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What's Bred in the Bone Summary & Study Guide Description
What's Bred in the Bone Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
This detailed literature summary also contains Related Titles on What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies.
Francis Chegwidden Cornish
Francis is a complex character. He is the main character of the novel, and the author spends a lot of time developing this character. Francis is born in Canada in 1909, in a small town, to a wealthy and influential family. His grandfather is the origin of the family's wealth and a staunch Catholic. Francis rarely sees his parents and so their direct influence on him is slim. Although his father was promised that Francis would be raised a protestant, Francis grows up with an odd mix of both Catholicism and protestantism and is actually baptized into both faiths. This religious upbringing has a strong influence on Francis. Rather than make him a deeply religious man, however, it actually affects his artistic preferences and helps to create "The Marriage at Cana" which is the myth of Francis Cornish.
Francis develops a love of drawing and art early and secretly practices every chance he gets. The major theme of what's bred in the bone is very evident in the life of Francis. His choice of career, his ability to keep secrets and his distrust of other people are all the result of his upbringing.
The theme that things are not as they appear is also developed through Francis. He grows up keeping secrets and knowing that those around him have secrets of their own. His profession as an adult is secretive, and although others think he is a patron of the arts, he actually is working for MI5. The two paintings he creates also become important to this theme. There is much speculation about the origin and painter of these two works of art, and Francis is never able to publicly claim ownership of them.
Daimons are described as spirits of the Golden Age who act as guardians to mortals. The Daimon Maimas is Francis Cornish's daimon. Maimas calls himself a Tutelary Spirit, The Indwelling Essence. Never explaining who his superiors are, he tells the reader that his job is to do well by Francis without showing off. He is told to make Francis into a great man. He is a significant influence in Francis' life, although Francis never knows it. He makes sure Francis is introduced to people who will deeply affect his development, and he makes sure Francis has the experiences necessary to shape him into the man he is to become. The Daimon Maimas is bred into Francis' bone.
The Angel of Biography is a member of the Recording Angel's staff. He is described as an angel of mercy since he is the one who interfered when Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac. The Lesser Zadkiel recorded Francis' life. He made no judgments. He just made sure that a record was kept. During the novel, he interacts with the Daimon Maimas to provide the reader with observations and interpretations.
Mary-Jacobine McRory is the eldest daughter of the Senator and Francis' mother. Her one night with Zadok also results in the birth of Francis the First. Mary-Jim is educated at a convent school and is described as a beauty. When she is eighteen, she is presented at court. Without much debate, despite her vow to marry for love, Mary-Jim agrees to marry Major Francis Cornish when it is discovered that she is pregnant. Although she flirts with almost anyone and has at least one affair, she remains loyal to her husband and never considers leaving him. Mary-Jim is a strong influence in Francis' life despite the fact that he rarely sees her. Francis idolizes his mother and his pain at not really knowing her love affects his own relationships as an adult.
Honourable James Ignatius McRory (the Senator, Hamish)
Hamish is described as a wealthy, influential man. Born into a poor family who immigrated from Scotland, Hamish vows to leave his life of poverty behind and works his way up in the lumber industry until he is a very wealthy man. Hamish also has a passion for politics, namely liberal politics, and by the time he is forty-five he has been appointed to the Senate. His hobby is photography, and he enjoys developing and touching up his photographs in his dark room.
Hamish is an enigma to the people of Blairlogie. He seems to cross all conventional lines, for although he is a Scot, he is a Roman Catholic. He is also a rich liberal, and he married a French Canadian woman. He married Mary-Louise and loves her all his life.
Hamish is the origin of Francis' first wealth and therefore important in his life. Hamish also teaches Francis to see light in a new way when he shows him how to take and develop photographs. Hamish is an astute businessman and recognizes that Francis will not be suitable for the family business. Rather than thrusting something on him that he does not want, Hamish encourages Francis in his pursuit of art and provides the income necessary for such a life. At his death, Francis remembers Hamish as the only one of the family who loved the artist in him.
Aunt Mary-Ben McRory
Mary-Benedetta McRory is described as "a formidable spirit concealed in a little, wincing spinster." Mary-Ben is the Senator's sister and lives with him and his wife at St. Kilda. She believes that God has called her into a life of service and takes her role very seriously. She is a devout Catholic. She is the housekeeper of St. Kilda and holds far greater sway over the workings of that house than is immediately discerned.
As a young woman, Mary-Ben suffered an injury that would affect her entire life. At a garden party in Government House, Mary-Ben was attacked by a Great Horned Owl. The owl was attracted by her hat, which looked to him like a skunk, and when the owl seized the hat, it took a considerable portion of her scalp with it. Her scalp remained too tender for wigs, and so she took to wearing caps made of the softest material she could find. This incident defines her role in life. She has no other choice but to serve.
Mary-Ben loves music and oil paintings and praying. Her influence on Francis is considerable. As his primary caregiver during his childhood, she influences his understanding of Catholicism, art (especially oil paintings) and loyalty. When he is sick, she has him baptized a Catholic, despite his father's adamant desire to have him raised protestant.
Francis the First (The Looner)
Francis the First is born in Europe under a cloud of secrecy. He is the result of one night spent between Mary-Jim and Zadok Hoyle (although neither knows the name of the other, nor recognizes each other when they come to live in the same small town). Francis the First's disabilities are more than likely the direct result of Mary-Louise's attempts to abort the pregnancy. Francis the First is small. His head is very small for his body, and because the top is so small, the lower part seems much larger than it is. He cannot speak.
Francis the First is not expected to live long, and his survival into his teen years shocks everyone. When he is five, the Senator and Dr. Jerome decide that he should be moved to the attic of St. Kilda and pronounced dead to the rest of the world, including his mother. He is cared for by Victoria Cameron, the cook and Zadok Hoyle, ironically, his real father. Francis discovers Francis the First as a child and develops an interest in him. At the same time, Francis the First's existence helps Francis Cornish refine his artistic talent and come to understand himself and his family much more clearly.
Saraceni is small, very dark and very neat. Tancred is a very well-respected art restorer who makes his home in Rome. Francis meets him at Oxford, and they forge a friendship that lasts until Saraceni's death. Francis becomes Saraceni's apprentice and learns how to mix paint like the Old Masters and how to restore pictures. He also learns from Saraceni the importance of putting his soul into his work. On his death, Saraceni bequeaths his entire wealth to Francis.
Ruth is the governess at the castle in Dusterstein. Francis meets her on his apprenticeship. As it turns out, she is also in the profession. Francis and Ruth develop a relationship at the castle, and years later, they meet each other again in London and rekindle their relationship for a few weeks before Ruth is killed in a bombing. While at the castle, Ruth casts a horoscope for Francis. The horoscope turns out to be very accurate, and at the end of Francis' life, his Daimon comments on the fact that the two strongest forces of his horoscope have been purposely bred into his bones.
This section contains 1,450 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)