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The Salterton Trilogy by Robertson Davies

The Salterton Trilogy (1951)

by Robertson Davies

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Salterton Trilogy (Omnibus 1-3)

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9481413,862 (4.27)1 / 56

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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
I have come to the conclusion that it's not wise to read an authors works in the reverse chronological order. This was Davies first series of fiction novels, but also his most undeveloped. Having already read and loved the Deptford Trilogy and the Toronto Trilogy, I decided to pick up this one too.

Not a good plan. The magic realism which is such a central part of Davies later novels is very underdeveloped here. This series also hasn't aged well, as Davies gives lengthy descriptions of possessions to flesh out his characters, so if you weren't alive in the 1950s some of the ideas he's trying to get across may go completely over your head.
  Gayle_C._Bull | Apr 24, 2013 |
Salterton is a small, provincial Canadian city, proud of its university, two cathedrals, commercial successes, and attempts at culture, and The Salterton Trilogy is Davies's vivid portrayal of its citizens, their hopes, their schemes, their human nature. The first of his trilogies, it doesn't have the scholarly depth or the allegorical complexity of his later works, but it abundantly reveals his story-telling talents, his ability to create wonderful characters, both likeable and unpleasant, his penchant for skewering pretension, and his comedic genius. It also introduces some of the themes he explores further later, including transformation of characters, the arts, and religion. The three novels are linked through some of their characters, but tell very different stories.

Tempest-Tost, the first in the trilogy, focuses on The Salterton Little Theater, an amateur group, ruled by Mrs. Forrester, a woman who is used to getting her way. She has persuaded her childhood friend, Valentine Rich, who has achieved success as an actress and director in New York, to direct a performance of The Tempest while she is in Salterton settling the estate of her late father. Davies masterfully assembles the cast of characters for the book, many of whom will form the cast of the play, including the lovely but vapid Griselda, whose rich father owns the property where the play will be performed outdoors, and who is sought after by several of the men; math teacher Hector Mackilwrith whose determination and method of life planning has so far brought him every achievement he has sought and who, after years of putting the Little Theater's books in order, has developed the surprising urge to act in the play; the bombastic and self-satisfied Professor Vambrace, who thinks he alone knows how the play should proceed, and his intimidated daughter Pearl; Solly Bridgewater, an academic himself and the son of another professor, who is brow-beaten by his widowed and controlling mother and demoted from director to assistant director when Valentine Rich appears on the scene; the utterly delightful musician Humphrey Cobbler, and many more. Theatrical and romantic complications ensue, and through them Davies provides a compelling picture of provincial Canadian life.

In Leaven of Malice, someone has maliciously placed a fictitious engagement announcement in the local paper, the Evening Bellman, telling the world of Salterton that Solly Bridgewater and Pearl Vambrace are to be married. As the Bridgewaters and the Vambraces have nursed a grudge for decades, and as Solly is in love with someone else (who does not reciprocate his emotions) and Pearl is insecure and unhappy, this notice causes a mess of trouble for Bellman editor Gloster Ridley, who already has both problems of his own, with aging writer Swithin Shillito and publisher Mr. Warboys, and ambitions for an honorary degree as thanks for his role in establishing a journalism program at the university. Pearl's father Professor Vambrace, believing the ad is a plot to humiliate him, is determined to sue the paper for libel; Solly's mother is equally outraged. As the plot thickens, other people are drawn in, not just Solly and Pearl themselves, but also Ridley's housekeeper, who lives with her sister and brother-in-law and their lodger, the slimy voice instructor Bevill Higgin; elderly, meddling Puss Pottinger, who briefly appeared in the first novel; Dean Knapp of St. Nicholas's Cathedral; and, happily, the delightful Humphrey Cobbler. The story gives Davies the opportunity to depict the world of small-town journalism, and of small-town lawyers, as well as the interactions of various community "leaders" with each other.

In the final novel, A Mixture of Frailties, Mrs. Bridgewater has died and, out of spite for her son Solly, who married against her wishes, she has left her house and all her money to a trust, specifying that it should support a young woman who wants to study the arts outside Canada, and should only come to Solly if and when he and his wife produce a son and name him Solomon Bridgewater after her husband. The trustees have been chosen apparently for their difficulty in getting along with each other. Eventually, they select a young woman proposed by Humphrey Cobbler, who sings on a local religious radio program. Despite coming from a working-class family which belongs to a religious cult and looks down on anyone who tries to get ahead, Monica truly loves music and has ambitions of her own, although quite buried. The bulk of the novel involves Monica's studies in England, the people of all sorts she encounters there, her transformation into a poised, professional singer, and her changing feelings about love and loyalty. Here Davies extends his scope to the world of music and music criticism and illustrates class differences and the snobbishness of some of the English people towards Canadians; I did feel my interest lagging a little bit for parts of this section. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this novel almost as much as the first two. Also, in this novel Davies begins to show some of the depth that appears in the later trilogies.
10 vote rebeccanyc | Nov 4, 2012 |
Very enjoyable books. Tempest-tost feels like the author is still establishing his style, and it is only through Leaven of malice and A Mixture of Frailties that I feel he is getting into his stride which will produce the Deptford and Cornish trilogies. Whilst these are enjoyable upbeat eads in Davies' style, they do not perhaps have the depth of his later novels. This reminds me very much of the work of Michael Frayn. Incidentally, do not be put off by it being a trilogy -- whilst the community of people involved is the same, there are three separate stories with differnet focuses of charcters, so there is no particular need to read the, all, or any particular need to read them in order. ( )
  rrmmff2000 | Oct 26, 2011 |
Salterton is a small Canadian village that receives attention in this fine trilogy from Robertson Davies; at least some of the people in the village receive his attention and for readers that is a good thing. While I did not enjoy this quite as much as some of his later novels, there was sufficient humor and wit to keep me entertained. In the final novel of the trilogy, Leaven of Malice, the central character Monica Gall is also the most likable character and as such kept me interested in the book when I tired of some of the other characters for whom the titular "malice" was more their style. The plot borders on the melodramatic, but perhaps the thespian in Davies is to blame for that. The central role that music plays in this novel is another signature of the Robertson Davies' style (see The Lyre of Orpheus for another example). The combination of interesting, if not likable, characters and the wit of the master storyteller made this a good read. For greatness visit The Cornish Trilogy. ( )
  jwhenderson | Sep 30, 2011 |
One of my absolute favourites, and a brilliant re-read in times of stress. As with the best comfort reads, it offers challenges as well as comforts and pleasures.
  otterley | Aug 31, 2011 |
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Robertson Daviesprimary authorall editionscalculated
BascoveCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"It's going to be a great nuisance for both of us", said Freddy.
Freddy recognized the truth of what he said. She herself was a victim of that lust for books which rages in the breast like a demon, and which cannot be stilled save by the frequent and plentiful acquisition of books. This passion is more common, and more powerful, than most people suppose. Book lovers are thought by unbookish people to be gentle and unworldly, and perhaps a few of them are so. But there are others who will lie and scheme and steal to get books as wildly and unconscionably as the dope-taker in pursuit of his drug. They may not want the books to read immediately, or at all; they want them to possess, to range on their shelves, to have at command. They want books as a Turk is thought to want concubines—not to be hastily deflowered, but to be kept at their master’s call, and enjoyed more often in thought than in reality. Solly was in a measure a victim of this unscrupulous passion, but Freddy was wholly in the grip of it.
Still, she had her pride. She would not beg Valentine to regard her as a member of the clergy for a day; she would not even hang about the house in a hinting manner. She would just drop in, and if the conversation happened to turn upon books, as some scholarly rural dean fingered a rare volume, she would let it be known, subtly, that she was deeply interested in them, and then—well, and then she would see what happened.

With this plan in view she was at the residence of the late Dr. Adam Savage at five minutes to ten on the following morning, dismayed to find that an astounding total of two hundred and seventeen clergymen were there before her, waiting impatiently on the lawn. They ranged from canons of the cathedral, in shovel hats and the grey flannels which the more worldly Anglicans affect in summer, through Presbyterians and ministers of the United Church in black coats and Roman collars, to the popes and miracle workers of back-street sects, dressed in everything under the sun. There was a young priest, a little aloof from the others, who had been instructed by his bishop to bespeak a copy of The Catholic Encyclopaedia which was known to be in the house, for a school library. There were two rabbis, one with a beard and one without, chatting with the uneasy geniality of men who expect shortly to compete in a race for a shelf of books on the Pentateuch. There were High Anglicans with crosses on their watch chains, and low Anglicans with moustaches. There were sixteen Divinity students, not yet ordained, but trying to looksanctified in dark suits.
English is not a language of quantities, like Latin, but a language of strong and weak stresses. A faulty stress destroys the meaning and flavour of a word, and distorts the quality of a line of verse. Without a just appreciation of the stresses in a line of verse, you cannot sing it - for singing is first, last and all the time a form of human eloquence, speech raised to the highest degree.
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