Feb 10, 2016

Notes on A Celtic Temperament

I had often wondered why the diaries of Robertson Davies had not been published. By all accounts he was a relentless journal writer and some surprising tidbits would come out of excerpts for his other writings. I can remember one journal entry in a collection of his essays where the day was so hot that he sat down at his desk shirtless, old and fat.

The first collection of Davies' diaries, A Celtic Temperament, was published last October. Davies had requested that his diaries not be published for a full twenty years after his death, which explains the timing.

I was once so absorbed in Davies' writing that I lost ten years of reading to being focused solely on him. This made me hesitant about jumping into his diaries, especially after reading Val Ross's Robertson Davies: A Portrait in Mosaic. That well-meant biographical sketch made Davies look like a pompous windbag at times.

But read A Celtic Temperament I did in less than three days and here's a glimpse:
  • Davies not only had sex but marked each occasion in his diary as H.T.D. Quill and Quire speculates that it stands for "High Tempo Debauchery" or "hic tempus delectat." At the end of the year Davies would tally the number of times he and his wife, Brenda, had H.T.D. He used some interesting adjectives to describe sex, the two most frequent were "admirable" and "surprising." They threw down on the bedroom floor, in a bay window, next to the Christmas tree. These are very odd images if you tend to think of Davies as an Edwardian gent who used to walk with a cane wearing a bowler.
  • The diary entries begin just after his play General Confession was ditched and end just as he's getting Massey College underway. I thought the selections odd. As I read, I began to see Davies' character change as he left his provincial and comfortable life in Peterborough and had to fight like hell to get Massey College launched. The transformation was remarkable.
  • There are some very endearing views of vices. He's disappointed that someone got drunk at a party while everybody else was there for two drinks. He notes his hangovers. He doesn't understand people who fuck without loving the fucked. By the time Massey launches he's so worn down that he just wants people to have good manners. I'm pretty sure that Davies would have joined Jennifer Lawrence in scolding people for living through their smartphones.
Davies complete diaries of more than three million words will supposedly be available in digital format sometime in 2017. I'm really looking forward to that.