Davies, Robertson

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Davies, Robertson

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  • Marchbanks, Samuel

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Robertson Davies was born in Thamesville, Ontario in 1913 and was the third son of W. Rupert Davies and Florence Sheppard McKay. Davies’ father, Rupert Davies was born in Wales and was the publisher of The Kingston Whig Standard and was appointed to the Senate as a Liberal in 1942, a position he would hold until his death in 1967. As a young child, Robertson Davies moved with his family to Renfrew, Ontario, where his father managed the local newspaper, the Renfrew Mercury. The family would later relocate to Kingston in 1925. Between 1928 and 1932, Davies attended Upper Canada College in Toronto, where he performed in theatrical performances and wrote and edited the school paper, The College Times. After graduating, Davies attended Queen’s University in Kingston, where he was enrolled as a special student as he was not working towards a specific degree. Between 1932 and 1935, Davies wrote for the school paper and performed and directed theatrical plays. In 1935, Davies traveled to England to study at Baillol College at Oxford, where he was enrolled in a Bachelor of Letters degree. At Oxford, Davies performed with the Oxford University Dramatic Society and was a co-founder of the Long Christmas Dinner Society. After graduating in 1938, Davies published his thesis, Shakespeare’s Boy Actors through the publisher J.M Dent & Sons in 1939. In 1938, Davies joined the Old Vic theatre company, where he had roles in The Taming of the Shrew, She Stoops to Conquer, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and also worked as a teacher of dramatic history at their drama school. At Old Vic, Davies met and married Brenda Matthews Newbold who was the stage manager. He also became well acquainted with Tyrone Guthrie, who was the director from 1933 to 1939, and who would later go on to help found the Stratford Festival. After their marriage in 1940, Robertson and Brenda Davies moved to Toronto, where he was the literary editor of Saturday Night magazine and then to Peterborough, where he was the editor of the Peterborough Examiner, a position he held until 1963. During his time at the Peterborough Examiner he frequently wrote editorials under the pseudonym of Samuel Marchbanks. Marchbanks was so popular that Davies ‘edited’ three books of Marchbanks’ writing including: The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks (1947), The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks (1949) and Samuel Marchbanks Almanack (1967). Davies is considered one of Canada’s greatest novelist and he published eleven novels during his lifetime. His novels were written in trilogies, and he began with the Salterton Trilogy (Tempest-Tost (1951), Leaven of Malice (1954), A Mixture of Frailities (1958)), and continued with 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)). His final trilogy, The Toronto Trilogy (Murther and Walking Spirits (1993) and The Cunning Man (1995)) was incomplete. In addition to his novels, Davies was also a prolific writer and he wrote pieces for newspapers and magazines, published articles in academic journals, contributed to anthologies and published books of short stories, non-fiction and essays. Throughout his life, Davis remained interested in the theatre and he was an active playwright beginning in 1945. Davies served on the first board of governors for the Stratford Festival and he remained connected with the festival through writing about its history as well as staging several plays there. Davies wrote a number of plays including Fortune, my Foe (1948), Eros at Breakfast 1949), At My Heart’s Core (1950),A Jig for the Gypsy (1954), Hunting Stuart (1955), Question Time (1975) and Pontiac and the Green Man (1977) , as well as adapting his novels for the stage, most notably Leaven of Malice and Tempest-Tost. Davies became the founding Master of Massey College in 1963 and lived there throughout his residency and also taught classes in the English department until his retirement in 1988. During his time at Massey College, Davies was well-known for his annual ghost story, which he would tell at the Christmas Gaudy. These stories were later published as High Spirits in 1982. After his retirement, Davies split his time between a condo in Toronto and his country estate, Windover, in the Caledon Hills. Robertson Davies died on 2 December 1995 after a stroke.


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MS Coll 00050

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Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

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