Wow – Canada!

Canada through the eyes of world literature

The Tedium of Vancouver

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

John Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915)

Plenty of people invited me to their houses, but they didn’t seem much interested in me. They would fling me a question or two about South Africa, and then get on their own affairs. A lot of Imperialist ladies asked me to tea to meet schoolmasters from New Zealand and editors from Vancouver, and that was the dismallest business of all. Here was I, thirty-seven years old, sound in wind and limb, with enough money to have a good time, yawning my head off all day.  (pp. 7-8)

The Thirty-Nine Steps begins with the narrator and (improbably lucky) hero, Richard Hannay, describing how bored he is roaming around London with nothing to do. Then a mysterious stranger accosts him at his door, and adventure ensues….

The reference to Canada, however, does not feature anywhere in the 130 pages of adventure; it appears in the two pages of boredom that open the novel.

Vancouver, along with New Zealand, is clearly meant to represent a far-flung outpost of the Empire where nothing of any interest could ever occur. Meeting with editors from Vancouver, then, is a byword for tedium.

Put another way, Buchan (or Hannay?) is assuming a typical attitude of superiority, which those in the mother country direct towards the colonies, and sneering down on Canada; such attitudes are common, but not particularly interesting.

This attitude of superiority is crowned, however, by one of those exquisite ironies that fate occasionally manufactures.

What is it? In 1935, Buchan (as Lord Tweedsmuir) was named Governor General of Canada – that same provincial outpost he had casually derided in his fiction. In what must rank as an archetypal example of the humble Canadian habit of repaying cruelty with kindness, British Columbia even named a provincial park after him. He remained Governor General until his death in 1940, when he received a state funeral in Canada.

It’s all true – go ahead, Wikipedia him.

One can only hope the years changed his opinion.

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3 thoughts on “The Tedium of Vancouver

  1. Pingback: Canadians: Dinner Party Boredom Bombs | Wow - Canada!

  2. Pingback: The Idea of a Commonwealth, and a Poem About Montreal | Wow - Canada!

  3. Pingback: The Romance of Canada 3: David Lodge Insults Us | Wow - Canada!

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