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Who Was FPG?

2/12/2004:

This Saturday marks the birthday of Felix Paul Greve, a mysterious writer born in Germany in 1879. Greve was only 21 when his first known work was published, and he soon became renowned for his translations, poetry, fiction and plays in Europe and later in Canada.

In October, 1902, Greve was staging Oscar Wilde comedies in Berlin when he became friends with August Endell, an up and coming architect. During their afternoon teas, Greve became attracted to Endell’s wife, Else, and on Christmas, Greve and Else became lovers.

A year later and deeply in debt, Greve was sentenced to one year in prison for defrauding another friend for an enormous amount of money. After he got out, he eloped with Else to Zurich, where he began writing novels and German translations for authors like H.G. Wells.

Greve was very prolific in the next few years, but then in 1909, something happened that’s not entirely clear. Greve staged his own suicide and left Europe for Montreal under the name Frederick Philip Grove. Else accused Greve’s director of pushing her “husband” over the edge with overwork and underpayment. The director pointed out that Greve was not the only injured party, that Greve had recently double sold his latest work.

Within the next year, Else joined F.P. Grove in Pittsburgh. From there, the couple began moving around. There are stories of Grove working as a waiter in Toronto, living as a hobo in New York, taking part in a book-selling scam in Pittsburgh and farming in Sparta, Kentucky. Much of it is unsubstantiated, but we do know that Grove left Else and her hot temper behind in Kentucky.

For the next 10 years, Greve hid his whereabouts from Else. Keeping a low profile, he moved to North Dakota in 1912, where he worked on the Amenia & Sharon Bonanza Farm near Casselton. He also started writing again, with much of his “fiction” actually being the true story of his life. But he didn’t start publishing his work again until he learned that Else had moved back to Europe in 1923. Now, his works weren’t signed either Greve or Grove – he was going by his initials, FPG.

In 1927, he published a novel, A Search for America , which was again fictionalized biography. North Dakota, for example, was never actually named — but he slyly inserted clues by describing the wealthy owners of a huge Bonanza farm, the Amenia & Sharon Land Company; he placed Amenia in New York and Sharon about five miles away in Connecticut.

After working in North Dakota, Grove moved to Canada and married, saying he was born in Moscow and that he was a widower. He continued writing, had a family and, in 1946, published A Search for Myself , which was regarded as the “real” autobiography of Frederick Philip Grove. He won the Canadian Governor-General’s Award for Non-Fiction for that book in 1947, and the following year, Grove went to his death with his secrets intact.

In October 1971, D.O. Spettigue, of Queen’s University, discovered Grove’s true identity, which was substantiated by Grove’s wife just weeks before she died. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that scholars finally realized that his earlier works were more biographical than anyone realized. One of the tipoffs? The 1996 discovery that Grove’s fictional bonanza farm actually existed... in a real-life place in North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm