Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Frederick Philip Grove was born Felix Paul Greve in Radomno, East Prussia, on February 14, 1879. As a young adult he earned a meager living translating novels and publishing poetry under various names. He incurred large debts and was jailed in 1903 for defrauding a fellow student. Greve left Germany in 1909, covering his tracks with a fake suicide, and spent three poorly documented years in the United States. He surfaced in Manitoba in September 1912 as Frederick Philip Grove and started teaching first in the predominantly German-speaking Mennonite regions south of Winnipeg and then later in even more remote rural districts. In August 1914 he married Catherine Wiens (1892–1972), and a year later, while in Virden, Manitoba, the couple had a daughter, Phyllis May (1915–27). He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in French and German from the University of Manitoba in 1922, and he and his wife accepted teaching assignments in Rapid City, Manitoba, where they remained until 1929.

After Phyllis May Grove's tragic death during an appendicitis operation in Minnedosa in 1927, the Groves longed for different surroundings and moved to Ontario. In October 1931 Grove settled on an estate in Simcoe, Ontario, where he hoped to fulfill his dream of living like a gentleman farmer. Despite unfavorable conditions during the Depression and World War II and increasingly poor health, Grove managed to publish almost to the end of his life.

His first novel, Settlers of the Marsh (1925), a story of love, murder, and redemption on the Manitoba Prairie (a thinly veiled account of Grove's own affair in Kentucky in 1911 with Else Ploetz, later Baroness von Freytag- Loringhoven), was critically praised but commercially unsuccessful. It was followed in 1927 by the partly autobiographical and partly allegorical novel A Search for America, the story of a young European immigrant's settlement in Canada, which earned him both critical acclaim and some prosperity. His later novels, essays, and partly fictional autobiography, In Search of Myself (1946), failed to achieve the popular success of A Search for America.

Grove always felt underappreciated, although he was the recipient of many honors and his work was taught in schools and universities. The Royal Society of Canada awarded him the Lorne Pierce Medal for literary achievement in 1934 and elected him a fellow in 1941, and Grove obtained honorary doctorates from the University of Manitoba and Mount Allison University, New Brunswick, in 1944.

In May 1946 Grove suffered a debilitating stroke that left him crippled. He died on August 19, 1948. Grove's complicated biography, with its blending of fact and fiction in both his life and his works, was not worked out until 1971, when Douglas O. Spettigue traced the Canadian author back to the minor German literary figure, Felix Paul Greve.

Gaby Divay University of Manitoba

Frederick Philip Grove Papers, Archives and Special Collections, University of Manitoba Libraries, Winnipeg. Spettigue, Douglas O. FPG: The European Years. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1973.

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