This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies

What's Bred in the Bone (1985)

by Robertson Davies

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Cornish Trilogy (book 2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,637226,699 (4.08)1 / 96
  1. 00
    My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok (cf66)
    cf66: Entrambi romanzi sulla formazione artistica e spirituale d'un pittore.
  2. 00
    Lemprière's Dictionary by Lawrence Norfolk (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Both books are cited by Michael Dirda as examples of antiquarian romances.
  3. 00
    The Recognitions by William Gaddis (erezv)
  4. 00
    World's End by T. C. Boyle (BobNolin)
  5. 00
    Chatterton by Peter Ackroyd (KayCliff)
  6. 00
    The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Cary (FrederFrederson)
  7. 00
    A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr (KayCliff)

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

English (20)  Spanish (2)  All languages (22)
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
I read this years ago, but was just thinking of it. (This says something about the reach of a novel, that it comes to mind in our own life circumstances.) Mr. Davies used his own family and the stories that filtered down to create a plausible personal history. What are the stories we tell ourselves about who we are? ( )
  MaryHeleneMele | May 6, 2019 |
Robertson Davies uses the word “chthonic” more than once in What’s Bred in the Bone and that’s a lot to pardon. However, I’m going to pardon it because in this novel from 1985 he employs the word “trumpery,” which word, it turns out, means “worthless nonsense” according to Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition). Well worth knowing.

Davies is a story teller of great gifts whose abundant intelligence and knowledge fill his book with humor and interest throughout. Early on I was inclined, despite a lively first chapter, to nickname the book If Read It Will Bore as a grumbling reaction to his naming of the early female characters: Maria, Marie-Louise, Mary-Jacobine (Mary-Jim), Mary-Teresa (Mary-Tes), Mary-Benedetta (Mary-Ben) and, mother of mercy, Mother Mary-Basil. An unjust thought that proved.

The man that’s bred, Francis Cornish, is the son of extraordinarily self-absorbed parents who seldom can be bothered to slight their own pursuits so much as to allow their son sight of them. Even Christmas time does not fetch them his way. Love, to the child, seems a thing locked away. Francis’s guardian daimon, the Daimon Maimas (“I am no guardian angel”), worries little about parental absence, or locked love, or whether the boy will become broken-hearted by it. This is, among much else, what’s being bred in the child’s bones and then in the man’s. It will present its challenges.

Art is the vital commerce of the book at many levels, with attention paid to matters of authenticity and fakery, triviality and consequence, care and craft, fortune and fealty, mastery and modernism, Catholicism and Protestantism, pity and pitilessness, what is known and what should not be unknown yet is. Ultimately, the story takes us on a mostly retrospective viewing of the streams of exploration or exploitation presented by one man’s life and visits the tributaries of influence that entered into them. Francis Cornish is a man seemingly made to be often denied—in some instances singularly so. But he isn’t, after all is done. That’s the ingenuity of both author and character. No trumpery in that. ( )
1 vote dypaloh | Jan 8, 2018 |
I was sure I had read this book before but, if so, I had forgotten it entirely. So it was a pleasure to be able to read it.

From Publisher Weekly:
Known to discerning readers for his beguiling Deptford Trilogy and the more recent Rebel Angels, Canadian author Davies has written another irresistible novel. His story of the secret life of Francis Cornish, full of ironic twists and surprises, has the added enticement of a look inside the rarefied world of art experts and restorers. There is even a hint of the thriller genre, since Cornish joins British Intelligence to participate in an international scheme to defraud the Nazis of Old Masters. But this is primarily a character study, built around the theme: "what's bred in the bone comes out in the flesh,'' with the corollary that suffering endured when one is young builds character for later achievements. Born into an eccentric, wealthy Canadian family in a backwoods town, enduring a lonely and suffocatingly pious upbringing, Cornish eventually becomes a respected art appraiser and collector, at the sacrifice of his considerable talent as a painter. In addition to the tantalizing story of how this comes about, related with elements of intrigue and mystery, Davies delivers a wickedly funny, trenchant dissection of provincial society and some witty observations about religion and art. The book is seamlessly constructed, interpolating some marvelous set pieces of comic intensity, and the reader hurtles through the taut, compelling narrative wishing it would never end.

The review from Publisher's Weekly adequately describe the bare bones of the plot but it is so much more than that. Francis Cornish is ostensibly a Protestant, Anglo-Saxon and Canadian but in his life each one of those defining characteristics is turned on its head. His Roman Catholic aunt helps to raise him when his parents abandon him to do important war work and so his religion is a mixture. His grandmother comes from a French Canadian family and she also takes part in his upbringing. Then, when Francis is a young man, he goes to England to attend college and doesn't return to Canada for decades. In fact, any one person's description of Francis could be refuted by another person and neither one would be wrong. His guardian devil, the Daimon Maimas, may be the only being that knows all there is to know about Francis. Even the Angel of Biography, the Lesser Zadkiel, has forgotten most of what he has recorded about Cornish's life. The two supernatural beings act as the narrator and interpreter throughout the book, just one of the devices Davies uses to propel the book along.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a thought-provoking but not difficult book and especially anyone who enjoys Robertson Davies. ( )
  gypsysmom | Aug 7, 2017 |
This second part of the trilogy leaves most of the threads from the first part dangling, and instead of picking them up it jumps back in time to 1909 to look at the life of the enigmatic and surprisingly wealthy art-critic Francis Cornish. It's essentially a good old-fashioned Bildungsroman, dressed up with a bit of fancy stuff about daemons and angels (because, why not?), but really just a simple linear life-story. Superficially much easier for the reader to deal with than the more static narrative structure of the other two parts, but Davies is still making sure that our brains get a workout. He gives Cornish an (almost) impossibly complicated mix of background influences and explores the nature-versus-nurture implications of this combination (hence the title). In parallel, there's another story going on about the nature of creative art, playing around with our notions of where the lines can be drawn between restoration, forgery and original work, and then twisting things a bit further when we think we've got the point.

It struck me after I'd finished this that Francis Cornish would be a near contemporary of Charles Ryder, and there are a lot of parallels here to themes dealt with in Brideshead revisited. But Robertson Davies is no Evelyn Waugh: he may be prepared to indulge in the occasional joke at the expense of his characters, but he never floats off into lyrical pessimism. The world is as it is, and that's that: no use blaming poor old Hooper. ( )
  thorold | Jun 12, 2016 |
When the story begins, Francis has already died, and a friend wants to write a biography of his life. There is some concern by relatives that such a biography might reveal Francis as an art forger, and so they are hesitant to allow him to write it. The friend writing the biography has some concerns of his own, desiring only to write the truth and yet not convinced that he has all of it. The story becomes unique when the Angel of Biography and the Daimon Maimas enter the plot. They decide to review Francis' life, rather like watching a video of it. The Angel of Biography has done his job and recorded Francis' life. The Daimon Maimas has been given the job of making Francis into a great man. The rest of the story is the record of the life of Francis Cornish.

Francis is born to a wealthy, influential family in a small town in Ontario, Canada. He grows up mostly in the home of his grandparents, cared for by a great-aunt. His parents are rarely home. Although his father desires him to be brought up protestant, Francis is given an upbringing in both the Catholic and protestant faiths. Francis discovers early a love of drawing and art and carries a pencil and notebook with him wherever he goes, drawing whatever he can.

As a young teen, Francis discovers that he has an older brother who was concealed from everyone, hidden away in the attic of the home because of his disabilities. Francis is sent to school in Toronto, and since his parents are away much of the time, he boards there. While at school, Francis discovers the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and that discovery clarifies the style of art he will attempt to master for the rest of his life.

Francis spends a further four years in Toronto attending college. Here he begins writing letters to Uncle Jack, a man his father knows in "the profession." Although Francis understands little of what "the profession" is and the purpose of the letters he writes, he accepts his task. By the end of college, Uncle Jack has retained a large file of letters from Francis.

After college, Francis goes to England to attend Oxford. Before he leaves, he returns to Blairlogie for one last visit. While there, he learns of the death of his brother. He also visits Zadok in the hospital, where he hears a story, although he does not yet understand its significance. However, through the observations and interpretations of the Lesser Zadkiel and the Daimon Maimas, which appear sprinkled throughout the story, the reader realizes that Zadok is actually the father of Francis' older brother.

Francis attends Oxford, where he meets Tancred Saraceni. After finishing school, Francis becomes Saraceni's apprentice and moves to a castle in Bavaria to begin his apprenticeship. He learns how to make the kind of paint that the Old Masters would have painted with and helps to restore pictures. While there, he takes on a new assignment from Uncle Jack, continuing his murky role in "the profession."

During Francis' apprenticeship, he paints his masterpiece, "The Marriage at Cana," which he is never able to claim as his own without the label of forger being thrust upon him. This painting ends his apprenticeship, and with World War II looming, Francis goes back to England. Francis continues his work for the profession, which he now knows is MI5, and he is eventually given the role of ensuring that lost artwork is returned to rightful owners. Late in life, Francis returns to Canada, where he becomes a patron of the arts. He uses the money he inherited from Saraceni to acquire works of art in order to elevate the arts in Canada. When Francis dies, he leaves a sizeable sum to the Gallery of Canada.
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
J'ai lu un roman fabuleux qui s'intitule un homme remarquable en 1994. C'est un ouvrage de Robertson Davies, écrivain canadien anglophone bien traduit en français. Dans ce roman d'aventures intelligent et populaire, les deux personnages narrateurs sont un ange biographe et un daïmon protecteur. L'idée de donner la parole à un daïmon qui prend en charge la biographie d'un être humain était déjà un petit clin d'œil servant à relier le paganisme et le christianisme et puis c'est original, amusant.
Le titre français du roman de Davies, Un homme remarquable, publié en 1985, ne tient aucun compte de l’original, What’s bred in the bone, c’est-àdire littéralement « ce qui a été mis dans la moelle », lui-même traduction médiévale d’un proverbe latin qui dit ceci : « Ce qui a été mis dans la moelle ne sort plus de la chair. » Cette citation tronquée propose au lecteur de découvrir les ressorts secrets et déterminants d’une personnalité, celle de Francis Cornish, figure fictive dont le roman retrace la biographie.

Julie Wolkenstein, « « Rosebud » : le motif du secret dans la fiction biographique chez Welles et Davies », Recherches & Travaux, 68 | 2006, [En ligne], mis en ligne le 06 novembre 2008. URL : http://recherchestravaux.revues.org/i...
"The novel is certainly not a 'bad copy' of anything; its intricate conception and intelligence are impressive on their own terms. But those terms also prevent the book from being the original it might have been. "
added by GYKM | editNew York Times, Larry McCaffery (Dec 15, 1985)

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robertson Daviesprimary authorall editionscalculated
BascoveCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Information from the Finnish Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
"What's bred in the bone will not out of the flesh." / English proverb from the Latin, 1290
First words
"The book must be dropped."
[The PreRaphaelites] were full upand slopping over with Art, but they hadn't troubled to master Craft. Result: they couldn't carry out their ideas to their own satisfaction.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English


Book description
Haiku summary

No descriptions found.

To most people, Francis was the eccentric, artistic son of a wealthy family. Others knew him as an art expert, a secret intelligence agent, and a wealthy man shrouded in mystery.

Quick Links

Popular covers


Average: (4.08)
1 2
2 9
2.5 3
3 45
3.5 13
4 100
4.5 22
5 91

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 135,544,382 books! | Top bar: Always visible