Personal anthology: Robertson Davies

The passage I'm about to quote is from Robertson Davies' novel Tempest-Tost, about a community theater company in a small Ontario town doing an outdoor production of The Tempest. The director, Valentine Rich, a local who's gone on to a theater career in New York, has returned to her home town and taken on this production as something of a favor. She's talking to her assistant director, Solomon Bridgetower, about why everyone in the cast is fretting so much at the final dress rehearsal:

"I wanted to get away," said she; "everybody wants to plague and worry me about nothing. They'll be all right tomorrow. What's worrying them?"

"They are sacrificing to our Canadian God," said Solly. "We all believe that if we fret and abuse ourselves sufficiently, Providence will take pity and smile upon anything we attempt. A light heart, or a consciousness of desert, attracts ill luck. You have been away from your native land too long. You have forgotten our folkways. Listen to that gang over there; they are scanning the heavens and hoping aloud that it won't rain tomorrow. This is to placate the Mean Old Man in the Sky, and persuade him to be kind to us."

— Robertson Davies, Tempest-Tost, chapter 7

My father, born and bred in the kind of small Ontario town Davies wrote so well about, was the one who introduced me to this novel. "Sacrificing to the Canadian God" became our comic shorthand for the kind of fretting (born of a belief that optimism really will bring on bad luck, in a Murphy's Law kind of way) that both he and I were prone to. I've been making my share of burnt offerings to the Canadian God lately, so this passage has been on my mind. And every time I think of it, I have to smile.

One Response to “Personal anthology: Robertson Davies”

  1. Interesting! You always have the most interesting passages. Also, totally unrelated, I saw a sign for La Boheme in London (Rent makes this more accessible for me, I think–so perhaps I’ll even go)–definitely made me think of you!