Davies, Robertson


Author Rating: A+

Deptford Trilogy:

Of Davies’ three trilogies, this is my favorite — “a glittering, fantastical, cunningly contrived series of novels, around which a mysterious death is woven.” Individual reviews of the books can be found at the links.

Salterton Trilogy:

Reviewer E.A. Solinas at Amazon sums them up better than I can.

  • Tempost-Tost (read 12/5/07) recommended

Tempest-Tost opens with the organization of an amateur production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A motley crew of actors join it, including an exuberant professor, his quiet daughter, a quiet mama’s boy, a beautiful rich girl, a womanizing soldier, and an infatuated schoolteacher. Love, ambition, jealousy and infatuation rapidly tangle together, climaxing in an unusually dramatic opening night.

  • Leaven of Malice (read 12/6/07) recommended

Leaven of Malice is half satire and half mystery. The Salterton Bellman announces that Solly Bridgetower and Pearl Vambrace are engaged — the only problem is that it isn’t true. Professor Vambrace sees it as a personal affront, and sues the paper. Pearl and Solly are haunted by false rumors, reports, and claims about who faked the announcement. All they can do is try to find out themselves.

  • A Mixture of Frailties (read 12/8/07) recommended

A Mixture of Frailties opens with the death of Solly’s domineering mother. Her will leaves money to Solly’s family only if he produces a male heir with his wife Veronica (previously known as Pearl); until then, her money is to be used in a trust for a young female artistic hopeful, who will go to Europe for a few years to study whatever she is good at. And finding the right girl is only the start of Solly’s problems.

Cornish Trilogy:

  • The Rebel Angels (read 9/6/07) recommended
  • Bred In The Bone (read 9/25/07) recommended)
  • The Lyre of Orpheus (read 10/19/07) recommended

(Jack Illingworth) The Rebel Angels revolves around the execution of a difficult will. In this case, the estate is of one Francis Cornish, a fantastically rich patron and collector of Canadian art and a noted antiquarian bibliophile. A lost Rabelais manuscript is rumoured to be among his possessions, and his executors include the deliciously revolting Renaissance scholar Urquhart McVarish; Professor Clement Hollier, a classically middle-aged inhabitant of the ivory tower; and the Reverend Simon Darcourt, Davies’s obligatory humanist clergyman. A heroine is provided in the form of Maria Theotoky, a beautiful Ph.D. student of Professor Hollier’s. A rich, funny, and slightly ribald campus novel results, one that revels in the fustian of the now-vanished pre-postmodern university.

The Cornish Trilogy is by far the most arcane of Davies’s major works. The later volumes, What’s Bred in the Bone and The Lyre of Orpheus, extend out of the corporeal world, bringing angels, daimons, and souls in limbo into the fray.

Did Davies adapt parts of Han van Meegeren‘s story in creating Francis Cornish?

Advertisements

World of Wonders (1975) is the third in the Deptford Trilogy by Canadian writer Robertson Davies (1913-1995), the first being Fifth Business and The Manticore the second.

Of Davies’ three trilogies, this is my favorite — “a glittering, fantastical, cunningly contrived series of novels, around which a mysterious death is woven.”

Ramsay reprises the role of narrator that he played in the first novel, Fifth Business, but in this case it is only to add context and continuity as conjuror/magician Magnus Eisengrim (also known by at least four other names throughout the trilogy) tells the story of his life to a group of film makers making a biographical film about the great magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin.

As Eisengrim tells his story, Ramsay’s role in his own life, and that of his friends and family, is more clearly understood, the riddle is at least partially solved.


The Manticore (1972) is the second in the Deptford Trilogy by Canadian writer Robertson Davies (1913-1995), the first being Fifth Business and World of Wonders the third.

Of Davies’ three trilogies, this is my favorite.

I’ll let these folks explain:

Robertson Davies’s acclaimed Deptford Trilogy is a glittering, fantastical, cunningly contrived series of novels, around which a mysterious death is woven. The Manticore — the second book in the series after Fifth Business — follows David Staunton, a man pleased with his success but haunted by his relationship with his larger-than-life father. As he seeks help through therapy, he encounters a wonderful cast of characters who help connect him to his past and the death of his father.

In an odd way, this book runs at a tangent to the two massive novels that frame it, Fifth Business and World of Wonders. It is tightly focused on a minor character from the other two novels and does not drive the story forward. At the end of the book the reader is left a bit nonplussed — where is the scope and epic nature from Fifth Business? But the “trilogy” is not intended to be a serial. This becomes clear upon completion of the three. This book serves to deepen the reader’s appreciation for the themes expressed in Fifth Business and which culminate, if a theme can culminate, in World of Wonders. The reader who pays attention (a pleasant requirement for Davies’s greatest novels) finds himself engrossed in a sad, exhuberant, and contradictory life, and also gains some clues about the other two novels. This book could really stand alone, outside of the “trilogy”. Mr. Davies was not a slave to convention (although he certainly understood convention both theatrical and novelistic) and would have found the task of a serial across three books both frustrating and pointless. None of his three (not four, thanks to Father Time) “trilogies” are serials: they simply explore similar themes and share a few characters and — important to Davies as playwright and keen fan of poetry — setting and atmosphere.

The title refers to elements of the subconscious which unfold through the story and are eventually manifested as a fantastic mythical creature: a manticore, a beast with the body of a lion, a human head with three rows of sharp teeth and the tail of a dragon.

Fifth Business is the first in the Deptford Trilogy by Canadian writer Robertson Davies (1913-1995). The Manticore and World of Wonders are the second and third.

Of Davies’ three trilogies, this is my favorite — “a glittering, fantastical, cunningly contrived series of novels, around which a mysterious death is woven.”

Ramsay is a man twice born, a man who has returned from the hell of the battle-grave at Passchendaele in World War I decorated with the Victoria Cross and destined to be caught in a no man’s land where memory, history, and myth collide. His apparently innocent involvement in such innocuous events as the throwing of a snowball or the teaching of card tricks to a small boy in the end prove neither innocent nor innocuous.

This book is in the form of a letter written by Ramsay on the occasion of his retirement as master at Colborne College and addressed to the school Headmaster.

“Fifth business” is a reference to the odd man out, the one who inadvertently sets events in motion.