What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies
Robertson Davies' "What's Bred in the Bone" is a sprawling and epic novel that explores the intricacies of human nature and the pursuit of artistic expression. The story follows the life of Francis Cornish, an eccentric and talented artist, from his birth to his death. The novel is divided into three parts, each of which explores a different phase in Francis' life: "The Book of the Saints," "The Book of the Angels," and "The Book of the Dead." Throughout the novel, Davies explores themes such as the power of art, the complexity of human relationships, and the role of fate in shaping our lives.
In the first part, "The Book of the Saints," we are introduced to Francis as a young boy growing up in a wealthy and conservative family in Canada. Despite his privileged upbringing, Francis is drawn to the world of art and finds solace in his artistic pursuits. He spends much of his time reading and studying art, and eventually develops a close friendship with a local artist named Arthur Cornish. However, Francis' relationship with his family is strained, particularly with his mother, who disapproves of his artistic ambitions. Francis' mother sees his artistic pursuits as a waste of time and money, and her disapproval only fuels Francis' desire to create.
As Francis grows older and enters adulthood, he leaves Canada and travels to Europe to study art. This is the focus of the second part of the novel, "The Book of the Angels." In Europe, Francis becomes deeply immersed in the art world and becomes involved in a circle of artists and intellectuals. It is during this time that Francis discovers his true artistic talent and begins to create his own masterpieces. However, Francis' personal life is marked by tragedy, as he falls in love with a woman who is already engaged to another man. This love affair is a pivotal moment in Francis' life, as it sets him on a path that will ultimately lead him to his greatest artistic achievements.
In the final part of the novel, "The Book of the Dead," we see Francis as an old man, reflecting on his life and his legacy. He has become a famous artist, but his personal life has been marked by loneliness and regret. He is haunted by the memory of his lost love and the choices he made throughout his life. In the end, Francis learns that his life has been shaped by forces beyond his control, and that his legacy is more than just his art.
Throughout the novel, Davies explores the power of art to transcend the limitations of human experience. Francis struggles to express himself through his art, and we see how his art becomes a way for him to connect with the world around him. The novel also explores the complex nature of human relationships, particularly the relationships between parents and children. Francis' strained relationship with his mother is a recurring theme throughout the novel, and we see how this relationship affects his life and his art.
"What's Bred in the Bone" is a rich and complex work of literature that rewards careful reading and analysis. Davies' writing is lyrical and evocative, and his characters are fully realized and deeply human. The novel is a powerful exploration of the human experience and the pursuit of artistic expression, and through the life of Francis Cornish, we see the challenges and triumphs that come with following our passions and seeking to create something meaningful in our lives.