Alfred Earle Birney was born on May 13, 1904, in Calgary, Alberta, which was then a part of the Northwest Territories. He spent his youth in Calgary, Banff, and Creston, British Columbia; graduated from Creston High School in 1920; and then worked at a variety of jobs to earn money for university study. By 1926, he had graduated from the University of British Columbia with first-class honors in English literature, and that autumn he entered the University of Toronto as a Leonard Graduate Fellow. During the next year, he concentrated on Old and Middle English, and his studies led to his later imitations of the Anglo-Saxon line in “Anglo-Saxon Street” and “Mappemounde.” He graduated with an M.A. in 1927 and was married the same year.
From 1927 to 1934, he studied at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as in Toronto. Two years later, he completed his Ph.D. thesis, “Chaucer’s Irony,” and received his degree from the University of Toronto. From 1936 to 1940, Birney acted as the literary editor of The Canadian Forum, writing numerous articles for this journal. When World War II began, Birney served overseas in the Canadian armed forces as a personnel officer. He would later use this experience as the basis for his comic war novel Turvey.
In 1945, at the end of the war, he was appointed professor of English at the University of British Columbia (UBC). While at UBC, he was instrumental in establishing the...
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