Robertson Davies

My post about Steve Burrows Birder Mysteries encouraged me to start reading A Siege of Bitterns yesterday and I am enjoying it! The fun titles of those books reminded me of other similar lists, including the one on my husband’s long-time waste basket that sits by his desk.

These lists also brought to mind the wonderful writing of Robertson Davies (1913-1995). Davies was a Canadian actor, director, drama professor, and prolific novelist. Among his novels are four trilogies:
The Salterton Trilogy [Tempest-Tost (1951), Leaven of Malice (1954), A Mixture of Frailties (1958)]
The Deptford Trilogy [Fifth Business (1970), The Manticore (1972), World of Wonders (1975)]
The Cornish Trilogy [The Rebel Angels (1981), What’s Bred in the Bone (1985), The Lyre of Orpheus (1988)]
The “Toronto Trilogy” (incomplete) [Murther and Walking Spirits (1991), The Cunning Man (1994)]

The Rebel Angels is one of my favorites, featuring Simon Darcourt, an Anglican priest and medieval scholar. Darcourt is asked to investigate a research scientist, Ozias Froats, who is analyzing human feces and making the university’s donors very uneasy. When Darcourt goes to visit Froats in his laboratory, he leaves there musing on the research in terms of human names for the leavings of animals. Here’s the paragraph:

“What a lot we had found out about the prehistoric past from the study of fossilized dung of long-vanished animals. A miraculous thing, really; a recovery of the past from what was carelessly rejected. And in the Middle Ages, how concerned people who lived close to the world of nature were with the faeces of animals. And what a variety of names they had for them: the Crotels of a Hare, the Friants of a Boar, the Spraints of an Otter, the Werderobe of a Badger, the Waggying of a Fox, the Fumets of a Deer. Surely there might be some words for the material so dear to the heart of Ozy Froats better than shit? What about the Problems of a President, the Backward Passes of a Footballer, the Deferrals of a Dean, the Odd Volumes of a Librarian, the Footnotes of a Ph.D., the Low Grades of a Freshman, the Anxieties of an Untenured Professor? As for myself, might it not appropriately be called the Collect for the Day?” (Robertson Davies, The Rebel Angels, Penguin, 1983, p. 113.)

Just reading through the titles makes me excited to re-read Robertson Davies. If you don’t know these novels, you have a real treat ahead. And I’ll start again with The Rebel Angels, just as soon as I finish reading about birds in Norfolk!

The Rebel Angels (Cornish Trilogy Book 1) by [Robertson Davies]

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