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The other Robertson Davies I tried to read was The Cunning Man and I had to abort It just wasn t serving my needs This one was better In fact, at the end of the book I liked it better, much better, than at the beginning The novel began to get interesting for me at about the three quarters mark Up to that point there was too much quirk, and meandering, for my taste Quirky books should bear a sticker, like the Oprah book club sticker but for quirk, so I know to stay away from them.At the end, everything came together nicely with the description of Francis painting The Marriage at Cana So, points to the author for that But in the sense that this is a biography, which it is, it was kind of odd that on one page Francis was 33, and then a few pages later he was in his 70s or 80s and dying.In tone and or style and or genre, this book reminds me of Freddy and FrederickaAnglo Saxon AttitudesQuinn s Book What s Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies is my favourite novel It is the second in the otherwise unremarkable Cornish trilogy and details the life of the second Francis Cornish from birth to death, including a confusing religious upbringing by everyone but his parents in a rural Ontario town, his education from Spook to Oxford, his apprenticeship in art fraud to cheat the Nazis and his secret life as a spy Along the way, Cornish assassinates an art faker as it takes one to know one, falls for the wrong girl and paints the perfect parable of his own life but it is never attributed to him until after his death.Robertson s narrators are an angel and a daimon who offer insights into Cornish s character and its development You might think this device would grow old quickly but it offers a fine counterpoint to each chapter They explain how each turn of events positive and negative helps shape and refine Francis Cornish character Davies characters are so beautifully defined Who could forget Tancred Saraceni, Zadok Hoyle, Prince Max, Francis Cornish the first and Aunt Mary Ben Highly recommended. #FREE DOWNLOAD ò What's Bred in the Bone á Francis Cornish Was Always Good At Keeping Secrets From The Well Hidden Family Secret Of His Childhood To His Mysterious Encounters With A Small Town Embalmer, An Expert Art Restorer, A Bavarian Countess, And Various Masters Of Espionage, The Events In Francis S Life Were Not Always What They SeemedIn This Wonderfully Ingenious Portrait Of An Art Expert And Collector Of International Renown, Robertson Davies Has Created A Spellbinding Tale Of Artistic Triumph And Heroic Deceit It Is A Tale Told In Stylish, Elegant Prose, Endowed With Lavish Portions Of Davies S Wit And Wisdom An artist friend gave this book to me, years ago when we were both in school He didn t tell me anything about it, but since I liked him and his art work, I gave the book a try and went on to be a huge fan of the author, searching out everything I could find by him to read over the years Being an artist myself, and painting in a rather traditional manner like the protagonist, it was bracing to read Davies account of an artist who felt out of step in a Modern era much like I did, trying to make my way doing representational, non ironic art in an era of Derrida and Beaudrillard I loved this book and identified with the aspirations of the Cornish character In the years since then, as I ve found myself teaching art students who remind me of the way I felt when I was their age myself, I have given copies of this book to the most starry eyed ones, and their reactions have been like my own were when the book was given to me After reading one of Davies later books it struck me that it might be the last novel the now elderly writer would give us, so I did something rare for me to do, which was to write and send him a fan letter, thanking him for all the many hours of pleasure his work had given me, and, by the way, enclosed some photos of my own work To my surprise and delight I received a hand typed letter from the grand old man, whose comments on my own work remains one of my most prized possessions, as he wrote apropos my own paintings You seem to combine an admirable lucidity of manner with a deep and thought provoking content As this is rather the kind of thing I seek in my own work of course it appealed to me strongly I haven t much patience with artists of any kind who seek to baffle and bamboozle the public what needs to be said is hard enough to comprehend without having needless difficulties put in the way. Had this one on my shelves for so long I thought I d already read it But, nope It s the story of a half provincial half royal kid from Canada who is raised by a Catholic aunt and learns to draw in the local funeral home, then turns to Renaissance painting in the face of his family s craziness during WWII Funny and intriguing all the way through Must read Robertson Davies. What s Bred in the Bone is the second of a trilogy of books which are bound together by the life of one Francis Cornish, Canadian artist, critic, and collector, and by a host of other characters who are tied to him in one way or another This book tells Cornish s life story, starting from a conversation between his heirs and his biographer and featuring interjections from a pair of supernatural beings, the Lesser Zadkiel the Angel of Biography and Maimon, Francis s personal daimon The daimons provide interesting analysis of Francis s life along the way, as well as inspiring thought about the nature of free will, whether one controls one s own life or whether it s truly shaped by outside forces and by what s bred in the bone , a phrase that comes up often What s Bred in the Bone is sandwiched in between The Rebel Angels and The Lyre of Orpheus, which take place after Cornish has died, in the environs of a fictional Canadian university In The Rebel Angels, his executors are trying to sort his immense collection, while graduate student Maria Theotoky, assistant to one of the executors, tries to deal with the obnoxious ex monk Parlabane academic mayhem ensues In The Lyre of Orpheus, the Cornish Foundation for the arts has been established, and the board members decide to mount a production of an unfinished opera by E.T.A Hoffmann artistic mayhem ensues They re both good though The Lyre of Orpheus is a little scattered and very much worth reading, but I definitely think What s Bred in the Bone is the standout of the three All are full to the brim of drama and intrigue, vivid characters though Maria is a little Maria Sue ish, really , and Davies erudite, witty writing It is always a wonderful experience to re read What s Bred in the Bone Although I have not read Davies entire oevre, I certainly declare this to be his best novel of those I have read, possibly of all of them It so masterfully brings together all the themes that he has played with in fiction over his writing life which, according to him, could not begin while his parents were alive Francis Cornish, whose life tale this is, is a loveable scoundrel sometimes loveable, sometimes scoundrel Life circumstances shape the person and Davies explores the life of Francis ancestors before he digs into the meat of the novel, Francis own life.Davies uses the recording angel, Zadkiel and Francis personal daimon to tell the tale, thereby being able to record the subject s interior as well as exterior circumstances Francis must wade through the morass of religion and social training to find out who Francis Cornish really is, and he succeeds admirably only to find out that he cannot use the knowledge in the real world without revealing one of his scoundrelly periods Davies, as always, produces wonderfully memorable characters and explores art and intellectualism with good humour and irreverenceIf you are at all interested in art, in university life, in psychology, in nature and nurture, or have a lively interest in the human being and what makes each person into the persona that they have become, you won t be able to put this lovely book down. October, 2018 Robertson Davies has the uncanny ability to convince you that not only does he understand the deepest mysteries of human existence, but that you might understand them a little bit too I came back to this book particularly because I wanted to regain a little bit of that feeling in relation to art, particularly Renaissance painting The novel works on a practical level, describing techniques and motifs, but also a spiritual level, delving into the ways that religion can have meaning through art, without getting bogged down by dogma or literalism Not to mention it s simply a great book in every way well plotted, funny, wise, vivid sheer perfection May, 2014 What s Bred in the Bone is the most focused and the best book in this trilogy In telling the story of Francis Cornish, Davies revisits one of his favorite themes the way childhood experiences can shape a life Davies captures the exhilaration of formative experiences, but also vividly brings out how childhood can be confusing and even terrifying And he makes the excellent point that adults don t necessary make things better by trying to shield a child from life s realities There s also some great exploration here of the philosophy of art and what it means to make an authentic work. This novel has been penned by Canadian author Robertson Davies and is the second book in the Cornish trilogy, but it can be read as a standalone novel.I had chanced upon this book while book hunting in a second hand bookstore I had never heard of Robertson Davies but something about the book, most probably the blurb appealed to me and I bought it.The story starts with a meeting between the sole three members of the newly founded Cornish Foundation for Promotion of the Arts and Humane Scholarship The three individuals are Arthur Cornish, banker and member of the powerful Cornish family the leadingfinancial familyof Canada, the priest academic Reverend Simon Darcourt and Arthur s wife Maria The foundation had commissioned a book on the life of Arthur s uncle the late Francis Chegwidden Cornish an art expert collector of international renown and Darcourt was supposed to write it Unfortunately Darcourt s research had revealed some unsavoury truth about Francis and Arthur, fearful of the adverse impact on the family s reputation wants the book to be dropped.Then the narration of the story passes on to two mythical beings Daimon Maimas Francis s daimon and Lesser Zadkiel, the angel of Biography They have a look into the life of Francis Cornish as recorded Maimas reveals how he had tried to influence Cornish s life to make him a great man A daimon is a tutelary spirit that guides a person but here Maimas did than that and kept on heaping adversities on Cornish from a young age as he believed that adversities are necessary to grow Maimas is no guardian angel whom he regards as atheological fraudIs the author trying to say that we have no control over our lives Maybe, maybe not So begins the story of Francis Cornish a precocious child, neglected by his parents, growing up under the care of his maternal grandfather s spinster sister, the deeply religious Mary Ben, influenced by some of their domestic helps and relentlessly bullied at school The poor kid also had to contend with a dark family secret Despite all this, Francis gets attracted to art strikes up a friendship with an embalmer and further grows as an artist.We accompany him from his village to an elite school, then to Oxford where he is recruited by the British Intelligence, his spy mission in Germany, then back to England and finally we return to Canada with him.He meets plenty of interesting characters along the way his mentor, an Italian art restorer, Tancred Saraceni Ismay, whom he marries and is soon betrayed a British spymaster a Bavarian Countess to whose estate he accompanies Saraceni and is unwillingly involved in an art hoax Ruth Nibsmith, governess to the Countess s niece as well as an astrologer usually astrologers are portrayed as frauds in most books and movies but here we meet a genuine one and many others.We get to see Francis as a spy, an art fraud, a lover, an art collector but throughout he remains a decent man The author has done a good job of portraying the various facets of human nature orthodoxy, bias, prejudice, jealousy, avarice, opportunism, infidelity His observations on human nature are so accurate and nicely presented The story is filled with twists and ironies and the writing bears testimony to the author s skills and wit Some of the characters are well fleshed out and believable The author s treatment of the complex nature of Francis is commendable Should you decide to read you would be rewarded with some splendid dialogues.I thoroughly enjoyed the dialogues between Francis and Saraceni where the latter tries to justify the hoax they were involved in I also liked the art related conversion between the characters especially the interpretations of paintings I don t know anything about art but the writing was such that I was able to understand the essence of the conversations.The scene where Francis would expose a fake painting was amazing nothing sort of a brilliant power of observation worthy of our great fictional detectives I would take the liberty to state that the great Sherlock Holmes himself would have been impressed.I loved the book but felt that certain portions could have been shortened This is my only criticism.I would recommend this book to people who enjoy a fine story.The other books in the series seem to be equally interesting and I would be on the lookout for them. Although starting with the same characters who inhabit The Rebel Angels, What s Bred in the Bone, the second book of The Cornish Trilogy, is a prequel How to tell the story of Frank Cornish, recently deceased eccentric uncle, wealthy banker and, mysteriously, art collector and patron, when so little is known to the living characters Listen to this dialogue between the Anglican priest turned scholar and would be biographer Simon Darcourt and the beautiful Maria, recently wed to Frank s nephew and heir, Arthur Cornish But are the childhood years so important Maria, you astonish me Weren t your childhood years important They are the matrix from which a life grows And that s all gone Unless you can wangle a chat with the Recording Angel I don t think I believe in a Recording Angel We are all our own Recording Angels Then I am orthodox than you I believe in a Recording Angel I even know his name Pooh, you medievalists have a name for everything Just somebody s invention Why not somebody s revelation Don t be so hidebound, Simon The name of the Recording Angel was Radueriel, and he wasn t just a book keeper he was the Angel of Poetry, and Master of the Muses He also had a staff Wound with serpents, like the caduceus of Hermes, I suppose Not that kind of staff a civil service staff One of its important members was the Angel of Biography, and his name was the Lesser Zadkiel He was the angel who interfered when Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, so he is an angel of mercy, though a lot of biographers aren t The Lesser Zadkiel could give you the lowdown on Francis Cornish Darcourt by now was unquestionably drunk He became lyrical Maria dear Maria forgive me for being stupid about the Recording Angel Of course he exists exists as a metaphor for all that illimitable history of humanity and inhumanity and inanimate life and everything that has ever been, which must exist some place or else the whole of life is reduced to a stupid file with no beginning and no possible ending It s wonderful to talk to you, my dearest, because you think medievally You have a personification or a symbol for everything You don t talk about ethics you talk about saints and their protective spheres and their influences You donn t use lettuce juice words like extraterrestrial you talk frankly about Heaven and Hell You don t blather about neuroses you just say demons Certainly I haven t a scientific vocabulary, said Maria Well, science is the theology of our time, and like the old theology it s a muddle of conflicting assertions What gripes my gut is that it has such a miserable vocabulary and such a pallid pack of images to offer to us to the humble laity for our edification and our faith The old priest in his black robe gave us things that seemed to have concrete existence you prayed to the Mother of God and somebody had given you an image that looked just right for the Mother of God The new priest in his whitish lab coat gives you nothing at all except a constantly changing vocabulary which he because he usually doesn t know any Greek can t pronounce, and you are expected to trust him implicitly because he knows what you are too dumb to comprehend It s the most overweening, pompous priesthood mankind has ever endured in all its recorded history, and its lack of symbol and metaphor and its zeal for abstraction drive mankind to a barren land of starved imagination But you, Maria, speak the old language that strikes to the heart You talk about the Recording Angel and you talk about his lesser angels, and we both know exactly what you mean You give comprehensible and attractive names to psychological facts, and God another effectively named psychological fact bless you for it You re raving ever so slightly, darling, and it s time you went home There you have it the pretext for the appearance of the Lesser Zadkiel and the Daimon Maimas, who put in an occasional appearance as commentators, plus a sample of the author s beautiful and imaginative writing Not to give too much away Francis Cornish had adventures that include learning to paint in a genuinely Renaissance manner and spying against Germany in the Second World War.This book has been a favorite since I first read it about 25 years ago I will say that, like a house one has known in childhood, the book seems just a little smaller, the rooms less awesome and the hall to the back of the house less dark and strange This book has shrunk just a tad Still, a four and three fourths.This time around, I listened to the wonderful audio by Frederick Davidson, whose real name was David Frederick Case There is no e edition of this book, but the audio was recaptured from old tapes Both author and narrator are gone now, but their words remain.