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  • A Bibliography of Robertson Davies eds. by Carl Spadoni and Judith Skelton Grant
  • Lonnie Weatherby
Carl Spadoni and Judith Skelton Grant, eds. A Bibliography of Robertson Davies. University of Toronto Press. xxxix, 500. $185.00

Primary bibliographies are inherently incomplete scans of the summation of an author’s work; although this bibliography does not claim to be “definitive or exhaustive,” the quantity and scope of the aggregated material are impressive. The earliest bibliographic entry (1923) for [End Page 484] Robertson Davies is an article he submitted on a lecture, “William Shakespeare and His Country,” by one Reverend Radley, for his father’s newspaper, the Renfrew Mercury (cited incorrectly in the introduction as entry C23.1 rather than C23). He was nine years old, and he continued to write with infrequent interruption until his death in 1995.

Davies began as a journalist, turned his hand unsuccessfully to playwriting, and found his true form in the novel. In addition to novels, plays, and short stories, Davies published hundreds of anonymous and pseudonymous pieces; wrote essays, forewords, prefaces, and introductions to books; submitted hundreds of articles to newspapers, magazines, and journals; delivered speeches and lectures; gave interviews; and took part in several CBC television and radio programs. All are chronologically documented and described in the ten sections of this thorough bibliography. Manuscripts of his works, his diaries, and his letters are excluded. Davies’s books (fiction and non-fiction) are given full bibliographic description, complemented by notes of such amplitude and detail that they are veritable histories of the books’ making. Drawing on records in the archives of Pendragon Ink (the Davies estate), Library and Archives Canada, and the archives of his Canadian, US, and UK publishers, Carl Spadoni and Judith Skelton Grant record the number of printed copies, royalty percentages and payments, production costs (paper, dust jacket, binding, illustrator’s fees, etc.), and correspondence between Davies and his literary agents and editors.

Generally, bibliographies do not make for compelling reading, but some of the extensive notes are intriguing. We learn that the editors of the first Canadian edition of Leaven of Malice (1954) at Clarke Irwin thought that he was “a prima donna and that he was not susceptible to editorial criticism,” and that one of the manuscript readers for the first Canadian edition of Fifth Business (1970) found it “lacking in warmth and immediacy,” nevertheless suggesting that “we must sound enthusiastic.” The sales were indeed lackluster, and Davies purchased fifty remaindered copies at forty-four cents each. Shortly after its reception in Great Britain (1971), Davies conceded that the novel was “a complete flop.”

A work of this magnitude will naturally engender some questions and harbour a few inaccuracies. Book dealers and collectors might have preferred that the print runs of first and subsequent editions or issues were not embedded in the notes but disclosed more prominently after the descriptive bibliographic elements. In addition, some scholars and researchers might have wanted to see the translations of Davies’s works listed and described following the original English. Instead, a separate section lists translations of Davies’s novels alphabetically by language.

The index is detailed and extremely accurate, yet minor lapses are expected in a work of such expansive detail. For example, book jacket illustrators or designers do not get individual name entries in the index [End Page 485] but are listed under the collective rubric “illustrators, designers, engravers, and photographers.” However, Helen Borten, book jacket designer for the American edition of Leaven of Malice (Scribners, 1955), and Mel Williamson, jacket illustrator for the first American edition of Fifth Business (Viking, 1970), are missing. Borten and Williamson are instead given individual name entries in the index, although Borten is incorrectly named “Elizabeth,” not Helen. Bibliographic and indexing accuracy is always more scrupulously validated as researchers and scholars mine its contents. Spadoni and Grant have assembled a remarkable monument to the intellectual legacy of one of Canada’s most accomplished authors that will long benefit scholars, researchers, and book collectors.

Lonnie Weatherby
Humanities and Social Sciences Library, McGill University


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