Robertson Davies Biography

William Robertson Davies (August 28, 1913 – December 2, 1995) was a Canadian novelist, playwright, critic, journalist, and professor. He was one of Canada's best-known and most popular authors, and one of its most distinguished "men of letters", a term Davies is variously said to have gladly accepted for himself and to have detested. Davies was the founding Master of Massey College, a graduate residential college associated with the University of Toronto.

Robertson Davies was born in Thamesville, Ontario to William Rupert Davies and Florence Sheppard McKay. Growing up, Davies was surrounded by books and lively language. His father, Senator Davies, was a newspaperman, and both parents were voracious readers. He, in turn, read everything he could. He also participated in theatrical productions as a child, when he developed a lifelong interest in drama.

He attended Upper Canada College in Toronto from 1926 to 1932 and while there attended services at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. He would later leave the Presbyterian Church and join Anglicanism over objections to Calvinist theology. Davies later used his experience of the ceremonial of High Mass at St Mary Magdalene's in his novel The Cunning Man.

After Upper Canada College, he studied at Queen's University at Kingston, Ontario from 1932 until 1935. At Queen's, he was enrolled as a special student not working towards a degree, and wrote for the student paper, The Queen's Journal. He left Canada to study at Balliol College, Oxford, where he received a BLitt degree in 1938. The next year he published his thesis, Shakespeare's Boy Actors, and embarked on an acting career outside London. In 1940, he played small roles and did literary work for the director at the Old Vic Repertory Company in London. Also that year, Davies married Australian Brenda Mathews, whom he had met at Oxford, and who was then working as stage manager for the theatre.

Davies' early life provided him with themes and material to which he would often return in his later work, including the theme of Canadians returning to England to finish their education, and the theatre.