Robertson Davies is about as iconic a writer as Canada is likely to produce, his works include: novels, criticism, essays, speeches, plays and more. He was an eccentric shy man who somehow managed to become one of the best known and loved writers in Canada. As stated by Douglas Gibson in Stories about Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and others. “More than one literary critic has suggested that perhaps this fine novelist’s greatest character creation was himself.” Mr. Davies experienced stage fright every time he was to speak for his entire life; he viewed public speaking as a performance to be rehearsed and prepared for, but always to be done well. His eccentricities are well represented in some of his more memorable quotes, “Authors like cats because they are such quiet, lovable, wise creatures, and cats like authors for the same reasons.” In 1940 he married an Australian Stage Manager named Brenda Mathews who obviously shared his love of the stage. They would share 55 years together and had three daughters. Robertson Davies died twenty years ago, so what is the current fascination with him and his life?
This year is the fiftieth anniversary of Haliburton County Public Library as an amalgamated County library system. Throughout this year we have been celebrating fifty years and as one of our celebrations we undertook a One Book, One Community campaign to encourage as many people as possible in the County to read a book. But what book? The summer sessions of CanoeFM’s Haliburton County Reads saw five community members putting forth a book they thought everyone in the County should read, the final book standing was Fifth Business by Robertson Davies. Over the last few months we have shared the difficulties of choosing a book where the author is no longer with us, where the book often conjures school time memories having been heavily used in Canadian high school curriculum, and where the book was written forty five years ago. However, at the time of writing this the library’s copies of Fifth Business had circulated 58 times since we launched the campaign on September 1st. As a celebration of both the end of the One Book, One Community Campaign as well as our fiftieth year as a library system, we are holding An Evening with Robertson Davies at Baked and Battered on December 6th at 6:30pm. The evening will include a three course meal, shrimp appetizer, curry and salad main, as well as dessert. Musical entertainment to be provided by the band… wait for it… Fifth Business, and as a special treat there will be a reasonable Robertson Davies facsimile to host the evening. Tickets are $35.00 and can be purchased by calling the library administration office at 705-457-2241.
The final paragraph in Davies’ final novel, The Cunning Man, sums up his notion, not unlike Shakespeare, that our lives are our parts in a giant play.
“This is the Great Theatre of Life. Admission is free but the taxation is mortal. You come when you can, and leave when you must. The show is continuous. Good-night.”
*Originally published in County Life on November 26, 2015.