Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
What role does Jungian theory play in Robertson Davies’ novels, particularly the concept of archetypes (ideas or patterns of thought derived from the collective experience of the human species and inherited by the individual)?
Davies began his writing career as a journalist. To what degree can a journalistic sensibility be discerned in his novels?
Davies had a lifelong interest in the supernatural and even wrote a book of ghost stories. Where, in his mainstream fiction, does this interest in the supernatural manifest itself, and to what effect?
Davies is one of Canada’s best-known novelists. What about his novels is particularly Canadian, and what attitude toward Canada is presented in his novels?
Many of the characters in Davies’ novels are interested in arts other than fiction. How do such artistic endeavors as painting, drama, stage magic, and opera function in Davies’ novels as metaphors for fiction writing and for life itself?
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Sources for Further Study (Magill's Literary Annual 1996)
Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
A dramatist, journalist, and essayist as well as a novelist, Robertson Davies (DAY-veez) wrote plays such as Fortune, My Foe (pr. 1948), A Jig for the Gypsy (pr., pb. 1954), Hunting Stuart (pr. 1955), and dramatizations of some of his novels; histories (notably Shakespeare’s Boy Actors, 1939); numerous newspaper commentaries and columns (often for the Peterborough Examiner and the Toronto Star); and essays of all kinds, including many for volume 6 (covering the years 1750-1880) of The Revels History of Drama in English. Other occasional writings by Davies are collected in The Merry Heart: Reflections on Reading, Writing, and the World of Books (1997). A volume of his letters, titled “For Your Eyes Alone”: Letters, 1976-1995, was published in 1999.
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Perhaps the foremost Canadian man of letters of his generation, Robertson Davies achieved virtually every literary distinction his country offers, including the Governor-General’s Award for fiction and fellowship in the Royal Society of Literature. He was the first Canadian honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Professor of English at the University of Toronto, he held the Edgar Stone Lecturership in Dramatic Literature (as its first recipient); he was also the founding master of Massey College.
(The entire section is 82 words.)
Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Robertson Davies is known primarily as a novelist. His most highly acclaimed novels form the Deptford Trilogy: Fifth Business (1970), The Manticore (1972), and World of Wonders (1975). These three novels were preceded by another trilogy, set in the fictional community of Salterton: Tempest-Tost (1951), Leaven of Malice (1954), and A Mixture of Frailties (1958). Another trilogy consists of The Rebel Angels (1981), What’s Bred in the Bone (1985), and The Lyre of Orpheus (1988). His novel Murther and Walking Spirits (1991) continued his interest in reconstructing the main character’s past by means of supernatural devices. His earliest success was the publication of three books based on a newspaper column, “The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks,” in which he offered witty observations on the social pretensions of a small Ontario town: The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks (1947), The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks (1949), and Marchbanks’ Almanack (1967).
Davies also wrote a teleplay, Fortune, My Foe (1953), and he enjoyed a considerable reputation as a critic. His articles, essays, and observations have been collected in several books, including A Voice from the Attic (1960), One Half of Robertson Davies (1977),...
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Robertson Davies is recognized as one of Canada’s foremost writers, and, although his influence was predominately in fiction, his impact on the emergence of drama and theater uniquely Canadian has been widely appreciated. The source of this influence was divided between his position as a respected critic and scholar and his original and striking dramatic writing. As Master of Massey College, a position he held from 1962 to 1981, and as founder and senior scholar of the Graduate Centre for the Study of Drama, Davies influenced two generations of students at the University of Toronto.
The period immediately following World War II was of great significance to the development of indigenous Canadian drama. A spirit of nationalism, arising in large part from the important contribution of Canadian regiments to the victory in Europe, fueled a renewed interest in plays about the Canadian experience. At the same time, there was a sharp increase in the number of plays being performed in theatrical centers such as Toronto. The new professional theater companies were looking for new plays that would appeal to local audiences and with which they could make their reputations. One such company was the Crest Theatre, and several of Davies’ plays were written for this group. Other influential plays by Davies were written for amateur companies and became staples of the amateur repertoire in Canada. As a result, between 1945 and 1965 Davies was the dominant...
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Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
How does Robertson Davies use autobiography and history in his novels? How does one account for the differences between the author’s experiences and those of the characters who seem to represent him?
What role does the psychology of Carl Jung play in Davies’ works? How does the concept of archetypes manifest itself in the novels?
What role does Canadian nationalism play in the novels? Can the author’s attitude toward his nation be considered positive, negative, or ambivalent?
Artistic creation is an important theme in many of Davies’ novels—the visual arts, as well as music, opera, and drama. How might one characterize the author’s attitude toward art and the artist?
Robertson Davies has been characterized as a comic novelist. Is this characterization accurate? Why or why not?
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Cameron, Elspeth, ed. Robertson Davies: An Appreciation. New York: Broadview Press, 1991. Provides criticism and interpretations of Davies’ life and works. Bibliography.
Cheaney, J. B. “Bred in the Bone: The Fiction of Canadian Author Robertson Davies.” The World & I 16, no. 8 (August, 2001): 247-255. Profiles the life and works of Davies.
Davis, J. Madison, ed. Conversations with Robertson Davies. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1989.
Davies, Robertson. The Well-Tempered Critic: One Man’s View of Theatre and Letters in Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1981. The first half of this volume is a collection of essays on the theater, spiced with Davies’ own acerbic wit but revealing his benevolent attitude toward traditional, even medieval, dramatic forms. Contains many reviews of the festival seasons at Stratford, Ontario.
Grant, Judith Skelton. Robertson Davies: Man of Myth. New York: Viking, 1994. The authorized biography, covering all but the last year of Davies’ life. Provides critical commentary on his novels as well as information on his dealings with publishers.
Heintzman, Ralph H., ed. Journal of Canadian Studies 12 (February, 1977). A special issue of Davies criticism; much of the scholarly work on...
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