Breaking Camp (from Danvis Tales)

If, while listening to tonight’s story, you come to the dialogue and have no idea about what I am talking, you won’t be alone. I staggered across tonight’s author by way of the great Hayden Carruth, whose introduction to Rowland E. Robinson’s Danvis Tales ranks among the most incisive layer-peeling short pieces of literary commentary I’ve read. And I assure you I’ve read a few. He says of the dialogue:

Robinson was an instinctive linguist; he understood the value of listening carefully and recording faithfully. And we may say as a matter of course that he applied the same care and fidelity to the larger aspects of his material, syntax, and speech rhythm…

… the most telling elements of Robinson’s skill are the least demonstrable, his sensitivity to the syntax and rhythm of colloquial speech. Notice the interplay of long and short breath-units in these sentences, and the mixing of grammatical structures, clause and phrase, different verb moods, and so forth. Only a very complicated chart could reduce all these elements to a form of linguistic analysis, but they are what account for both the verisimilitude and the esthetic liveliness of this speech. The truth is that Robinson’s dialogue, which is the largest and most important part of the Danvis Tales, is invariably better writing than his descriptive and narrative passages in the standard overblown English of his day.

So give it a chance, even if you have to suffer through my not entirely successful attempt at the colloquial speech of this time and place. “Folk tales” are not exactly my genre and narrative style of choice, but reading through these has been a welcome reminder of why I should slap myself on the hand with a ruler when I pigeonhole myself this way. And I’d slap you just the same; I care that much.

1 thought on “Breaking Camp (from Danvis Tales)”

  1. It’s nice that Rowland Robinson’s handiwork lives on. I can remember Dad reading from one of his collections a story (somewhat confused in my mind but very funny at the time) a tale Antoine presumably told the gang in Uncle Lisha’s workshop. I recall it being a French-Canadian fable of a man with a vanity problem who somehow was changed into a kingfisher. The bird flew up and down the stream until it froze. Then thinking his reflection on the ice to be a rival, dove straight down to his demise. I don’t have this story straight, but I bet you probably do.

    Though I’m a Chittenden county native, and well-acquainted with Rokeby in days of yore, I don’t know where Robinson construed Danvis to be, or if there is no such place in Ferrisburgh or Charlotte, why he didn’t simply use either name. Any thoughts?

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