1st American ed.
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New York, N.Y., U.S.A. : Viking, 1985.
436 p. ; 22 cm.
"Elisabeth Sifton books."
Sequel to: The rebel angels.
Sequel: The lyre of Orpheus.
191373 17.95
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Author Notes
William Robertson Davies was born in Thamesville, Ontario in 1913. He taught English at the University of Toronto and was an actor, journalist, and newspaper editor before winning acclaim as a novelist with Tempest-Tost, the first of his Salterton trilogy. <p> His most famous trilogy, The Deptford Trilogy--Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders--develops the earlier Salterton novels. The locale is a fictitious Ontario city that prizes its English tradition, including the Anglican Church and the genealogy of the old families. <p> Robertson's novels have been translated into approximately 20 languages. His masterful story-telling encompasses such issues as evil, love, fear, tradition, and magic as he brings his characters to life with wisdom and humor. <p> Robertson Davies died in 1995. <p> (Bowker Author Biography) Robertson Davies (1913-1995) had three successive careers during the time he became an internationally acclaimed author: first as an actor with the Old Vic Company in England; then as publisher of "The Peterborough Ontario Examiner"; & finally as professor & first master of Massey College at the University of Toronto. With twelve novels & several volumes of essays & plays to his credit, Davies was the first Canadian to be inducted to the American Academy & Institute of Arts & Letters. His last novel, "The Cunning Man" (Viking 1995), was a national bestseller. <p> (Publisher Provided)
Trade Reviews

  Library Journal Review

In this extraordinary fictional biography, the highly gifted Davies (The Cunning Man, Audio Reviews, LJ 11/15/95) makes use of guardian angels to tell his remarkable tale. Francis Cornish endures a secretive childhood in a remote town, fascinating encounters with its embalmer, and time in prewar Oxford where he studied art and philosophy. He eventually discovers his superior artistic talents and the problem of finding his own unique style. Author Davies has produced a gripping story of artistic triumph and heroic deceit, told with deep insight into the worlds of art and international espionage. This work is tailor-made for the eloquence of narrator Frederick Davidson. A fine addition to any library.‘James Dudley, Copiague, N.Y. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

  Publishers Weekly Review

Known to discerning readers for his beguiling Deptford Trilogy and the more recent Rebel Angels, Canadian author Davies has written another irresistible novel. His story of the secret life of Francis Cornish, full of ironic twists and surprises, has the added enticement of a look inside the rarefied world of art experts and restorers. There is even a hint of the thriller genre, since Cornish joins British Intelligence to participate in an international scheme to defraud the Nazis of Old Masters. But this is primarily a character study, built around the theme: ``what's bred in the bone comes out in the flesh,'' with the corollary that suffering endured when one is young builds character for later achievements. Born into an eccentric, wealthy Canadian family in a backwoods town, enduring a lonely and suffocatingly pious upbringing, Cornish eventually becomes a respected art appraiser and collector, at the sacrifice of his considerable talent as a painter. In addition to the tantalizing story of how this comes about, related with elements of intrigue and mystery, Davies delivers a wickedly funny, trenchant dissection of provincial society and some witty observations about religion and art. The book is seamlessly constructed, interpolating some marvelous set pieces of comic intensity, and the reader hurtles through the taut, compelling narrative wishing it would never end. 25,000 first printing; BOMC alternate. Foreign rights: Curtis Brown. November (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

  Kirkus Review

The proverb goes that ""What's bred in the bones comes out in the flesh,"" and the inventive author of High Spirits (1983) and The Rebel Angels (1981) spins the tale of how what was bred in Francis Cornish's bones--the mixture of McRory money, Cornish gentility and secrecy, and in mythological terms, Mercury (the maker, humorist, the trickster) and Saturn (the resolute)--became flesh and then turned to dust. A daimon and a recording angel are part of the machinery of myth Davies so lavishly fabricates, and although the book remains quite a splendid spectacle, there are times when the mythologies burden the reader. In fact, by the end Francis seems less interesting and less heroic than the recording angel and daimon insist he is. The vast and colorful cast of characters in the small town in Ottawa of Blaidogie includes Francis' beautiful mother and his monocled father, absorbed by the ""profession"" (secret agents) and mostly in England; his devout Catholic aunt ""with her drippings of holy water."" who covered her ravaged skull with little caps--an owl mistook her hat for a skunk and attacked her; Francis' grandfather, the Senator, who taught Francis about light and photography and left him a huge fortune; and finally Francis' surrogate parents, his grandfather's cook, stoic and good-hearted Victoria Cameron, and the embalmer Zadok, who let Francis draw the corpses while he embalmed them. As to be expected in Davies' fantastic fabrications, the attic hid the house's secret--the Looner, Francis' darker, half-human brother (whom his mother conceived before her marriage with a mysterious soldier in a hotel in London--the man being no other than embalmer Zadok). Secrecy is one of the main themes of the book: Francis takes up ""the profession""--becomes a spy. In the castle of a Bavarian Countess where the most famous art-restorer, Tacred Sareceni, teaches him the art of restoration and painting, Francis becomes involved in an elaborate hoax on the German Reich: Sareceni, assisted by Francis, ""tarts"" up mediocre German paintings for which Hitler's agents (whose task is to gather all German art) swap Italian masterpieces. All along, Francis' quest for love brings him grief: at Oxford, he falls in love with his cousin Ismay, who lies to him that she is pregnant with his baby, marries him, only to take off to Spain where she joins Charlie--the father of the child. Ruth, the governess at the castle, also a spy who becomes his lover, dies in a big fire in London. Finally, his last love, Alwyn Ross, an eager, brilliant young art critic who assisted Francis on the Commission on Art, commits suicide. Although by the end Francis becomes less interesting (in the end, he just collects art and finally dies in his eccentric and cluttered flat in Toronto) and the daimon and the recording angel get tiresome as they constantly remind us of Davis' manipulations and fabrications, this is still a delightfully playful, imaginative and witty work of fiction. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
At once ingenious and powerful, What's Bred in the Bone holds the usual rich mixture of Davies' delights. Soho prostitutes, secret agents, Bavarian countesses, and a small-town embalmer people its pages in Davies' stylish, elegant prose.
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