Deptford Trilogy

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The Deptford Trilogy (1970-75), by Robertson Davies, consists of Fifth Business (1970), The Manticore (1972) and World of Wonders (1975). The series revolves around a simple act—a young boy throws a snowball at another, but it misses its intended target—and the effect this act has on a number of characters.

Fifth Business (1970)[edit]

  • Not that any of the women spoke; they had done their speaking before church, and their husbands knew the price of peace.
    • "Mrs. Dempster", Section 11
  • "I cannot remember a time when I did not take it as understood that everybody has at least two, if not twenty-two, sides to him."
    • "I Am Born Again", Section 1
  • I knew she had eaten my father, and I was glad I did not have to fight any longer to keep her from eating me. Oh, these good, ignorant, confident women! How one grows to hate them!
    • "I Am Born Again", Section 4
  • Then I was in love with herself after all, said Diana, making one of those feminine leaps in logic that leave men breathless.
    • "I Am Born Again", Section 6
  • I promised that this would be a frank record, so far as I can write one, and God forbid that I should pretend that there is not a generous measure of spite in my nature.
    • "I Am Born Again", Section 7
  • If you don't hurry up and let life know what you want, life will damned soon show you what you'll get.
    • "My Fool-Saint", Section 6
  • A fool-saint is somebody who seems to be full of holiness and loves everybody and does every good act he can, but because he's a fool it all comes to nothing- to worse than nothing, because it is virtue tainted with madness, and you can't tell where it'll end up.
    • "My Fool-Saint", Section 7
  • He let me know that he had been led into his marriage by love, and love alone; though he did not say so it was clear he owed Cupid a grudge.
    • "Gyges and King Candaules", Section 1
  • Despite these afternoon misgivings and self-reproaches I clung to my notion, ill-defined though it was, that a serious study of any important body of human knowledge, or theory, or belief, if undertaken with a critical but not a cruel mind, would in the end yield some secret, some valuable permanent insight, into the nature of life and the true end of man.
    • "Gyges and King Candaules", Section 3
  • These petitioners had no conception of art; to them a picture was a symbol of something else, and very readily the symbol became the reality. They were untouched by modern education, but their government was striving with might and main to procure this inestimable benefit from them; anticlericalism and American bustle would soon free them from belief in miracles and holy likenesses. But where, I ask myself, will mercy and divine compassion come from then? Or are such things necessary to people who are well fed and know the wonders that lie concealed in an atom? I don't regret economic and educational advance; I just wonder how much we shall have to pay for it, and in what coin.
    • "Liesl", Section 2
  • I know flattery when I hear it; but I do not often hear it.
    • "Liesl", Section 3
  • This is the revenge of the unlived life, Ramsay. Suddenly it makes a fool of you.
    • "Liesl", Section 5
  • "You must get to know your personal devil"
    • "Liesl", Section 5
  • When love strikes the successful middle-aged they bring a weight of personality and a resolution to it that makes the romances of the young seem timid and bungling. They are not troubled by doubt; they know what they want and they go after it.
    • "The Soirée of Illusions", Section 2

The Manticore (1972)[edit]

  • I was embarrassed to be such a fool in a situation that I had told myself and other people countless times I would never submit to -- talking to a psychiatrist, ostensibly seeking help, but without any confidence that he could give it. I have never believed these people can do anything for an intelligent man he can't do for himself. I have known many people who leaned on psychiatrists, and every one of them was a leaner by nature, who would have leaned on a priest if he had lived in an age of faith, or leaned on a teacup reader or an astrologer if he had not enough money to afford the higher hokum.
    • "Why I Went to Zurich", Section 1
  • "Ha ha," laughed Dr Tschudi in a manner I came to be well acquainted with in Switzerland; it is the manner which acknowledges politely that a joke has been made, without in any way encouraging further jokiness.
    • "Why I Went to Zurich", Section 1
  • There used to be a widespread idea that women are very sensitive. My experience of them as clients, witnesses, and professional opponents had dispelled any illusions I might have had of that kind. Some women are sensitive, doubtless, but I have met with nothing to persuade me that they are, on the whole, more likely to be sensitive than men.
    • "Why I went to Zurich", Section 3
  • "Psychology plays a great part in my profession. I am rather a well-known criminal lawyer -- or have you checked that, too? I have to know something about the way people function. Without a pretty shrewd psychological sense I couldn't do what I do, which is to worm things out of people they don't want to tell. That's your job, too, isn't it." "No. My job is to listen to people say things they very badly want to tell but are afraid nobody else will understand. You use psychology as an offensive weapon in the interest of justice. I use it as a cure. So keen a lawyer as yourself will appreciate the difference."
    • "Why I Went to Zurich", Section 3
  • "It is not a fact, except insofar as all coincidences are facts."
    • "Why I Went to Zurich", Section 3
  • "Dreams do not foretell the future. They reveal states of mind in which the future may be implicit."
    • "Why I Went to Zurich", Section 3
  • "Did you know, by the way, that somebody has to own a grave? Somebody, that is, other than the occupant. I own my father's grave. A strange thought."
    • "Why I Went to Zurich", Section 5
  • "And because she died during the war, when my father was abroad, the funeral had to be arranged by a family friend, and he just bought one grave. A good one, but single. She lies in the same desirable area as my father, but not near. As in life."
    • "Why I Went to Zurich", Section 5
  • "Denyse had heard somewhere of a coffin being covered with a blanket of roses, and she wanted one as her own special offering. It was Caroline who persuaded her to hold herself down to a decent bunch of white flowers. Or really, persuaded isn't the word.
    • "Why I Went to Zurich", Section 5
  • Simple people seem to think that if a family has money, every member dips what he wants out of some ever-replenished bag that hangs, perhaps, by the front door.
    • "David Against the Trolls", Section 1
  • My sister Caroline usually had lots of money because she was under no necessity to become a man and had to have money always about her for unexplained reasons connected with protecting her virtue.
    • "David Against the Trolls", Section 1
  • If I had the power to cast curses, I should rank the curse of being enviable very high.
    • "David Against the Trolls", Section 1
  • You North American men are especially guilty of casting your mothers in a cramping, minor role.
    • "David Against the Trolls", Section 4
  • There are lots of Christians who are all pity and charity for the miserable and the outcast, but who think it a spiritual duty to give the rich a good snubbing whenever they can.
    • "David Against the Trolls", Section 5
  • Carol and Beesty are now generous patrons of music, and I collect pictures. With both of us, as Father Knopwood feared, it has become the only spiritual life we have, and not a very satisfactory one when life is hard.
    • "David Against the Trolls", Section 5
  • I know what a heavy burden everybody carries of the unconfessed, which sometimes appears to be unspeakable. Very often such stuff is not disgraceful or criminal; it is merely a sense of not having behaved well or having done something one knew to be contrary to someone else's good; of having snatched when one should have waited decently; of having turned a sharp corner when someone else was thereby left in a difficult situation; of having talked of the first-rate when was planning to do the second-rate; of having fallen below whatever standards one had set oneself.
    • "David Against the Trolls", Section 8
  • What school performance of anything is ever less than a triumph?
    • "David Against the Trolls", Section 9
  • To be cynical is not the same as avoiding illusion, for cynicism is just another kind of illusion. All formulas for meeting life -- even many philosophies -- are illusion.
    • "David Against the Trolls", Section 9
  • Be sure you choose what you believe and know why you believe it, because if you don't choose your beliefs, you may be certain that some belief, and probably not a very creditable one, will choose you.
    • "David Against the Trolls", Section 11
  • It is a widespread idea that people who are unusually cruel must be insane, though the corollary of that would be that anybody who is unusually compassionate must be insane.
    • "David Against the Trolls", Section 13
  • There are the There-But-for-the-Grace-of-Godders who seem to think it is only by a narrow squeak that they have kept out of the prisoner's dock themselves; they are bird-brains to whom God's grace and good luck mean the same thing.
    • "David Against the Trolls", Section 13
  • It is one of the touching aspects of our work here in the College [of Arms] that so many of you New World people, up to the eyebrows in all the delights of republicanism, hanker after a link with what is ancient and rubbed by time to a fine sheen. It's more than snobbery; more than romanticism; it's a desire for an ancestry that somehow postulates a posterity and for an existence in the past that is a covert guarantee of immortality in the future.
    • "David Against the Trolls", Section 13
  • Did you ever think that these three men [ Freud, Adler and Jung] who were so splendid at understanding others had first to understand themselves? It was from their self-knowledge they spoke. They did not go trustingly to some doctor and follow his lead because they were too lazy or too scared to make the inward journey alone. They dared heroically...Was their heroism simply meant to raise a whole new crop of invalids?
    • "My Sorgenfrei Diary"

World of Wonders (1975)[edit]

  • The Devil's attributes have been left vague. I think I've found one of them. It is he who puts the prices on things.
    • "A Bottle in the Smoke", Section 6
  • Once a man showed me a great treasure of his family; it was a handkerchief which somebody, on 30 January 1649, had dipped in the blood of the executed English King Charles I. It was a disgusting, rusty rag. But if you and I and Roly here had the money and the right people, we could fake up an execution of King Charles that would make people weep. Which is nearer to the truth? The rag, or our picture?
    • "A Bottle in the Smoke", Section 7
  • He was funny, or ironic, or whatever you want to call it, about the World of Wonders. We all know why people talk in that way; if we are amusing about our trials in the past, it is as if we say, "See what I overcame - now I treat it as a joke - see how strong I have been and ask yourself if you could have overcome what I overcame?"
    • "A Bottle in the Smoke", Section 7
  • During the First World War some of the English troops used to go over the top shouting, "Marmalade!" in humorously chivalrous voices, as if it were a heroic battle-cry. The Germans could never get used to it. They puzzled tirelessly to solve the mystery. Because a German cannot conceive that a man in battle would want to be funny, you see. But I think the English were dissembling the horror of their situation so that they would not notice how close they were to Death. Again, humour was essentially evil. If they had thought of the truth of their situation, they might not have gone over the top. And that might have been a good thing.
    • "A Bottle in the Smoke", Section 7
  • Willard liked best to steal from the local cop, but as cops rarely had much money this was a larcenous foppery which he did not often allow himself.
    • "A Bottle in the Smoke", Section 8
  • Unhappiness of the kind that is recognized and examined and brooded over is a spiritual luxury.
    • "A Bottle in the Smoke", Section 8
  • Like many people who are losing their grip, he mistook it for the coming of a new wisdom in himself.
    • "A Bottle in the Smoke", Section 8
  • Milady said that with the Bible and Shakespeare it was better to be a little cool, rather than too hot; the meaning emerged more powerfully. "Listen to Sir John," she said, "and you'll find that he never pushes a line as far as it will go." That was how I learned about never doing your damnedest; your next-to-damnedest was far better.
    • "Merlin's Laugh", Section 6
  • Most adolescents are destructive, I suppose, but the worst are certainly those who justify what they do with a half-baked understanding of somebody's philosophy.
    • "Merlin's Laugh", Section 7
  • People who think of beds only in terms of sexual exercise or sleep simply do not understand that a bed is the best of all places for a philosophical discussion, an argument, and if necessary a showdown. It was not by chance that so many kings of old administered justice from their beds, and even today there is something splendidly parliamentary about an assembly of concerned persons in a bed.
    • "Le Lit de Justice", Section 1

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