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The F.P. Grove Project

F.P. Grove: The Man, the Times, the Work, the Lasting Influence

Who was FPG? - An Incomplete Biographical Sketch

FPG established his lasting fame as Frederick Philip Grove, Canadian novelist, poet, and intellectual, and by several accounts the founder of a post-colonial, modern Canadian literature. Between 1922 and 1947 Grove published about 15 books: novels, autobiographies and collections of essays, short-stories and a translation. Beside his novels about the Canadian prairie and its inhabitants, his biggest success were his autobiographical writings Over Prairie Trails (1922) and A Search for America (1927). Notable among his works of fiction are his novels Settlers of the Marsh (1925), Our Daily Bread (1928 ) and Fruits of the Earth (1933). For his late autobiographical work In Search of Myself (1946) Grove received the prestigious "Governor General´s Award" in the category "non-fiction". Today, knowing what we know about Grove's life, the category "non-fiction" symbolizes an ironical twist in his career. While in his 1946 book and in various other, often wildly conflicting autobiographical statements, 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. Klaus Martens's 2001 biography F. P. Grove in Europe and Canada: Translated Lives, based on much documentary, epistolary, and photographic material discovered by him, re-examines and extends previous knowledge of Grove's German and Canadian years as an important literary figure in both countries.

In addition, Martens’ 2006 edition of selected poems by Grove, A Dirge for My Daughter - and particularly his 2007 volume Over Canadian Trails, comprise a wealth of newly published letters – including the Grove-Phelps-Grove correspondence, unpublished letters to Carleton Stanley, etc. – and a wealth of documentary material about the making of Canadian literature in the 1920s to 1940s plus many previously unpublished photos from the Groves’ private archive. The latter is a veritable handbook for the Grove scholar and for everybody interested in one of the most exciting eras in Canadian literature and culture.  

 

FPG was born on February 14, 1879 in Radomno, then in the German province of West Prussia. He spent his childhood and teenage years in Hamburg. After receiving his "Abitur" from the prestigeous Hamburg school "Johanneum" in 1898, he left for the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Bonn to study philology and later archeology. From Bonn he moved on to Rome and Munich, later to Berlin, and travelled extensively in Italy, settling, for a while, in Palemo with his companion and future wife Else Ploetz, then still married to the noted "Jugendstil" architect August Endell. When Greve could not settle his debts with a former friend in 1903, he was accused of fraud and sent to prison in May 1903. Before, during and after his imprisonment in Bonn and after his release in May, 1904, he translated works by Oscar Wilde, André Gide, Gustave Flaubert, Honoré de Balzac, Henri Murger, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jonathan Swift, H. G. Wells, George Meredith, and many others, also editing and translating (from Burton´s English) the massive and highly influential 14-volume edition of the Arabian Nights in German. He also published, among other works of his own, including Wanderungen (1902), a volume of poetry, and a short play in verse he called Helena und Damon (1902), two novels, Fanny Essler (1905, transl. 1984) and Maurermeister Ihles Haus (1906, translated as The Master Mason's House 1976). In 1909, still financially hard-pressed, he pretended a suicide and left Germany for North America as a "travelling author,", followed by his wife Else. Sometime in 1911 or 1912 they separated in the USA. Else went on to New York and from 1913 became the noted "Dada Baroness" Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, having married the baron.

Living a life notorious for its fearless unothodoxy, she became a friend and companion of Marcel Duchamp, Djuna Barnes, George Biddle, Man Ray, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound and other luminaries of high modernist art and literature. Among them Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, the editors of The Little Review, where she published much of her poetry and prose. After her return to Germany, in 1923, she suffered through a period of obscurity and neglect, finally managing, with the help of her American friends, to settle in Paris where she died of asphyxiation in 1927.

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 General´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.

The Saarbrücken F.P. Grove Project owes a debt of gratitude to the early critics and editors of Grove and his work, notably Desmond Pacey, author of the first book-length study of the author and editor (with J.C. Mahanti) of The Letters of F.P. Grove (1976). Margaret Stobie´s meticulous research, published in her monograph Frederick Philip Grove (1970), included much oral history. She collected and established the basis of our knowledge of the Manitoba teacher and paririe writer. D.O. Spettigue first discovered Grove´s German background and unearthed the first important data of the author´s hidden early life in his book, F.P. Grove. The European Years (1973). Paul Hjartarson published an excellent collection of original Grove work and critical essays, A Stranger to My Time (1986). He also first discussed (1986) and edited (with Spettigue) Baroness Elsa (1992), a collection of many of the surving papers of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, firmly establishing the relationship between the "Dada Baroness" and the famous German-Canadian writer.

FPG and Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven at the Universität des Saarlandes

A Diary (Visitors, Exhibitions, Talks, Performances, Conferences)

 

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