Manuscript Collection MS Coll. 00050 - Robertson Davies Papers

Identity area

Reference code

CA OTUTF MS Coll. 00050


Robertson Davies Papers


  • 1929 - 2008 (Creation)

Level of description

Manuscript Collection

Extent and medium

115 boxes (22 metres)

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

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.

Name of creator


Biographical history

Dr. Richard (Rick) Davis was a family physician from Guelph, Ontario. He learned of Robertson Davies in 1975, in a third-year North American Literature class at the University of Guelph. He began collecting books by Davies in 1980, and became acquainted with the writer in 1988. Davis became a prolific collector of Davis' books, as well as archival material and ephemera related to the author. Davis provided medical advice to Davies for 'Murther and the Walking Spirits' (1991) and 'The Cunning Man' (1994).

Name of creator


Biographical history

Commonly known as Bascove, she is an American artist, that works in the media of painting, printmaking and collages. Bascove designed the book covers for the Penguin editions for all of Robertson Davies' novels, as well as his book of short stories, 'High Spirits' (1982) and his collection of public addresses, 'One-Half of Robertson Davies' (1977).

Archival history

This collection consists of the papers and ephemera relating to Robertson Davies that was collected by Dr. Rick Davis. Davis began collecting Davies material in the early 1980s and was active in the collector community and he presented on Davies at symposiums and book fairs. Davis was a trained doctor and consulted with Davies on medical queries for The Cunning Man. Davies and his long-term secretary, Moira Whalon, frequently sent and gifted Davis material, especially drafts, proofs and autographed books. After Davies’ death, Davis was in frequent contact with Davies’ wife, Brenda Davies, and his daughter, Jennifer Surridge. Brenda Davies and Jennifer Surridge managed Davies’ estate and went on to form Pendragon Ink to manage rights and other business related to Davies’ works after his death. They chose to entrust the majority of Davies’ material in their possession to Davis. Dr. Rick Davis died in 2014 and his collection has been donated by his wife, June Davis.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Gift of June Davis, 2017

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Collection contains personal and professional papers pertaining to Robertson Davies. This includes material relating to Davies’ early life, including writing and acting as a student at Upper Canada College (1929-1932), his studies at Baillol College at Oxford (1935-1938), and participation in theatrical performances in Kingston, Oxford, the Old Vic Theatre, Peterborough and the Stratford Festival (1934-1960). The papers contain a small amount of material related to Davies’ career as a journalist at Saturday Night magazine and the Peterborough Examiner. These papers contain extensive material on the novels, books and writing of Davies. This includes drafts, proofs, correspondence, reviews, clippings and any stage adaptations of his novels from The Salterton Trilogy (Tempest-Tost, Leaven of Malice and A Mixture of Frailties), The Deptford Trilogy (Fifth Business, The Manticore and World of Wonders), The Cornish Trilogy (The Rebel Angels, What’s Bred in the Bone and The Lyre of Orpheus) and the incomplete Toronto Trilogy (Murther and Walking Spirits and The Cunning Man). Also included are a complete set of original drafts and woodcuts for the Penguin edition covers of Davies’ novels, which were designed by the American printmaker Bascove. Limited material related to his essays, short stories and non-fiction publications, notably including Shakespeare’s Boy Actors, A Voice from the Attic, High Spirits and his books of fictional essays by Samuel Marchbanks are a part of the papers. Additionally, the collection includes considerable records relating to Davies’ contributions to anthologies as well as professional writing in academic journals, newspapers and magazines. These papers encompass Davies’ career as a playwright, including material related to twenty-two original works including drafts, scripts, photographs, posters, playbills and clippings, as well as the complete papers relating to the production of The Golden Ass which was staged after Davies’ death. The collection contains a large sampling of correspondence of both a professional and personal nature spanning from 1934 to his death in 1995. Also included in the collection is material related to the professional career of Davies’ as a well-known Canadian writer, this includes photographs and press clippings as well as speeches and commentaries made by Davies and his awards. Records also pertain to academic and trade writing on Davies and his work, most notably a complete set of interviews conducted with family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances by Val Ross during the course of her writing Robertson Davies: A Portrait in Mosaic (2009). Papers also relate to the eighteen years Davies spent as the Master of Massey College beginning in 1963. Including articles on the founding of Massey College, the death of Vincent Massey, newsletters, teaching material and invitations and programmes for the annual Christmas Gaudy, printed on the Massey College Press. Also included is a small amount of personal records including travel records, calendars, real estate and list of personal effects. Finally, the collection contains a series dedicated to the collecting practices of Dr. Rick Davis, who collected and assembled these papers. This includes Davis’ invoices and notes for his Davies material, as well as correspondence including exchanges with Robertson Davies, Moira Whalon, Brenda Davies and Jennifer Surridge.

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Material may be requested in person at the Fisher Library Reference Desk, or in advance using our online stack retrieval request form:

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  • English

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Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

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