'Dead men', they say, 'tell the most interesting tales'. In Mackenzie King's case that is certainly true. While he did not write his own life story because time simply ran out, he did leave behind his extensive diaries and personal letters which are an author's dream come true. Many writers accessed this material with the result that more has been written about King than about any other Canadian Prime Minister. The primary interest was in him as a politician and, as a result, the personal side of his life was either neglected or used to ridicule his memory. You need only mention his name and you are told of his intense love for his mother, of his interest in spiritualism (to the extent of 'talking' to the departed, including his little dogs) and then there were the reconstructed 'ruins' at his summer house in Kingsmere. It does not go much deeper than that. What might have been learned about King's personal life had he written his autobiography? At one time he had considered doing this saying, '[I] should write my own memoirs when the right time comes, not lay bare my soul before others.' Had he written, it would surely have been a heavily censored story. It is difficult to think that he would have told the reader of his storms of passion or details of his sessions at the 'little table'. This book, Mackenzie King: Friends & Lovers, takes the reader into its confidence, introducing first his family background, then his closest friends, male and female. As well, there is a chapter on his association with the various Governors-General of Canada from 1900 to 1950. His story begins, then, with his family and the inheritance that he could well have done without, that of being the grandson of 'the Rebel', William Lyon Mackenzie. It was something he had to live with and, indeed, espoused at times. The first of his friends to be written about was Mathilde Grossert: she belonged on the 'lovers' side of the title but sadly their affair was doomed to failure and she became ostensibly a 'friend'. King's first male friend in the book is Bert Harper. They met at university in the 1890's and later lived together in Ottawa where both were working. It was not a long friendship as Bert drowned in 1901 when attempting to save the life of a skater who had fallen through thin ice. (Testimony to their friendship may be seen at the corner of Wellington and Metcalfe Streets in Ottawa where King had the Sir Galahad statue erected in Harper's memory). The subject of the next chapter, Marjorie Herridge, was a friend of both Harper and King. She was the wife of the Minister at the church they attended in Ottawa and there were certainly 'storms of passion' in that relationship. King, seemingly, had learned nothing from his failed earlier love affair. It was quite different with Violet Markham, an English woman, who appears next. She and King were soulmates sharing a strong social conscience and their long friendship succeeded so well because, as Violet said, they 'had never been in love'. Perhaps being a continent apart helped, too. King's position in politics and especially when he was Prime Minister meant that he was close to the various Governors-General during the first half of the twenieth century. It was mostly an agreeable association although there were sometimes thorny issues, especially with Lord Byng, aided and abetted by Lady Byng. Another of King's male friends was John D. Rockefeller, Jr. They met when King was engaged in settling labour problems in the Rockefeller-owned mines. He was surprised, at first, that they could be friends given the Rockefellers' reputation as 'money-grabbing, absentee landlords', the very antithesis of King's stand in labour matters. A lasting and firm friendship, however, did develop. The final chapter belongs to Joan Patteson. She and her husband, Godfroy, lived down the hall from King in the old Roxborough Apartments in Ottawa and they were also his tenants at Kingsmere in the summers. This proximity took its toll and led to more 'storms of passion'. It did not help matters that during this period King was deeply into spiritualism with Joan sharing in the experiences. Yes, knowing King's life story as we now do, it would be interesting to learn how he would have written about it. Spiritualism seems to be on the decline but has anyone consulted the weegieboard recently?
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