It has everything I want and expect from a book by Davies: a concentration on artistic and intellectual matters, exploration into the ways in which heredity and upbringing shape the soul of an individual, characters who are both realistic and odd, witty insights into human nature and foibles at both the individual and communal level, and a preoccupation with myth as it surfaces in our everyday lives through both obvious and not so obvious avenues; in short a heady rumination on what it means to be a sensate individual living in a difficult world coming to terms with oneself all wrapped up in a wonderful story built on well-wrought prose. They are haggling over some problems that Darcourt is having with the inaugural work commissioned by the Cornish Foundation, meant to launch this benevolent body founded by Arthur and Maria into the world of artistic patronage. Luckily for the reader Davies has Zadkiel, the minor angel of biography, and Maimas, the personal daimon of Francis Cornish himself, appear on the scene to enlighten us with the true tale of his life. We are at first treated to a view of Francis immediate forbears, setting the scene as Maimas would have it, for the places and people that would shape him for better or worse upon his arrival in the world. There is also the sweetly draconian and pious Catholic Aunt Mary-Ben, a spinster who takes over the management of the Senators household ostensibly to allow his wife the freedom required to fully live the life required of a society woman, and of course Francis parents: the Senators favourite daughter Mary-Jim and her very odd husband Francis the Wooden Soldier Cornishthe tale of their meeting and circumstances surrounding their marriage plays an important role in the first part of the narrative and ultimately sets the scene for the boy, and man, Francis is to become. Added to these main players are the numerous background figures and servants of the prominent household, many of whom will play a much larger role in the life and development of Francis than they, or any of their betters, might have thought likely. All of these relationships will be used by Maimas to forge Francis into the man he envisions: the ultimate work of art combining elements of both the physical and the spiritual world into an enigmatic, but complete human being.
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. 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 foundation had commissioned a book on the life of Arthurs uncle the late Francis Chegwidden Cornish an art expert & collector of international renown and Darcourt was supposed to write it. Unfortunately Darcourts research had revealed some unsavoury truth about Francis and Arthur, fearful of the adverse impact on the familys reputation wants the book to be dropped. They have a look into the life of Francis Cornish as recorded Maimas reveals how he had tried to influence Cornishs life to make him a great man. So begins the story of Francis Cornish a precocious child, neglected by his parents, growing up under the care of his maternal grandfathers spinster sister, the deeply religious Mary-Ben, influenced by some of their domestic helps and relentlessly bullied at school.
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. 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! 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. One of its important members was the Angel of Biography, and his name was the Lesser Zadkiel. The Lesser Zadkiel could give you the lowdown on Francis Cornish." Darcourt by now was unquestionably drunk. You talk about the Recording Angel and you talk about his lesser angels, and we both know exactly what you mean. 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.
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.
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.
Robertson's narrators are an angel and a daimon who offer insights into Cornish's character and its development.
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.