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Writers I revere: Robertson Davies


I was a late convert to Robertson Davies.  Unlike most Canadian teenagers, I never encountered Davies in my high school English classes.  So I was well into my twenties when I read my first RD novel.  Like many, I started with the Deptford Trilogy, comprising Fifth Business, The Manitcore, and World of Wonders.  I was hooked.  I proceeded to read every one of Davies’ eleven novels.  That still didn’t quench my thirst for his wonderful prose so I read his book of ghost stories called High Spirits. Then his volumes of humourous diary entries written in the voice of his alter ego Samuel Marchbanks.

Why was I captivated by Robertson Davies?  I’m not certain I can explain the attraction particularly clearly. As usual, it’s a combination of factors.  His writing is of another time.  I’ve often thought he was born a century too late.  His novels tend to unfold in the present even though the carefully crafted sentences bear all the marks of an earlier age.  In a word, he writes beautifully.  His sentences don’t just tell a compelling story, they reflect the joy he clearly felt in writing them.  As well, his characters are rendered so clearly, so deeply, yet so effortlessly,  that you all of sudden realize as you read that you know these characters and care enough about them to love them or despise them.  You hardly feel it happening.  Such is the power of his pen.  I believe he wrote his novels in long hand with a fountain pen.

As I wrote in an earlier blog post, my wife Nancy and I attended a public memorial service to mark the passing of Robertson Davies in December 1995 .  I’ll never forget it.  All of the CanLit heavyweights were there including my own editor and publisher, Douglas Gibson.  To close out the service, the crowd rose to its feet and belted out Adeste Fideles, which is O Come All Ye Faithful in Latin.

That Robertson Davies and I have both won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Award for Humour will always be one of the great and humbling joys of my life.  If you’ve not dipped into Robertson Davies, do yourself a favour and lose yourself in a great Canadian master.

3 responses to “Writers I revere: Robertson Davies”

  1. Jennifer says:

    I agree with you. I in fact did read some of his work in high school and LOVED it. I think I may have been the only one in my class. It takes a fabulous writer to be able to combine emotion, wit and narrative into a web and then have it all suddenly unravel in the final chapter. It left me in awe!

  2. Terry Fallis says:

    Well put Jennifer.

  3. […] I’ve noted several times already in this space, Robertson Davies is one of my literary heroes. His novels were among the first to show me that literary prose, […]

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