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(04/26/2008) Leaven Of Malice by Robertson Davies. Toronto. 1954. Clarke Irwin & Company. keywords: Literature Canada. 312 pages. Jacket design by Clair Stewart.

FROM THE PUBLISHER -

   It was malice that prompted the insertion in the columns of the Salterton Evening Bellman of a false announcement of an engagement. Though it was aimed at three people only, before the leaven of malice had ceased to work, it had changed permanently, for good or for ill, the lives of many of the citizens of Salterton. The tasteless joke was directed against Solly Bridgetower, a junior instructor in English at Waverley University, out of love with his work, bound hand and foot by the over-devotion of a possessive mother; against Pearl Vambrace, the prisoner of a gloomy and divided home, the subdued daughter of a dominant father; and against Gloster Ridley, editor of the Evening Bellman, whose successful guidance of his paper did not prevent him from being ridden, whip and spur, by Anxiety. But malice, as Jevon Knapp, Dean of the Anglican Cathedral in Salterton, put it, 'works like a leaven; it stirs and swells, and changes all that surrounds it. ' The good Dean spoke of what he knew, for he too was touched by the stirring of the leaven, as was Humphrey Cobbler, that somewhat dif- ferent organist; Professor Vambrace, the saturnine Head of Waverley's Classics Department; Swithin Shillito, editorial writer, upon whom had fallen, in his opinion at least, the mantle of the eighteenth century essayist; Constant Reader, Ridley's devoted housekeeper; Mr. Snelgrove, the lawyer who played the part with a store of stagey mannerisms; and a host of others, LEAVEN OF MALICE is Robertson Davies' second novel, As in TEMPEST-TOST, the first, the locale of the story is Salterton, a Canadian provincial city, and some old friends from TEMPEST-TOST make their reappearance here. There are few writers in the English language today who excel Robertson Davies in the art of characterization and the humour of situation, The men and women who people the pages of this book, and the situations into which their characters drive them under the stirring and swelling of the leaven of malice, are its principal joy. The scenes in which Professor Vambrace corrects the conception of the Oedipus Complex held by a professional psychologist; or Solly Bridgetower lectures on the new field of Amcan; or Humphrey Cobbler leads some pupils in folk-singing in the Cathedral on Halloween; or Gloster Ridley addresses himself to his day's stint as an editorial writer, are funny indeed, and the glimpses of the workings of a daily newspaper are unforgettable. In LEAVEN OF MALICE Robertson Davies has contrived a truly comic work.

William Robertson Davies, was a Canadian novelist, playwright, critic, journalist, and professor. He was one of Canada's best-known and most popular authors, and one of its most distinguished 'men of letters', a term Davies is sometimes said to have detested. Davies was the founding Master of Massey College, a graduate college at the University of Toronto. Growing up, Davies was surrounded by books and language. His father, Senator William Rupert Davies, was a newspaperman, and both his parents were voracious readers. He, in turn, read everything he could. He also participated in theatrical productions as a child, where he developed a lifelong interest in drama. He attended Upper Canada College in Toronto from 1926 to 1932 and while there attended services at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. He would later leave the Presbyterian Church and convert to Anglicanism over objections to Calvinist theology. After Upper Canada College, he studied at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario from 1932 until 1935. At Queen's he was enrolled as a special student not working towards a degree, and wrote for the student paper, The Queen's Journal. He left Canada to study at Balliol College, Oxford, where he received a BLitt degree in 1938. The next year he published his thesis, Shakespeare's Boy Actors, and embarked on an acting career outside London. In 1940 he played small roles and did literary work for the director at the Old Vic Repertory Company in London. Also that year Davies married Australian Brenda Mathews, whom he had met at Oxford, and who was then working as stage manager for the theatre. Davies' early life provided him with themes and material to which he would often return in his later work, including the theme of Canadians returning to England to finish their education, and the theatre. Davies and his new bride returned to Canada in 1940, where he took the position of literary editor at the magazine Saturday Night. Two years later, he became editor of the Peterborough Examiner in the small city of Peterborough, Ontario, northeast of Toronto. Again he was able to mine his experiences here for many of the characters and situations which later appeared in his novels and plays. Davies, along with family members William Rupert Davies and Arthur Davies, purchased several media outlets. Along with the Examiner newspaper, they owned the Kingston Whig-Standard newspaper, CHEX-AM, CKWS-AM, CHEX-TV, and CKWS-TV. During his tenure as editor of the Examiner, which lasted from 1942 to 1955, and when he was publisher from 1955 to 1965, Davies published a total 18 books, produced several of his own plays and wrote articles for various journals. For example, Davies set out his theory of acting in his Shakespeare for Young Players and then put theory into practice when he wrote Eros at Breakfast, a one-act play which was named best Canadian play of the year by the 1948 Dominion Drama Festival. Eros at Breakfast was followed in close succession by Fortune, My Foe in 1949 and At My Heart's Core, a three-act play, in 1950. Meanwhile, Davies was writing humorous essays in the Examiner under the pseudonym Samuel Marchbanks. Some of these were collected and published in The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks, The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks, and later in Samuel Marchbanks' Almanack Also during the 1950s, Davies played a major role in launching the Stratford Shakespearean Festival of Canada. He served on the Festival's board of governors and collaborated with the Festival's director, Sir Tyrone Guthrie, in publishing three books about the Festival's early years. Although his first love was drama and he had achieved some success with his occasional humorous essays, Davies found greater success in fiction. His first three novels, which later became known as The Salterton Trilogy, were Tempest-Tost, Leaven of Malice, and A Mixture of Frailties These novels explored the difficulty of sustaining a cultural life in Canada, and life on a small-town newspaper, subjects of which Davies had first-hand knowledge. In 1960 Davies joined Trinity College at the University of Toronto, where he would teach literature until 1981. The following year he published a collection of essays on literature A Voice From the Attic, and was awarded the Lorne Pierce Medal for his literary achievements. In 1963 he became the Master of Massey College, the University of Toronto's new graduate college. During his stint as Master, he initiated the tradition of writing and telling ghost stories at the yearly Christmas celebrations. His stories were later collected in his book High Spirits Davies drew on his interest in Jungian psychology to create what was perhaps his greatest novel: Fifth Business, a book that draws heavily on Davies' own experiences, his love of myth and magic and his knowledge of small-town mores. The narrator, like Davies, is of immigrant Canadian background, with a father who runs the town paper. The book's characters act in roles that roughly correspond to Jungian archetypes according to Davies' belief in the predominance of the spirit over the things of the world. Davies built on the success of Fifth Business with two more novels: The Manticore, a novel cast largely in the form of a Jungian analysis, and World of Wonders Together these three books came to be known as The Deptford Trilogy. When Davies retired from his position at the University, his seventh novel, a satire of academic life, The Rebel Angels, was published, followed by What's Bred in the Bone These two books, along with The Lyre of Orpheus, became known as The Cornish Trilogy. During his retirement he continued to write novels which further established him as a major figure in the literary world: The Lyre of Orpheus, Murther and Walking Spirits and The Cunning Man A third novel in what would have been a further trilogy was in progress at Davies' death. He also realized a long-held dream when he penned the libretto to an opera: The Golden Ass, based on The Metamorphoses of Lucius Apuleius, just like that written by one of the characters in Davies' 1958 A Mixture of Frailties. The opera was performed by the Canadian Opera Company at the Hummingbird Centre in Toronto, in April, 1999, several years after Davies' death. Davies was a fine public speaker: deft, often humorous, and unafraid to be unfashionable. leaven of malice clarke irwin. jpg. Leaven Of Malice by Robertson Davies. New York. 1955. Scribners. Literature Canada. 312. Jacket design by Helen Borten. 'Mr. Davies balances wit with sympathy,' said the London Times, 'and has a fine eye for the more alarming aspects of social intercourse. ' It is precisely those qualities that make LEAVEN OF MALICE a delight to read. The story takes place in a Canadian university city, called Salterton; and the action is set off by a malicious joke--the insertion, in the Evening Bellman, of a false engagement announcement. What lies behind this act becomes an increasingly disturbing mystery, until the climax of the novel, but the resulting uproar bears out the words of the Dean of the Salterton Cathedral: 'Malice works like a leaven; it stirs and swells, and changes all that surrounds it. ' There are a number of people affected by this leaven of malice. First of all, Gloster Ridley, editor of the Bellman; then Solly Bridgetower, an instructor of English at the university, who has been named as prospective groom; his equally startled 'bride', Pearl Vambrace, and her father, a classical scholar now in a state of ferment exceptional even for him. The good Dean of the Cathedral is affected, too, and his uninhibited organist, Humphry Cobbler; so are two or three lawyers, a psychologist, and several ladies of social prominence. Mr. Davies writes with alert urbanity. Whenever his characters behave absurdly he is quick to make the most of it, to the great entertainment of the reader. But his satire, for all its bite, is not cruel; his comedy contains so much warmth that the author's liking for his characters is made evident - and infectious. LEAVEN OF MALICE catches the flavor of the particular world of Salterton, and it reveals with precision the odd mixture of nonsense, decency, pomposity and pathos that exists in every society. William Robertson Davies, was a Canadian novelist, playwright, critic, journalist, and professor. He was one of Canada's best-known and most popular authors, and one of its most distinguished 'men of letters', a term Davies is sometimes said to have detested. Davies was the founding Master of Massey College, a graduate college at the University of Toronto. Growing up, Davies was surrounded by books and language. His father, Senator William Rupert Davies, was a newspaperman, and both his parents were voracious readers. He, in turn, read everything he could. He also participated in theatrical productions as a child, where he developed a lifelong interest in drama. He attended Upper Canada College in Toronto from 1926 to 1932 and while there attended services at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. He would later leave the Presbyterian Church and convert to Anglicanism over objections to Calvinist theology. After Upper Canada College, he studied at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario from 1932 until 1935. At Queen's he was enrolled as a special student not working towards a degree, and wrote for the student paper, The Queen's Journal. He left Canada to study at Balliol College, Oxford, where he received a BLitt degree in 1938. The next year he published his thesis, Shakespeare's Boy Actors, and embarked on an acting career outside London. In 1940 he played small roles and did literary work for the director at the Old Vic Repertory Company in London. Also that year Davies married Australian Brenda Mathews, whom he had met at Oxford, and who was then working as stage manager for the theatre. Davies' early life provided him with themes and material to which he would often return in his later work, including the theme of Canadians returning to England to finish their education, and the theatre. Davies and his new bride returned to Canada in 1940, where he took the position of literary editor at the magazine Saturday Night. Two years later, he became editor of the Peterborough Examiner in the small city of Peterborough, Ontario, northeast of Toronto. Again he was able to mine his experiences here for many of the characters and situations which later appeared in his novels and plays. Davies, along with family members William Rupert Davies and Arthur Davies, purchased several media outlets. Along with the Examiner newspaper, they owned the Kingston Whig-Standard newspaper, CHEX-AM, CKWS-AM, CHEX-TV, and CKWS-TV. During his tenure as editor of the Examiner, which lasted from 1942 to 1955, and when he was publisher from 1955 to 1965, Davies published a total 18 books, produced several of his own plays and wrote articles for various journals. For example, Davies set out his theory of acting in his Shakespeare for Young Players and then put theory into practice when he wrote Eros at Breakfast, a one-act play which was named best Canadian play of the year by the 1948 Dominion Drama Festival. Eros at Breakfast was followed in close succession by Fortune, My Foe in 1949 and At My Heart's Core, a three-act play, in 1950. Meanwhile, Davies was writing humorous essays in the Examiner under the pseudonym Samuel Marchbanks. Some of these were collected and published in The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks, The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks, and later in Samuel Marchbanks' Almanack Also during the 1950s, Davies played a major role in launching the Stratford Shakespearean Festival of Canada. He served on the Festival's board of governors and collaborated with the Festival's director, Sir Tyrone Guthrie, in publishing three books about the Festival's early years. Although his first love was drama and he had achieved some success with his occasional humorous essays, Davies found greater success in fiction. His first three novels, which later became known as The Salterton Trilogy, were Tempest-Tost, Leaven of Malice, and A Mixture of Frailties These novels explored the difficulty of sustaining a cultural life in Canada, and life on a small-town newspaper, subjects of which Davies had first-hand knowledge. In 1960 Davies joined Trinity College at the University of Toronto, where he would teach literature until 1981. The following year he published a collection of essays on literature A Voice From the Attic, and was awarded the Lorne Pierce Medal for his literary achievements. In 1963 he became the Master of Massey College, the University of Toronto's new graduate college. During his stint as Master, he initiated the tradition of writing and telling ghost stories at the yearly Christmas celebrations. His stories were later collected in his book High Spirits Davies drew on his interest in Jungian psychology to create what was perhaps his greatest novel: Fifth Business, a book that draws heavily on Davies' own experiences, his love of myth and magic and his knowledge of small-town mores. The narrator, like Davies, is of immigrant Canadian background, with a father who runs the town paper. The book's characters act in roles that roughly correspond to Jungian archetypes according to Davies' belief in the predominance of the spirit over the things of the world. Davies built on the success of Fifth Business with two more novels: The Manticore, a novel cast largely in the form of a Jungian analysis, and World of Wonders Together these three books came to be known as The Deptford Trilogy. When Davies retired from his position at the University, his seventh novel, a satire of academic life, The Rebel Angels, was published, followed by What's Bred in the Bone These two books, along with The Lyre of Orpheus, became known as The Cornish Trilogy. During his retirement he continued to write novels which further established him as a major figure in the literary world: The Lyre of Orpheus, Murther and Walking Spirits and The Cunning Man A third novel in what would have been a further trilogy was in progress at Davies' death. He also realized a long-held dream when he penned the libretto to an opera: The Golden Ass, based on The Metamorphoses of Lucius Apuleius, just like that written by one of the characters in Davies' 1958 A Mixture of Frailties. The opera was performed by the Canadian Opera Company at the Hummingbird Centre in Toronto, in April, 1999, several years after Davies' death. Davies was a fine public speaker: deft, often humorous, and unafraid to be unfashionable.

 

 

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