicated love life, he also struggles mightily to reconcile his pacifism with the rabid patriotism of his Jewish-Russian émigré father.  As war draws near, Henry faces two difficult choices, one of which could cost him his life.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Robert Allen – 1549 by D.K. Wilson

the_devils_chalice-coverI’m delighted to welcome Derek (D.K.) Wilson to the blog. Armed with a degree in History and Theology, Derek has been writing historical fiction and non-fiction since the mid 1970s and is the author of 70+ books. His latest novel – The Devil’s Chalice – is set in Tudor times. Today, Derek explains the inspiration for this new story.

Robert Allen – 1549 by Derek Wilson (D.K. Wilson)

In 1549 a man by the name of Robert Allen was languishing in one of the cells in the Tower of London, under suspicion of being a magician. At this time the law governing witchcraft was in a state of confusion. A parliamentary Act of 1542 had stipulated the death penalty for those convicted of ‘calking’ – i.e. summoning up spirits for the purpose of, among other things, discovering buried treasure, recovering stolen property or ‘provoking any person to unlawful love’. This was the first attempt to bring under civil law what had previously been the preserve of the ecclesiastical courts. It was one of the lesser known aspects of the extension of state control over the church that we call the Reformation. However, this Henrician statute was one of several repealed at the start of Edward VI’s reign in 1547 – only to be reinstated by Elizabeth I’s parliament in 1562. Legislators agreed that magic should be suppressed but could not agree on how to deal with it.

When I interested myself in the obscure figure of Robert Allen and worked him into the plot of The Devil’s Chalice it was to provide the reader with a way into the common psychology of the mid-Tudor age. For Allen was, by no means, an unusual feature of England in the reign of Edward VI. Another suspected ‘wise man’ or ‘wize-ard’ or ‘wizard’ told his accusers that there were at least five hundred practitioners of magic in the kingdom. But that is only part of the story. In this pre-scientific age the common understanding of the solar system was that the earth stood at the centre of concentric circles of astral bodies beyond which lay heaven and that divine and spiritual forces reached right down through the system to man and to the animal and vegetable creation. That being so, those who claimed special knowledge or power ranged from the village wise woman, who collected herbs and made simple medicines, to the scholarly magus who studied ancient religions and philosophies and used his knowledge to gain access to the higher powers. Allen, himself, claimed that ‘he knew more in the science of astronomy (what we would call astrology) than all the universities of Oxford and Cambridge’. This was the age which saw the origin of the Faust legend about the scholar who abandoned all other areas of study in favour of necromancy and sold his soul to the devil in order to enjoy limitless power. It was the age in which casting horoscopes was part of a doctor’s stock-in-trade, for, in order to be effective any prescribed potions had to be taken at the time of the lunar cycle when the relevant zodiacal planets were most ‘favourably’ aligned. Kings and statesmen consulted astrologers about the most propitious times to engage in war, sign treaties or make other important political decisions. Queen Elizabeth’s astrologer was the famous (or notorious) Doctor John Dee, whose neighbours were so frightened and suspicious of him that when he left home to travel abroad they trashed his laboratory. In addition to all these practitioners, there were the fairies and sprites of common folklore such as we encounter in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest. These, to us strange, but very real and potent beliefs mingled with conventional Catholic and Protestant theology to make up the kaleidoscope of common convictions during the reign of the boy king, Edward VI.

Someone else also locked up in the Tower at that time was a gentleman by the name of William West. He was being held on suspicion of trying to murder his uncle Lord de la Warr in order to get his hands on his inheritance. These two detainees set my mind working. Suppose they were connected? Might Allen have supplied the poison West administered to his uncle?

Having formulated the germ of an idea I then looked at the background against which I might set my main characters. It was rich with possibilities, for in that summer of 1549 England was in turmoil. Bands of malcontents, angry at the behaviour of rapacious landlords, who were enclosing common fields and dispossessing tenants from their traditional holdings, were rampaging around the shires, pulling down fences and uprooting hedges. The most worrying activity of all was a Norfolk rebellion led by Thomas Kett, which seized control of Norwich, held it for fifty days and provoked panic in London where it was feared that a full-scale peasants’ revolt was brewing and that the malcontents would march on the capital.

Meanwhile, a power struggle was developing at the centre. Henry VIII had died in January 1547, leaving the guidance of his nine-year-old son in the hands of a group of councillors. Edward’s uncle, the Duke of Somerset, grabbed personal power and sidelined his colleagues. Resentments, rivalries and factions soon appeared as councillors jostled for power and sought to bring Somerset under control.

At last, I had the several strands necessary to weave a complex plot involving all levels of English society. The Devil’s Chalice is the result. It is a story, a fiction, but I believe it touches the realities of this very troubled few months. I hope readers’ reaction will be ‘We know this story is made up and didn’t actually happen – but it could have.’ As both a historian and a novelist I firmly believe that there is a place for well-researched fiction which engages the reader’s imagination and helps to create a ‘feel’ for past ages which straight history, strictly confined (quite rightly) by documentary evidence, cannot convey.

Of course, it is down to the reader to decide whether the historical novelist succeeds in his/her endeavour. I hope you will want to try The Devil’s Chalice for yourself. If you do, I shall always be pleased to hear your reactions.

Many thanks, Derek. I’m fascinated to learn of your writing process – the story behind the story – and I’m sure readers will be too. Best wishes for The Devil’s Chalice.

The Devil’s Chalice: The third book in the acclaimed series of Thomas Treviot Tudor crime thrillers – Based on REAL TUDOR CRIME RECORDS.

The Real Crime: In the steaming summer of 1549 two men languish in the Tower of London. William West is accused of attempted murder. Robert Allen is under investigation for dabbling in the Black Arts. Meanwhile, England is in the grip of rebellions against the boy king, Edward VI. The connections between these facts remains a mystery.

The Story: London goldsmith, Thomas Treviot, is sent by his patron, Archbishop Cranmer, to discover discreetly what connections West has with leading figures at court. But Thomas has problems of his own: his teenage son has gone off to Norwich to join rebels led by Robert Kett. Trying to find his son and please Cranmer, he is plunged into dangers from peasant mobs, London gangsters and political chicanery, not to mention an enemy wielding occult power…

Links: Amazon UK, Amazon US

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.