Francess Halpenny interview by Roy MacSkimming [audio interview], 23 October 1998




Excerpt: Francess Halpenny Interview
Roy MacSkimming: I thought we could begin at the beginning. I wanted to ask you what sort of institution you found the University of Toronto Press to be when you first joined. I know you joined before your wartime service.
Francess Halpenny: Well, actually it was in middle of the war. I graduated in 1940 and took my MA in 1941. And at the point, it was hoped that I would go on to a doctorate. But in the field that I was working in then – which was American literature, oddly enough, and one I’ve not worked in since – I would have had to go to the States – Minnesota or Wisconsin – and there were just no fellowships available at that time. So I was casting about, really, thinking that I would probably take some courses here, when I went to a meeting of the University Alumnae Dramatic Club, which I had only recently joined, and a member of that group was Alison Hewitt, who was at that time the senior editor in the University of Toronto Press. And she said, “Well, there is a job in the editorial department. We’re interviewing for it.”
So I told my professors, E.K. Brown and A.S.P. Woodhouse, about this. And they apparently swung into action right away, because I got the job. So I went there in the autumn of 1941.
We were a small department, housed in a tiny office in Baldwin House, as it was then, at the corner of St. George and College. The house was occupied by the Department of History, with whom we always had tea at four o’clock in the afternoon – and for whom, in those days, of course, the ladies always made the tea. So we in the editorial department were swung into duty to make the tea.
The greatest activity in the department, and in the Press – aside from its university printing, which did not include The Varsity, always a misunderstanding – was the journals: The University of Toronto Quarterly, The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science, The Canadian Historical Review, and The University of Toronto Law Journal. These were the main preoccupation of the editorial department.
These journals, of course, at that time, were absolutely central to the development of all the disciplines. It was before the time when professors were expected to contribute a book every so often. It was through the journals that the whole understanding of the Canadian background and history was really developed. That was particularly true for The Canadian Historical Review and the CJEPS, as we called it. Now, the Quarterly was somewhat different, because it was a journal of literature which was not confined to Canada. But A.S.P. Woodhouse had the vision to feel that some review of Canadian letters, year by year, was essential. He was not prepared, at that time, to mount a course in Canadian literature. He didn’t, rightly or wrongly, feel that there was enough material there. So Canadian literature was tacked on to the end of a course on American literature, and that’s how I was exposed to it in the first place.
R.M.: And that arrangement continued for many years afterwards, because I took that course at the University of Toronto in my first year in 1962.
F.H.: That’s right. And it was some time before it [Canadian literature] made its way. I’ve always felt that if we had been teaching Canadian literature in the universities, we’d have sent out into the field much earlier a group of people who had “fire” about this subject, and would have helped the publishing of it tremendously. And we had to wait till 1967 – and all the people, the young editors, developed themselves then.
Well, in any case, Woodhouse had started “Letters in Canada,” which was the annual survey in the Quarterly of the output of Canadian writing. I was assigned to the Quarterly to work, to learn the task of copy editing, and to collect and prepare the bibliography for “Letters in Canada.” So that was my first exposure to – and it was fascinating, because at that time we listed every poem. I mean, if Saturday Night had put poems in, they were included in that bibliography. And [as well] what was coming from French Canada – because through a [inaudible] bequest, the university collected the literature from French Canada very widely, and this helped us in – it was included from the beginning. That, of course, was not the literature from Quebec that we know today – it was very much Church-oriented. Publishing [in Quebec] was oriented through religious auspices.
Well, I worked at that and enjoyed it very much and learned a great deal. And then I enlisted a year later, in 1942, and I was gone for three years. I came back in 1945.
R.M.: Where did you have your wartime experience?
F.H.: I spent my wartime service mostly in Newfoundland, which was then overseas, on an action station. We were North Atlantic patrol and a submarine. And that was a very rich experience. When I enlisted, I had never been even to Montreal, let alone east of it. And so I got to know the Maritimes, and became extremely fond of Newfoundland. Considering what was going to happen to me later, it was a very rich experience.
R.M.: When you say you were on an action station, was that land-based or water-based?
F.H.: We had our Cansos, which could land on the water if necessary – they had floats. But it was land-based – just outside St. John’s Torbay. So as the war was winding down –
R.M.: I just want to ask you an elementary question: Cansos were aircraft?
F.H.: Yes, flying boats – long since obsolete. Then I went to Prince Edward Island to end up. I was there mostly in 1945 – another fine experience of a place. So by this time [at University of Toronto Press], Miss Hewitt, as she was, had married, and she and her husband had adopted a child, and she had left the editorial department. By the time I could come back, there was no full-time editor in the editorial department. And, in fact, I understand that the Press had tried very hard to get me released – and this was happening because the war was over at that time, even the war in Japan ended before I was discharged. But they weren’t successful in doing that. I was discharged in the regular routine. So I came right back to the Press then. By force of circumstances, I was really the – one of the more senior people. In fact the person who was there shortly thereafter left. And so, again, I found myself….[inaudible]
Now, at that time, the Press was still very much concerned with the journals. They had done some books – often things that came out of professors’ lectures and so on, but it was not a feature. And one of the companies, of course, that was doing work that reflected scholarly investigation was Macmillan – a very important factor, in my view. The books we did issue were dull in appearance, to the extreme. We only had about two routine typefaces in the printing plant. And the bindery – the books were never issued with a jacket, for instance – they were sort of dull green and dull red.
But the great advantage I found was that the editorial department in Baldwin House was right next door to where the printing plant was. So I got my training – my knowledge and experience – by simply going into the plant with the proofs, and so on. I knew the composing room very well indeed. When I first began, we were still mostly monotype and some linotype. Then of course everything began to shift along. But the bindery was right there, the presses were right there. So I was very fortunate in learning – and we had a lot of very good craftsmen on the composing room floor. The head of the composing room was a Scotsman from the Clyde, who knew in his memory every job that was going on. [inaudible]. This was the day before printing schedules were developed and became very important. So I was really fortunate in getting it hands-on, as it were.
R.M.: I think it’s so important for an editor to know and understand production processes and typesetting.
F.H.: Exactly. And when working on a proof, to know when you make a mark on it what it means in being dealt with by the craftsman, and so on.
R.M.: Yes, because there’s a reality there for him – consequences of your actions. He has to deal with it.
F.H.: Things began to shift for us when a very important committee – and this will be mentioned in the paper I’ve just given you, “The Ambiance of Scholarly Publishing in Canada in 1955” – when the university appointed this committee of professors: Brown, Woodhouse, Bladen, I think it was the three of them. They were sent to the United States to look into the processes of being a real university press. And they visited a large number of universities and came back and wrote a most important report, which was accepted. And this was that the university press should develop a list; it should be a publisher; and the arrangement should be such that it could use the revenue from what it was doing to develop its publishing program. Instead of the revenue, say, from the printing plant, which was very important, disappearing somewhere, the profits could be partially reinvested in publishing – to support scholarly publishing.
As a result of that, things began to change. Professor George Brown was made editor of the Press. He had been editor of The Canadian Historical Review and was a very renowned professor of Canadian history. So he began then to develop what might be called a list, of what we might do.
R.M.: I take it there had been hadn’t been anyone in the role of director of the Press before this?
F.H.: Oh yes, there was. There had always been directors, but their first preoccupation was not necessarily developing a large publishing list. They had the printing plant – they had the bookstore – they had various things to do – and of course the journals. We had an advisory committee which recommended the use of the imprint. And its role was revised and improved, made more important.
The next important step was the coming of Eleanor Harman, who came from trade publishing, from Copp Clark, and who had been at Clarke, Irwin. Her role was really to develop the – well, first of all, the standard of production. And that meant that we got some new typefaces, the books suddenly began to look better, and so on. And then she worked with Professor Brown in the development of publishing projects.
R.M.: Brown was the editor-in-chief. What was Eleanor’s title?
F.H.: Eleanor had various titles. Now, this is all very well set out in the book, The University as Publisher, which she did for the diamond anniversary of the Press. That chapter of history has got all of this very well laid out. Now I was developing here, in relation to books, and I guess one of the first important moves in this direction was R. MacGregor Dawson’s Government of Canada, which I edited in its first edition. That established the Canadian Government Series, and Dawson became one of my great supporters
R.M.: So I gathered from Marsh Jeanneret’s memoirs.
F.H.: Yes. And that went into edition after edition after edition. It was an example of how – what was a textbook? Down the line we developed the philosophy that we were not there to do textbooks, but if they came out of something that was very close to the university and had [important] research, well then we would take it on. And, of course, there’s no doubt they helped with the revenue. I mean, Dawson’s book paid salaries [at the Press] for many years, and it’s still in print.
R.M.: I certainly studied it.
F.H.: A wonderful book.
R.M.: And I suppose up till that time, there hadn’t been anything that comprehensive about the workings of government.
F.H.: No. Brady’s Democracy in the Dominion was another comparable book that the Press did at that time. It became a standard work and was very important in the teaching and encouragement –
Well, the next great event was the coming of Marsh Jeanneret. And he was to come to really make this a full-fledged publishing operation. He brought all his knowledge and dynamism to the field. At that point, then, Professor Brown was not as significant in the operation. But the processes by which we dealt with manuscripts were gradually put in place. And that is [inaudible], because these were works of research – they had to be vetted by peers and approved. And if then they were going to get subsidies from whatever source, they had to go before the Advisory Committee on Publications, which was senior faculty members, and be approved for the use of the imprint.
Gradually Mr. Jeanneret worked out that distinction between scholarly books and the “general list,” as we called it – books which were expected to return their costs in sales. They might or might not do it, but that was the expectation.
Now, Mr. Jeanneret, as you know – and I’m going way ahead into the future here – took a very great interest in the general list. He had come from that world of publishing. And so that’s where the [inaudible] fit into the Press’s list.
R.M.: At Copp Clark, where he had spent many years, it was mainly textbooks, wasn’t it?
F.H.: It was textbooks. But I think what I’m trying to suggest was that he was personally interested in the type of book which would be a prestige item – and in [inaudible] case, because it had to have a whole lot of development of printing and binding techniques, we could justify our involvement in it. And he took a very great interest in that side of the list.
The editorial department gradually built up. I emerged as the senior editor. Miss Harman became, really, Marsh’s assistant. And I was first made editor and then eventually managing editor. So I built up a staff from – it would have been very small, but we built up a larger staff with people who had come in, many of them with a graduate degree. And we proceeded to be a learning place. All these people had to be trained in editing scholarly manuscripts, and supervised. So it took about a year to get them where we didn’t have to look over their work. Now, most of them had the journals to do, to be concerned with – that was their regular job. They would also do the books.
I had to learn myself, or course, what editing a scholarly manuscript involved. The subjects were often [inaudible]. But what you had to learn was what a manuscript was. That it was different from a book. In other words, what you were looking at had the possibilities for a book, but it wasn’t necessarily there yet. Now, at first we did not do much of the assessment process. That went through Professor Brown, Miss Harman and the people [inaudible]. Then gradually you took that on as well. We got the readers for the manuscripts and then brought forward the group [of manuscripts] that had to go before the Advisory Committee of the Press to be approved. So one had to build up a knowledge of [inaudible] who the experts were, and so on, and how to handle that.
R.M.: Did you draw a lot on the expertise of the faculty?
F.H.: Well, that’s your first resource always – to say, “Now, who is the person that I need to do this?” But you want to get readers not just at the U of T, because you want to have a broad, broad spectrum. That all came about gradually.
Our first [inaudible] in charge was the preparation of the manuscript. And the dealing with authors – to know how a scholarly author did the research, how they got to write a manuscript, what their perils and satisfactions were, to understand the effect of [inaudible] on their ability to produce, and all the rest of it. It wasn’t like making a trade [book] contract, where you’re expecting the manuscript by a certain date, and so on. The routines of university work are quite different. You had to understand all of that. You also had to learn the very delicate art of copy editing such a manuscript. And how to ask a question – I mean [inaudible] simplest thing is. And so we all worked out our techniques of doing that, so that you didn’t say, “This word doesn’t agree with its subject,” or “I can’t understand this sentence,” or something. We learned to phrase it in quite a different way.
R.M.: In a more diplomatic way?
F.H.: Yes, absolutely, absolutely. And this was a thing I always insisted on – that we are not the authors, we’re the editors. We’re there to help. We’re there to make communication easier. So you want to make them feel that it’s their work, and you’re there to assist. You’re there to do, first of all, the routine things of making sure that the verbs and subjects do agree, that the capitalization is consistent, the bibliography makes sense, so that the reader can get a footnote and know – or a bibliography – and get to the library and find the item without discovering that there are errors or inconsistencies or things of that kind. You help to handle footnotes, so that they make sense.
The text [inaudible] as few as possible, so that – which in a scholarly work may be difficult to do, but there are techniques for things that are simply a reference so a date can be worked into the text. So you learn all that kind of basic copy editing work. And you’re always up against the people who fret against this, or attack it and say, “I know how to do something or other” – and cure these people. Well, you only have to show them five or six things that are not – And it was always, I discovered, the best writers who appreciated your work. It was the ones who needed your help most who might be more critical. That’s understandable.
That was the whole routine. And I had a wonderful staff over the years. My great assistant was Jean Houston, who then carried on after I had moved away from the editorial department. Her field was history, and she was superb and helped to train these other people who came on the staff.
R.M.: Had you trained her initially?
F.H.: Yes. She had been in the service too and then came back and got her degree. And another of her friends, June Jamieson, was another who went through that same [inaudible] and came to the [inaudible].
R.M.: And your own training, I presume, came from [inaudible].
F.H.: I learned mine really on the job. Yes, I did, of course, learn from her and from the people who were in the editorial department then. And that would be the techniques of copy editing. One of the things that has to help is, you’ve got to have an eye. You’ve got to be able to pick up these things, and I think that’s – and an organizational sense. But I think that one of the things that made me an editor was E.K. Brown, because of the way he taught us to analyze the structure of a poem, a novel, or whatnot. And I realized afterwards that that had been invaluable for what I subsequently was going to do [at the Press].
Now, these girls – most of them were girls – Rik Davidson was the first man who came to work for us in the editorial department – they’d been a very cohesive and interesting group of people – friends. They all went off, many of them, to other things. Marion McGee, for instance, went to [inaudible] Canadian International Affairs, was there for some twenty-odd years, making use of this training. And they’re called “Francess’s girls,” this whole group, and we still see – many of them are still friends and see each other, and so on. This was, I think, [historian] Viv Nelles’s phrase – he married one of them. He has a very funny story of saying how he felt very gingerly coming up the steps to the editorial department when I [inaudible]… It’s all nonsense, of course, but he liked to make this statement.
Well gradually, then, as I say, the department developed so that we began to take over the process of getting the readers and preparing the manuscripts for going forward for approval. Now, as that happened through the ’50s and ’60s, the whole university [environment?] was changing. We had umpteen universities, we had burgeoning faculties, we had burgeoning subject fields, new areas in which our scholars were involved, and people coming from England and the United States [inaudible] to join. And so where were these people going to publish? If they were [writing] Canadian subject matter, we were an obvious place – [also] Macmillan, M and S, Longmans, who were active at that time, and so on. I had immense respect for John Gray [of Macmillan of Canada]. And people like Donald Creighton, for instance, who was a writer as well as an historian, were logical people for their imprints. There’s an anecdote in that paper I’ve just given you that I think will be interesting to you in this connection.
However, Mr. Jeanneret finally said to me, a few years after – especially when I’d been appointed editor: “Now,” he said, “you’ve got to be out in view. You’ve got to make your way into the learned societies, and you have got to not wait for things to come [to you]. You have to be out there.”
So I started, then, making all kinds of trips around the country. I always went to the Learned Societies [annual conference] every year. Hillary Marshall [sales manager of UTP] and I were colleagues. He, of course, was looking after the book displays. We became almost a team at this. And through that process, I got to know an awful lot of the people who were in the [publishing] field, who were representing their firms at the Learneds. I visited lot of campuses and talked to people. Sometimes we were not going to publish them, but they would be able to come and talk to me about what they were working on – what might [inaudible] – get a little advice, get a little encouragement.
R.M.: I imagine that would have broadened your pool of manuscript readers, as well as authors.
F.H.: Oh yes, absolutely yes. And it certainly brought many [inaudible] eventually to the Press. But it was very valuable, and we also developed a number of publishing associations, out of that, with other universities. In Newfoundland, for instance, we had a series going with them that we published. Now, this was another activity that Mr. Jeanneret was quite interested in, because as we developed our list, a number of other universities began to look enviously and also to think that perhaps they might have their own presses. And this was not something that we ever discouraged.
Mr. Jeanneret was full of ideas for – first off, the publishing association list. So that a book would be put through a process of editing, production, publicity, printing, whatever – whichever stage it would come in – and then it would be published by the Press for the University of Regina, say, or something like that.
R.M.: Whose imprint would then appear on –
F.H.: Well, that would be the imprint on the title page.
R.M.: The university?
F.H.: Whoever was the sponsor. Now, his philosophy was that where you [different universities] were competing, in a way, was in the acquiring of the manuscript. After that, you could be disinterested. So that they would set up their own vetting processes, and then, if they approved the manuscript to have their imprint, we would, of course, have to approve it for ours, but they would have made the initial step.
R.M.: This didn’t overtax the resources of the Press?
F.H.: It wasn’t that enormous an operation, but it gave volume. And also I had a staff, you see, of editors – if they were going to be involved in this, they had to labour full-time, which is now unheard of practically for a press. We had to keep them busy. And in fact, one of the things we did was take on major printing jobs for international scientific conferences, which, at that time, were still being done by letterpress. This was more at the end of my experience of being done by [inaudible] when that process [inaudible]. And that, you see, gave us time – factored in – for which we were paid. They were really printing commissions that we did for these international organizations. Now that whole way of producing the proceedings of scientific conferences has vanished, because they don’t even bother now to print them – it’s all going [inaudible] by electronic means. So it was a particular period, and we had a very accomplished printing plant to deal with this very specialized material. I remember we [editors] all in a way took our turns – I did one on microbiology, a subject of which I know nothing, but you knew to the level of [inaudible] would take, which was really the tidying-up process.
But to go back to the universities, when they were discussing whether they might have a press, there was a possibility that was open to them: to work with us, to use as much of our services as they wished. Now, I went to talk to a number of places, and Mr. Jeanneret certainly did. In the event, then, the first one to move was McGill-Queen’s, and then gradually the others [university presses] came along. And this had to be – I mean, there was more than enough for us to do. They developed their own lists, their own specialties.
Our list was quite broad, and yet it was a list that was recognizably different from other people’s. We were very strong in the social and political sciences, things of that kind. We very early got into the field of medieval studies, which is, of course, still one of the great leading disciplines here in this university. And the Press is now recognized as the leading North American publisher in medieval studies.