Zenosbooks

(05/12/2008) Fifth Business by Robertson Davies. New York. 1970. Viking Press. keywords: Literature Canada. 308 pages. Jacket design by Mel Williamson. 0670312134. November 1970.

FROM THE PUBLISHER -

   In reality, conjuring is nothing more than the subtle art of misdirecting an audience's attention. Its practitioners succeed by creating a reality of their own, a mythical moment out of a person's life in time during which he can extend his faith in his beliefs, unafraid. Dunstan Ramsay does not, on the surface, display any such skill as conjuring requires. He is a quiet, devoted, somewhat dumpy history professor, retiring after forty-five years of service to a Canadian boys' school. Though, not deceived by the illusions a magician can create, he is nonetheless fascinated with them. His students and colleagues take him for a doddering, dim old scholar with a wooden leg and an eccentric preoccupation with hagiography: he is obsessed with the search for and charting of saints, having shared his only intimate friendship with one of them, though it was an intimacy tainted by guilt. Compelled to write his memoirs in the form of a dryly indignant letter to the school's headmaster, Ramsay reveals the truly unique, sometimes eerie, always complicating role he has played during his life. Or, rather, during his lives. For Ramsay is a man twice born, a man who has returned from the hell of the battle-grave at Passchendaele in World War I decorated with the Victoria Cross, and destined to live within the probing psychological borderlines between history and myth, reality and surreal ity. As Ramsay tells it, it becomes increasingly evident that, from boyhood, he has exerted a perhaps mystical, perhaps pernicious influence on those around him. His apparently innocent involvements in such innocuous events as the throwing of a snowball or the teaching of card tricks to a small boy in the end prove neither innocent nor innocuous. Robertson Davies has created a deeply civilized, yet theatrical portrait of a dark and witty man who, while moving in a world where questions have more meaning than answers, comes to the knowledge that the marvelous is but an aspect of the real, and that the mystery of his own self, once untangled, provides him with a crystalline insight into the energies and mysteries of the universe.

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.

 

Check zenosbooks.com for either a used or a new copy of this book, or you can add it to your wishlist.

 



Search

Zeno's Picks

  • Walker, David. David Walker's Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World

    Zenosbooks - Zeno's Picks

    Walker, David. David Walker's Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World Walker, David. David Walker's Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. University Park. 2000. Penn State University Press. 9780271019949. Edited, with an introduction and annotations by Peter P. Hinks. 5 x 8.5. 2 illustrations. 184 pages. paperback.   FROM THE PUBLISHER - In 1829 David Walker, a free black born in Wilmington, North Carolina, wrote one of America‚Äôs most provocative politicaldocuments of the nineteenth[…]

    Read more...
  • Dumas, Henry. Jonoah & the Green Stone

    Zenosbooks - Zeno's Picks

    Dumas, Henry. Jonoah & the Green Stone Dumas, Henry. Jonoah & the Green Stone. New York. 1976. Random House. 0394497910. 170 pages. hardcover. Jacket design by Mike Stromberg.  FROM THE PUBLISHER - Henry Dumas was a first-rate writer with first-order intelligence. The publication of his short stories, ARK OF BONES, and poetry, PLAY EBONY PLAY IVORY, was received with spectacular acclaim. Now a novel has been discovered that will satisfy the appetites[…]

    Read more...
  • Uwagba, Otegha. Whites: On Race and Other Falsehoods

    Zenosbooks - Zeno's Picks

    Uwagba, Otegha. Whites: On Race and Other Falsehoods Uwagba, Otegha. Whites: On Race and Other Falsehoods. London. 2020. 4th Estate. 9780008440428. 71 pages. paperback.  FROM THE PUBLISHER - In this powerful and timely personal essay, best-selling author Otegha Uwagba reflects on racism, whiteness, and the mental labour required of Black people to navigate relationships with white people. Presented as a record of Uwagba's observations on this era-defining moment in history - that is,[…]

    Read more...
  • Davies, Carole Boyce. Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones

    Zenosbooks - Zeno's Picks

    Davies, Carole Boyce. Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones Davies, Carole Boyce. Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones. Durham. 2008. Duke University Press. 9780822341161. 311 pages. paperback. Cover photograph - Claudia Jones in 1948.  FROM THE PUBLISHER - In LEFT OF KARL MARX, Carole Boyce Davies assesses the activism, writing, and legacy of Claudia Jones (1915-1964), a pioneering Afro-Caribbean radical intellectual, dedicated communist, and feminist. Jones is buried[…]

    Read more...
  • Painter, Nell Irvin. The History of White People

    Zenosbooks - Zeno's Picks

    Painter, Nell Irvin. The History of White People Painter, Nell Irvin. The History of White People. New York. 2010. Norton. 9780393049343. 496 pages. hardcover. Cover design by Keenan.  FROM THE PUBLISHER - A mind-expanding and myth-destroying exploration of notions of white race - not merely a skin color but also a signal of power, prestige, and beauty to be withheld and granted selectively. Our story begins in Greek and Roman antiquity, where the[…]

    Read more...
Copyright © 2021 Zenosbooks. All Rights Reserved.
Joomla! is Free Software released under the GNU General Public License.