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Literary Criticism Canadian

They Have Bodies

by (author) Barney Allen

edited by Gregory Betts

University of Ottawa Press
Initial publish date
Feb 2020
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    Publish Date
    Feb 2020
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Published in 1929, and almost instantly censored by the Toronto City Police, They Have Bodies has been completely overlooked by generations of scholars and writers interested in the Canadian avant-garde.

It is not just the novel’s extreme formal innovation that is immediately startling about They Have Bodies. There is also its close attention to the depraved, licentious behaviour of Toronto’s elite, its revelation of moral hypocrisy, and its exposure of the means by which aristocratic and church power provides succour to egregious duplicity. Its social criticism and dark humour were too much for Canadian readers at the time.

It is, however, exactly the kind of book contemporary Canadian readers, writers, and scholars hope lies buried in the archives waiting to be recovered. A gem of insight, innovation, and novelty: finally, here is a new edition of one of the rarest, wildest books of the twentieth century.

This book is published in English


Publié en 1929 et presque instantanément censuré par les services de police de la ville de Toronto, cet ouvrage, intitulé They Have Bodies, a été complétement négligé par des générations d’écrivains et de chercheurs, par ailleurs habituellement sensibles aux créations de l’avant-garde canadienne.

En fait, ce n’est pas seulement l’extrême innovation formelle de ce roman qui surprend et saisit de prime abord, mais aussi l’attention particulière que l’auteur prête au comportement dépravé et licencieux de l’élite torontoise. Dans cet ouvrage, Barney Allen révèle l’hypocrisie morale de cette élite aristocratique et religieuse ainsi que les moyens auxquels elle recourt pour masquer sa monstrueuse duplicité. Cette violente critique sociale, alliée à un humour noir des plus décapants, était sans doute trop corrosive pour les lecteurs canadiens de cette époque.

Cependant, ce roman correspond exactement au type d’ouvrages, profondément enfouis dans les archives, que des lecteurs, des écrivains et des chercheurs canadiens contemporains espèrent ardemment exhumer et redécouvrir. En fait, ce texte avant-gardiste constitue un véritable joyau de perspicacité, d’innovation et de hardiesse. Cette nouvelle édition vous permettra de découvrir un des romans les plus singuliers et les plus audacieux du XXe siècle. 

Ce livre est publié en anglais.


About the authors

Barney Allen's profile page

GREGORY BETTS is a poet, editor, essayist and teacher, originally from Vancouver and Toronto. Since his first published poem, an anagrammatical translation of a short poem by bpNichol, Betts's work has consistently troubled individual authorship through such mechanisms as anagrams, collaboration, found-texts and response-text writing. If Language presents paragraph-length anagrams that explore the formation of meaning within a recombinant linguistic system. Haikube was part of a collaborative art project with sculptors Matt Donovan and Hallie Siegel in which six of Betts's poems were carved into an ebony movable (a la Rubiks) cube. The text was carved in negative relief, which allowed the cube to function as a press block to print new poems as they were 'discovered' by moving the sides of the cube. Betts currently lives in St. Catharines, where he edits PRECIPICe magazine, curates the Grey Borders Reading Series and teaches Avant-Garde and Canadian Literature at Brock University.

Gregory Betts' profile page

Excerpt: They Have Bodies (by (author) Barney Allen; edited by Gregory Betts)

Allen’s novel was disappeared. It was successfully erased from the story of Canadian literature, and from the broader story of the emerging Canadian nation state. Despite its difference from mainstream literary modes made apparent by the visually striking innovations of the book, including the most dynamic use of ellipses in Canadian literature, the book became invisible almost immediately upon publication. In J.L. Charlesworth’s review of literature for 1928 to 1929, the fact of the censorship is all that remains of the book: “A third first novel, They Have Bodies, by Barney Allen of Toronto, achieved the distinction of being banned by the police censorship of that City” (571). This critical edition, the first edition since its censorship, marks the reversal of that erasure and the possibility of seeing this experimental chef-d'oeuvre as if for the first time.


Other titles by Barney Allen

Other titles by Gregory Betts