A Protest

A Protest

4004 Sixth St. W., Calgary, Feb 5th, 1924
Editor, Canadian Bookman:
I beg to ask for space in the Canadian Bookman for this letter.
A certain author had her first book published during the last Fall season. Reviews in fulsome praise of this work began immediately to appear in several of the newspapers and publications. A creditable work for a first book, it was nevertheless, in my opinion, praised out of all proportion to its merits. Considerable wonder was expressed by many authors as to why this novel was being singled out for special notice. I stumbled upon the answer.
The author, revealing a singular insensibility, which might be excused on the ground of inexperience as a writer, told me that she had engaged a certain “critic” and was paying him 15 per cent of her author’s royalties. He revised her book, sold it to the publishers–and-and this is what seems to me the inexcusable part–proceeded to write numerous reviews of it. One of these reviews was given a spread in the International Book Review of the Literary Digest; several appeared boldly over his own name; several were printed anonymously. It was in the nature of things that other reviewers reprinted his very well written reviews and again others followed in his steps and expanded laudatory columns upon the work. This “critic-agent” also praised the book in public addresses and boosted it in bookstores.
I hold that this is not legitimate criticism, I declare it to be unfair to other writers. It is just as if the author herself were writing her own reviews. I have had over twenty novels published, and I never paid for a single review. My work has been condemned or praised, according to the opinion or mood of the reviewer, but never had I in any way inspired the reviewer. I would not thank a critic to praise a work by me because I was a personal friend. The value of criticism lies in it being wholly uninfluenced and unbiased. There is justification for publicity work put out by the publishers; but there is no excuse for an author especially hiring an “agent-critic” to write her reviews.
If a new author can “put it across” in this way, what chance have older writers, who have spent a life time endeavoring to make a place for themselves in the literary world? The competition is not fair. The race is won before it is run.
I told the author of the book in question that I did not consider this sort of thing was honest. She justified it on the ground that her agent actually believed in the book, and that, in fact, it was because of his enthusiasm and admiration, he had taken it up and pushed it. She also claimed that several books had been launched in the same manner. If that is true, Canadian literature is in a sad state, I must say.
(Onoto Watanna) WINNIFRED REEVE.

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People Mentioned

Shaun Hunter

Shaun Hunter is the author of Calgary through the Eyes of Writers (Rocky Mountain Books, 2018) and consultant for an exhibition of the same name, featuring Winnifred Eaton, at the Lougheed House in Calgary. She is a collaborator on The Winnifred Eaton Archive

Winnifred Eaton

  • Born: August 21, 1875
  • Died: April 08, 1954
See the Biographical Timeline for biographical information on Winnifred Eaton.

Pseudonyms used in this text

Mary Chapman

Mary Chapman is the Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive, a Professor of English, and Academic Director of the Public Humanities Hub at University of British Columbia. She is the author of the award-winning monograph Making Noise, Making News: Suffrage Print Culture and US Modernism (Oxford UP) and of numerous articles about American literature and women writers. She has also edited Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism and Travel Writing by Edith Maude Eaton (McGill-Queen’s UP) and published essays on the Eaton sisters in American Quarterly, MELUS, Legacy, Canadian Literature, and American Periodicals. Her current research project is a microhistory of the Eaton family. For more information, see http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/mchapman/.

Joey Takeda

Joey Takeda is the Technical Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive and a Developer at Simon Fraser University’s Digital Humanities Innovation Lab (DHIL). He is a graduate of the M.A. program in English at the University of British Columbia where he specialized in Indigenous and diasporic literature, science and technology studies, and the digital humanities.

Organizations Mentioned

Canadian Bookman

Initially a quarterly journal when founded in 1919, later a monthly journal from 1922 until it ceased publication in 1939. Published by St. Anne de Bellevue, P.Q: Industrial and Educational Press Limited. Merged with Canadian Author in 1940 to form Canadian Author and Bookman.
Written by Samantha Bowen