Louis Arthur Cunningham

Louis Arthur CunninghamPhoto: UNB Archives & Special Collections
Louis Arthur Cunningham
Photo: UNB Archives & Special Collections

Louis Arthur Cunningham is one of Atlantic Canada’s most prolific writers. He produced a body of work over three decades that encompassed more than thirty novels and five hundred short stories, articles, and essays. He was born on 28 September 1900 in Saint John, NB, and died following a seizure at his home on the Hammond River on 13 June 1954. The seventh and youngest child of his family, Cunningham was raised by his Roman Catholic parents, William John and Sarah Ellen (McGrath) Cunningham. The family lived in the south end of the city and operated a neighbourhood grocery store.

While attending St. Vincent’s High School for Boys, Cunningham met the love of his life, Hortense Marie Mooney, at the neighbouring girls’ school. Following his graduation in 1918, Cunningham enrolled at St. Joseph’s University in Memramcook, while Hortense remained in Saint John to study secretarial work—a skill that would later greatly benefit Cunningham’s writing career. While at St. Joseph’s (now the Université de Moncton), he studied English, Latin, history, mathematics, science, and philosophy. An exemplary student, Cunningham’s creative side was nurtured by his involvement in the Saint Patrick’s Literary and Dramatic Society; he also gave violin lessons on the side. It was while taking long walks in the countryside of Memramcook and the Tantramar marshes that he developed a love for the Acadian culture that would permeate much of his writing: “I like best to write of Acadia, which, to me is a well of beauty inexhaustible” (qtd. in Jones, “Part 1” 13).

Cunningham received his BA in 1922, but returned the following year to complete his Master’s degree. Following his graduation in 1923, he accepted a Knights of Columbus fellowship to study and teach English, French, and Latin at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. The following year he accepted a similar position at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. It was while he was at Notre Dame that he was able to sell his first story, what he would later call a “gruesome tale” (qtd. in Jones, “Part 2” 10), to the Hearst Syndicate for four dollars.

His wanderlust satisfied, and struck by homesickness, Cunningham returned to Saint John in 1925 and dedicated himself to a career in writing. That same year, after countless rejections, he had a story (“A Highland Romance”) accepted by Western Home Monthly based in Winnipeg. This accomplishment proved a catalyst in his writing career, as almost all his previously rejected stories received more attention and were subsequently published. It was, in Cunningham’s words, a simple science of “establishing a name for myself” (qtd. in Jones, “Part 2” 10).

His reunion with Hortense was also a factor in his success. She would act as his secretary and partner, recording plots as he dictated, and later proofing and typing his manuscripts. In his first year of writing professionally, he sold over $600 worth of work and would see this amount double in the following year. In 1927, he published his first novel, Yvon Tremblay, and dedicated it simply “To Hortense.” The couple married on 10 July 1929. This union seemed to inspire much of the romantic sentiment in Cunningham’s writing, and he remained forever sincere in his love for his wife. (“Thank God for this great boon that has made twenty-five years of my life the happiest I’ve known” [qtd. in Jones, “Part 2”, 13].)

Following their marriage, the couple moved to East Riverside, a quiet hamlet just outside of Saint John. They bought a cottage that they called Land’s End. Here, Cunningham would make friends with his neighbours and fellow writers H.A. Cody and Dan Ross.

Cunningham was recognized as an expert in historical romance and intrigue, and his work met with critical and financial success. He placed stories in major magazines and newspapers across Canada, the United States, and Europe. He wrote stories, articles on Maritime folklore and daily life, and finally moved into serialized novels. The Toronto Star Weekly was the first publication to popularize Cunningham’s work in the serial genre. One of these stories, The Princess of Gratzen (1942), was optioned by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation to be made into a feature film before the disruption of the Second World War.

Buoyed by their success, the Cunninghams relocated again in 1939, moving to a seven-acre estate called Kirk Hill overlooking the Hammond River in southern New Brunswick. Nestled in an idyllic surrounding, this location offered the necessary peace and inspiration that continued to fuel Cunningham’s writing.

He continued to reach ever wider readerships. In 1942, his novel The Forest Gate was published by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Sunday paper with the largest circulation in the United States—about 1.5 million readers.

Cunningham wrote with almost machine-like efficiency. He wrote thousands of words per day and in one year alone wrote six serialized novels and a score of short stories. He demanded solitude and treated his craft with no sense of reverence: “If I waited until the muse came, I’d starve to death” (qtd. in Jones, “Part 2” 12).

His fiction was mostly concerned with the romance and adventure of ordinary folk in the landscape the author knew and loved. He was a rare case in writing specifically with the New Brunswick landscape as a backdrop, and his popularity served to bring some attention to the provinces east of Ontario and Quebec. He worked in a popular form but was seen by critics as bringing a rare sincerity to his characters and situations. Time and again, he revisited the idea of home and belonging. Perhaps fuelled by his own departure and eventual return to New Brunswick, he wrote of the sense of being an outsider in one’s own home in novels such as This Thing Called Love. He celebrated the Maritime way of life, but was also critical of what he saw as “prejudice, pride and prudery” (qtd. in Jones, “Part 1” 11) in modern urban society.

His work reached millions of readers during his life, but as with the popularity of his genre, the appreciation of his work has faded. Nevertheless, Cunningham had several stories listed in the O. Henry Memorial Awards for best short story, and twenty-one of his short stories made the “List of Distinction” in the annual American volume The Best Short Stories of the Year.

After Cunningham’s death in 1954, Hortense moved back to Saint John, where she continued, until her own death in 1969, to try to find publishers for her husband’s undiscovered work. She was successful in finding publishers for six of his novels: The Lily Pool (1955), Meg Shannon (1956), Stars Over Seven Oaks (1957), You Are the Dream (1957), Whisper to the Stars (1958), and A Sunlit Grove (1959).

Following Hortense’s death, a collection of Cunningham’s manuscripts and personal writings was donated to the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, where his papers currently reside.

Matthew Heiti, Spring 2009
University of New Brunswick

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Cunningham, Louis Arthur. Airmail to Eden. New York: Jenkins, 1954.

---. “At the Sign of the Falcon.” Woman’s World Aug. and Dec. 1936.

---. “Be My Love Always.” National Home Monthly Oct. 1950.

---. Beside the Laughing Water. New York: Jenkins, 1953.

---. “Blackmail Marriage.” All-Story Love Tales. 11, 18, and 25 June 1938.

---. “Butts’ Elixir.” Maclean’s 15 Oct. 1932.

---. “The Child of Sin.” Pep Stories Aug. 1928.

---. “Corky.” Weekend 5 July 1952.

---. “Crash and Carry.” The Passing Show 19 May 1934.

---. “Dark Pursuit.” Star Weekly 9 July 1955.

---. Discords of the Deep. London: Quality, 1938.

---. “Drusilla versus a Ghilly-fish.” The Passing Show 21 Apr. 1934.

---. “The Enchanted Bookshop.” Family Herald and Weekly Star Mar. 1953.

---. Evergreen Cottage. New York: Arcadia, 1949.

---. “Flight.” Sweetheart Stories June 1934.

---. “Flower Piece.” National Home Monthly Mar. 1950.

---. Fog Over Fundy. Philadelphia, Penn Publishing, 1936.

---. The Forest Gate. New York: Arcadia, 1946.

---. “The Frivolous Age.” Pep Stories Oct. 1928.

---. “Front Page Stuff.” The Passing Show 30 Sept. 1933.

---. “The Ghost of Galebreak.” Thrilling Love July 1948.

---. “Gift Horse.” Argosy Dec. 1952.

---. “The Girl He Left Behind.” Sweetheart Stories 1 Nov. 1927.

---. “Happy Easter.” My Weekly 20 Apr. 1946.

---. In Quest of Eden. New York: Arcadia, 1953.

---. “Ivan the Uncouth.” College Life Dec. 1928.

---. “I’ve Loved You Long.” Thrilling Love June 1950.

---. Key to Romance. New York: Arcadia, 1954.

---. The King’s Fool. Ottawa, ON: Graphic, 1931.

---. The Lily Pool. New York: Arcadia, 1955.

---. “The Little Girl Next Door.” Popular Love Nov. 1936.

---. “Long Tresses.” Sweetheart Stories 3 Jan. 1928.

---. “Mad Masquerade.” Woman’s World Mar. and May 1935.

---. “A Man of Few Words.” Breezy Stories May 1928.

---. Marionette. Philadelphia: Penn Publishing, 1941.

---. “The Marquis of Medicine Hat.” National Home Monthly Oct. and Dec. 1941.

---. Meg Shannon. New York: Arcadia, 1956.

---. “The Memory Mark.” Droll Stories Apr. 1927.

---. “Men Never Tell.” College Life May 1931

---. “Mink.” College Life Apr. 1931.

---. Moon Over Acadie. Philadelphia: Penn Publishing, 1937.

---. “No Sense of Humor.” Maclean’s 15 Feb. 1933.

---. Of These Three Loves. Philadelphia: Penn Publishing, 1939.

---. The Private Life of Lady Hamilton. Montreal, QC: Carrier, 1929.

---. “Prudish People.” Pep Dec. 1927.

---. “Reporters Don’t Quit.” The Passing Show 19 Nov. 1938.

---. “She Remembered to Forget.” The Passing Show 20 June 1936.

---. Should Thy Love Die. New York: Jenkins, 1954.

---. The Sign of the Burning Ship. Philadelphia: Penn Publishing, 1940.

---. “The Song of the Tumbling Stars.” Woman’s World Mar. and Apr. 1938.

---. Stars Over Seven Oaks. New York: Arcadia, 1957.

---. Sultry Love. New York: Archer, 1950.

---. A Sunlit Grove. New York: Arcadia, 1959.

---. Sweet Constancy. New York: Jenkins, 1955.

---. “The Terrible Secret of M. Laroche.” Maclean’s 1 Nov. 1950.

---. This Thing Called Love. Montreal, QC: Carrier, 1929.

---. Tides of the Tantramar. Philadelphia: Penn Publishing, 1935.

---. “Tigers at Both Doors.” Young’s Magazine Dec. 1927.

---. “To Me You’re Always Mary.” All-Story Love Tales 4 June 1938.

---. “Useful Things to Know.” The Passing Show 24 Sept. 1938.

---. Valley of the Stars. Philadelphia: Penn Publishing, 1938.

---. “The Voice of an Angel.” Weekend 8 Jan. 1955.

---. The Wandering Heart. New York: Gramercy, 1948.

---. “The Way of the Strong.” Liberty Oct. 1952.

---. “What’s Your Line?” Droll Stories Apr. 1927.

---. Wherever You Are. New York: Arcadia, 1950.

---. Whisper to the Stars. New York: Arcadia, 1958.

---. “Whose Girl?” Sweetheart Stories 13 Dec. 1927.

---. “Wise Woman.” College Life Feb. 1929.

---. You are the Dream. New York: Arcadia, 1957.

---. Yvon Tremblay: An Acadian Idyll. Ottawa, ON: Graphic, 1927.

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

Davies, Gwendolyn, ed. and intro. Fog Over Fundy. By Louis Arthur Cunningham. Halifax, NS: Formac Lorimer Books, 2006.

The FictionMags Index. 28 Mar. 2009. Apr. 2009

Jones, Ted. “Louis Arthur Cunningham—Forgotten Author of New Brunswick (Part 1).” The Atlantic Advocate Jan. 1987: 11-13.

---. “Louis Arthur Cunningham–Forgotten Author of New Brunswick (Part 2).” The Atlantic Advocate Feb. 1987: 10-13.

“Louis Arthur Cunningham Fonds.” UNB Archives. 6 June 1999. Apr. 2009

Mitham, Peter. “Cunningham’s Acadia Worth Remembering.” The Daily Gleaner [Fredericton, NB] 1 May 1997: 7.