Saturday, August 28, 2010

Robertson Davies: The Writer's Writer

Robertson Davies is one of those writers I almost feel obligated to read, being a Canadian and being a writer and all; in fact, my fellow writers often give me grief about never having read one of his books. Still, every writer has their blind spots - I know people who claim to be novelists who've never read Dickens - and in my case it's Robertson Davies.

PhotobucketLike vitamins, exercise, or other things you know to be good for you but eschew them anyhow, Robertson Davies has somehow never made his way into my intellectual routine, despite the benefits I may be missing because of it. The only reason I can think of for why this is so is that Davies always seemed like an old man to me, and I guess I figured his books would likewise be for old men. I always assumed I'd get around to reading them when I was old... So, any day now then.

The other thing that turned me off is probably his penchant for writing in trilogies; reading a book, even a long one, is one thing, but reading a book that would then lead into a second and a third seems like more commitment than an addle-brained magpie like me can be expected to make.

While Davies was in his forties when The Salterton Trilogy appeared, and in his sixties when The Deptford Trilogy (arguably his most famous) was being published, he was already into his seventies when The Cornish Trilogy (his last complete trilogy) dominated Canada's literary landscape. These were the ones which were ubiquitous during my school career, whether The Rebel Angels (1981), What's Bred in the Bone (1985), or The Lyre of Orpheus (1988) - and they're still readily available today. Rare is the yard sale I don't run across at least one of these titles in a well-worn, oft-read, much-loved paperback - which is all the testament I should need to convince me to read them.

Davies' writing career (and life) ended with a duo, the unfinished The Toronto Trilogy... In addition to novels, he also wrote short stories, essays, criticism, plays, journalism, and opera libretti as well as contributing to academe during his long career in words. Born on this day in 1913, Robertson Davies died in December 1995, while at work a follow-up to Murther and Walking Spirits (1991) and The Cunning Man (1994), in other words the third book of the Toronto Trilogy that wasn't to be...
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