William Robertson Davies was born on August 28, 1913, into a family of enterprising and individualistic Canadian entrepreneurs and newspaper publishers. The third child of Rupert and Florence MacKay Davies was to inherit the verbal skills and high-energy work ethic of his parents, along with their Welsh temperament. Receiving a cultural education that included frequent visits to the opera and theater, balanced with regular exposure to church music, Davies learned to love words very early from the family habit of reading aloud. He learned to read at the age of six and promptly began consuming the classics as well as popular newspaper and magazine fare.
When his family moved to Renfrew, Ontario, young Davies was forced to attend a country grade school, where ruffians and jealous peers made his quiet, bookish life miserable. These times were to be recalled in some of his best fiction. Travel with his father, in Europe as well as throughout Canada, convinced him of the importance of a British education; after undergraduate work at Upper Canada College, Davies spent 1932 to 1938 at Queen’s College and Oxford University, reading literature, drama, and history. A predilection for acting led him to the Old Vic (1938-1939), until World War II sent him back to Canada to begin a journalistic career, following his father’s financial interests. By 1942 he was editor of the Peterborough Examiner, a man of great interests and broad education trapped by circumstance in a fairly provincial Canadian town, forced to deal daily with the pedestrian affairs of journalism. Far from fading into the woods, however, he found his creative voice and energy in the contradiction and began a fruitful writing career.
At the center of Davies’ strange reconciliation of apparent opposites was his ability to live moderately, sanely, while expressing his outrageous imagination in writing. He took on the journalistic persona of Samuel Marchbanks, an outspoken man of letters, at once the antithesis and the complement of Davies the man. So successful was his ability...
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