Always a bridesmaid, never a bride: Robertson Davies, who died last year at the age of eighty-two, never quite attained the international recognition he sought. Short-listed for both the Nobel and Booker prizes in 1986 and for the Nobel again in 1992, he lost out in each case. His books sold reasonably well in the United States, but never in England. Yet in his native Canada Davies was accorded tremendous prestige, considered by many the nation’s greatest author. His work has always had a special significance for his compatriots because throughout his career he grappled, more eloquently and relentlessly than any other artist of this century, with the troubled question of what it means to be a Canadian.

“Sometimes when I think of the great world family of the English-speaking peoples,” he said in 1977, “I think of Canada as the Daughter Who Stayed at Home.”

I mean ...