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Robertson Davies’s Cultural Consciousness

Robertson Davies : l’expansion de la conscience culturelle au Canada
Sabine Jackson
p. 146-159


Cet article souligne le rapport existant entre le développement de la psyché canadienne et l’œuvre de Robertson Davies, considéré comme l’incarnation des valeurs traditionnelles britanniques et de l’écrivain blanc anglo-saxon au Canada. Descendant de Loyalistes et de Gallois, Robertson Davies représente l’héritage européen ; il est par conséquent souvent perçu comme « un Victorien bourru » auquel on doit la construction de Massey College, simulation pittoresque des Collèges d’Oxford, avec ses professeurs prisant le tabac et prenant leurs repas à la table d’honneur. On l’a dépeint comme un aristocrate. Ses romans appellent l’adjectif « conservateur », et si on l’a parfois qualifié d’ « homme de lettres », ce n’était pas tant pour décrire sa versatilité que pour le taxer de rétrograde. Cependant, l’intérêt de Davies pour la pensée psychanalytique de C. G. Jung l’a amené à s’interroger sur l’individu humain et la question de l’identité. Né en 1913 et mort en 1995, Davies a observé les mutations du Canada, passant d’un pays dominé par les Protestants blancs anglo-saxons à ce qu’il est devenu : une société multiculturelle dont l’idéologie peut se résumer par le terme « mosaïque ». Ses trilogies, The Salterton Trilogy, The Deptford Trilogy et The Cornish Trilogy, démontrent de façon exemplaire ce processus de diversification. Tout en examinant ce que « être Canadien » veut dire, Davies, comme on le voit dans ses livres, se rendait compte que l’identité canadienne ne se résumait pas simplement à son histoire coloniale ni à ses liens actuels avec les Etats-Unis.

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1Critics have long considered Robertson Davies the embodiment of the ‘British establishment’ and of the White Anglo-Saxon writer in Canada. As a descendent of Welsh and Loyalist immigrants, his heritage is European, and therefore, Davies has often been perceived as old-fashioned as James Madison Davis states in his collection of interviews Conversations with Robertson Davies:

  • 1  James Madison DAVIS, Conversations with Robertson Davies, Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1989, xi.

Davies’s media image has been of a crusty Victorian who built Massey College into a quaint simulation of Oxford with its ‘high table’ meals and snuff-taking. He has been portrayed as an aristocrat. His novels have provoked the adjective ‘Tory,’ and the term ‘man of letters’ has been used not so much to describe his versatility as to dub him a throw-back.1

2However, Davies’s interest in Carl Gustav Jung’s psychoanalysis took him beyond matters of class and ethnicity. It caused him to reflect upon man’s psychology – that is to say, the ego, the personal unconscious, the collective unconscious and the question of identity. In his work, Davies linked the individual’s search for identity to the national identity crisis. As a social satirist, Davies commented upon the flaws and characteristics of Canadian society and used his observations to illustrate the development of Canadian society from one dominated by conservative WASPs to a modern, culturally diverse population in the second half of the 20th century. Each of Davies’s trilogies marked a new stage in his description of Canadian society.

Robertson Davies’s Cultural Consciousness

1. The Trilogies

  • 2  Cf. Udo SAUTTER, Geschichte Kanadas, München: Beck, 1992, 72-75. By Loyalists we understand the gr (...)

3Davies’s trilogies are remarkable illustrations of Canada’s cultural development from a relatively homogeneous, monocultural society to a multicultural nation. Far into the 20th century, to be Canadian meant to be part of a monocultural society. Davies seemed to share this perception, as most of his early fictional characters and protagonists were white, Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Celtic characters. This dominance was certainly a result of his own background, the people around him and his infatuation with the British heritage. In the circumstances, it is not surprising that Davies’s first set of novels, the Salterton Trilogy (Tempest-Tost, Leaven of Malice, A Mixture of Frailties), portrays the social standards embodied by the so-called establishment, which is represented by Loyalist descendents.2 However, in the 1970s and 1980s, Davies’s writing began to reflect the change of Canadian society towards a multicultural society. The next trilogy, the Deptford Trilogy (Fifth Business, The Manticore, World of Wonders) shows the slow decay of Canada’s colonial society. Canadian society is no longer built upon the standards of British society, which results from the policy of rapprochement with the USA and from the increasing numbers of immigrants. While the US American influence increases, the British influence decreases in this trilogy of the middle phase. Finally, with his writing on the late period, Davies also started to contribute to the continuous discussion of what it means to be Canadian in a culturally diverse society. Thus, Davies’s last trilogy, the Cornish Trilogy (The Rebel Angels, What’s Bred in the Bone, The Lyre of Orpheus), deals openly with the specifically Canadian issues of biculturalism and multiculturalism.

2. The Salterton Trilogy

4When Davies first started writing fiction in the 1950s, his characters were dominantly of White Anglo-Saxon origin and followed a very conservative lifestyle. In the Salterton Trilogy, for example, the fictional city Salterton is portrayed as a remnant of colonial times. As one of the oldest cities in Canada, it carries on the traditions of times long past but without realizing that it is doing so. Only outsiders see the conservatism of Salterton as backward and outdated, while the Saltertonians take it for normality:

  • 3  Robertson DAVIES, The Salterton Trilogy: Tempest-Tost, Leaven of Malice, A Mixture of Frailties, N (...)

People who do not know Salterton repeat a number of half-truths about it. They call it dreamy and old-world; they say that it is at anchor in the stream of time. They say that it is still regretful for those few years when it appeared that Salterton would be the capital of Canada. They say that it is the place where Anglican clergymen go when they die. And, sooner or later, they speak of it as ‘quaint.’3

  • 4  Quoted in Michael PETERMAN, Robertson Davies, Boston: Twayne, 1986, 82.

5Davies built his fictional Salterton on his early perceptions of Kingston, which in the first quarter of the century was a culturally and economically flourishing city, but then in the 1930s and 1940s came to be marked by the “fossil relics of colonial days and the British ascendancy in Canada.”4 But to Davies, the boy who grew up in remote and solitary villages like Thamesville and Renfrew, Kingston must have seemed full of opportunities, especially as far as music and drama were concerned. Travelling companies passed through, and there was an Art and Music Club as well as performances and concerts, which were put on by the university. These memories of colonial Kingston inspired Davies to write the novel Tempest-Tost, in which he showed the limitations of amateur theatre and more importantly, of this colonial society.

  • 5  “Ontario,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 1985, 1320.

6The colonial society portrayed by Davies is part of the upper class and the so-called establishment. Its members embody typical values of that social stratum such as class-consciousness, conservatism and tradition. Thus, the Bridgetowers, one of the leading families of Tempest-Tost, are among society’s leading families and exemplify the persistence of the British establishment in Canada. Solly Bridgetower is held back in his ambitions, career and personal development by his dominant, old-fashioned mother. When his father died, Solly’s mother made it clear to him that he would be responsible for her in the future. She becomes utterly dependent on her son, who consequently suffers from the strain of giving her his undivided attention. He sees his only chance for freedom in leaving home to study in Cambridge (England), but even then his mother finds a way to bring him back to her by arguing that she is ill and needs his care. So, he gives up his studies in Cambridge and returns to Canada. Solly’s mother expects the same loyalty from him as she has for colonial customs. She lives by Ontario’s motto pledging loyalty to mother Britain: Ut incepit fidelis sic permanet (‘Loyal it began, loyal it remains’).5 Mrs. Bridgetower considers herself a guardian for traditions and does not support change. She is one of the few people who would still reserve specific days to receive visitors, so-called ‘At Home days.’ This tradition was no longer practised in the Canada of the 1920s and 1930s, but Mrs. Bridgetower’s persistence stresses the importance of former times and of traditions:

  • 6  DAVIES, Salterton Trilogy, 373.

There are not many people now who keep up the custom of At Home days, but Mrs. Solomon Bridgetower had retained her First Thursdays from that period just before the First World War, when she had been a bride. Without being wealthy, she had a solid fortune, and it protected her against changing customs; this made her a captain among those forces in Salterton which sought to resist social change, and every First Thursday a few distinguished members of this brave rearguard were to be found in her drawing-room, taking tea.6

  • 7 Ibid., 174.

7Besides the endurance of British customs, Davies’s first trilogy shows the survival of strict class divisions in Salterton. Davies’s early portrayal of Canada is that of a very class-conscious country – Salterton’s upper class is a very tightly knit community, a garrison, which does not welcome outsiders. Class division figures especially in the invitations for the June Ball, which is Salterton’s social event of the year: “In Salterton to be asked to it was to be a person of social distinction; not to be asked to it was to be a nobody.”7 For example, there is no invitation for eccentric artists such as Humphrey Cobbler. As one of the unaccepted members of society, Mr. Cobbler does not necessarily follow the moral code of Salterton’s society. He is forced to live on the margins of society and becomes a part of the Little Theatre’s play only after great resistance.

  • 8  Cf. Northrop FRYE, The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination, Toronto: Anansi, 1971, 226 (...)

8So, in the Salterton Trilogy, Davies’s picture of Canadian society is that of white upper-middle class society, whose outdated ideals are relics of British colonialism. The society is almost reminiscent of pioneer times when it was organized in garrisons and the family compact.8 Salterton still idealizes British institutions and a hierarchical society, while other Canadian cities have modernized with the times.

3. The Deptford Trilogy

9As time passed by, the standards of the Canadian society began to change, and so did the Canada Davies described in his novels. Davies continued to depict a society that, though still largely dominated by Loyalists and British immigrants, is gradually separating from the influence of Great Britain. The strict class hierarchies started to fade in light of changing politics as Canada broke away from Great Britain and moved closer to the USA, and more and more immigrants came to North America. Gradually, Davies weaved in characters of non-Anglo-Saxon or Celtic origin. However, those characters are not yet integrated into society, because they either live outside Canada, or, as artists, they exist on the margins of society.

10As a consequence of above-mentioned developments, the British monarchy, the embodiment of British traditions, suffers a heavy blow in the Deptford Trilogy. One of the protagonists, Boy Staunton, adores Prince Edward as his personal idol and tries to impersonate the prince’s ideals. Unfortunately for Boy, the prince does not behave in accordance with the standards and expectations of his position – he is reported to be a womaniser, dresses unfittingly, and rebels against his father. When the old king dies, Boy believes Edward VIII to be destined for great things. But then, because of his unwillingness to end his relationship with a divorced woman, the prince abdicates under the pressure of his government. This development is a heavy blow for Boy, who projected his hopes on the monarch:

  • 9  Robertson DAVIES, Deptford Trilogy: Fifth Business, The Manticore, World of Wonders, London: Pengu (...)

I [Dunstan Ramsay] was not with him when he heard the sad broadcast of Abdication on December 11, but I looked in at his house that evening and found him, for the only time in his life, to my knowledge, very drunk and alternating between tears and dreadful tirades against all the repressive forces that worked against true love and the expression of a man’s real self.9

  • 10 Ibid., 821.
  • 11  Robertson DAVIES, “The Canada of Myth and Reality,” One Half of Robertson Davies, New York: Viking (...)

11This point also marks the beginning of the end of Boy Staunton’s life: his wife Leola dies shortly afterwards, and following his appointment as Lieutenant-Governor, Boy himself dies under mysterious circumstances. Disillusioned, Boy abdicates at the height of his career just as Prince Edward did before him. Only Magnus Eisengrim, the third main character of the trilogy, realizes this parallelism: “He was going to abdicate, like his hero before him. But unlike his Prince of Wales he didn’t mean to live to face the world afterward.”10 Thus, Boy’s ultimate faith in his British role model turns out to be fatal. On the national level, the monarch’s death symbolizes the change of heart in Canada. Canada cannot continue to live in the shadow of the mother country but must endeavour to find its own role models. As a consequence, Canada decides not to play the role of “The Daughter who Stayed at Home” any longer.11 Now the nation has embarked upon a quest to define an identity of her own, which should differ from that of the United States and Great Britain. Part of that development is to acknowledge that Canadian society consists of more than just Loyalists and immigrants from the British Isles.

12And indeed, in the Deptford Trilogy, Davies started to become aware of society’s diversity as far as ethnicity and class are concerned. However, in his works, this diversity exists only outside Canada or at the edge of Canadian society. Davies still perceived Canada itself as widely homogeneous but began to discern small patches of diversity as well. For example, there is diversity in the shows that are put on by the touring groups of the Deptford Trilogy, in which exotic-looking people or disfigured people are used to attract the audience.

13When Dunstan Ramsay, the narrator of Fifth Business, travels to Europe and South America, he comes across Eisengrim’s show of magic, Soirée of Illusions. There he meets individuals of different origins and physical appearances. Dunstan finds that visibly different and extraordinary persons are more commonly accepted outside Canadian society. Apparently, Davies’s protagonist finds other countries to be more open-minded and liberal towards the unknown in comparison with Canada. For the same reasons, Ramsay is utterly fascinated by the unattractive Liesl Vitzipützli and the beautiful Faustina, whose appearances are absolutely misleading. Their looks could not be more in opposition to their personalities. Faustina, on the one hand, is remarkably beautiful but extremely uncultured, while Liesl, on the other hand, is terribly ugly but exceptionally clever. Both women enthral Ramsay because their striking features are so different from their insides. Thus, Ramsay finds out that looks can be deceiving:

  • 12  DAVIES, Deptford Trilogy, 202.

There is more than one kind of magic. This speech had the effect of revealing to me that Liesl was not nearly so ugly as I had thought, and was indeed a woman of captivating intellect and charm, cruelly imprisoned in a deformed body. I know flattery when I hear it; but I do not often hear it. Furthermore, there is good flattery and bad; this was from the best cask. And what sort of woman was this who knew so odd a word as ‘hagiographer’ in a language not her own?12

  • 13 Ibid., 161.
  • 14  DAVIES, op.cit., 78-79.

14Dunstan’s experiences separate him from the other Canadians. He realizes the limitations of his country and feels “like a stranger in [his] own land,” where the majority of people are still narrow-minded and have no sense for the colourful world that lies not only outside but also within the borders of Canada.13 Davies’s important message here is that the outside appearance of a person does not justify conclusions about his or her personality. Sometimes there is unresolved passion hidden inside waiting to be released.14 Davies probably meant to urge Canadians, once again, to start exploring their inner selves and to stop paying so much attention to superficialities, but at the same time he wanted to encourage them to open up their minds to the exotic and marvellous in the world.

4. The Cornish Trilogy

  • 15  Cf. Frank DAVEY, “The Literary Politics of Canadian Multiculturalism,” in Hans BRAUN and Wolfgang (...)
  • 16  Cf. Konrad GROß, “Zum Problem der kanadischen Identität,” in Hans BRAUN and Wolfgang KLOOß (Eds.), (...)

15From the 1960s on, Canada’s diversity became more and more a public issue. First, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism achieved the passing of the Official Languages Act, which made both French and English the official languages of Canada. This concession to the French culture angered other ethnic groups, which also demanded special rights in their favour.15 Thus, multiculturalism started as a counter-movement to Canada’s bicultural policy. New immigration laws were endorsed allowing non-European immigrants to come to Canada. As a consequence, the percentage of Asian immigrants grew steadily, and Canada’s new policy became a written law in the Multiculturalism Act of 1988.16 Mirroring this development, Canada, as a pluralist society, is an obvious concern in Robertson Davies’s late work. Set in Davies’s present, The Cornish Trilogy reflects the issue of multiculturalism, which became an issue in the media and public from that time on. In the second volume of the Cornish Trilogy, What’s Bred in the Bone, Davies also addressed the issues caused by Canada’s bicultural culture for the first time in depth. He exposed the disparity between the two founding nations through the family history of Francis Cornish, which is revealed in the second instalment of the trilogy.

  • 17  Hugh MACLENNAN, Two Solitudes, Toronto: Macmillan, 1968. The novel treats the fundamental problems (...)

16In What’s Bred in the Bone, Davies introduced Blairlogie as a border village, whose main population groups are Scots and French Canadians, and Polish. Davies’s plot concentrates on the two founding peoples responsible for the central image of Canada as the country of “two solitudes,” which was first used in Hugh MacLennan’s novel Two Solitudes.17 In Davies’s trilogy, those two solitudes are symbolized in the marriage between Senators James Ignatius (Hamish) McRory and Marie Louise Thibodeau. Against all odds and against the common acceptance they live together harmoniously. This match upsets the traditional belief and the social structure of Blairlogie:

  • 18  Robertson DAVIES, The Cornish Trilogy: The Rebel Angels, What’s Bred in the Bone, The Lyre of Orph (...)

No town is simple in every respect. People who liked perfection and tidiness of structure were puzzled by the quirk of fate which decreed that the Senator, by far the richest and most influential man in Blairlogie, cut right across accepted ideas: though a Scot, he was an R.C., and though rich he was a Liberal, and his wife was French.18

17But Davies also described the problems that arise between the two groups symbolized on the family level. The family life is complicated by typical points of argument between the English and French Canadians, namely religion and language. Additionally, the family structure is upset by the arrival of an Englishman, Major Francis Cornish. Simultaneously, his arrival can be interpreted as the advent of the colonizer, who endangers the French customs while the Senator and his family engage in a secret revolution against assimilation. The history of Francis’s family shows how difficult it is for French Canadians to preserve their culture in the light of an overwhelming number of English-speaking Canadians. French Canadians have always had to defend their Roman Catholic faith and their language against the Protestant religion and English language. The family traditions are also endangered by the marriage of Major Francis Cornish to the Senator’s daughter Mary-Jacobine. After an unwanted pregnancy, Mary-Jacobine, also called Mary-Jim, must be married off quickly to maintain a proper appearance. Her choices are very limited, though, for her only suitor and candidate is Major Francis Cornish from Cornwall, a man with an impeccable reputation but without any title and, as the second son of his family, unlikely to come into any inheritance. Cornish prepares a marriage contract, in which he demands substantial amounts of money to pay his debts, an estate, and that his children be brought up as Protestants. Even though the Senator is a devout Catholic, he grudgingly accepts the Major’s stipulations to protect his daughter’s honour and that of his unborn grandchild:

  • 19 Ibid., 355.

It was Number Four that struck in his craw. Protestants! His grandchildren Protestants! He had no quarrel with Protestants so long as religion did not become an issue; let them be wrong, let them even be damned, if that was their perverse desire. But his grandchildren – and then he bethought himself of that small, obstinate grandchild, who had precipitated this whole hateful affair.19

  • 20 Ibid., 404.

18Thus, their grandson, Francis Cornish, is officially brought up a Protestant, but his Aunt Mary-Ben still finds ways to indoctrinate him into the beliefs of Catholic religion. For example, she encourages Francis’s interest in the rosary. Moreover, when Francis falls ill with whooping cough, his aunt sends for the Catholic priest in a moment of panic and has him secretly baptize the child.20

19Also, the French language is jeopardized by the growing influence of the English-speaking population. Already, Francis’s mother prefers to converse in English instead of French. Thus, it is up to the grandparents’ family to teach Francis French. Almost immediately, Francis becomes aware of his own ignorance and the disrespectful way people in Blairlogie treat their French fellow-citizens:

  • 21 Ibid., 387.

The whole business of French opened a new world to Francis. Of course, he had noticed that a lot of people in Blairlogie spoke this language, with varying degrees of elegance, but he now discovered that the hardware store kept by someone called Dejordo was, in reality, the property of Emile Desjardins, and that the Lagerry family were, to those who spoke French, Legaré. Some tact had to be exercised here, because it was a point of honour among the English-speaking populace to mispronounce any French name, as a rebuke to those who were so foolish, and probably sneaky and disloyal as well, as to speak a private lingo.21

20Similar to the situation in MacLennan’s novel, Two Solitudes, there is no mutual respect between the two groups. Francis adopts the role as a mediator between both cultures by learning to speak both languages. On the national level, Davies appealed to the two cultures to have more respect and tolerance for each other.

  • 22  DAVIS, op. cit., 180.

21Thus, the traditions and customs of the older generation – Francis’s grandparents were Catholics and spoke French – would have been lost, had it not been for the secret effort of Mary-Ben. All in all, Davies seemed to understand the concerns of French Canada, even if his characters seem a little eccentric at times. Despite their idiosyncrasies, it is the Senator’s family members and their deep sense of religion that have given meaning to Francis, who was completely neglected by his parents. By showing the good – Francis’s development – that comes from family members taking care of each other, no matter their language or religion, Davies implied that Québec and the rest of Canada should do the same.22

  • 23  DAVEY, op. cit., 106.

22If there is already trouble with two groups striving for recognition, the situation becomes even more complicated when there are multiple groups involved. As recent developments show, multicultural issues are not only raised by ethnic groups, but also by feminist, gay and lesbian cultures.23 Canada’s dominating symbol of pluralism has become the ‘Canadian mosaic,’ which in contrast to the American ‘melting pot’ encourages ethnic groups to retain their distinctive characteristics. In the novels The Rebel Angels and The Lyre of Orpheus of the Cornish Trilogy, Davies used his protagonist, Maria Theotoky, to clarify the ideas underlying the concept of the Canadian mosaic. As part of her initiation she learns that conservation of her heritage is necessary for her to have a fulfilled existence.

23In a similar process, Davies had to overturn his own habits as a writer to be successful. In The Rebel Angels, he introduced the readership to Gypsy traditions, and magic potions and, for the first time, used a representative of a visible minority as the female protagonist, who narrates the story from a female point of view.

  • 24  DAVIES, Cornish Trilogy, 147.

24Maria Theotoky is part-Gypsy. Her mother, Mamusia, descends from a family of Gypsy musicians living in Budapest. Her father was born in Poland. They left Europe on the eve of World War II and emigrated to Canada. Maria is brought up according to the traditions of both her parents and learns to speak Romany, Hungarian and Polish. After her father’s death, her mother returns to pure Gypsy traditions, many of which are at odds with any North American ideals, such as applying olive oil instead of water to wash her body. One of Mamusia’s biggest Gypsy secrets is the bomari, a special treatment to restore violins similar to but different from what Hollier knows as bain-marie: “I suspect—and you behave as if I were right—that bomari is a corruption, or a Romany for, of what is ordinarily called a bain-marie. You find one in every good kitchen; it is simply a water bath to keep things warm that will curdle or be spoiled if they grow cool.”24 Maria is torn between her life as a student, as a normal Canadian woman, and her mother’s heritage. As a result, she lacks a sense of belonging, or location:

  • 25 Ibid., 120.

Nobody could say my life lacked variety. At the University I was Miss Theotoky, a valued graduate student somewhat above the rest because I was one of the select groups of Research Assistants, a girl with friends and a quiet, secure place in the academic hierarchy, with professors who had marked me as one who might some day join their own Druid circle. At home I was Maria, one of the Kalderash, the Lovari, but not quite, because my Father had not been of this ancient and proud strain, but a gadjo—and therefore, when my Mother was displeased with me, she used the offensive word poshrat, which means half-breed. Everything that was wrong with me, in her eyes, came of being a poshrat.25

  • 26 Ibid., 141.
  • 27 Ibid., 136.

25Because of her hybrid identity, it is Maria’s main goal to fit in – i.e. to be considered a true Canadian woman. When friends and acquaintances question her about her heritage, she stresses her Canadianness. Since her childhood, she has tried to conceal her heritage “wondering what it was like to be in their [pale Canadians’] skins.”26 She is afraid that being visibly different automatically places her at the bottom of society. She thinks her academic excellence does not fit with her Gypsy roots.27 Parlabane, a member of the academic world, teaches her that she cannot rid herself of what is bred in the bone and that she must allow her heritage to be a part of her self in order for her to be complete:

  • 28 Ibid., 198.

Don’t suppose I think you are capable of anything so stupid and low as a desire to conceal your Gypsy blood, my very dear Molly. I am not so coarse in my perceptions as that. I think you are trying to suppress it because it is the opposite of what you are trying to be—the modern woman, the learned woman, the creature wholly of this age and this somewhat thin and sour civilization. You are not trying to conceal it; you are trying to tear it out. But you can’t, you know. My advice to you, my dear, is to let your root feed your crown.28

  • 29 Ibid., 296.

26Finally, Maria does come to terms with her past and her roots. She even goes so far as to include Gypsy traditions in her wedding ceremony: her family demands a purchase price and makes the bride and groom eat bread and salt to strengthen their union.29

  • 30  John PORTER, The Vertical Mosaic: An Analysis of Class and Power in Canada, Toronto: University of (...)

27Therefore, the novel’s conclusion is in tune with Canada’s multicultural policy. The concept of the mosaic allows immigrants to preserve the culture of their homeland in the new country. The official policy against cultural assimilation does not, however, guarantee the continuity of traditions. Immigrants often live the traditions outside their everyday experience. Only if the people accept and work to preserve their heritage, will their cultural roots survive in later generations. A complete realization of the mosaic is questionable, though, according to the sociologist John Porter. He claims that multiculturalism only works in a folkloristic frame while, socially and economically speaking, multicultural ideals continue to succumb to prejudices and discrimination.30


28Davies and his works were closely connected to the cultural developments of his age. He lived to see Canada, and especially Ontario, develop from a society dominated by Loyalist forebears to a society as diverse as the famous American melting pot. As a record of its cultural context, Davies’s fiction reflects the transition from a colonial, monocultural Canada to a modern, pluralist Canada. In his first trilogy, the Salterton Trilogy, he described Canada as idealizing British society and customs. Canadians continue to feel a moral obligation to Great Britain and like the idea of Canada as the ‘Daughter Who Stayed at Home.’ With the splitting up of the British Empire and the founding of the Commonwealth of Nations, Canadians started to realize that it is time to let go of the past and to look into the future. Political developments also brought Canada closer to the USA. As a result of that new alliance, Canadians became afraid of foreign, cultural assimilation and took care to develop a national consciousness on their own, as Davies showed in The Deptford Trilogy. This decision also triggered the discussion of what characteristics define Canadianness, which has continued to be an issue in literature for the past several decades. All of Davies’s trilogies contribute substantially to this discussion. He found the answer to Canadian identity to lie in the nation’s history and the individual’s history. He linked the (inter)national psyche with the individual one following the theory of the psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung, who maintained that the collective unconscious is an essential part of an individual’s psyche. This realization is the central image of Davies’s Cornish Trilogy – the root must feed the crown regardless of ethnicity and gender.

29Thus, Davies cannot simply be considered a conservative Tory, who was unaware of Canada’s multicultural society. His authorship illustrated the nation’s transition from a monocultural to a multicultural Canada. Instead of dealing with diversification directly on a national level, he personalized the issue and conflicts involved by transferring them onto the individual’s level. Just like the Canadian mosaic, which consists of a multitude of individual pieces forming one picture, each of those pieces – i.e. each individual – must come to terms with his or her heritage in order to make the mosaic work as a whole. Therefore, it is justified to say that Robertson Davies was never been backward-looking but always in tune with his time, if not ahead of it.

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DAVEY Frank, “The Literary Politics of Canadian Multiculturalism,” in Hans BRAUN and Wolfgang KLOOß (Eds.), Multiculturalism in North America and Europe, Trier: WVT, 1995, 103-114.

DAVIES Robertson, “The Canada of Myth and Reality,” in Robertson DAVIES Robertson, One Half of Robertson Davies: Provocative Pronouncements on a Wide Range of Topics, New York: Viking, 1977, 271-286.
----, The Cornish Trilogy: The Rebel Angels, What’s Bred in the Bone, The Lyre of Orpheus. London: Penguin, 1991.
----, The Deptford Trilogy: Fifth Business, The Manticore, World of Wonders. London: Penguin, 1983.
----, The Salterton Trilogy: Tempest-Tost, Leaven of Malice, A Mixture of Frailties. New York: Penguin, 1991.

DAVIS James Madison, Conversations with Robertson Davies, Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1989.

FRYE Northrop, The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination. Toronto: Anansi, 1971.

GROß Konrad, “Zum Problem der kanadischen Identität,” in Hans BRAUN and Wolfgang KLOOß (Eds.), Kanada eine interdisziplinäre Einführung, Trier: WVT, 1994, 194-206.

LÖSCHNIGG Martin, Kurze Geschichte der kanadischen Literatur, Stuttgart: Klett, 2001.

MACLENNAN Hugh, Two Solitudes, Toronto: Macmillan, 1968.

“Ontario,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 1985, 1320.

PETERMAN Michael, Robertson Davies, Boston: Twayne, 1986.

PORTER John, The Vertical Mosaic: An Analysis of Class and Power in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto, 1977.

SAUTTER Udo, Geschichte Kanadas, München: Beck, 1992.

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1  James Madison DAVIS, Conversations with Robertson Davies, Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1989, xi.

2  Cf. Udo SAUTTER, Geschichte Kanadas, München: Beck, 1992, 72-75. By Loyalists we understand the group of people who remained faithful to Great Britain in the American War of Independence and subsequently sought refuge in Canada.

3  Robertson DAVIES, The Salterton Trilogy: Tempest-Tost, Leaven of Malice, A Mixture of Frailties, New York: Penguin, 1991, 8.

4  Quoted in Michael PETERMAN, Robertson Davies, Boston: Twayne, 1986, 82.

5  “Ontario,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 1985, 1320.

6  DAVIES, Salterton Trilogy, 373.

7 Ibid., 174.

8  Cf. Northrop FRYE, The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination, Toronto: Anansi, 1971, 226. He explains his idea of the garrison mentality as follows: “A garrison is a closely knit and beleaguered society, and its moral and social values are unquestionable.” Cf. also SAUTTER, op. cit., 96: “The family compact was a small group of officials who dominated the executive and legislative councils, senior bureaucratic positions and the judiciary of Upper Canada until the 1830s.”

9  Robertson DAVIES, Deptford Trilogy: Fifth Business, The Manticore, World of Wonders, London: Penguin, 1983, 179.

10 Ibid., 821.

11  Robertson DAVIES, “The Canada of Myth and Reality,” One Half of Robertson Davies, New York: Viking, 1977, 273.

12  DAVIES, Deptford Trilogy, 202.

13 Ibid., 161.

14  DAVIES, op.cit., 78-79.

15  Cf. Frank DAVEY, “The Literary Politics of Canadian Multiculturalism,” in Hans BRAUN and Wolfgang KLOOß (Eds.), Multiculturalism in North America and Europe, Trier: WVT, 1995, 103-104.

16  Cf. Konrad GROß, “Zum Problem der kanadischen Identität,” in Hans BRAUN and Wolfgang KLOOß (Eds.), Kanada: eine interdisziplinäre Einführung, Trier: WVT, 1994, 205.

17  Hugh MACLENNAN, Two Solitudes, Toronto: Macmillan, 1968. The novel treats the fundamental problems between French Canada and English Canada. According to him the cause for the tensions lies in the lack of tolerance towards each other. Cf. also Martin LÖSCHNIGG, Kurze Geschichte der kanadischen Literatur, 43.

18  Robertson DAVIES, The Cornish Trilogy: The Rebel Angels, What’s Bred in the Bone, The Lyre of Orpheus, London: Penguin, 1991, 335.

19 Ibid., 355.

20 Ibid., 404.

21 Ibid., 387.

22  DAVIS, op. cit., 180.

23  DAVEY, op. cit., 106.

24  DAVIES, Cornish Trilogy, 147.

25 Ibid., 120.

26 Ibid., 141.

27 Ibid., 136.

28 Ibid., 198.

29 Ibid., 296.

30  John PORTER, The Vertical Mosaic: An Analysis of Class and Power in Canada, Toronto: University of Toronto, 1965.

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Sabine Jackson, « Robertson Davies’s Cultural Consciousness »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. III - n°2 | 2005, 146-159.

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Sabine Jackson

(Würzburg, Germany)
Sabine Jackson was born in Kitzingen, Germany in 1976. She received her M.A. (2002) in Cultural Studies of English-speaking Countries from the University of Würzburg, Germany. From 1999 to 2000, she was an exchange student at the University of British Columbia, Canada. Since then her studies have focused on Canadian literature and culture, with a special interest in the writer Robertson Davies. She teaches English and literature at different educational institutions.

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