Robertson Davies

(1913—1995) novelist and university teacher

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Canadian novelist, whose career spanned writing, teaching, and acting.

Davies was born into a modest but ambitious family in Thamesville, Ontario. His father, a printer, founded a newspaper and eventually became a senator. Davies was educated at Queen's University, Toronto, and Balliol College, Oxford, where he became involved in the theatre. In 1938 his encyclopedic knowledge of Shakespeare secured him two years as personal assistant to Tyrone Guthrie at the Old Vic. Returning to Toronto in 1940 with his wife, Australian stage manager Brenda Mathews, he became literary editor of the Saturday Review, then editor of his father's Peterborough Journal, to which he contributed a daily humorous column in the persona of Samuel Marchbanks. Subsequently he taught English at the University of Toronto until his retirement in 1981.

Davies wrote a score of plays but none of these was produced outside Canada. In the long run it was his complex novels that established his international reputation. Tempest-Tost (1951), his first novel, became the initial volume of The Salterton Trilogy, which was followed by two much more ambitious sequences, The Deptford Trilogy and The Cornish Trilogy. The second volume of the latter, What's Bred in the Bone, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize (1986); this book, probably more than any other, turned his cult following into a mass readership. Although his writing is firmly anchored in Canada, Davies often deplored the comfort and quietness of his homeland, which encouraged him to fill his work with magic, murder, and the arcane. Astrology, religion, opera, and Jungian psychology have all provided major themes for Davies's books. In addition to volumes of criticism and academic works on Shakespeare, Davies also published a study and an anthology of the writings of Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock (1869–1944).

Subjects: Literature.

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