On Wednesday, December 2, Kingston WritersFest (kingstonwritersfest.ca) and Queen’s University Library (library.queensu.ca) celebrate the release of the first collection of the great Canadian novelist, playwright, critic, journalist, and professor Robertson Davies’ personal diaries with a special theatrical reading as well as an onstage conversation with its two editors, Jennifer Surridge, daughter of Davies, and Ramsay Derry. A Celtic Temperament: Robertson Davies as Diarist presents an illuminating selection of the 1959-1963 diaries of Robertson Davies, one of Canada’s greatest novelists.
Born and raised in Ontario and educated at Upper Canada College, Queen’s University, and Balliol College, Oxford. During his time in Kingston, he cultivated his interests in journalism as an active contributor to The Journal, the Queen’s University student newspaper. Davies was also an actor with the Old Vic Company in England; publisher of the Peterborough Examiner; and a university professor and first Master of Massey College. Davies authored more than thirty books, as well as essays, speeches, and belles lettres. He gained international fame for his Deptford trilogy, Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders, and for his last five novels, The Rebel Angels, What’s Bred in the Bone, The Lyre of Orpheus, Murther & Walking Spirit, and The Cunning Man.
Davies requested that his diaries not be published until 20 years after his death. The task of editing his journals fell to Jennifer Surridge, his daughter and the executor of Davies’ literary estate, and Ramsay Derry, editor of the novels Fifth Business and The Manticore, who acted as editorial advisor to the Davies literary estate. Surridge notes that, in his public life, Robertson “hid well the mixture of ambition, anxieties, and insecurities, and often conflicting conceptions and emotions that all bubbled furiously within.” This collection provides an enticing glimpse of these ambitions, disappointments, and insecurities, and reveals the humanity and humour of Davies’ private musings and observations.
John Fraser, master emeritus, Massey College states that “Robertson Davies was an original and his diary may well prove to be the best and most riveting ever produced by a Canadian. It bears a welcome affinity to the diaries of Samuel Pepys and Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon, but because of Davies’ broad, complicated humanity, it also stands alone in its celebration of a life lived to the full in this remarkable man’s very own world of wonders.” Not just for the academic, actor and director Martha Henry describes the diaries as “irrepressible, erudite, gossipy, and extremely naughty. I literally could not put them down. Anyone interested in Davies’ thoughts on the theatre of Stratford and Toronto in the early 60s—and more importantly, in his description of the creation of Massey College —will find these diaries irresistible.”
Now in its seventh year, Kingston WritersFest has confirmed itself as a prime Kingston cultural event and one of the top Canadian literary festivals.
Queen’s University Library proudly houses Davies’ personal library, comprised of more than 5000 volumes, theatre prints, and ephemera. Many of the volumes are annotated with handwritten notes inserted.
Jennifer Surridge and Ramsay Derry appear on Wednesday, December 2, 7:30 – 8:30 pm, in Speaker’s Corner at Stauffer Library, Queen’s University. Free street parking available onsite. Tickets are $17 in advance (incl. HST and handling) – $19 at the door – and are available online at kingstonwritersfest.ca and at Novel Idea Books on Princess Street. FREE rush seats available to Queen’s, RMC, and SLC students with valid ID.