The Cunning Manby Robertson Davies
"Should I have taken the false teeth?" This is what Dr. Jonathan Hullah, a former police surgeon, thinks after he watches Father Hobbes die in front of the High Altar at Toronto's St. Aidan's on the morning of Good Friday. How did the good father die? We do not learn the answer until the last pages of this "Case Book" of a man's rich and highly observant life. But… See more details below
"Should I have taken the false teeth?" This is what Dr. Jonathan Hullah, a former police surgeon, thinks after he watches Father Hobbes die in front of the High Altar at Toronto's St. Aidan's on the morning of Good Friday. How did the good father die? We do not learn the answer until the last pages of this "Case Book" of a man's rich and highly observant life. But we learn much more about many things, and especially about Dr. Hullah. From an early age, Jonathan Hullah developed "a high degree of cunning" in concealing what his true nature might be. And so he kept himself on the outside, watching, noticing, and sniffing, most often in the company of those who bore watching. Among them, flamboyant, mystical curate Charlie Iredale; outrageous banker Darcy Dwyer; cynical, quixotic professor Brocky Gilmartin, whose son Conor, also Hullah's godson, makes a fateful and too brief appearance in Robertson Davies's last novel, Murther & Walking Spirits. Hullah also lives in close proximity to Pansy Freake Todhunter, an etcher in Toronto. Indeed he becomes privy to her intimate letters to British sculptor Barbara Hepworth. It is "Chips," as she is called, who writes Dame Barbara: "The doctor is a bit of a puzzle. Long and cornery and quiet and looks like a horse with a secret sorrow." As the Cunning Man takes us through his own long and ardent life of theatre, art, and music, varied adventures in the Canadian Army during World War II, and the secrets of a doctor's consulting room, his preoccupation is not with sorrow but with the comedic canvas of life. Just as Dr. Hullah practices a type of psychosomatic medicine "by which I attempt to bring about changes in the disease syndromes through language," so does Robertson Davies intertwine language and story, as perhaps never before, to offer us profound truths about being human.
- Penguin Publishing Group
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- Product dimensions:
- 5.08(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.97(d)
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
Read an Excerpt
One of the joys of Robertson Davies' fiction is its easy commerce with the full sweep of western culture from the ancient Greeks to the present. Another is its vigorous, talky characters, whose challenges, exhilarations, defeats, and ultimate destination are bodied forth in telling details. And a third is an old-fashioned, attention-grabbing theatricality. The Cunning Man is as broadly learned as its predecessors, as replete with vividly realized characters, and as dramatic in its presentation.
Dr. Hullah, the story's chief narrator, takes the view that to understand a city's cultural past it is necessary to understand the people who created it. And so he tells the life stories of a number of the key figures, and provides capsule histories for many others. The life he explores most richly is his own. His account makes it entirely plausible that he should introduce many of the novel's learned references. He is comfortable with the thinking of Paracelsus, Thomas Browne, Robert Burton, and Sir William Osler, and refers easily to a wide range of novels and poetry. Without saying so directly, he makes it obvious that he himself has been a major contributor to The Toronto That Used To Be. So too was his old schoolfriend, Charlie Iredale, priest of St. Aidan's, passionate high Anglican and lover of its ritual and fine music. But Iredale's life had gone off the rails, and he was exiled to a minor parish, slid into alcoholism, and, after a brief period of reprieve, into death.
ABOUT ROBERTSON DAVIES
Robertson Davies (1913-1995) was born in the village of Thamesville, Ontario (the Deptford of three of his novels), where he lived for five years. His parents were remarkably like those of Brochwel Gilmartin in The Cunning Mangreat readers, talkers, and singers, but unhappy in their marriage and eager to win his allegiance.
"This is a wise, humane and consistently entertaining novel. Robertson Davies's skill and curiosity are as agile as ever, and his store of incidental knowledge is a constant pleasure. Long may he continue to divert us." The New York Times Book Review
AN INTERVIEW WITH ROBERTSON DAVIES
This conversation took place shortly before Mr. Davies' untimely death on December 2, 1995.
- The story of Dr. Hullah's life and times emerges in reaction to a series of interviews with the young journalist Esme Barron. What does she add to the story? What happens to shift Hullah from his initial mistrust of her to "love?"
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Once again the wonderful Canadian man of letters has combined engaging storytelling with sparkling wit and profound humanity. The late Robertson Davies was a thought-provoking observer of both the absurdities and the glories of mankind's search for knowledge through science and for understanding through religion. Rather than taking the easy way out by championing either one over the other he lets the characters in this charming novel show us the strengths and weaknesses of both. Yet this is not a didactic novel with ideas in place of people; it is full of all-too-human characters who constantly engage the reader's interest.
Insightful book, and well written. The characters come alive, and it moves at a leisurly pace, though it is a bit too long, I found myself working to keep an avid interest in the middle third.