Volume 90, Issue 64

Friday, January 17, 1997

double talk


Keeping the merry work of Davies alive

The Merry Heart - Selections 1980-1995
By Robertson DaviesMcClelland Stewart
Paperback, $32.50, 385 pages

It is not often the dead can still inspire through newly-published works and it is not often we are rewarded with selections of their thoughts, diary entries and childhood memories. But then again, it is not often the literary world is graced with the presence, intellect and insight of Robertson Davies.

The Merry Heart – Selections 1980-1995 is a very diverse collection of anecdotes, autobiographical information, reflections and stories selected by Davies himself, as the work was already in progress before his death last year. Despite having written several novels, Davies had always wanted to name one of his books The Merry Heart, stemming from an old proverb, and this wish was fulfilled by his publisher Douglas Gibson and his widow Brenda Davies. While it is true the world will never see another novel by Davies, this "literary enterprise" is an astounding collection of Davies' book reviews, speeches and reflections.

The Merry Heart is a delightful, insightful read into Davies' mind, interests and observations. Like many of his characters, Davies himself was a learned man who thoroughly researched and formed his own opinion on topics ranging from Jung findings, medicine, dreams, mythology and art. The Merry Heart proves there is still much to be learned and appreciated from Davies as he delves deeply into such debatable topics as Canada's lack of mythology.

The Merry Heart is a reflection of Davies' life and his presence at the University of Toronto where he taught and at Saturday Night magazine where he worked. The literary world sought his knowledge and the public was enchanted by his insight.

There are many chapters in which Robertson Davies exemplifies the knowledge and abilities that made him one of Canada's most entertaining novelists. The narrative itself is distinctly Davies – his notes, observations and anecdotes taste like his familiar flavour. In his autobiographical chapter, Davies' own life is distinctly similar to his fictional counterpart Dunstan Ramsay of the Deptford Trilogy. This is not a mere coincidence as Davies himself remarks in a memorable aphorism, "To ask an author who hopes to be a serious writer if his work is autobiographical is like asking a spider where he buys his thread."

The Merry Heart is an exquisite selection that allows the reader to graze through Davies' "richly stocked mind" and previously unpublished diary entries. The selections are as diverse as Davies' life, ranging from professor, to editor, to actor and novelist. While the world was saddened by the death of this honourary man, even in death Davies contends, "A merry heart doeth like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones."

–Emily Ruffell

To Contact The Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca