Robertson Davies, Beyond Canadian

Robertson Davies (1913-1995) is one of the few Canadian authors that I have a great deal of respect for. His Deptford Trilogy: Fifth Business (1970), The Manticore (1972), and World of Wonders (1975), combines the small town parochialism of Canada with elements of a truly world literature. Along with their occult and Jungian underpinnings they present a depth of character, universality and feeling that is unsurpassed in Canadian letters.

In reflecting on my own ambiguous relationship to this nation I often find myself trapped by it. Reject defining myself as a Canadian author, and I’m doing what half of them do; revel in it, and I’m following the other half. When it comes down to it, I know I have to get over this nationality business and just get down to writing as well as I can. But it’s never that easy, is it?

The problem isn’t really a sense of national past, though to be sure, it lends itself so readily to the savage tribal will that today goes under the name of patriotism. It’s the fact that most of what passes for Canadian culture is garish and self-satisfying. It’s the kind of culture typical of every nation that knows itself to be small on the world stage, and responds with a kind of ressentiment. The problem is even worse in Quebec culture, but that’s only by virtue of the fact that it’s couched in a larger nation, and not anything inherent to it. Really, what’s good about french Canadian culture is unique to it, while what’s bad is part of a more common failing. Native culture has the potential to be free and enlivened, but we’ve also managed to squash that through very narrow forms of patronage. Still, at the best of times, like it or not, the most interesting products of this place tend to be hybrids, much like the Manticore itself. Only when it learns how to be a self-knowledgeable and more perfect Manticore, will it ever be able to claim some kind of whole.

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2 thoughts on “Robertson Davies, Beyond Canadian

  1. John Wright says:

    I really can’t add anything to what you’ve said except to recommend a Canadian novel. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston is very good fiction although I’m not sure about its history–and the history of Canada (or at least of Newfoundland) takes in a good part of the book. If you happen to read it, let me know. I’d be happy to revisit my copy and talk about it. (I assume you can get my email from this post?)

    • Evening John,

      I’ll take you up on the offer and look into it. I’ve heard about the book, but have never read it. It’s probably a flaw in myself when I fail to look into works that are deemed “Canadian best sellers”, but I’ll give this one a chance.


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