This weekend marked the birthdate of the late, great Canadian novelist Robertson Davies, who died in 1997, aged 82 years. I rarely read fiction, but I adore his Deptford Trilogy and Cornish Trilogy, and read them every three years or so. Next to the exalted “A Confederacy of Dunces,” which, as every properly disposed creature knows, was dictated by a very angel to John Kennedy Toole, these are my favorite novels.
I bought Friday a copy of Davies’ collected letters, and found this one uproarious. He had received a nasty letter from a provincial woman who’d read an excerpt from his novel “The Rebel Angels” in a magazine, and wrote to accuse of him having written “barn yard pornography” that “stinks of syphilis” and is written “in terms of degradation, lies, sacrilegious slander and filth.” To this he replied:
Dear Miss N.:
Many, many heartfelt thanks for your letter of September 25. Thought it filled me with shame and remorse, I was grateful for the Chritian impulse which moved you to stretch out a hand to me in my wretchedness. You say “We become that with which we busy our mind.” Too true! Alas, too true! I recall that as a boy the school chaplain said to my class, “If you tell dirty jokes you will grow to look like a dirty joke!” This has been my hapless destiny. Would you do me a favour? Will you send me a photograph of yourself, so that I may behold a countenance suffused with Christian love, and perhaps even yet repent?
I love Robertson Davies. God bless his memory.