Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies

The Enthusiasms of Robertson DaviesThe Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies
by Robertson Davies
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If your to-be-read pile is already out of control do not read this book as it will just exacerbate the problem. This volume collects reviews and essays Davies published in various (mostly Canadian) newspapers and magazines prior to 1990 when it was published. In a piece about Theodore Hook he says "Hook is now quite unknown; nobody reads him except people like myself, who like to rummage in the rubbish heaps of literature." This is a book for those people, among whom I must count myself. This title counts toward the Canadian Book Challenge.

The items I have now added to my TBR include:
  • The Performing Flea (letters of P. G. Wodehouse): " I recommend this book strongly to all writers, and to those who think that they would like to be writers. With Virginia Woolf's A Writer's Diary, it gives the most penetrating insight into a writer's life that I have seen in current literature; indeed, these two books, taken together, would make excellent material for a course in writing." (p. 37)
  • Joyce Cary's novels: "If you truly like novels, and if you like to get your teeth into something really meaty, I recommend these books to you strongly. But do not let me mislead you; if you want something on the Dostoevsky model, with agony and guilt piled high, these are not the books for you. Cary is, in the highest and finest sense a comic writer. He rejoices in the wild luxuriance of the human spirit; he is stimulated by situations which cause other novelists to pull their solemnest faces. ...This is just the kind of thing I like, because it agrees with my own view of life." (p. 159)
  • Clean and Decent, the Fascinating History of the Bathroom and the W.C. by Lawrence Wright. Possibly also The Smallest Room by John Pudney and Cleanliness and Godliness by Reginald Reynolds. (All from the 11 June 1960 piece in the Toronto Daily Star entitled "Clean and Decent". The Reynolds book is Davies' personal favorite of the group.)
  • "The best book on writing that I know is Style, by F. L. Lucas, who is himself an admirable writer, and a merciless task-master." (p. 278)
This is not just a book of book reviews, however. There are also essays where Davies explores biographical and philosophical issues. Here are two of the bits from these pieces that struck my fancy:
  • In a piece about marriage, "The Pleasures of Love": "I do not insist on a union of chatter-boxes, but as you can see I do not believe that still waters run deep; too often I have found that still waters are foul and have mud bottoms. People who love each other should talk to each other; they should confide their real thoughts, their honest emotions, their deepest wishes. How else are they to keep their union in repair?" (p. 311)
  • In "Confessions of an Editor" Davies talks about a time when he edited a small Ontario daily newspaper:
    "A few years ago a friend from a large city dropped in to see me on a busy morning, and composed himself in my visitor's chair for a long, leisurely chat. 'My dream is to buy a little paper exactly like this when I retire,' he said, 'and just run it for fun. Say exactly what I think, and not have to give a damn. I envy you--do you know that?'
    That was several years ago, when I was younger, and of a more passionate nature, and I am sorry now that I killed him. Stabbed him with a file. His paper must have been overstaffed because so far as I know nobody even missed him." (p. 329) This might also be considered a warning for people who carry on about how it must be lovely to be a librarian and get to read all day. Just sayin'.


  1. Love your first line in this review. I also love the bit on "Confessions of an Editor".

  2. Ha! Love your final words on this one :) These kind of books are kind of deadly to the TBR, but it such fun to be lead to another and yet another title as we go. I liked his "Voice from the Attic" when I read it a few years ago so think I must give this one a go as well.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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