WOMEN and THEIR WORK

MADGE MACBETH WON SUCCESS AS WRITER BY "CRUEL, HEART-BREAKING STRUGGLE"

She Loves the Mountains, the Forest Trails, the Open Spaces of Canada, Yet She Is Equally at Home in Every Other Phase of Life About Which She Writes

ELIZABETH BAILEY PRICE January 1 1924
WOMEN and THEIR WORK

MADGE MACBETH WON SUCCESS AS WRITER BY "CRUEL, HEART-BREAKING STRUGGLE"

She Loves the Mountains, the Forest Trails, the Open Spaces of Canada, Yet She Is Equally at Home in Every Other Phase of Life About Which She Writes

ELIZABETH BAILEY PRICE January 1 1924

MADGE MACBETH WON SUCCESS AS WRITER BY "CRUEL, HEART-BREAKING STRUGGLE"

WOMEN and THEIR WORK

She Loves the Mountains, the Forest Trails, the Open Spaces of Canada, Yet She Is Equally at Home in Every Other Phase of Life About Which She Writes

ELIZABETH BAILEY PRICE

"IF I possess any talent, it is not writing. This is something that A has been acquired by a cruel, heart-breaking struggle. And the struggle still goes on. I don’t find it any easier — quite the reverse. As I grow older I appreciate more deeply the real literature of the world and see how far below its level I fall, and there is the terrible effort to climb up—to reach a ledge that is far beyond me.”

It is just this modesty, this irreverence of her own efforts, this idea of “in-methere-dwells-no-greatness,” this entire absence of ego that is Madge Macbeth’s greatest charm.

Mrs. Macbeth is a successful Canadian author. She has written several novels and has just now come again into the literary limelight with her latest book, “The Patterson Limit,” which made sucha hit as a two-part serial in MacLean’s last Autumn, and has since been published, in extended form, by Hodder and Stoughton.

It was ten years ago that I first met Madge Macbeth—and then by correspondence. I was living in a little cabin on the side of a hill that overlooked the Peace River, and somewhere, somehow, someone told me about a woman in Ottawa who would help struggling writers place manuscripts. So I wrote this “woman,” whom I pictured as a nice, elderly, grey-haired lady—a kindly soul with a lofty save-the-country light in her eyes. It was then that she told me of limited markets for the Canadian writer, of the trials and discouragements.

“There is no royal road for the Canadian writer. ‘The way is long—the wind is cold.’ Hard-hearted editors appraise efforts of one’s soul with cold commercial eyes.” That was the kind of advice Madge Macbeth gave me.

Yet she asked me to write a few sketches and gave me outlines of what she thought she could sell. I tried and one day the twice-a-week mail brought me the glad news that she had placed my efforts. The money, per our agreement, was enclosed. Long afterwards I learned that the scheme had been a financial failure, and that she had paid me out of her own pocket.

Several years slipped by before I came in’ touch with Madge Macbeth again. Then I caught my first sight of her at a Press Club Convention in Montreal. Nominations for Press Club treasurer were called and the name of Madge Macbeth came before the meeting. A small, dark-haired, vivacious and fascinating little person rose in response and my mental visions of an elderly greyhaired benefactor vanished. The merry brown eyes swept the room for a moment and I could see, as they rested for a moment in my direction, that they were sparkling. She spoke quickly after a minute or two.

“I haven’t seen a bit of humor in this convention until this moment. I can’t keep my own money, let alone guard the Press Club funds, therefore I beg to withdraw my name.”

Ride Mountain Trails

ANOTHER year passed and it was then J cami' to know Madge Macbeth. For ten days we rode together with pack

ponies over mountain trails, through deep timbers, across swollen streams, through forest swamps. It was then— not till then—that I learned what a rollicking, fun-loving, happy-go-1 u c k y vagabond she was; it was then I learned that, beneath this veneer of bubbling humor, there was the spirit of a woman who had lived the greatest experiences of life—love, sorrow, home, motherhood, sacrifice, and poverty; it was then I learned of that rare versatility of temperament given to those who believe that the trials set in one’s path are not real but only vast shadows to test out courage—shadows that disappear as one walks up to them and pushes them aside. It was then that I craved and was admitted into the inner circle of the friends of. Madge Macbeth.

Madge Macbe.th was born in Philadelphia and lived in the States until she was fourteen years of age, when she was sent to school in London, Ontario. One can imagine her in those early years— a wisp of a girl with dark, dancing eyes; long, black hair; rosy, olive cheeks. No wonder her companions called her “Gypsy Lyons.” Her supreme passion in life was to be an actress-novelist and so she was forever borrowing her mother’s, her sisters’ and her brothers’ clothes— anything to costume the characters af the plays she was acting, plays that she had written or adapted from books. There is a tradition in the family of how, at the tender age of three years she undertook to revise the Bible—dictating it to her grandmother. Alas! the manuscript was lost!

At the age of nine she wrote three

three-act tragedies, and assembled a company of children who played them. Filled with enthusiasm by this success, she organized and, in a truly professional manner, “browbeat” this troupe of children into playing many of her own and adapted plays. She hired the biggest theatre in the town to present Little Lord Fauntleroy, which she had adapted from the book, and the manager was so pleased at this daring enterprise that he gave her the use of the place.

Then came school. Mrs. Macbeth remembers that she was the bright pupil of the class who could recite and read well but the one who knew nothing. Composition was one of her strong points, but she was alternately condemned and praised for her originality and daring.

At fourteen this precocious child was whisked away to a Ladies’ Boarding school—Helmouth, London, Ontario. The youngest “lady” there, she enjoyed the distinction of strutting to classes with much older girls and incidentally gaining many experiences. They bore with her generously, and at times were half proud of her, for she was a good tennis-player and fond of all sports. She contributed, too, to the college paper, so was useful, and presently she became its editor. During the years at school she was writing intermittently, encouraged occasionally by winning some prize in a contest.

Marriage vs. a Career

SHE had decided quite definitely on a “career” by this time and the stage was to have been her profession. Then one evening, while she was still at college, Bishop and Mrs. Baldwin invited her to a dinner party. It was no new occurrence for Madge Macbeth to go to a party. A general favorite, she went to many, but on this occasion she took particular care in choosing her daintiest and prettiest frock. Perhaps she could not have told why. With her dark, rich hair hanging in two long braids down her back, and a strange singing in her heart, “Gypsy Lyons” went that night, though unknowingly, to meet Charlie Macbeth. It was Charlie Macbeth that same night who took her in to dinner; it was Charlie Macbeth a little later who persuaded her to give up her “career;” it was Charlie Macbeth, who, after she had left school, won her affection and married her.

For three or four years Mrs. Macbeth wrote nothing. Then troubles fell thick and fast. Her young husband died and she was faced with the serious problem of earning a living—not only for herself but for her two small boy babies. The younger was very delicate and she felt she could not leave him. With a courage born of her weakness she determined to fight and win for her children, but she must meet the enemy on her own threshold.

“I began to write,” she said, “with the deluded idea that it was something I could do at home. Long since I have learned that it is just the place where one can’t write in peace.”

Her first three stories were accepted and she felt a very superior attitude towards life and decided that a great deal of needless fuss had been made about mothers staying at home and earning their own living. Then she wrote another story. It was returned. It was returned by every magazine known in the “Thousand and One Places to sell Manuscripts.” So were all the other stories she wrote.

Speaking of this time Mrs. Macbeth says, “It wasn’t that I didn’t try. God knows how many nights I sat up till dawn tearing my brain to bits, after the babies had been put to bed. I tried with my very soul to write stories that would sell.”

Often after she finished them, she hadn’t postage to put on her manuscripts, and so she made cakes and sold them to pay for what she has since called her “literary failures.”

But it is a natural law that hard times and hard luck do not go on forever, and it follows “as the night the day” that those who work with their souls win.

It was a period of black despair— medicine to be bought for the delicate baby and later food for the growing children, who were always “hungry.” “It was this stinging goad that, kept me at my desk,” continued Mrs. Macbeth. “Had I been cared for luxuriously, probably I would have done nothing and the world would have been spared a few million words.”

Wins Regard of Editors

EDITORS began eventually to take notice of Mrs. Macbeth’s work and she became a favorite of those for whom she wrote.

Here is a little incident of one editor’s regard for her. Mrs. Macbeth was attempting to interview a particularly difficult woman who was not anxious for publicity. She wired the editor: “Afraid to tackle. Very disagreeable.” His answer came at once:

“Get copy. If she is mean to you, tell me, and I will have the engraver make her look old.”

It was a Canadian editor who bought a story. “His letter suggested that I try some significant work,” said Mrs. Macbeth. “And he seemed to sniff a germ of worth in the series I submitted. About the same time I sold my first novel, ‘The Changling,’ for $60 to a Canadian magazine. Then came a princely cheque from an American publication and somehow I got into other magazines, to which I have clung ever since.”

Mrs. Macbeth has written four other novels since. Her second one, “The Winning Game,” written about the ability of a woman to reform a husband whose craving for drink is strong, brought her dozens of letters from women, who felt that the book was written for their own case. Her other books include: “Kleath,” a story of the Yukon, which has been filmed; “The Man Without,” now running in National Life; “The Patterson Limit,” her new book. In addition she has written a number of novelettes, thrillers, interviews, articles, and even an essay or two—everything but an epic.

And out of the work and struggle of the years emerges the dainty Madge Macbeth of to-day, with her black bobbed hair, her King Tut gowns, her passion for earrings—a figure from the book of Vogue; daring Madge Macbeth riding over mountain trails, fording forest streams, tearing across the wideopen spaces; charming Madge Macbeth serving tea by her own fireside; sympathetic Madge Macbeth who is always ready to extend a helping hand to a fellow writer; generous Madge Macbeth, who gives her time unbegrudgingly to the various clubs of her profession; but the real Madge Macbeth, the complete Madge Macbeth—it is seldom that she lets down the barriers of reserve and sets aside the fun and flippancy of the moment to permit one to enter the inner sanctum of her life and ideals.

WHEN she does it is then that we envy her nearest friends to whom she has dedicated this poem:

When I consider life and its short years, Its mysteries of misery and pain,

Its hopes, its fears and failures.

Its struggles and the scant victories we gain;

When I consider life and how at best Its years are pitiably few,

I thank Lord God that he enriched my span

By giving me such splendid friends as you.