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Robertson Davies


Robertson Davies

Robertson Davies (1913-1995) was born in the village of Thamesville, Ontario (the Deptford of three of his novels), where he lived for five years. His parents were remarkably like those of Brochwel Gilmartin in The Cunning Man - great readers, talkers, and singers, but unhappy in their marriage and eager to win his allegiance.

His father's newspaper interests took the family to the town of Renfrew (the Blairlogie of What's Bred in the Bone), and then to Kingston (the Salterton of his first trilogy and of his most recent two novels). He attended Upper Canada College in Toronto (the original of Colborne College), Queen's University in Kingston, and Balliol College, Oxford, where he took his B. Litt. in 1938. He then joined the Old Vic Company for two seasons, acting bit parts, teaching theatre history in its school, and doing literary work for the director. In 1940 he married Brenda Mathews, who had been a stage manager with the Old Vic, and returned to Canada.

He was literary editor of Saturday Night magazine in Toronto until 1942, then editor of the Peterborough Examiner. Until the mid-fifties he threw his considerable "leisure" energies into theatre, writing and directing plays for the Little Theatre and for several professional companies. In 1963 he left theExaminer and became Master of Massey College in the University of Toronto (the original of Ploughwright College in The Rebel Angels). At the university he taught in the English department and the Drama Centre until he retired in 1981.

Reading the works of Jung in the fifties and sixties changed Davies' outlook and had a strong impact on his writing. Where earlier he had turned away from the images and ideas that rose unbidden in his dreams and visions, he now opened himself up to them. And he came to accept and value his intuitions. He came to see the novelist and playwright as givers of shape to the archetypal material rising from the unconscious. As a result he ceased to write novels that were essentially comedies of manners with distanced, cool, analytic omniscient narrators. Starting with Fifth Business, he began to write fictional autobiographies or confessions in which the underlying presence of the archetypes is palpable.

His many works include not only plays and the novels that won him international renown, but criticism, belles lettres, stories, and speeches. He was awarded the Governor General's Award (for The Manticore), the National Arts Club (New York) Medal of honour for literature (1987), and was made Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (1967), a Companion of the Order of Canada (1972), an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters - the first Canadian to be so honored - (1980), and in 1986 Honorary Fellow of Balliol. The honorary degrees he particularly treasured are those from Trinity College, Dublin (1990) and from Oxford (1991).

Robertson Davies

Books by Robertson Davies