Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Extended Play Taylor: When is a biography not a biography?

So around page 150 of Richard Rohmer's unrelentingly tedious E.P. Taylor, it dawns on you that you're not going to find much of anything about the title subject other than an interminable litany of the ins and outs of his business deals - mergers, acquisitions, stock issues, an incredible accumulation of wealth by one clever man.  A clever man you end up finding next to nothing about.

Oh yes - near page 300 we find out he recovered from "minor surgery".  Seemingly he had some kids and a wife and they lived in a few different houses.  Did he teach them to ride bikes? What did son (and noted author, though you wouldn't know if from this book) Charles think of his father's empire? Who knows? That kind of detail would take up valuable space where we could be learning about the number of common shares of B.C. Forest Products Taylor's Argus Corporation controlled.

Page after page we are told of business associates who were "close friends"  with E.P.  Are any of them interviewed for the book?  Is anyone who didn't think he was one of the great Canadians of the 20th or indeed any other century?  That would detract from what is evidently the point of the book - to paint Taylor's business career in the most reverent of light and ignore any naysayers or people who weren't cheerleading "Taylor watchers".

Nearly 350 pages are required to go over his business dealings in  excruciating detail at the expense of anything substantial about Taylor the man.  And in addition to how boring this all becomes, it also becomes particularly cringe-worthy when by page, oh, 1 you realize that Rohmer is so impressed by Taylor that any pretense toward objectivity is wishful thinking at best.  Rohmer can't hide the fact he thinks so much of Taylor the businessman that the book is littered with comments and asides that won't hear otherwise.  To wit:

"Although at least one other person has claimed authorship of the idea for Don Mills, it was E.P. Taylor alone who put it together, hired the people to acquire the land, to prepare the plans and to get on with the negotiations".

"It was clear to E.P. Taylor that one of prices of big business in small, parochial Canada was prosecution, government style"

"Argus was becoming a legend in its own time, as was Edward Plunket Taylor"

(Quoting a letter from the president of the University of Toronto): "Dear Eddie - What a man! What a citizen! What a leader you are!!!"

"By 1956, the fruits of Taylor's initiative, imagination, drive and know-how were coming into final shape".

And on and on.  But we never learn anything about Taylor other than the fact he likes to make money and win horse races.  The few times we skirt the personal, what do we find out?  Well, for Taylor's surprise 50th birthday party, guest George Black is quoted as saying the chorus girls were the ugliest he's ever seen, and Taylor and his friends hoot and holler the night away.

This was likely the most difficult book we've yet read, and that's saying something.  Go back and read Chris's great posts for further details about how repellent this all can be.  I have nothing much else to add other than Brian - whatever is our lowest grade so far either gets beaten by this or is now tied for last place in the pantheon.


  1. Two great descriptions I forgot to add:

    1. "...a beaming Edward Taylor stood beside Marguerite Pindling, wife of the Bahamian Prime Minister, while she cut a symbolic gause bandage to officially open the new medical centre"

    I don't know what Rohmer thinks "beaming" means, but the photo is reproduced in the book and Taylor is looking on in horror, as if he suspects it's the first time she's ever used scissors.

    2. When the Bahamas became independent, "the light-hearted Prince Charles represented the royal family at the celebration"

    This being his pre-Diana period when he was pursuing a career in stand up.

    1. My favourite photo captures "E.P's cousin, Allen Snowden at the hunt, Virginia, 1949." Why? Well, because I'd forgotten who he was. Snowden He appears in all of three sentences, all found on page 58.

      Not one has to do with the hunt.

  2. Nothing lower than an 'F', I'm afraid, though I'm betting we all found this one worse than Poems.

  3. Let's assume that Taylor approved every word. (And let's also assume that seven tenths of the book come from interviews with Taylor, conducted by some poor schmuck adjunct professor from Ryerson.) This book is a man's legacy. It's what he thinks is important about himself. It's not an accident what's in it, and what's been left out. It's what he wants people to know about his life. Horrible.

    The tombstone for the little girl in Poltergeist says

    Heather O'Rourke
    Beloved daughter, sister
    "Carole Ann" - Poltergeist I, II, III