Writers are curious people: A rare interview with author Robertson Davies

The great author Robertson Davies felt he never quite belonged. To what? or to whom? he never made quite certain, but he described an itinerant childhood in Canada that made him feel distant which gave him a necessary ruthlessness and watchful quality that made him more agreeable towards the solitary toil of writing.

His father was a newspaperman, a publisher and editor, who became a politician. To escape from under his father’s strong and domineering personality, Roberston decided to focus on his own strengths and ambitions. At first he decided to be an actor. He moved to England, studied at Oxford University. But when he returned to Canada, he worked for twenty years as a newspaperman. He still harbored his own ambitions. At night, he started writing the plays and books that made him one of the twentieth century’s most respected writers.

At the time of this interview in 1973, Davies had completed Fifth Business and The Manticore, the first 2 volumes of his brilliant Deptford Trilogy, and was working on the third World of Wonders. The trilogy hangs on one incident that has dramatic and far-reaching consequences on a group of townspeople at the turn of the 20th century.

Davies was a genuinely learned man. His novels are filled with jokes, allusions, literary references and themes, that give bountiful pleasures to the reader.

In this interview, you will find him gently poking fun at himself and other scribes with this description of his trade: 

‘Writers are curious people, in that they tend to be withdrawn, they tend to be rather grumpy and unhappy, they tend to take offense very readily, and they tend to harbor grievances more than a great many people do, and they tend to be hypochondriacs.’

Davies had a great interest in psychology. He was influenced by Jung, but thought Freud had a dreadful reductive quality. Yet, he felt neither gave a full or satisfactory answer to what is experienced in life.

This interview wanders around its subject, encompassing his acting, his father, his childhood, his writing, his journalism, and his academic life. It is a rare look at one of fiction’s most intelligent writers.


Posted by Paul Gallagher
08:08 pm