What's Bred in the Bone
Site hosted by Angelfire.com: Build your free website today!

The Role of the Lesser Angels in Robertson Davis' What's Bred in the Bone

What's Bred in the bone is the Second Book in the Cornish Trilogy written by Robertson Davis


The Role of the Daimon Maimas and the Lesser Zadkiel

In Robertson Davies novel What's Bred in the Bone two supernatural beings are used to answer the central question of the book, that being, "What is bred in the bone of Francis Cornish". The two recording angels go by the names of the Lesser Zadkiel (the angel of biography) and the Daimon Maimas (the spirit of creativity). The Lesser Zadkiel was the angel who interfered when Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, so he is an angel of mercy (18) and Daimon Maimas is a manifestation of the artistic conscience, who supplies extra energy when it is needed (21). The two angels are used by Davies to promote the existence of a world beyond the physical and its significance in regards to our personal destinies. The metanarrative is used to establish the impossibility of a single narrative truth and to reassert assumptions underlying the text (Dopp 88). In addition to providing multiplicity to the text, the angel's other role is to "scrape [Francis] through the hedges and toughen him up" (71) and to "push him gently in the direction dictated by his destiny (123). Having angels directly influence his destiny proves that Cornish is a special person and without their involvement, the "enigma of his life would be less compelling" (Dopp 88). Davies' use of the Recording Angels in Francis Cornish's life helps the text to encompass both the physical and spiritual worlds. By examining particular excerpts from the text, their function in the novel can be seen more clearly.

The inclusion of the supernatural in What's Bred in the Bone is Davies' way of bringing awareness to the spiritual world that exists behind the representational world. Davies criticizes science by saying [It] is the theology of our time…it's a muddle of conflicting assertions…The new priest in his whitish lab coat gives you nothing at all except a constant changing vocabulary which he-because he usually doesn't know Greek-can't pronounce, and you are expected to trust him implicitly because he knows what you are too dumb to comprehend. (19)

Davies is attempting to point out that the lack of myth, symbol and metaphor in the age of science has created human beings that are two-dimensional. The absence of the spiritual realm has "drive[n] mankind to a barren land of starved imagination" (19). The use of Astrology in the novel debunks luck and points out that a powerful hand is at work in people's lives. It rounds out a character making him three-dimensional. The extension of the physical results in a rediscovering of myths which allow deeper meaning and an acceptance of creativity. The recording angels are a result of an extended view on the physical and provide the myth needed to complete the story of Francis Cornish. Davies writes that Cornish was given a good, safe hand at birth and every time he drew a card it was a joker because of the Recording Angels (15). This explains that luck has nothing to do with the hand of cards we are dealt at birth and that our hand is pre-determined for us. Davies wants to make it very clear that Maimas is the very agent responsible for what is bred in Cornish's bone, he is the "tutelary spirit, the indwelling essence" (71).

Before further examination of the function of the Recording Angels, it is important to understand who they really are. The Daimon Maimas and the Lesser Zadkiel are said to exist as metaphors for all "illimitable history of humanity and inhumanity, inanimate life and everything that has ever been" (18). They are a metaphor for what exists outside the physical realm and without them, life would be purely scientific and flat. Although Maimas and Zadkiel are supernatural beings, they are not omniscient. In a dialog between the two of them, Zadkiel pities Darcourt for never knowing the whole truth about Francis Cornish, and Maimas responds by saying "Even we do not know the entire truth" (22). Later in the novel this theme appears again when Maimas questions Zadkiel on the outcome of the story and the answer is "I can not remember all these lives in detail. Like yourself, I am simply being reminded of the life of Francis Cornish" (136). Since the angels are not omniscient they can not complete the myth of Francis. Therefore, the angels emphasize the impossibility of closure to the central question (Dopp 87). The italicized lettering found in the novel is appropriately done to signifying the timelessness of the angels and their authoritative interpretations of events (Dopp 89). Changing the font of the dialog spoken between the two angels helps reiterate the point of a separate world existing beyond our own and that their perspective suggests that it is not open to question by mere humans (Dopp 90). Zadkiel and Maimas both have different personalities. Zadkiel tends towards pity in his interpretations, but Maimas has a tougher attitude (Dopp 88). Asserting the two personalities creates an appearance of multiplicity in the text.

One function that the metanarrative of Maimas and Zadkiel serves within the novel is to assert the impossibility of a singular narrative truth (Dopp 88). Having two different personalities, the angels disagree with one another and through their disagreements, appear to insist on multiple perspectives (Dopp 88). An example of the dual perspective occurs when Zadkiel and Maimas are discussing Cornish's severe battle whooping cough.

-I suppose that was your doing, said the Lesser Zadkiel
-Certainly, said the Daimon Maimas…We do that often, with our special people…A good illness can be a blessing…
-You are a fierce spirit, brother
-So it may seem, if you take a purely human point of view. (112)

The reader is almost encouraged to take sides with either one of the angels. Was Maimas correct in pulling Cornish out of commission for a brief time? Is Zadkiel right in pointing out the severity of the act? The reader can begin to feel compassion for the sickly Cornish, or take a tougher attitude and agree with Maimas' action. A reason for this particular dual perspective could be to show the authority belonging to the Daimon Maimas. Francis did not choose to get sick, but according to Maimas it was for his own good. Looking at it from a "purely human point of view", it appears harsh and unjust. In this instance, Davies could be pointing out that the belief beyond the physical is important in understanding the "hand" we were dealt at birth. Cornish became sick and the reason why is not found in the scientific world, but beyond it, as explained by the angels.

Another example of the Recording Angel's multiple perspective occurs in the discussion about whether or not Cornish is a forger because of the painting he did.

-But if that scheme were ever uncovered, Francis would suffer most, because he is the only one who has actually forged a picture.
- No brother, he has forged nothing. He has painted an original picture in a highly individual style, an if any connoisseur misdates it, the more fool he. (388)

The two perspectives given are: Cornish is a forger, the other that he is not. These two viewpoints are crucial parts within the story. Siding with Zadkiel and saying that Francis would suffer most because he actually forged a picture denies the credibility of the spiritual world. Believing that he will be caught shows that there is little faith in the authority of the spiritual beings, and worse yet, denies the astrological chart of Cornish. According to the chart done by Ruth Nibsmith, Francis has a strong Mercury influence which means he is crafty, cunning and a trickster (375). Another important detail Ruth found in his horoscope is celestial guardianship (370). Davies is once again suggesting the dependency on the spiritual and supernatural. He writes, "a horoscope means somebody is really paying attention to you" (361). Accepting that Cornish did not forge the painting and was only expressing his individualistic style promotes the existence of celestial guardianship. Presenting to the reader a dual perspective asserts the impossibility of a singular truth and thus, the myth of Francis Cornish can not have closure.

Maimas and Zadkiel have another function within the text, that being, to assert conservative assumptions underlying the text (Dopp 88). The angels work to control reader's interpretation of events. When the main narrative seems to be lacking thereby inviting an uncertain meaning, the angels fill in the gaps (Dopp 88). For example, Maimas explains the significance of Cornish dressed up in women's clothing. The text provides the details of the act and the reader is left to assume that Cornish is experimenting with his sexuality until the timeless dialog of the angels is presented. Maimas explains, " he was looking for The Girl, the girl deep in himself, the feminine ideal" (148). It is important for the angels to fill in the gaps because wrong assumptions about Cornish will affect the reader's idea of his character. Later in the novel when Cornish paints the alchemic marriage, it is helpful to know about his childhood act of "looking for The Girl, the girl deep in himself" in order to understand his painting. Not only does it help in comprehending his creation, but also helps the reader understand Cornish's desire of the world of the mothers, the world of compassion, feeling and emotion. In order for Cornish to be a complete person, he needs to find and embrace the feminine side of himself, so standing in front of a mirror in women's clothing is his way of getting in touch with that world. Another question the supernatural beings clarify is the role of Francis the First (the Looner). The importance of the Looner is left to the reader to interpret up until Daimon Maimas explains his role.

-…is it good to conceal from everyone who the Dark Brother is, or how he came about?
-Well, in the obvious, physical sense, the Dark Brother in Francis's life is the outcome of Marie-Louise's well-intentioned meddling in London…But Francis's Dark Brother is much more than an obvious, physical thing. He's a precious gift from me, and I think I did rather well to seize my opportunity of bringing him to Francis's notice so early. (177)

There is an underlying assumption at the beginning of the novel that the Looner is dead. Later when Francis discovers his brother is alive, the reader also shares in the unexpected news. The interpretation of why he was kept alive is uncertain until Maimas explains how it was all a part of a plan to keep him living in order to have him influence Cornish's life. The Looner completes Cornish's character by being the "shadow", to use a Jungian archetype, the negative part of the soul that is not commonly acknowledged. The shadow is an important part of the psyche and is bred in Cornish's bones. The Recording angels successfully control the interpretation of the Looner by incorporating him into their supernatural plan.

The metanarrative spoken by the Daimon Maimas and the Lesser Zadkiel is used by Davies to open up the reader's mindset to a world that exists beyond the physical realm. Davies feels the loss of myth, metaphor and symbol "drives mankind to a barren land of starved imagination" (19). The function of the Recording Angels is to reiterate the idea of a world outside our own that has the power to control the outcome of individual lives. Davies wants us to know a world outside of science, the world of mothers and of myth. Maimas and Zadkiel function as metaphors for those worlds, one being the "manifestation of artistic conscience" (21) the other a merciful biographer (18). Through different perspectives, the angels present a multiplicity to the text while maintaining their timeless authority. They also help to control reader's interpretations of events by filling in the gaps where the main narrative lacks. The Recording Angels preside over What's Bred in the Bone in order to create a complete novel that not only encompasses the physical world, but the spiritual in the creation of Francis Cornish.

Home