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What's Bred in the Bone (Cornish Trilogy) Paperback – November 4, 1986

4.3 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Known to discerning readers for his beguiling Deptford Trilogy and the more recent Rebel Angels, Canadian author Davies has written another irresistible novel. His story of the secret life of Francis Cornish, full of ironic twists and surprises, has the added enticement of a look inside the rarefied world of art experts and restorers. There is even a hint of the thriller genre, since Cornish joins British Intelligence to participate in an international scheme to defraud the Nazis of Old Masters. But this is primarily a character study, built around the theme: "what's bred in the bone comes out in the flesh," with the corollary that suffering endured when one is young builds character for later achievements. Born into an eccentric, wealthy Canadian family in a backwoods town, enduring a lonely and suffocatingly pious upbringing, Cornish eventually becomes a respected art appraiser and collector, at the sacrifice of his considerable talent as a painter. In addition to the tantalizing story of how this comes about, related with elements of intrigue and mystery, Davies delivers a wickedly funny, trenchant dissection of provincial society and some witty observations about religion and art. The book is seamlessly constructed, interpolating some marvelous set pieces of comic intensity, and the reader hurtles through the taut, compelling narrative wishing it would never end. 25,000 first printing; BOMC alternate. Foreign rights: Curtis Brown. November
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In this extraordinary fictional biography, the highly gifted Davies (The Cunning Man, Audio Reviews, LJ 11/15/95) makes use of guardian angels to tell his remarkable tale. Francis Cornish endures a secretive childhood in a remote town, fascinating encounters with its embalmer, and time in prewar Oxford where he studied art and philosophy. He eventually discovers his superior artistic talents and the problem of finding his own unique style. Author Davies has produced a gripping story of artistic triumph and heroic deceit, told with deep insight into the worlds of art and international espionage. This work is tailor-made for the eloquence of narrator Frederick Davidson. A fine addition to any library.?James Dudley, Copiague, N.Y.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Cornish Trilogy
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (November 4, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140097112
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140097115
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.2 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #145,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. W. Reitsma on June 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is the first book by Davies I ever read, and it remains my favourite. As I found out later, it is the centrepiece of what came to be known as the Cornish trilogy. It is the story of Francis Cornish, a talented artist from provincial Canada who is recruited into the British secret service and participates in a major art forging operation intended to thwart the nazis. In the course of the process he finds and loses the love of his life, paints a medieval tryptich depicting the Marriage at Canaan that is also a representation of the major figures in his life (all of them very colourful), unmasks another forger after the war and ultimately has to give up his career as a "medieval painter" when his masterpiece is purchased by a Canadian museum on the assumption that it is genuine. Cornish's life is narrated by his daimon, a sort of "biographical angel", and has many more twists and turns than I can possibly describe here. The book is full of Davies' urbane wit and Jungian wisdom. It tails off a bit towards the end, but that is compensated in the "sequel" about his nephew Arthur and his patronage of the arts, "The Lyre of Orpheus". Highly recommended, but I suggest you start with the first part of this trilogy, "The Rebel Angels". Newcomers, beware: Davies' fiction is highly addictive.
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Robertson Davies published this middle volume of his "Cornish Trilogy" in 1985. Six years earlier, Sir Anthony Blunt, Britain's leading art historian (and briefly one of my own professors), had been exposed as a Soviet spy. I very much suspect that the surprising conjunction of clandestine operative and connoisseur was in Davies' mind when he planned this book. It is the fictional life story of Francis Cornish, maverick member of a Canadian banking family, who has recently died in possession of large art collection, a great deal of money, and a general air of mystery. Framed by brief comments from his guiding angel, the book tells of his growing up in a Canadian lumber town, his developing interest in art, his somewhat secretive work as an art restorer, and his long association with what is always referred to as "the profession" -- the British intelligence apparatus.

It must be thirty years since I last read a Robertson Davies book. I had forgotten his curiously dated air, like a nineteenth-century novelist (Trollope perhaps) writing in the twentieth, full of detail and with ample diversions. But that is soon forgotten in an entertaining and often racy Bildungsroman, taking Francis from remote Blairlogie to boarding school and college in Toronto, and thence to Oxford. By the time he graduates, we are on page 284 of a 436-page novel, or exactly two-thirds of the way through. Hence the strange title, from an old proverb: "What's bred in the bone will not out of the flesh" -- the implication being that you cannot understand a person until you know his formation.
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By A Customer on October 1, 1997
Format: Paperback
What's bred in the bone will out in the flesh, the saying goes. Sheer genius must have composed the vast mass of Robertson Davies' bones. This wonderfully witty novel is typical of Davies' brilliant, erudite & gripping style. It left me aghast with wonder that one man can know so much, cover it so well and tie his references together and all the while remain hugely entertaining. This is the middle part of the Cornish Trilogy and as stunning as the other two. Two angels discuss the life of a deceased art collector and philanthropist and flashbacks show how the young man came to be widely respected from a life as an art forger. If you haven't already read "The Rebel Angels" do it, If you have, you have no need to read further, you will want to buy this book anyway. This is one of the best books I have ever read and Robertson Davies is one of the greats.
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Format: Paperback
I didn't realize this was the middle book of the Cornish trilogy and read it first. I haven't read the other two yet, but I have to say that this book is excellent and one of the most entertaining books I have read this year. This book chronicles the odd adventures of Francis Cornish in a sweeping story which moves from Canada to Europe. Francis Cornish is just enough unlucky that you sympathize with his trials and tribulations, but his fantastic artistic skills and his many riches make him someone the reader might envy and not understand. Davies is an expert at telling this sort of life story, and I think this one is even more enjoyable than Fifth Business. He has a sense of what it is like to have characters at the hands of fate; in this novel, the daimons quite literally command and shape Francis's destiny. Reading this book definitely wanted to make me read the rest of the trilogy.
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Format: Paperback
Davies always anchors his world in the primal instincts, the truths of human nature. You are never quite prepared for the surprising complexity of his characters or the fate that awaits them. The realistic evolution of Francis from troubled boyhood to artistic savant is really a modern version of David Copperfield, except the female characters are more fully dimensioned than Dickens could ever manage. And there is nothing of Dicken's stuffiness here. This is great literature with a Monty Python flair. No matter how you slice it a convincing argument can be made that during the last ten years of his life Davies was the greatest living novelist writing in English.
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