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166 LEITERS IN CANADA 1980 Not every reader is likely to agree that the social sciences are a form of mysticism. This book is admirably introduced by William Christian who, beyond identifying persons referred to by Innis, attempts no exegesis of particular entries. (GRAEME H. PATTERSON) Robertson Davies. The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies. Edited by Judith Skelton Grant McClelland and Stewart '979. 320. $14.95 The Canadian longing for an urbane and sophisticated spokesman (a longing which finds expression in our reluctant endorsement of Pierre Elliott Trudeau) may be assuaged at least temporarily by the presence of Robertson Davies. The latest collection of his prose, The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies, presents not merely the wit and cleverness which in our fear ofprovincialism we might find ample, but wit which is also intelligent and thoughtful. Furthermore, surprisingly and reassuringly, the selections of Davies' prose which delight and amuse us here are garnered from articles, reviews, weekly columns contributed over the last forty years mainly to Canadian magazines and newspapers, notably the Peterborough Examiner, Toronto Star, and Saturday Night. Editor Judith Grant has omitted material on Canadian theatre and literature, intending to publish this in a separate volume, and has organized selections from the remaining journalism under the headings of 'Characters,' 'Books,' and 'Robertson Davies.' Davies' range ofsubject-matteris wide, his allusions scholarly, his views provocative and decided, his style polished. And yet, if I may indulge in the cliche of applying a critic's judgment of another to himself and echo Davies' words on an obscure biographer, Daniel George: '[Hellacks that air ofbeing too fine for this gross world which is the mannerism ofso many men of letters; his taste is sprightly, his humour earthy, his curiosity insatiable. He seems ready to read anything, however unpromising it may appear, and if there is a pearl in a neglected old book, he will find it.' So, sympathetically and knowledgeably, Davies discusses opera and vaudeville, Father Knox and Madame de Pompadour, G.B. Shaw and Gilbert and Sullivan, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and mehitabel the cat, Ivy Compton-Burnett and Quida, psychoanalysis and circuses, The Consolation of Philosophy and The History of Underclothes. In a collection of articles made diverse and eclectic by his fascination with eccentrics and his propensity to 'rummage in the rubbish heaps of literature,' several convictions recur. Emphatically Davies rejects the cultof the common man and the democratic chains of uniformity which, as substitutes for self-knowledge, he sees to be the central weakness of modern civilization. HUMANITIES 167 He is consequently scathing in references to some modern fiction, 'dreary tales of adultery in surburbia, of the despair of illiterates who have never known hope, of pinheads who fear they are incapable of love.' In place of facile pessimism Davies defends true comedy, comedy which is more than mere laughter, which recognizes the farcical lying side by side with the tragic, which 'rejoices in the wild luxuriance of the human spirit.' Discussing Canada, too, he sees a capacity for spiritual adventures, if we would acknowledge a northern, mystical spirit presently concealed under the fa~ade of a Scotch banker. These views are not particularly surprising to readers of Davies' fiction, and often Davies does anticipate the novels, with comments on the value of Jungian psychology, on small-town wartime xenophobia, on a macabre, romantic world unrecognized by the sobersided, on the devil as the unexamined side of life. Often, as with Max Beerbohm, the subject-matter of the pieces (which includes the apparently trivial) is less enticing than the sparkling manner in which it is discussed; one enjoys the companion as much as the scenery along the way. In place of impersonal anonymity Davies confides his cautious respect for St Bernards, his difficulty grappling with Santayana's major philosophical works, his preference for farce spiced with indecency , his irreverent notion that parts of Thomas Mann deal extensively in hot air. Surprisingly and instructively, in spite of an audience of newspaper readers, he does not condescend nor does he make concessions to Canadian prudery. Unexpectedly too, despite a keen eye for the ridiculous, he occasionally passes up the opportunity for an easy satirical thrust- in discussing third-rate music...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 166-168
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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