`Best Field for Tourist Sale of Books': Marius Barbeau, the Macmillan Company and Folklore Publishing in the 1930s

By Nurse, Andrew | Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

`Best Field for Tourist Sale of Books': Marius Barbeau, the Macmillan Company and Folklore Publishing in the 1930s


Nurse, Andrew, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada


Andrew Nurse lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His recently completed doctoral dissertation is a study of Marius Barbeau and the development of modern anthropology in Canada.

When Marius Barbeau was hired as an assistant ethnologist by the newly established anthropology division of the Geological Survey of Canada in 1911, publishing was part of his job description. `A great deal of the work of a Government bureau,' acting Survey director R.W. Brock explained to Barbeau, `is the collecting, preserving and presentation to the public of original data. . . .' (1) Barbeau took this mandate seriously. At the time of his death in 1969 his bibliography stretched to over 1,000 items, including ethnographic and folklore studies, a novel, catalogues raisonnes, bibliographical works, art histories, introductions to exhibition catalogues, prefaces to concert programs, divisional reports for federal sessional papers, and book reviews. (2) It was common for Barbeau to be working on several projects simultaneously. As he explained to one of his publishers, Hugh Eayrs of Macmillan of Canada, in 1935: `I actually now have six books . . . accepted by publishers now; and eight more ready waiting for a decision. . . .' (3)

Of all the various types of writing in which Barbeau engaged, his folklore material proved the most difficult to publish. The reason for this was simple: before the Second World War the market for Canadian folklore writing consisted primarily of a limited body of disciplinary specialists. When Barbeau first began to publish folklore in the mid-1910s, this limited market did not present itself as a significant obstacle because his publications were directed to this audience and subsidized through grants or other means. (4) When Barbeau attempted to broaden his audience beyond its disciplinary base in the 1930s, however, this limited market emerged as a major impediment. His publisher, Eayrs, was unwilling to print his material without some means of guaranteeing that Macmillan would not suffer a substantial loss. Barbeau's major folklore work, the Romancero du Canada, was delayed for half a decade while he and Eayrs attempted to arrange some means of subsidizing it.

The process of arranging support for folklore publications involved at times a complex series of negotiations which became, for Barbeau, part of the publishing process. His other major folklore works from the 1930s, The Kingdom of Saguenay and Quebec: Where Ancient France Lingers, were subject to an equally significant, if less complicated, process of negotiation before their publication. Barbeau was an active part of this process. His own interests and willingness or unwillingness to accept the terms of publication suggested by different publishing houses affected both the date of publication and the form of each of these three books. This paper explores the dynamics of folklore publishing in the 1930s through an examination of the negotiations that surrounded the publication of the Romancero, The Kingdom of Saguenay, and Quebec. It examines Barbeau's interest in, and rationale for, folklore research and publication, the obstacles which delayed the publication of the Romancero, Barbeau's involvement in the negotiations surrounding the publication of his folklore books, and the way in which the publishing process reshaped the public presentation of folkore.

Marius Barbeau is widely considered to be the founder of folklore studies in Canada. In the interwar years he became a prominent public figure. As a leading Canadian anthropologist, award-winning author, and the publicly recognized leading authority on French-Canadian folklore, his scholarly accomplishments earned him two honorary doctorates, an honorary fellowship to Oriel College, Oxford (his alma mater), three prix David, and a range of other awards. Although he spent most of his career with the anthropology division and the National Museum in Ottawa, he also taught at the Universities of Ottawa and Montreal and at Laval University. …

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