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Graham, Gwethalyn

Main entryGraham, Gwethalyn
Birth placeToronto, Ontario
Birth date18 January 1913
Death placeMontreal, Quebec
Death date25 November 1965
Birth nameGwethalyn Graham Erichsen-Brown
Married nameMcNaught, Yalden-Thomson
Marital statusmarried
Religious affiliationAnglican
Paid workbook agent; script writer (CBC)
BiographyGwethalyn Graham Erichsen-Brown (1913-1965) was born into a highly social and political family: father Frank Erichsen Brown (1878-1967) was an Ontario lawyer whose amateur painting earned him friendship with the likes of A.Y. Jackson, while mother Isabel Russell MacCurdy (1882-1963) was well-educated and took naturally to hosting politically-minded meetings at her home. A number of Gwethalyn's relatives also resided with the Browns in Toronto, including grandfather James Frederick McCurdy, a professor and leading scholar in Hebrew, Sanskrit, and Oriental Languages, and grandfather Dr. John Price Brown, a nose and throat specialist who also wrote three historical novels. Gwethalyn attended Rosedale Public School and Havergal College in Toronto, spending her summers at Treasure Island at Go Home Bay where she began to write, reportedly penning and destroying two novels before she had turned nineteen. In 1929, she attended the Pensionnat des Allières in Lausanne, Switzerland. Returning to North America, she enrolled in Smith College Massachusetts, and in 1932 during one of her summer home visits, met the young and unconventional divorcee and father, John McNaught (1902-1970)—the man who would become her first husband. The two soon eloped, but the marriage would only last until late in 1933, months after welcoming Gwethalyn's only child, Anthony. To start afresh after the end of her first marriage, Gwethalyn changed her surname to "Graham" and moved to Montreal. A brilliant student who began to write at the age of eight, she is best known for the two novels she wrote during this period, both of which won Governor General's Awards: SWISS SONATA (1938), inspired by her witnessing of socio-political conditions in pre-war Europe, and EARTH AND HIGH HEAVEN (1944). The latter novel was also awarded the Anisfield-Wolf award from SATURDAY REVIEW OF LITERATURE in 1945, was translated into many languages, and eventually sold over a million copies. Gwethalyn also contributed pieces to several magazines, on topics as diverse as immigration, politics, publishing, and home design. She married again in 1947 to David Cron Yalden-Thomson (1919-1993), a philosophy professor at McGill. After this marriage ended, she returned in 1958 to Canada from Virginia, where David had been working. Once back in Montreal, Gwethalyn began writing scripts for the CBC. Although she had been unsuccessful in trying to publish two of her books, she was able to publish a final text before her death: DEAR ENEMIES (CHERS ENNEMIS) (1963) was a collaboration with Solange Chaput-Rolland, later a member of the Quebec National Assembly. Suffering from a brain tumour, Gwethalyn died in 1965. An autobiographical novel, "West Wind," remains unpublished and in a private collection.
TravelMediterranean and France, 1930; England, 1930; Bahamas, 1934; England, France, Switzerland (6 mos), 1938; New York, 1940; England, 1948, 1962
Other notesSister was authoress Isabel LeBourdais, who wrote THE TRIAL OF STEVEN TRUSCOTT.
Honours and awardsAward for SWISS SONATA, Governor-General's Award (1938); Award for EARTH AND HIGH HEAVEN, Governor-General's Award (1944); Award for EARTH AND HIGH HEAVEN, Anisfield-Wolf Award (Saturday Review of Literature, 1945)
ResidencesToronto, Ontario (1913-1929); Lausanne, Switzerland (1929); Massachusetts; Toronto (1932-1933); Montreal, Quebec (1934-1949); Charlottesville, Virginia (1949-1958); Montreal (1958-1965)
Geographic regionsOntario; Quebec
Primary genresfiction; non-fiction
BooksSWISS SONATA (1938); EARTH AND HIGH HEAVEN (1944); DEAR ENEMIES (1963), with S. Chaput-Rolland
Other artsplaywright; script writer
Father's nameFrank Erichsen Brown
Life dates of father29 August 1878, Galt, Ontario - 1967; m. 1904
Father's notelawyer; amateur painter; friend of A.Y. Jackson; son of Dr. John Price Brown
Mother's nameIsabel ("Isa") Russell MacCurdy
Life dates of mother6 May 1882, Chatham, New Brunswick - 1963, Toronto, Ontario; m. 1904
Mother's noteGreek scholar; political hostess and secretary for Equal Franchise League and League of Women Voters; avid reader and amateur satirist; travelled extensively
Spouse 1John ("Jack") Charles Kirkpatrick McNaught
Life dates of spouse 123 March 1902, Toronto, Ontario - 1970
Spouse 1 noteactor; after marriage, was broadcaster, writers, and CBC Radio and Television announcer; went by "John Bannerman," as well as other pseudonyms
Marriage 1 date24 September 1932
Spouse 2David Cron Yalden-Thomson
Life dates of spouse 212 March 1919, Bridport, England - 3 June 1993, Earlysville, Virginia
Spouse 2 noteprofessor, philosophy (lectured at McGill and University of Virginia)
Marriage 2 date1947
Children number1
Children's names and datesAnthony ("Tony") Graham McNaught (1 July 1933 - after 1979)
Biographical referencesDictionary of Literary Biography 1988; Meadowcroft, GWETHALYN GRAHAM: A LIBERATED WOMAN IN A CONVENTIONAL AGE (2008); FEMINIST COMPANION TO LITERATURE IN ENGLISH (1990); Cameron, "The Wrong Time and the Wrong Place: Gwethalyn Graham, 1913-1965," in Cameron and Dickin, eds., GREAT DAMES (1997), pp. 145-64.
Bibliographic referencesWatters, CHECKLIST OF CANADIAN LITERATURE...1620-1960 (1970), p. 300.
Research referencescomplete
Archival referencesseveral letters to W.A. Deacon, Deacon papers, Fisher Library, University of Toronto; some material, Macmillan papers, McMaster University.
Image creditsLine drawing by Una Vernelli (Vancouver, British Columbia).
CopyrightThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) at Please cite Canada's Early Women Writers. SFU Library Digital Collections. Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada. 1980-2014.