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

4.24  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,506 Ratings  ·  181 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 1985)
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Marsha Pomeroy-huff No, this book stands on its own, although if you do read the first one first, some of the events alluded to in this one will make more sense. On the…moreNo, this book stands on its own, although if you do read the first one first, some of the events alluded to in this one will make more sense. On the other hand, if you read this one first, then it makes the other two more interesting since you will know the backstory to events described in the rest of the trilogy. Either way, I think you will enjoy the story and the characters. (less)
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Jun 24, 2013 Terry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, canadian
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
Mar 03, 2008 laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 27, 2013 Ted rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: Prayut Chan-o-cha
Shelves: own, fiction

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
Feb 18, 2013 Wes Christensen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
It is always a wonderful experience to re-read What's Bred in the Bone. Although I have not read Davies' entire 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 sc
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
Sep 08, 2007 Yuichiro rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Alan Chen
Jun 23, 2016 Alan Chen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh Davies you make my heart swell. Book 2 of the Cornish trilogy focuses on Frank Cornish, the eccentric art collector whose will is the jumping off point for the first book. The story is told by the lesser immortals a recording angel and the daimon that follows his life. It starts with Frank's grandfather who made his fortune in lumber, became a local senator, and has three daughters, Frank's mom being the oldest and most beautiful. After obtaining a fortune he sought to debut her beauty at the ...more
Aug 12, 2015 Pere rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
La primera de las novelas que componen la trilogía de Cornish, Ángeles Rebeldes, dejó el listón de la excelencia literaria a una altura considerable. La lectura de Lo que arraiga en el hueso, arranca con tal expectativa que inevitablemente conduce a una cierta decepción, sobre todo si funcionan los mecanismos de la comparación.

El planteamiento resulta atractivo: la historia de Francis Cornish contada por sus dos Ángeles o Daimones particulares, Zadkiel y Maimas, encargados de guiar sus pasos des
Aug 11, 2014 Krista rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: can-con, 2014
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
Jun 05, 2008 Mitch rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 17, 2008 Jesse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 :)
Jun 27, 2014 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, canlit
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
Feb 16, 2016 Peter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although this novel has the elements and characters of any great novel including a European dimension, it is quintessentially Canadian (and in my view, only a "what's bred and bone" Canadian might realize the truth of the statement above.)
We're not talking Hockey Night in Canada here.
This is the story of Francis Cornish who emerges from a once small-town family, which has become wealthy on the exploitation of Canada's resources (human and natural) and which later, in the process, enables the fam
Dec 20, 2009 Mag rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 10, 2012 Leslie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 04, 2012 Sheryl Dunn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Carmen Pacheco
May 27, 2016 Carmen Pacheco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Este libro, a parte de estar maravillosamente escrito y tocar todos los temas importantes que afectan a la vida de una persona, contiene en su interior: genios excéntricos, aristocracia inglesa, falsificadores de cuadros, nazis, vinos, embalsamadores, bibliotecas, cartas astrales, profesores que se sacan la chorra en clase, espías, iconografía católica, leyenda artúrica y un protagonista del que te enamoras. Yo creo que no se le puede pedir más a una novela.
Rafa Sánchez
Aug 19, 2013 Rafa Sánchez rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gran novela de Davies, con su estilo lleno de humor y profundidad filosófica, nos introduce en el mundo de la restauración de cuadros, en la lucha encubierta dentro de la Segunda Guerra Mundial por el prestigio cultural al sevicio de la propaganda política, en la duplicidad moral y miserias intelectuales de los expertos de pintura, etc. Todo un mundo soterrado dentro de la gran cultura occidental, como nos tiene acostumbrados el autor en otras novelas, a la vez que ilustra al lector sobre la ten ...more
Jul 27, 2010 Sylvester rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 22, 2012 Lara rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2012
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
Jun 07, 2014 Kristen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
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
Nov 18, 2012 Douglas Cosby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned in previous reviews just how much I love this author. How he creates a story of improbable situations and makes it not only believable but ordinary seeming, is fascinating.

This is the story of Francis Cornish, a man who seems to drift through life doing what is expected of him and yet extraordinary things happen to him. All the mysterious glimpses of his life that have been brought up in the first book of the trilogy are now laid bare for the reader and it makes for a st
I am a long time fan of Robertson Davies and have a good selection of his novels still on my Canadiana shelf. I was looking for a fat, juicy and engaging paperback (not too heavy) that could sustain me on two long flights. I remember enjoying the first of Davies' trilogies, the Deptford series. This novel is the first of a second trilogy called the Cornish trilogy because of the main character named Francis Cornish. Davies mines the Gothic atmosphere of small-town Ontario in a very different way ...more
Trevor Pearson
Jan 24, 2016 Trevor Pearson rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
“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. It was a significant moment, for it was Francis's first conscious encounter with beauty - beauty that was to be the delight, the torment, and the bitterness of his life - but except for Francis himself, and perhaps the peony, nobody knew of it, or would have heeded if they had known. Every hour i
William Crosby
Feb 21, 2015 William Crosby rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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William Robertson Davies, CC, FRSC, FRSL (died in 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 Master of Massey College, a graduate college at the University of Toro ...more
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Other Books in the Series

The Cornish Trilogy (3 books)
  • The Rebel Angels (Cornish Trilogy, #1)
  • The Lyre of Orpheus (Cornish Trilogy, #3)

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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.” 13 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.” 2 likes
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