So, now that I’ve gotten somewhat settled in my new home, I can spare time to think about my upcoming event: Robertson Davies Reading Week!
I’m thrilled to finally be giving some extra attention to one of my favorite authors, along with several blogging friends who have kindly agreed to do guest posts or to allow me to link to their planned reviews. The week will be August 25 to 31, to coordinate with Davies’s birthdate, August 28. Davies died in 1995 at the age of 82, but we will celebrate his 106th birthday in his honor.
More about that later — for now, the important thing is for you to find something to read. Some people have asked about a recommended order or starting point for Davies’s work, so here is a brief guide to your choices. This is not an exhaustive bibliography, but I have personally read and enjoyed every book on this list, and I hope you will too. Links are to Goodreads for plot summaries and further information.
Davies wrote eleven full-length novels, which fall into three trilogies related by setting and characters, plus two final novels that would have become a trilogy had he lived to complete the third. The “trilogy” idea was influenced by the work of Joyce Cary, a novelist Davies admired greatly. (If you have time to do some related reading, Cary’s trilogy culminating in The Horse’s Mouth is well worth a look.)
I do not think it’s absolutely necessary to read any of the trilogies in order. Characters and events are introduced in earlier books that are more meaningful in later books when you have that background. However, these are not conventionally chronological series; often they explore the same material from different points of view, or are set in the same location but otherwise loosely connected.
Where to begin? I started with his first novel, Tempest-Tost, and never looked back. Many people begin with Fifth Business, probably his most well-known work. My personal favorite, What’s Bred in the Bone, is the middle book of a trilogy but can be read on its own. His last novel, The Cunning Man, is a standalone that deals with mortality and the art of healing, unsurprisingly at the forefront of an aging novelist’s concerns. But there are many other possibilities; I would say to feel free to pick up the book that intrigues you the most for whatever reason, and if you like it you can move on to the others.
The Salterton Trilogy: Tempest-Tost, Leaven of Malice, A Mixture of Frailties
The Deptford Trilogy: Fifth Business, The Manticore, World of Wonders
The Cornish Trilogy: The Rebel Angels, What’s Bred in the Bone, The Lyre of Orpheus
Two Toronto novels: Murther and Walking Spirits, The Cunning Man
Davies wrote and lectured on a wide variety of subjects, and many of these pieces have been collected in various forms. If you share any of Davies’s “enthusiasms” — notably music, the theatre, and of course reading — you may enjoy these as well.
The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies
The Merry Heart: Reflectiong on Reading, Writing, and the World of Books
Happy Alchemy: On the Pleasures of Music and the Theatre
A Voice from the Attic: Essays on the Art of Reading
If you just can’t get enough RD, check out his collected letters, diaries, the early newspaper columns by his alter ego Samuel Marchbanks, or his ghost stories told each Christmastime while he was Master of Massey College.
For Your Eye Alone: The Letters of Robertson Davies
A Celtic Temperament: Robertson Davies as Diarist
The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks
High Spirits: A Collection of Ghost Stories
Whew! Just making this list has made me itchy to get reading. I hope you have been inspired as well, and that you’ll join us for the week. What would you like to pick up first?
22 thoughts on “Robertson Davies Reading Week is coming!”
Looking forward to this event, Lory. And I’m glad to read that you’ve settled in “somewhat”. So much excitement!
Excellent. I will be reading Leaven of Malice . Glad you have settled in to your new home.
And I’m glad to see you moving on to Davies #2.
I have a *lot* of his books but the hard bit will be deciding… 😀
Random number draw? Dart-throwing? You can’t really go wrong.
So glad to hear you’re settled in your new European home, hope you’re enjoying your change of perspective! Also hope you’re coping with the extreme temperatures temperate Europe is now experiencing…
Robertson Davies: as it happens, at the point where June started thinking of handing the baton on to July I went on to World of Wonders in anticipation of a new theatre to enjoy a spectacle in. I’m away for a week in Devon in a few days, and if the weather turns nasty I shall get through it a lot faster, and more besides! I’m mulling over possible angles to take when I write a piece for you for August.
Mull away, and I shall look forward to whatever you come up with.
As for my process of adapting, the heat is draining, but I can’t say I’m not used to it from New York. Somehow I am more tired here though (maybe the altitude?) Otherwise, I’m in a spectacular place and feel very lucky.
What altitude are you at, Lory? I’ve felt heady at just over 3000 metres in the Alps but I can’t imagine prolonged living, having only spent a week at a time at around 1800m. Would love to see photos of the scenery where you are.
BTW, do give me at least a nominal deadline for a RD post, I can’t guarantee to get it to you precisely on the date but it’ll give me something to work towards and time for you to fine tune it when it arrives.
Well, it’s around 800 meters which is not really that high, only about 200 meters higher than where I lived in NH. I do feel better now the heat has abated, anyway. I should definitely post photos, it’s pretty spectacular here though not the Alps.
For RD post, to have something by the second week of August would be plenty of time for me. Let me know if that works.
That deadline sounds perfect, I’ll even aim for something a little earlier. And look forward to the photos!
In Pembrokeshire we were only a little under 250 metres up the Preseli Hill — pimples, really! — and now only 60 metres above sea level, but it’s how exposed the site is that really made the difference, we found.
So glad that you’re settling in, Lory! Good for you. 🙂 The heat has been a bit grim, hasn’t it?
I have brought back the Deptford and Salterton trilogies and What’s Bred in the Bone, so now I just have to decide which to read. This will take ages, so your reminder is timely.
Well that gives you quite a selection to choose from. I’ve just heard my books should be here next week so I’m excited for that!
Yay! Pleasurable anticipation.
Looking forward to this!
Looks like the time is coming for me to finally read What’s Bred in the Bone! I enjoy reading reflections on reading, so I might check out The Merry Heart or A Voice from the Attic.
All great choices.
Hi, Lory! I’m excited to participate in this. Today, I located my copy of Fifth Business and am looking forward to reading this novel.
Wonderful, I hope you enjoy it.
wow, never heard of him, pretty bad!!
You’re not the only one – that’s why we need to do this event!