Tempest-Tost, by Robertson Davies. Pub 1951
I confess here – this is the book I was supposed to read in school, but didn’t. It was in Grade 11 (or possibly 12), and it was for Canadian literature with Mrs. Kruk. One of the required books that term was Leaven of Malice, part of the CanLit section of English literature, and one of the assignments was to read another book by one of the authors included in that section (as I recall, the others were Stephen Leacock and Margaret Laurence). I opted for Tempest-Tost, the prequel to Leaven of Malice. I did write an essay about Tempest-Tost, but…I did not actually read it. I don’t recall where I got my information from, as it was in the days before the Internet and Wikipedia. I distinctly remember reading just the first few and last few pages, and then faking the rest. As my grades were not exactly stellar in English, I likely passed this assignment just marginally. I can picture Mrs. Kruk’s raised eyebrow now, admonishing me from the great beyond. (This shameful episode of academic fabrication aside, Mrs. Kruk taught me and many others about quality writing, literature analysis, and written communication. Her lessons on the “compare and contrast” essay will live in my memory forever and have served me well in my writing ever since.)
Now that I’ve read it, I regret not having devoured the entire Davies collection sooner (a regret I will remedy over the coming years). The stories and characters – especially the women – in Tempest-Tost are well developed, and give a good picture of post-war, still quasi-Victorian colonial central Canada. The novel is very funny, and the tale of a community theatre production in all its small-town drama and hilarity, combined with a quaint love quadrangle, is delightful. Memorable quotes:
“Money, it is often said, does not bring happiness; it must be added, however, that it makes it possible to support unhappiness with exemplary fortitude.”
“She herself was a victim of that lust for books which rages in the breast like a demon, and which cannot be stilled save by the frequent and plentiful acquisition of books. This passion is more common, and more powerful, than most people suppose.”
“There are times when every woman is disgusted by the bonelessness of men.”
2. A book you were supposed to read in school, but didn’t.
7. A book written by a male author.
24. A book written by someone younger than you. (Davies was 38 when he wrote this.)