Saturday, January 31, 2015

January Cultural Roundup

Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King & 
David Oyelowo as MLK  
The Interview (U.S., 2014)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (U.S., 2014)
Selma (U.S., 2014)
Tiny Furniture (U.S., 2010)
Cake (U.S., 2014)

Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh
Based on a True Story by Elizabeth Renzetti
Julia Child by Laura Shapiro

Best Canadian Poetry Series, Wind-Up Bird Cafe, January 20


Burn with Desire: Photography and Glamour Ryerson Image Centre, January 31
Anti-Glamour: Portraits of WomenRyerson Image Centre, January 31

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Massey Murder

The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Country by Charlotte Gray (HarperCollins, 2013) 308 pages

Few murders galvanized Torontonians in the last century like the murder of Charles Albert Massey, grandson of the industrialist and philanthropist Hart Massey, by his eighteen year old maid Carrie Davies. Here indeed was a clear and disturbing demarcation of the only two perceived classes that existed in Canada at the time: "the Masseys and the masses" quipped B.K. SandwellSaturday Night editor.

Charlotte Gray, a respected historian of Canadian figures, attempts to link the historical climate - specifically the turmoil of World War I in 1915 - and the murder of C.A. Massey. I'm not sure if she succeeds here even though the historical data collected about wartime Toronto is fascinating. 

Carrie Davies

Carrie shot her employer on the steps of his Walmer Rd. home with his own gun because Massey had, in her words "ruined her" (more on that anon). She had been instructed on its use by the man's own unsuspecting son. Carrie was an unsophisticated British immigrant from an impoverished family residing in a gritty English railway town. She financially supported her widowed mother and three younger siblings with wages sent back to England. She had been forced into domestic service at thirteen due to the family's financial circumstances and her mother's poor health and had moved to Toronto to join her married sister to search for work.

Charles Albert Massey (known more commonly as "Bert") was the son of Charles Albert Massey Sr., the once favourite son of Hart Massey. With the untimely demise of Charles Albert Sr. at an early age and Hart Massey's unsuccessful attempts to have Bert and his younger sister Bessie live with their grandparents in their Jarvis St. mansion, Hart Massey turned against his daughter-in-law Jessie Massey, wife of Charles Albert Sr., and her children once she re-married.

Euclid Hall, the one time home of Hart Massey, 
Charles Albert Massey's grandfather

The wealthier Masseys, such as Hart Massey and his unmarried daughter Lillian Massey, lived at Euclid Hall on Jarvis Street (shown above). I have been fascinated with this house and its former residents for some time and have written about it here

Charles Albert's own more successful older brother Arthur Massey lived at the more upscale 165 Admiral Rd. in the Annex but Charles Albert, a modestly successful automobile salesman for York Motors, lived at 169 Walmer Rd. (shown below).

169 Walmer Rd, the scene of the murder

Gray paints a vivid and lurid picture of early 20th c. Toronto - a city exploding with newly arrived immigrants and customs largely distrusted by the Anglo majority (85% of whom claimed British ancestry) and particularly concentrated in "The Ward" (also knonw as St John's Ward) - a neighbourhood bordered by College, Yonge, Queen and University streets and described as "notorious" with overcrowded rooming houses, rife with diseases such as tuberculosis and typhoid as well as crime ...

The depictions of the two principals involved in the murder were extreme and sharply drawn in the newspapers who took opposing views of the crime.

Charles Albert was portrayed by Davies' lawyer and a portion of the media as a slightly debauched seducer of the virginal Carrie who, even though she claimed had been suggestively approached by Massey and offered a ring as a gift the day before, waited a day and a half to stop his expected advances on the steps of his own home. Carrie was depicted as a virtuous, naive maid in conflict with a victimizing, lecherous employer making the most of his American wife Rhoda's absence from home.

By other sources, Carrie's reputation - there were allegations that she was mad or ill with epilepsy - was pitted against that of a scion of the Massey legacy. She was initially portrayed as a mentally unstable "foreigner" given to unexplained fits who over-reacted to a alleged advance by her unsuspecting and kindly master of good breeding and pedigree. 

The trial and the acquittal of Carrie Davies marked a remarkable shift in societal attitudes towards the affluent Masseys and the Anglo upper crust who ruled both the judicial system and politics. And perhaps the war did have a hand in the demystification of the upper classes as many young men of all classes and ranks met the same fate during WWI - death, disfigurement, loss of employment due to crippling wounds. Few families could claim that they were untouched by the war nor had contributed to the war effort.

Carrie's vindication represented a dramatic shift within Toronto society. It was not a given that an affluent (or in this case semi-affluent) citizen necessarily would triumph in the criminal justice system or in public opinion.

Carrie fades from the public memory after the trial and eventually she marries and settles on a farm north of Toronto and appeared to live a hard scrabble existence there. So traumatized by the defining event of her youth, she never spoke of it to her daughter Margaret Grainger who only learned of her history from the resourceful Toronto Star reporter Frank Jones who dug up the historical record in the 1980s and wrote his own book on the subject Master and Maid: The Charles Massey Murder.

Still living when Gray finished her own account, daughter Margaret, then in her 80s, was too unnerved to speak of it to Gray. Some wounds are too raw, even a century later, the authour notes. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

What I read in 2014

Inspired by that dedicated reader Ruth Seeley's recent post, I wanted to catalogue all the books I've read this year in the order I read them. Some are highbrow, some low ... some read out of duty, others eagerly anticipated like The Goldfinch. 

The stand-outs for me were The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (fiction), Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon (non-fiction) and The Complete Maus by Art Speigelman (graphic novel), which somehow I have missed reading all these years.  

The List: 
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Salvador by Joan Didion
The Hole in the Middle by Kate Hilton
The Girl who Loved Camellias by Julie Kavanaugh
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Dear Life by Alice Munro
Poetry and Drama by T.S. Eliot
The End of Men: And The Rise of Women by Hanna Rosin
Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem
Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon
Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell, Jr. (Please see review here)
Lionel Asbo: State of England by Martin Amis
Florence Gordon by Brian Mortin (Please see review here) 
A Recipe for Disaster and Other Unlikely Tales of Love by Eufemia Fantetti
The Ask by Sam Lypsite
The Complete Maus by Art Speigelman
Thirty Eight Witnesses by A.M. Rosenthal
Let's just say it wasn't pretty by Diane Keaton
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
What Maisie Knew by Henry James
11/22/1963 by Stephen King
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta (Please see review here)
Prison Noir ed. by Joyce Carol Oates (Please see review here)
The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham (Please see review here)
Let us compare mythologies by Leonard Cohen
Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez
A Mother's Story by Gloria Vanderbilt (Please see review here)
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
James Joyce by Edna O'Brien
The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman
The Second Plane - September 11: Terror and Boredom by Martin Amis 
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Hotel on Place Vendome: Life, Death, and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris by Tilar J. Mazzeo
The Children Act by Ian McEwan
Extraordinary by David Gilmour
The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Country by Charlotte Gray (Please see review here)