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THE MERRY HEART by Robertson Davies


Reflections on Reading, Writing, and the World of Books

by Robertson Davies

Pub Date: July 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-670-87336-7
Publisher: Viking

The inimitable novelist gives an exuberant posthumous performance in this eclectic collection of (mostly) previously unpublished addresses, talks, and incidental pieces. ``We Canadians are gluttons for instruction; we dote on lectures,'' Davies observed to one of his many audiences, but anyone's literary appetite will be glutted on these collected talks—with such topics as his own novels, forged paintings, and Canadian cultural identity. The prolific Davies and his publisher were contemplating this volume just before the author's death, and his widow and daughter have turned up enough material for two (the second, Happy Alchemy, will revolve around theater and music). With his background in the theater and pomp-and-circumstance academe, to say nothing of his literary breadth, Davies proves a veteran at the lectern, ready to expound on seemingly everything. Although he has the podium-persona of a curmudgeonly, elitist Canadian author, valuable (sometimes tendentious) insights emerge from his discussions of his experiences of character-building at school, the preservation of Canadian cultural identity in the face of NAFTA, and the medical profession's balance between science and humanism. For more general themes, e.g., ``Literature and Technology,'' ``Fiction of the Future,'' and ``Creativity in Old Age,'' Davies diffuses his opinions entertainingly, if occasionally superficially, but never loses his audience. On occasion he is called on to be simply a toastmaster: giving a convocation address on the virtues of poetry without putting the undergrads to sleep, introducing Canadian colleague Mavis Gallant, or reminiscing divertingly about his editorship at Saturday Night magazine, Canada's equivalent of Harper's. Most fittingly of all, Davies lectures on Dickens's spellbinding public readings and the theatrical effects of A Christmas Carol. As Davies noted in a diary entry prefacing one of these talks, he had to leave special room for laughter in his running time.