What’s Bred in the Bone Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Author: Robertson Davies

First published: 1985

Genre: Psychological romance

Locale: Primarily Canada, England, and Germany

Plot: Psychological

Time: The mid-1980's in the framing fiction; from the mid-nineteenth century to 1981 in the internal fiction

Francis Chegwidden Cornish, a Canadian art expert. The novel purports to tell what has been “bred in the bone” of Francis. Francis, who is from a wealthy but emotionally distant family, is a sensitive, intelligent boy. He teaches himself to observe carefully and to draw what he sees; he later discovers that his affinity in art is for the Old Masters and that he is false to himself when he tries to express himself in modern styles. His skill at observation makes him useful to the British intelligence service before and during World War II. He paints the myth of himself, an expression of what has made him what he is, in Old Master style. When the painting is discovered after the war, art experts dub it The Marriage at Cana and attribute it to the Alchemical Master.

The Daimon Maimas, Francis' personal attendant spirit, the guiding force in his life. It is he who has arranged Francis'life to make him what he is, though his control does not mean that Francis lacks freedom of choice.

The Lesser Zadkiel, the recording angel. His records provide the biography of Francis.

James Ignatius McRory (also called the Senator and Hamish), Francis' maternal grandfather. A Scottish Catholic, McRory has made a fortune in the timber business. His desire to rise socially leads him to debut his daughter at court in London. He is interested in photography and teaches Francis the effects of different angles and types of light on a subject. In his will, he leaves Francis a substantial sum of money and exempts him from entering the family banking business.

Sir Francis Cornish, Francis' father. The younger son in an old family, he agrees to marry the pregnant Mary-Jacobine McRory after certain financial agreements are made. He is appointed president of his father-in-law's bank, a figurehead position. His real work is in intelligence, and he recruits Francis to follow him in that field.

Mary-Jacobine (Mary-Jim or Jacko) Cornish, née McRory, Francis' mother. Mary-Jacobine, a beautiful young woman, makes her debut at the court of King Edward VII in 1903; on that night, she becomes pregnant with the child of a footman who reminds her of a famous actor. She later becomes the perfect society wife but spends little time with her sons.

Mary-Benedetta (Mary-Ben) McRory, Francis' great-aunt. Mary-Ben has the greatest hand in rearing Francis. She instills in Francis a romantic Catholicism and has him baptized a Catholic at the age of fourteen, even though he already has been baptized a Protestant. Her collection of prints inspires Francis' interest in art.

Francis “the Looner” Cornish, Francis' elder brother. The Looner is mentally and physically handicapped because of Mary-Jacobine's attempts to end the unwanted pregnancy begun on her debut night. Francis'mother and father believe the Looner to be dead; he is kept upstairs in his grandfather's house. His existence instills in Francis a compassion for the unfortunate.

Zadok Hoyle, a groom for the McRory family. Unknown to him and to the McRory family, he is the Looner's father. Zadok also assists the local undertaker by preparing bodies for burial. He allows Francis to watch him in the embalming process, teaching him a respect for individuals and the fragility of life.

Ismay Glasson Cornish, Francis' cousin and later his wife. Francis at first believes her to be his dream woman, the woman who will complement his masculine nature with her feminine nature to make him whole. She tricks him into marriage to cover her pregnancy by another man, then leaves the child with her parents and joins her lover in Spain. The child and Ismay's family become a drain on Francis' finances. Ismay is a great believer in idealistic, unrealistic causes.

Tancred Saraceni, an art expert. He takes Francis as an apprentice and teaches him the style, physical composition (ingredients of paints), and iconography of Old Master paintings. He is casuistic about restoring paintings to look somewhat better than they did originally. He leaves Francis his fortune and his possessions.

Ruth Nibsmith, Francis' friend and lover. She casts Francis' horoscope seriously, wisely, and perceptively.

Aylwin Ross, a Canadian art critic, Francis'protégé. Ross becomes famous for his explication of The Marriage at Cana, unaware of its origin. He commits suicide after Francis refuses to buy the painting for the Canadian National Gallery.

Victoria Cameron, the McRorys' cook. She cares for the Looner and instills some hard, practical Calvinist values in Francis.

Dr. Joseph Ambrosius (J. A.) Jerome, the McRory family physician. Dr. J. A. recommends the false burial of the Looner, believing that knowledge of his existence will harm Francis.

Colonel Jack Copplestone, Francis' contact in British Intelligence. He arranges Francis' positions as a spy to coincide with his art activities.

The Reverend Simon Darcourt, Francis' friend and biographer. In the frame fiction, he complains that he cannot find enough information to write Francis' biography properly.

Arthur Cornish, Francis' nephew and executor, a banker. he is worried by the whiff of scandal about Francis that Simon has brought to him.

Categories: Characters