Frederick Philip Grove arrived in Manitoba in September 1912. Although he kept his prior life very much a secret, he was born in 1879 as Felix Paul Greve in Radomno, a small Prussian town on the post-World War I German-Polish border. Greve grew up in Hamburg where he graduated from the famous humanistic Gymnasium Johanneum in 1898 and then studied classical philology at Bonn University. In late July 1909, he faked his suicide and immigrated to North America, taking second class passage on the White Star Liner "Megantic" from Liverpool to Montreal. The three years spent in the United States are described in ASA, 1927, except that Grove fails to mention the year he operated a small farm in Sparta, Kentucky, with Else Freytag-Loringhoven who had joined him in Pittsburgh in 1910. In Canada, he was a teacher/principal in a variety of rural schools, including Rapid City where he lived for seven years before moving to Ottawa in 1929. There, he joined Graphic Publishers until 1931, when he settled on an estate in Simcoe, Ontario. Grove wrote and his wife Catherine Wiens opened a Froebel Kindergarten. Grove suffered a crippling stroke in 1944 and although he continued to write, his health deteriorated. He died on August 19, 1948.
During his Manitoba years (1919-1929), Grove published twelve books, including Over Prairie Trails (1922), The Turn of the Year (1923), Settlers of the Marsh (1925), A Search for America (ASA, 1927, eEd. 2000), Our Daily Bread (1928) and It Needs to be Said (1929). He also wrote many short stories, reviews, essays and articles, and a very large number of poems (publ. 1993, eEd. 2007). In Ontario, several more books were published, starting with The Yoke of Life (1930). Fruits of the Earth (1933), Master of the Mill (1944), and his official autobiography In Search of Myself (ISM, 1946, eEd. 2007) followed. His "ant-book", the Swiftian satire Consider Her Ways (1947), was published as a fragment. Many more unfinished typescripts are among his papers. Grove was endebted to Stefan George's "Mache" or way of crafting for all his poetry, and to Flaubert's symbolic realism for his prose works. He is a key figure in Canadian literary history and is known for his vivid descriptions of life on the prairies which often tended to be dark and difficult.
Frederick Philip Grove is one of the most important and debatable novelists in Canadian literature. An intriguing aspect of this man is the mystery surrounding his origins. Grove kept secret his life prior to his arrival in Winnipeg, Manitoba in December 1912. Where he came from, who he was, what he did and why he left may never be absolutely known. However, a number of scholars have come to believe that Grove’s original name was Felix Paul Greve.1 Many aspects of this man’s life tie in with Grove’s, many do not. In accordance with increasing academic support in favor of Paul Greve and Frederick Philip Grove being the same individual, this thesis has been accepted in the present context.
In all likelihood, Frederick Philip Grove was born February 14, 1879 at Radomno, on the Polish-Prussian border. He studied at Bonn University in 1898 and sometime between 1909 and 1912 immigrated to North America. An important element of Grove’s life was his role as an educator. He spent many years teaching in various rural communities of Southern Manitoba. From January to June 1913 he taught in the town of Haskett and during the following summer was appointed principal of the Intermediate School in Winkler, where he remained until July 1915. Tena (Catherine) Wiens was a fellow teacher and became Grove’s close friend and confidante. On August 2, 1914 they were married, the bride aged 22, the groom giving his age as 41.
In the next seven years Grove taught in six different schools, as well as pursuing his own academic interests. In September 1915 he enrolled at the University of Manitoba as an extramural student, majoring in French and English. During this time, his daughter Phyllis May was born. Grove did not receive his Bachelor of Arts degree until 1922.
In the summer of 1922 Grove became principal of the high school in Rapid City, Manitoba, and although he suffered from several long-term illnesses, he taught there until 1924.
Two of Grove’s life-long associates were Arthur Leonard Phelps and Watson Kirkconnell, both of whom he first met in March 1923 at a teacher’s convention in Winnipeg. Kirkconnell was his “private library service”, while Phelps provided connections with many influential literary people such as W. A. Deacon, then literary editor of the Toronto Saturday Night, Graham Spry, later executive president of the Canadian Clubs, and Lorne Pierce, editor of Ryerson Press.
Between 1919 and 1929 Grove published twelve books including Over Prairie Trails (1922), The Turn of The Year (1923), Settlers of the Marsh (1925), A Search for America (1927), Our Daily Bread (1928) and It Needs to Be Said (1929). During this same period he also wrote several stories, reviews and articles, and a collection of poems dedicated to his daughter, Phyllis May, who died suddenly on July 20, 1927 at the age of twelve. These poems are highly emotional and portray the intense sorrow suffered by the Groves at this time.
In 1928 Grove conducted two lecture tours sponsored by the Canadian Clubs, one in Ontario (February to April) and the other in the Western provinces (September and November). Grove was a gifted lecturer, not only on literary subjects, but also on education, art, culture, farming, democracy and science. His wide-ranging interests and encyclopedic knowledge are especially evident in the collection of unpublished articles and addresses. Grove became quite popular and his works were well received by the Canadian public.
In September of 1929, just prior to the Depression, Grove left Rapid City, Manitoba and in December moved to Ottawa to join Graphic Publishers. However, due to personal disputes, he left the company in March of 1931 and used the money he had saved from this venture to buy a forty-acre farm in Simcoe, Ontario. Graphic Publishers declared bankruptcy on August 16, 1932. Before the Groves left Ottawa, their son, Arthur Leonard (named after Arthur Phelps), was born August 14, 1931.
While working hard at renovating their large, white frame farm house, the Groves opened the Froebel Kindergarten, whose pupils were members of the Simcoe English Club. Enrollment increased so that by 1935 it included the “first form” (for children age six or seven), plus extra courses in oral French, nature study, home geography, and art. Meanwhile, Grove farmed his land and the family was basically self-sufficient. Grove was realizing his dream of being a gentleman farmer and literary man. However in 1939, because of poor health, he was forced to give up farming. As the Depression persisted, fewer and fewer parents could afford the expense of private school. Accordingly, the school became less selective and began accepting children with serious learning problems. Mrs. Grove was particularly gifted in working with slow learners, and this ability provided her with an income for many years.
But Grove’s health was failing. In April 1944 he suffered a crippling stroke that totally paralyzed his right side. However, his mind remained clear and he continued his reading and writing by dictation. Early in 1944 Pelham Edgar established a fund for the “Canadian Writers Foundation Inc.” and in March Grove was made one of its first three beneficiaries. He received a grant of $100 per month which continued until his death.
The last few years of his life were painful and difficult for Grove; nonetheless he continued to write. In March 1944 he published The Master of the Mill, and in 1946 published his autobiography, In Search of Myself, destined to win the 1947 Governor-General’s award for non-fiction. He also managed to complete the final draft of Consider Her Ways before his final seizure in May 1946.
For most of Grove’s last two years, having lost his speech, his needs were served not only by his wife but by his teenage son, Leonard. After his death on August 19, 1948, Grove’s body was buried beside his daughter Phyllis May, in Rapid City, Manitoba.
Frederick Philip Grove is a key figure in the history of Canadian literature. His outstanding literary achievements and contributions as a writer, teacher, critic, and philosopher are becoming increasingly recognized and appreciated. Much has been written of this man and much more will be written in the years to come because of the power of his writings, their enduring popularity, and because of his own life and personality.