A jovial but haltingly uneven tale of how several generational strands came to form one eccentric family. In rural Wales, a devout Methodist family rises slowly from poverty to 19th-century mercantile respectability, only to be spiritually and financially broken through a combination of hubris and bad luck. Davies's depiction of how the descendants of Samuel Gilmartin came to immigrate to British North America convincingly blends gritty humor —including a hilarious Welsh cursing contest —with sympathetic portrayals of his characters.
About the author
Robertson Davies, novelist, playwright, literary critic and essayist, was born in 1913 in Thamesville, Ontario. He was educated at Queen's University, Toronto, and Balliol College, Oxford. Whilst at Oxford he became interested in the theatre and from 1938 until 1940 he was a teacher and actor at the Old Vic in London. He subsequently wrote a number of plays. In 1940 he returned to Canada, where he was literary editor of Saturday Night, an arts, politics and current affairs journal, until 1942, when he became editor and later publisher of the Peterborough Examiner. Several of his books, including The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks and The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks, had their origins in an editorial column. In 1962 he was appointed Professor of English at the University of Toronto, and in 1963 was appointed the first Master of the University's Massey College. He retired in 1981, but remained Master Emeritus and Professor Emeritus. He held honorary doctorates from twenty-six universities in the UK, the USA and Canada, and he received numerous awards for his work, including the Governor-General's Award for The Manticore in 1973. It is as a writer of fiction that Robertson Davies achieved international recognition, with such books as The Salterton Trilogy (Tempest-Tost, Leaven Of Malice, winner of the Leacock Award for Humour, and A Mixture Of Frailties); The Deptford Trilogy (Fifth Business, The Manticore and World Of Wonders); The Cornish Trilogy (The Rebel Angels, What's Bred in the Bone, shortlisted for the 1986 Booker Prize, and The Lyre of Orpheus); Murther & Walking Spirits; and The Cunning Man. His other work includes One Half of Robertson Davies, The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies, Robertson Davies: The Well-Tempered Critic, The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks, High Spirits, A Voice From The Attic and The Merry Heart, a posthumous collection of autobiography, lectures and essays. Many of his books are published by Penguin.
Robertson Davies died in December 1995. Malcolm Bradbury described him as 'one of the great modern novelists', and in its obituary The Times wrote: 'Davies encompassed all the great elements of life...His novels combined deep seriousness and psychological inquiry with fantasy and exuberant mirth.'