FREDERICK PHILIP GROVE
Probably Manitoba's Leading Canadian Novelist
by George Siamandas
"No man has written more strongly about the Manitoba landscape, its rich beauties and its grim starkness than FP Grove," wrote Tom Saunders in the Winnipeg Free Press in 1965. Grove spent 17 years teaching school in rural Manitoba, and produced a dozen books capturing the spirit of Manitoba's prairie settlers. Grove died on Aug 19 1948.
FREDERICK PHILIP GROVE
He was born in Prussia February 14, 1879. His name was Felix Paul Berthold Freidrich Greve. Greve was educated in Hamburg and attended Bonn University. Greve toured Europe studying the classics of people like Oscar Wilde, and soon began publishing short stories and his first novels. In 1908 he went to prison for fraud and in 1909 found his way to North America. He came to Manitoba in 1912 after working on a farm in Fargo. He had a met a Catholic priest who encouraged him to take up teaching in rural Manitoba.
TEACHING IN MENNONITE SCHOOLS
It was a penniless Frederick Philip Grove, who arrived in Winnipeg in 1912.
Grove had the confidence to call up the Deputy Minister of Education for an interview. His knowledge of German helped him secure a job teaching at Kronsfeld Mennonite School in the village of Haskett near Winkler where he taught six grades in a one room school. Grove spent 2 years in Winkler working up to principal and reorganizing the area's schools. He also met and married Catherine Wiens.
Grove's military views and support of Germany during WW1 clashed with the pacifist views of Winkler's Mennonite community and he was off to a job in Virden. Always eager to upgrade himself, Grove took correspondence classes at the University of Manitoba in his spare time. And he wrote obsessively.
THE TEACHER / WRITER
Grove and his wife later taught near Gladstone and Falmouth. In 1922 they moved to Rapid City. He had just received his BA and now had a young daughter.
The western shores of Lake Manitoba became the inspiration of his novels "Over Prairie Trails" and "Settlers of the Marsh." The images he saw as he travelled back and forth to school, in all seasons, touched the soul of his writer's mind and found new expression in an honest non romantic form of 20th century writing.
His writing told the truth about small town life. "Settlers of the Marsh," published in 1925 was condemned for sexual explicitness and for alleged immorality. It was banned from libraries, and branded as filthy by a university professor. It took 30 years before he could publish "Prairie Trails" a collection of short stories.
LEAVING MANITOBA FOR RECOGNITION
In 1929 the Groves left Manitoba for good. In 1931 he moved to Simcoe Ontario and bought a farm which was then run by hired men. Grove was able to continue writing and lecturing. It was between 1933 and 1947 that he produced 5 more novels. And finally he began to attain the recognition he deserved. The Governor General Award for Literature in 1947 his own autobiography "In Search of Myself." And other honorary degrees.
It was not until decades later that Grove's work was fully appreciated. Grove had considered himself a spokesman for a new race able to start in any place from anew to fashion a new world. He had done this on the prairies. His images and renderings of that pioneer world provide a glimpse into those early times and places of Manitoba.