Newfoundlander Carolyn Morgan has published her first novel, Art Love Forgery (2016, Flanker Press) and fans of historical Fiction and romance will certainly appreciate this fine book. It is based on a singular incident in nineteenth-century colonial Newfoundland history when Polish artist (and convicted forger) Alexander Pindikowsky was tasked with beautifying some of St. John’s most important buildings, including Government House, home to the colony’s Lieutenant Governor. Under armed guard, he works enthusiastically at his art which still can be viewed today (see image below).
It is while he is working there that Alexander encounters Ellen Dormody, a parlour maid. Ellen is entranced by the mysterious stranger with an even stranger accent (he pronounces her name “Alen”). Alexander, in turn, is taken by Ellen’s beauty and grace, as well as her interest in his work. Soon, with the help of his compassionate guard Kielly, the two are able to meet clandestinely for brief moments. Alexander wants to propose marriage, but not while he is incarcerated. Upon his release, he soon proposes, and they are wed, much to Ellen’s mother’s chagrin.
In time, Alexander realises that to do real work, to become famous, he needs to be in New York City where building after building is being erected as the city grows by leaps and bounds at the turn of the century. He goes on ahead, leaving Ellen and their young daughter Johanna behind while he gets himself established. Months later, Ellen still has not heard anything from her husband and she becomes worried for his safety (for he often works at great heights on scaffolding). Deciding she must act, she turns to her friend Sister Mary Angela at the Presentation Convent:
As soon as the door closed behind them, Sister Mary Angela looked at Ellen carefully. “You have something big on your mind, I think. Now, out with it. It won’t do you any good to keep it bottled up, you know.”
Ellen tried to keep her voice from quavering. “I haven’t heard from Alexander since he left almost four months ago. No one else knows. I told Mother that I’ve been receiving letters all along. I’ve become really good at making up the news from New York. I’m an expert on a place I’ve never been. I don’t understand what’s happened. I’m afraid he’s sick or hurt. You know when he’s creating his frescoes he has to work high up on scaffolding, and I’m afraid he’s injured or worse. I can’t stand not knowing any more. You have to help me. I love him so much.” It all came out in a rush, and now Ellen couldn’t keep back her tears. Sister Mary Angela wrapped her arms around her and patted her back, trying to soothe her.
“Enough now, my dear, dry your eyes and blow your nose,” she said, handing her a clean cotton handkerchief that she had pulled out of the pocket hidden in her robe. “I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for why you haven’t heard from Alexander.”
“Everyone thinks he’s deserted me,” Ellen wailed. “They think he just married me because he wanted to look respectable after his prison sentence and that he was just biding his time, waiting for a chance to leave me and Johanna.” Her tears started flowing again.
“You’re wrong, you know, not everyone feels that way. No one who ever saw the two of you together could deny his love for you. And he’s besotted over Johanna. There must be some reason why his letters haven’t arrived. Maybe they’ll all come in a bunch.”
“Even if they do, it’s not enough. Not anymore. I’ve been like someone in a trance, looking after the baby and blocking out everything and everyone. Johanna and I must go to him. I have to find him, and that’s where I need your help. You have connections through the archdioceses in New York. When Alexander left he said he was going to try for work at the churches and convents. Would you make inquiries for me? If I knew where he last worked, I’m sure I could find him. I have enough money saved for passage to New York. Johanna and I need to be on the next ship going there. We need to be a family again. I will not wait any more.”
A well-written and engaging novel that was inspired by real historical people and events, Art Love Forgery will keep you turning pages as it moves briskly through the lives of the two lovers and their small St. John’s community.
Carolyn Morgan was born in St. John’s and has lived in the city most of her life. While she was teaching English at a local high school, her story “The Collector” was published in Canadian Living magazine (October 2001). Carolyn is a visual artist as well as a writer and teacher. Her interest in art and history inspired her to write Art Love Forgery, her first published novel.