Affirming the Artistic Past: The Witness of what's Bred in the Bone

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 1990


Robertson Davies's What's Bred in the Bone takes its title from an English proverb traceable to a 1290 Latin version: Osse radicatum raro de carne recedit. The antiquity of the title discloses much about the book; as Davies concentrates on the power the past exerts on the present, the implications of the title reach far beyond the maxim that what is bred in the bone of the artist-protagonish Francis Cornish will come out in his flesh. Davies also affirms a literary inheritance of theme and form bred in the bone of the author. This inheritance focuses on four genres: biography, allegory with its emphasis on ambiguity and on symbolic transformation, art and art criticism, and satire. The 1985 novel is summary and synthesis of matters bred in the bone of the Western thinker and artist. What's bred in the bone of a writer will be apparent in the flesh of his novel.