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What's Bred in the Bone: Cornish Trilogy, Book 2 (The Cornish Trilogy #2)

4.24 of 5 stars 4.24  ·  rating details  ·  4,005 ratings  ·  162 reviews

Francis Cornish was always good at keeping secrets. From the well-hidden family secret of his childhood to his mysterious encounters with a small-town embalmer, an expert art restorer, a Bavarian countess, and various masters of espionage, the events in Francis' life were not always what they seemed.

This wonderfully ingenious portrait of an art expert and collector of inte

Published March 1st 2010 by Blackstone Audio, Inc. (first published January 1st 1985)
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This is Robertson Davies’ best book. No, really it is. And he’s written some pretty awesome ones, let me tell you. Certainly, at the very least, I can say that this one is my favourite. It has everything I want and expect from a book by Davies: a concentration on artistic and intellectual matters, exploration into the ways in which heredity and upbringing shape the soul of an individual, characters who are both ‘realistic’ and odd, witty insights into human nature and foibles at both the individ ...more
Had this one on my shelves for so long I thought I'd already read it. But, nope. It's the story of a half-provincial half-royal kid from Canada who is raised by a Catholic aunt and learns to draw in the local funeral home, then turns to Renaissance painting in the face of his family's craziness during WWII. Funny and intriguing all the way through. Must read more Robertson Davies.
What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies is my favourite novel. It is the second in the otherwise unremarkable Cornish trilogy and details the life of the second Francis Cornish from birth to death, including a confusing religious upbringing by everyone but his parents in a rural Ontario town, his education from 'Spook' to Oxford, his apprenticeship in art fraud to cheat the Nazis and his secret life as a spy. Along the way, Cornish 'assassinates' an art faker as it takes one to know one, fal ...more
Nov 17, 2014 Lobstergirl rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: Prayut Chan-o-cha
Shelves: fiction, own

The other Robertson Davies I tried to read was The Cunning Man and I had to abort. It just wasn't serving my needs. This one was better. In fact, at the end of the book I liked it better, much better, than at the beginning. The novel began to get interesting for me at about the three-quarters mark. Up to that point there was too much quirk, and meandering, for my taste. Quirky books should bear a sticker, like the Oprah book club sticker but for quirk, so I know to stay away from them.

At the end
What's Bred in the Bone is the second of a trilogy of books which are bound together by the life of one Francis Cornish, Canadian artist, critic, and collector, and by a host of other characters who are tied to him in one way or another. This book tells Cornish's life story, starting from a conversation between his heirs and his biographer and featuring interjections from a pair of supernatural beings, the Lesser Zadkiel (the Angel of Biography) and Maimon, Francis's personal daimon. The daimons ...more
Wes Christensen
An artist friend gave this book to me, years ago when we were both in school. He didn't tell me anything about it, but since I liked him and his art work, I gave the book a try and went on to be a huge fan of the author, searching out everything I could find by him to read over the years. Being an artist myself, and painting in a rather traditional manner like the protagonist, it was bracing to read Davies' account of an artist who felt out of step in a Modern era -- much like I did, trying to m ...more
A reminder of the pleasures (and limitations) of Davies at his best. A light novel of ideas, with perhaps somewhat schematic characters, an un-convoluted and engaging plot, and a generous helping of authorial aperçus that do not attempt to hide their provenance (i.e., they aren't clanging and unconvincing ventriloquisms from the mouths of characters).

I say "light novel of ideas" rather than "novel of light ideas" because the themes at the heart of the book (belief and the construction of the se
This was the first Davies book I ever read, during the Canadian Studies student phase of my life when all books were acquired by picking at random from the CanLit shelf at the used bookstore. I've since gone back and read the whole Cornish trilogy, and much as I love the rest of it I really never felt it was necessary for my development as a person to have read more than this book. Possibly because it's so structurally different from the other two, Bred in the Bone sticks out. Its focus holds to ...more
It is always a wonderful experience to re-read What's Bred in the Bone. Although I have not read Davies' enter oevre, I certainly declare this to be his best novel of those I have read, possibly of all of them. It so masterfully brings together all the themes that he has played with in fiction over his writing life (which, according to him, could not begin while his parents were alive).

Francis Cornish, whose life tale this is, is a loveable scoundrel--sometimes more loveable, sometimes more sco
Bred in the Bone is the only book I have read by Robertson Davies, but it is not for the of lack of talent on the author's part. Davies has clear control of the plot, characters, and the English language and forms a story that is creative and believable, though not something we can relate to. (at least in this case) I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys books by John Irving. There are many similarities between the two authors, especially in the way the plot follows one character for much of ...more
I first read What's Bred In the Bone 25 or so years ago and the only things that I remembered from it were: Francis Cornish sketching at the autopsy of the dwarf tailor; the Drollig Hansel; and the huge triptych of The Marriage at Cana. I only remembered the art: and while this book is certainly about art, it is more about those lucky few who are able to access the deep well of common experience -- the Collective Unconscious -- and drag forth images to interpret and present as their own; it's ab ...more
I have to say, the thought of Canadian governmental machinations, British secret service, and Italian art restoration did not excite me at all. And, though a slow starting book, I found myself wanting to read more and more of this one...The story ended up being fascinating, character development was adequate to the point of care, and overall, a very enjoyable read.
Very strange and wonderful. If you're interested at all in the world or art, hermeticism, history and philosophy, this is for you. One of my favorite writers :)
This is the second book in the Cornish trilogy. It basically tells the life story of Francis Cornish, with side discussions by his daimon and an angel analyzing how his life is progressing. The reason for this story is that Simon Darcourt is one of a trio, including Arthur Cornish (Francis' nephew) and Maria, Arthur's wife, are tasked with managing Francis' Trust. Darcourt is having difficulties writing Francis' biography, feels there are potential scandals in his life and finds too many secrets ...more
A perfectly nice and entertaining literary work, but definitely not Canadian the way I understand it. If I didn’t know any better, I would think he is British, and very much imperial British. He represents everything one associates with colonial times in Canada: white, male, comfortably well-off, elitist, and monarchist. His writing is very accessible, definitely not post-modern, much more in the "by-gone" 19th century style. He draws exclusively on European tradition and good solid knowledge of ...more
I fell in love with Robertson Davies while in high school. The vivid strangeness of the worlds he creates, clothed in a style so sedate that it can be difficult to notice, captivated me entirely, especially in The Deptford Trilogy. I returned to What's Bred In The Bone after stumbling upon a tattered copy in a used bookstore, and, while I was still transported, I got to look at it a little more clearly. He definitely tells instead of showing at times, and may lay things out a little too clearly ...more
Sheryl Dunn
I avoided Robertson Davies for many years, and the only reason I read this one was that a friend asked me to read it aloud to him. I'm glad I did.

While the writing style felt old fashioned to me, Davies' wit and charm, especially when he's being satiric, is extremely engaging. Sometimes we laughed out loud; sometimes we discussed the issues raised in the novel. If the satire had continued at the same rate through the entire novel, I would have given this five stars instead of four, but the novel
I'm thinking of going back and re-rating all the Robertson Davies books I've read simply because his characters are still in my head after all these years, and that's got to count for something.

So saying, "What's Bred in the Bone" is by far my favorite. (And yes, Davies does remind me a little of John Irving.)The whole story around the art forgery is fascinating.(A topic I love - see "Drawn to Trouble: Confessions of an Art Forger" by Eric Hebborn if you want to re-examine some of your ideas abo
Much as it pains me to rate this only 2 stars, especially when I love Robertson Davies so much and when most other people seem to really like this one, I just...well. This book bored the pants off of me. I didn't like the angels snickering in the sidelines about everything, and I didn't really much like the story-within-a-story framework of the novel. And I didn't find it anywhere near as humorous as Davies' other stuff. It just didn't work for me. But I hear the third book in the series is fant ...more
What's Bred in the Bone is the most focused and the best book in this trilogy. In telling the story of Francis Cornish, Davies revisits one of his favorite themes -- the way childhood experiences can shape a life. Davies captures the exhilaration of formative experiences, but also vividly brings out how childhood can be confusing and even terrifying. And he makes the excellent point that adults don't necessary make things better by trying to shield a child from life's realities. There's also som ...more
Douglas Cosby
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
William Crosby
This book was on a comparative literature list with "100 days of solitude." Just as that book often used the word "solitude," this book often had the phrase "bred in the bone."

This is apparently part of a trilogy. I only read this one as it was the only one recommended in the list.

During the first 50 pages I was dreading the book because it seemed to be a bunch of English sensibilities and courtship stuff: material I try to avoid (I don't like Jane Austen). I was set to give it a 1 and get rid o
Christian Schwoerke
The title and the epigraph of this novel—"what's bred in the bone will not out of the flesh"—signal the story's principal thesis, one which had its debut in Rebel Angels, the first novel of the Cornish Trilogy.

The tone in this second novel of the Cornish Trilogy is markedly different from its predecessor, The Rebel Angels. While not the comedy of the more frantically paced Rebel Angels, What's Bred in the Bone rests upon the same premise, that the drama in one's life is at heart psychological,
Julia Phillips
Brilliant. One of the best books I have ever read. Together with 'The Rebel Angels' and 'The Lyre of Orpheus', this trilogy is a most impressive re-telling of the Arthurian myth. And that's only on one level. On another level it can be read as a contemporary drama, full of amazing characters and a plot that twists and turns its way to a wonderfully satisfactory conclusion.

The title is taken from an old English saying: what's bred in the bone will out in the flesh. Marvellous!
This book took a little while of getting into for me. At first, I missed the humour from the first novel of the trilogy, and all the academics running around. Francis Cornish being the central character in the trilogy I was expecting a lot, and it did come, but only by the middle to the end of the book. It was a slow starter, but it was worth it. As everything I have read by Davies, he gets it every time. Great book, from one of my favorite writers.
Doug Gordin
Do you liken yourself to an onion? wrapping round and round, my I accretes to surround my earlier self. Then the shock of recognition to smell my grandmother's kitchen's comforting odor of linoleum and steaming corn. Or fall into a corridor to find myself hiding from mockery and longing for love. Inside my tree rings, what did Fairfax breed in my bone?
Despite twice taking a stab at reading the first of the Cornish Trilogy,The Rebel Angels The Rebel Angels (Cornish Trilogy, #1) by Robertson Davies and failing to finish it, I decided to read the second in the trilogy as part of the Fall 2014 Reading Challenge. I'm so very glad I did. If you love wry wit, aphorisms, eloquent turns-of-phrase, keen observations well-stated, archaic and/or obscure jargon, and tons of allusions to literature, mythology, history and the arts...then, this is the author for you.

And if you like all the above, then there reall
One of my favorite books-- you must read the entire Cornish series. Hard to describe but the characters are like old friends that you can't get enough of and Davies' writing about art and religion are just enough to make you feel like you are learning more about the world.
Sergiy Svitlooky
Like every book that I read so far by Davies, this one is awesome in any way. It's smart, provocative and so well written, that you feel pain that it is ending. Davies just proves how a book can be smart and interesting at the same time.
Dec 09, 2007 Héctor rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
voici mon livre favorite de Robertson Davies: un livre vraiment "devorable"! I read this book non-stop and have bought it to have it available to those who love historical fiction. Davies was a Canadian genius!
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William Robertson Davies, CC, FRSC, FRSL (born August 28, 1913, at Thamesville, Ontario, and died December 2, 1995 at Orangeville, Ontario) 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 sometimes said to have detested. Davies was the founding Ma ...more
More about Robertson Davies...

Other Books in the Series

The Cornish Trilogy (3 books)
  • The Rebel Angels (Cornish Trilogy, #1)
  • The Lyre of Orpheus (Cornish Trilogy, #3)
Fifth Business The Deptford Trilogy: Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders The Rebel Angels (Cornish Trilogy, #1) The Manticore World of Wonders

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“The little boy nodded at the peony and the peony seemed to nod back. The little boy was neat, clean and pretty. The peony was unchaste, dishevelled as peonies must be, and at the height of its beauty.(...) Every hour is filled with such moments, big with significance for someone.” 8 likes
“The new priest in his whitish lab-coat gives you nothing at all except a constantly changing vocabulary which he -- because he usually doesn't know any Greek -- can't pronounce, and you are expected to trust him implicitly because he knows what you are too dumb to comprehend. It's the most overweening, pompous priesthood mankind has ever endured in all its recorded history, and its lack of symbol and metaphor and its zeal for abstraction drive mankind to a barren land of starved imagination.” 1 likes
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