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Two men fought (1936)

Novel (320 pages, 97,395 words)

This was the first of Canning's "Alan Gould" novels, published by Collins instead of by Canning's regular publisher, Hodder and Stoughton. Canning took the pen-name from his mother's maiden name, but regularised the spelling from Goold to the commoner form of Gould. The book was published in March 1936 and was successful enough to have a second print run within the the first month. It attracted a glowing review from A.G.McDonnell in The Observer, and other positive reviews in The Scotsman and The Evening Standard. It has been out of print since 1939, and is extremely difficult to find on the second-hand market.

The book shows Canning trying to do for Cornwall what Thomas Hardy does for Dorset or Emily Brontė for Yorkshire. In later "Alan Gould" books Canning also enters the literary worlds of Dostoyevsky and Conrad.

The story is a domestic tragedy set in a group of Cornish villages on the south coast near Fowey and Truro. Jim Lavinet, son of a rabbit trapper, and Stephen Cornelly, son of a fisherman, start a feud as ten-year-olds that lasts through school, marriage, fatherhood and a failed business partnership, until they both die in an accident at sea. A notebook of Canning's contains a two-page outline, showing that the original title was "The Headland". There the main characters are identified simply as F and T, standing for Fisherman and Trapper, and the distrust of sea-going people for landsmen forms part of the tension. Nevertheless, Canning creates two memorable individuals in his protagonists.

The descriptions of nature display love for and deep knowledge of the landscape. Although the place names are fictional, Canning was writing from real familiarity. The book is not helped for the ordinary reader by having most of the dialogue written in a representation of Cornish dialect.

 

Two men fought
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