Davies, Robertson (Vol. 13)
Davies, Robertson 1913–
Davies is a Canadian novelist, playwright, critic, editor, and publisher. Both his fictional and critical work reflect his breadth of learning and are presented with wit and elegance. He is considered a central figure in Canadian letters. Davies has written under the pseudonym of Samuel Marchbanks. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36, rev. ed.)
When it first appeared, Tempest-Tost struck one as a pure, delightful jeu d'esprit, quite what one would expect from the typewriter of Samuel Marchbanks. A funny book. In 1958, it stands as the first of three novels about the same Ontario town of Salterton, and this makes a difference. Novelists who return repeatedly, as Trollope did, to the same place or the same broad circle of characters, achieve in time a stereoscopic depth that can be attained in no other way. Tempest-Tost can now be seen through the stereoscope, and it is still a funny book, but it is a good deal more. (p. 56)
[The relationships between the characters] make for straight comedy in Tempest-Tost. In Leaven of Malice they dominate, and take on a darker hue….
Essentially the book is about the efforts of the aged and unbalanced to fetter and cripple the sane and young. And though it is a very funny book there is genuine anger in it. It contains some of the author's best comedy: the ghastliest of his many ghastly parties, the Old Mess, and a fine discourse on Charles Heavysege would be enough to make it memorable. But the central story-line—who put in the announcement?—is too slight to bear the weight of incident and comment hung on it and yet too stressed to be considered a minor element.
The new novel, A Mixture of Frailties, is livelier, fuller, more imperfect, and more delightful. It...
(The entire section is 859 words.)
S. E. Read
[In A Voice from the Attic the] attic is "America's attic"—Canada—and the "voice" is that of Robertson Davies, critic, novelist, playwright, wit, humanist, actor, teacher, editor, publisher, and bibliophile, but above all passionate lover of literature, who stands firm in his belief that books are still a shaping power for good in this world of chaos and uncertainty. (p. 65)
"Clerisy" is a precious word, and, though Mr. Davies would have it otherwise, I doubt that it ever passed as common currency in the English language. But use it he must for it "has no familiar synonym" and is "little known because what it describes has disappeared".
But what does the word describe? What is it that has disappeared?
The clerisy are those who read for pleasure, but not for idleness; who read for pastime but not to kill time; who love books, but do not live by books.
In years past, especially in the 19th century, the clerisy, he says, held "sovereignty in the world of letters". Through being united it wielded great power, but now, alas! if it exists at all, it is disunited, and "has been persuaded to abdicate its power by several groups …, which are part of the social and business organization of our time." Awake, then, oh Clerisy! Shake the slumber from your eyes; gird up your loins; and go forth once again, as your forebears did, to fight the...
(The entire section is 818 words.)
The Manticore is a funny, engaging, literate novel by a Canadian author who deserves to be better known in this country. It has the theatrical virtues of scene, set and design; it has the literary virtue of plot, incident and character. It is easy to read and hard to put down. It is almost unique in being a sequel-book that stands on its own. (p. 536)
The manticore does exist, as explained in the novel's pages and confirmed by my dictionary: a mythical beast with the head of a man, the body of a lion and the tail of a dragon or scorpion. It is one of the symbols that turn up in the course of an analysis undergone by the narrator….
As a novelist, Mr. Davies has the great strength of invention. He thinks of things and people that make pale suburban novels look duller and paler yet. So it may sound like quibbling, with so much to be grateful for, to complain that Mr. Davies does not know how to end a book. (p. 537)
Margaret Wimsatt, in America (© America Press, 1972; all rights reserved), December 16, 1972.
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Judith Skelton Grant
That there is a market in these days of tight publishing budgets for a bibliography of works by and on Robertson Davies, a study of his plays, and a collection of his "Pronouncements" is an index of Davies' current popularity. This popularity is based on his second trilogy—Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders—for in these books Davies has created vivid and distinctive central characters whose eccentric interests have both popular appeal and a philosophic undercurrent. (p. 56)
[Davies'] childhood love of theater bore fruit in his excellent Oxford thesis, published under the title Shakespeare's Boy Actors (1939) and in a stream of plays from the mid-forties on. Fourteen of these have been published and some ten others produced. His early plays earned him a permanent place in the history of Canadian drama. (pp. 56, 58)
Some of [Davies'] witty and irascible comment on the passing scene published in the Peterborough Examiner under the pseudonym Samuel Marchbanks was collected in The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks (1947), The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks (1949), and Marchbank's Almanack (1967). Some of the Saturday Night book review articles constitute the core of A Voice from the Attic (1960). Here Davies first reveals the idiosyncrasy and breadth of his reading. His knowledgeable discussion of aspects of popular culture from Shakespeare's day...
(The entire section is 1707 words.)