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Rediscovering Robertson Davies

abstract:While browsing through the stacks at a favorite independent bookstore, I came upon a copy of Fifth Business, a Canadian classic by Robertson Davies, the first novel of his acclaimed Deptford Trilogy. I cannot resist a Penguin paperbackóthe combination of superior cover art and binding make them a pleasure to hold, read and collect. If you've not yet discovered Canada's prominent novelist, playwright, critic, and journalist, then pick up a copy of Fifth Business as it is his most autobiographical work of fiction. It tells the story of three charactersóDunstan Ramsey, Boy Staunton, and Paul Dempster, whose life paths are haunted by a single boyhood event. Davies' prose is reflective of his academic study of mythology and archetypes, his career as a repertory actor and theater advocate. He was one of the founders of the Ontario Stratford Shakespearean Festival, North America's leading classical theater.


January 31, 2008
— Robertson Davies was born in Thamesville, Ontario. He was the son of a Welsh newspaperman. He used to say that Welshmen were almost universally manic depressives. It is believed that he despised his father. He attended Upper Canada College and then Queens University. LIke most men of promise in Canada, Davies traveled to the UK for post graduate studies at Oxford. He met and married his wife there and worked for a time at The Old Repitoire Theatre where he cemented a love for theatre.

Upon his return to Canada he took up his father's business and after a short stint as the editor of the Saturday Night Magazine, he became the editor of the Peterborough Examiner. Nothing else, could afford a writer more insight into the inner workings of a community, he once said. During his tenure as editor of the Examiner, which lasted from 1942 to 1955, and after that when he became publisher from 1955 to 1965, Davies experienced a Renaissance of work; he published a total 18 books, produced several of his own plays and wrote articles for various journals.

Also during the 1950s, Davies played a major role in launching the Stratford Shakespearean Festival of Canada. He served on the Festival's board of governors and collaborated with the Festival's director, Sir Tyrone Guthrie, in publishing three books about the Festival's early years. Although his first love was drama and he had achieved some success with his occasional humorous essays, Davies found greater success in fiction. His first three novels, which later became known as , were Tempest-Tost (1951), Leaven of Malice (1954) (which won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour), and A Mixture of Frailties (1958). These novels explored the difficulty of sustaining a cultural life in Canada, and life on a small-town newspaper, subjects of which Davies had first-hand knowledge.

My favorite phase of his life is when he entered into Jungian philosophy and wrote The Deptford Trilogy. This is when Davies succeeded in characterizing a generation of Canadians and a way of life now past. He won the Governor General Award forManticore(1972) the second book in the series. He was short-listed for the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1986 for What's Bred in the Bone. He was the first Canadian to become an Honorary Member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He received the Companion of the Order of Canada. Created in 1967, the Order was established to recognize the lifetime contributions made by Canadians who made a major difference to Canada. The Order also recognizes efforts made by non-Canadians who have made the world better by their actions. Musicians, politicians, artists, television and film stars, benefactors, and many more have been accepted into the Order. He died in Orangeville, Ontario in 1995 having lived to 82. He is considered one of Canada's most important writers.



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