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Gwethalyn Graham

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Gwethalyn Graham (January 18, 1913 – November 25, 1965) was a Canadian writer and activist, whose 1944 novel Earth and High Heaven was the first Canadian book to reach number one on the New York Times Best Seller list.[1] Graham won the Governor General's Award for English-language fiction twice, for her first novel Swiss Sonata in 1938,[2] and for Earth and High Heaven in 1944.[1]


She was born Gwethalyn Graham Erichsen-Brown, to wealthy Toronto parents. Her father was a lawyer. At 19, she was a student at Smith College in Massachusetts, but dropped out and eloped with John McNaught, the son of her father's business partner.[1] They divorced after two years, and Graham moved to the city of Westmount on the island of Montreal, where she became a close friend and associate of Hugh MacLennan, F. R. Scott, Thérèse Casgrain and Pierre Trudeau. Graham subsequently married David Yalden-Thomson, a philosophy professor at McGill University; they subsequently also divorced.[1]

Graham's sister, Isabel LeBourdais, was a journalist whose 1966 book The Trial of Steven Truscott played a key role in disputing the evidence that led to Steven Truscott's controversial murder conviction,[3] and her brother John Erichsen-Brown was a diplomat with the Canadian Department of External Affairs.[4]


She wrote two abandoned early novels[1] before completing Swiss Sonata, which was published in 1938.[5]

Graham was also an outspoken activist against anti-Semitism and anti-French Canadian discrimination;[6] Earth and High Heaven depicted an interfaith romance between a Protestant woman from Montreal and a Jewish man from Northern Ontario.[7] The novel was optioned by Samuel Goldwyn for a film that was to star Katharine Hepburn;[8] however, the film was never made, as Goldwyn abandoned the project after the similarly themed Gentleman's Agreement came out while Earth and High Heaven was still in development.[1]

Graham's only published book after Earth and High Heaven was Dear Enemies, a non-fiction collection of her correspondence with journalist Solange Chaput-Rolland about English-French relations in Canada.[1] She had postponed her planned third novel to work on the book.[1] She also wrote a theatrical play, Trouble at Weti,[9] and radio plays for CBC Radio,[1] and translated works by writers from Quebec, most notably André Laurendeau's play Two Terrible Women (Deux femmes terribles), into English.[1]

Graham died in 1965 of an undiagnosed brain tumour, aged 52.[1] Her illness and death resulted in the cancellation of a planned sequel to Dear Enemies.[1]

Both Swiss Sonata and Earth and High Heaven were reissued by Cormorant Books in 2004.[10] Graham is the subject of a biography, Gwethalyn Graham: a Liberated Woman in a Conventional Age, by Barbara Meadowcroft (Toronto: Women's Press, 2008).


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Gwethalyn Graham: Two fiction awards won by Montrealer". The Globe and Mail, November 26, 1965.
  2. ^ "Honors for Canadian Writers". The Globe and Mail, April 29, 1939.
  3. ^ "Isabel LeBourdais 1909–2003: Her book said Truscott trial wrong". The Globe and Mail, April 14, 2003.
  4. ^ "Erichsen-Brown Goes to Belgium As Counsellor". The Globe and Mail, August 20, 1953.
  5. ^ "A Toronto Girl in Switzerland". The Globe and Mail, March 19, 1938.
  6. ^ "Novel No Tract: Fair Play For Jews Demanded". The Globe and Mail, October 3, 1944.
  7. ^ "Canadian Novel Challenges Montreal's Race Prejudice". The Globe and Mail, October 7, 1944.
  8. ^ "Toronto Novelist Sells Film Rights for $100,000". The Globe and Mail, September 2, 1944.
  9. ^ "2 Novels by Canadians Due Soon on Broadway". The Globe and Mail, January 7, 1950.
  10. ^ "Romeo and Juliet in Westmount". The Globe and Mail, March 13, 2004.

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