When I read Grove’s bio in the back of my copy of Over Prairie Trails (my copy was published in 1957, reprinted in 1962) he didn’t sound terribly exciting. It said he was born in 1871 in southern Sweden and for twenty years he roamed the continent after learning of the death of his father in 1892 and of the collapse of the family fortune. I mean, he sounded normal enough but the brief bio didn’t give a lot of information and I wanted more. I wondered if maybe he was up to anything more interesting than being a farm hand as he roamed the country so I used my Google-Foo and what do I find? His life was a lie! In trying to write this little bio I discovered so much information that was way more interesting than he moved to Manitoba and wrote about snow. (Uh oh – spoiler alert!)
Grove claimed a wealthy Swede as his father and a cosmopolitan Scotswoman as his mother, in reality he was born into a petit-bourgeois German family in Pomerania. First knowledge about his identity as the former Felix Paul Greve became known to a wider public only in 1973, twenty-five years after his death, thanks to the detective work of Douglas O. Spettigue.
FPG (as he is known) was definitely withholding the more colourful bits of his past from the Canadian public. His name was really Felix Paul Greve and he spent time in prison for fraud in 1903-04 and in 1909, still suffering financially he faked his suicide and hightailed it to North America. His wife, Elsa, (who used to be the wife of his benefactor – naughty boy) followed shortly thereafter but they didn’t last long together and while he made his way to Manitoba to eek out a living as an author and teacher she went to New York and became “Dada Baroness” Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. In fact it is hard not to get wound up in the life Elsa led after she left FPG but it has nothing to do with Canadian Lit so I will try to stay on the task at hand (you can read more about her here).
When Else went on to New York, Felix Greve proceeded north to Canada – now calling himself Grove, working as a school-teacher in small towns in Manitoba, and marrying a colleague in 1914, Catherine Wiens. He restarted his career as a writer sometime in 1919, publishing his first volume of essays in 1922. Grove taught in several small Manitoba towns, beginning in the Mennonite Reserve, until 1924, when he retired for medical reasons and dedicated himself exclusively to writing and lecturing. His 1928-9 acceptance of an assignment as a speaker under the auspices of the Canadian Club organization led him on three much noticed tours from coast to coast turning the writer into a national celebrity and speaker of note. After the tragic early death of his daughter May in Rapid City, Manitoba, the Groves moved east and the author worked for a short time as an editor and a publisher in Ottawa. After the demise of the publishing company, Ariston, the Groves bought a farm outside the little southern Ontario town of Simcoe. A son, Arthur Leonard Grove, was born in 1930. In Simcoe, Grove kept on writing, occasionally teaching and farming. By 1940, Grove`s canonical status within Canadian literature was assured. He earned honorary degrees, was elected a member of the Royal Society of Canada and finally won the Governor GeneralÂ´s Award. Having published no less than twelve novels and books of essays, the author died at the age of sixty-nine in Simcoe, Ontario, on August 19, 1948, his incognito largely intact.
So book #1 is written by a fraudster and suicide faker – not a bad way to start things off!