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The Deptford Trilogy – Robertson Davies



Posted September 1, 2016 by

The Deptford Trilogy – Robertson Davies – 1970-1975

Reviewed by: D.W. Cymbalisty       Date: 24 July 2001

At 5:58 p.m. on the 27th of December, 1908, a young kid throws a rock-laden snowball at his friend and hits a minister’s wife instead. She falls to the sidewalk… and that’s apparently enough to launch Robertson Davies into one of the most intricately woven stories you will ever read! In a 1992 lecture Davies said that the last book in this trilogy could be summarized with the words “you never can tell.”

deptfordThe Deptford Trilogy braids the diverse lives of three main characters who achieve their individual fame in wholly different ways. One, as a schoolteacher/hagiologist; one as an entrepeneur/financier; and the other as a master magician/illusionist. Each book focuses in its order on the above mentioned characters respectively. But the theme of “you never can tell” is consistent throughout. It is brilliant how Davies disperses these characters to the four corners of the world and then brings them back together, and while these reunions sometimes totter on the very edge of the overly contrived (or improbable), they always seem to fall back on the near side of believability. He literally stuffs the envelope of circumstance without lapsing into the absurd. We are left with the sense that the events of these stories could have happened to anyone… yet these events are, in themselves, so magnificent! Does this mean that each of our own simple lives have similar potential for greatness?

I believe that Davies would answer with a resounding “Definitely!” He once said, “You never can tell where something quite extraordinary and unexpected will come about. In a little Ontario village three men may be born so closely together that their lives run parallel courses, who may influence the beginnings can lead to tremendous endings. In fact, nothing that happens in life is insignificant. I can’t imagine anyone wading into Fifth Business and wanting out before they finished World Of Wonders.

December 2nd, 1995 saw the passing of Robertson Davies; the loss of a man of letters whom John Irving considered to be “the greatest comic novelist in the English language since Charles Dickens.” Read the Deptford Trilogy and you will wish, as I do, that there was an answer to the question… “What has Mr. Davies written lately?”

ReadLit Team


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