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October 4th, 2017

By Philip Turner in: Canadian Books & Authors; The Great Gray Bridge

Remembering a Favorite Canadian Novelist—Robertson Davies in a NY Hotel Room


Canadian novelist Robertson Davies (1913-95) in the Dorset Hotel, NY, 1988. From a NY Times story yesterday about the Ryerson Image Center in Toronto. Davies has since the 1980s been a favorite novelist of mine, when I sold hundreds of copies of his books at Undercover Books in Cleveland.

At the Great Gray Bridge I wrote about Davies in 2013 on the 100th anniversary of his birth, when CanadaPost made a stamp in his honor. With my web designer Harry Candelario, I later adapted the stamp into a motif for this blog.

Elsewhere, on Honourary Canadian, I shared several letters I received from Davies when I was selling his books, and marketing executives at his publisher, Viking Press, asked me to encourage other publishers to read and recommend his books. One of Davies’ letters was a response to my question for him after a visit I had made to London, which included a pilgrimage to a statue honoring the great thespian Henry Irving. Davies wrote to me on May 30, 1980:

“You will not find any magicians or jugglers under Henry Irving’s statue in London now because they have put flower beds around it, but at the time that Magnus Eisengrim [of The Deptford Trilogy] performed there it was flat pavement and street performers of all kinds gave their exhibitions there and on the outskirts there were always a number of pavement artists, who are also a vanishing breed. Unfortunately, life is becoming so heavily policed in our Welfare State that all these picturesque people are vanishing, but, when I saw them there when I was a young man, I always thought how pleased Irving would be that these humblest members of his profession were gathering, so to speak, under his cloak for protection.”  

I love Davies’ phrase “pavement artist” and the twinkle in his eye that appears in all these renderings of his audaciously bearded countenance!  #CANLit

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