Majesty in Canada: Essays on the Role of Royalty

By Colin M. Coates | Go to book overview

“Unreal but Very Necessary”:
The Canadian Monarchy in the Novels of
Robertson Davies

L.C. KNOWLES

On May 12, 1937, twenty-four-year-old Robertson Davies attended the coronation of King George VI. As he reported in the Whig Examiner: “I would not have missed it for worlds, and am now a monarchist for life.”1 Davies continued to value the Crown as a “tradition and symbol of permanency that stands above contemporary governments,”2 and to the end of his life aspects of the monarchy made their appearance in his fiction.

Robertson Davies, as Michael Peterman observes, “achieved an international fame of a kind and breadth that few contemporary Canadian writers have managed or can hope to emulate.”3 Columnist, playwright, essayist, critic, and novelist, Davies was consistently a bestseller in Canada even before his fourth novel, Fifth Business (1970),4 won him international renown. By the time his eighth novel, What’s Bred in the Bone,5 was shortlisted for the 1986 Booker Prize, Davies was one of the few Canadian authors whose works (with those of Margaret Atwood and L.M. Montgomery) could reliably be found in bookshops outside of Canada.

Davies is unquestionably the most majestic of Canadian writers, who puts his Canadian characters on a world stage and shows them capable of “big spiritual adventures.”6 Moreover, as a public personality, Davies cultivated a theatrical image that was easily recognized and endlessly caricatured: “[H]e ‘gave ‘em the old razzle-dazzle’ Edwardian style: the beard, the cape, the jaunty hat, the hint of gaslight, the genial, gracious presence, the whiff of sulphur, and the promise of a man who, while he could and would be Funny, also had important truths and dark revelations to impart to those who were prepared to listen closely.”7

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