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The Rebel Angels [Paperback]

Robertson Davies
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 31 1983 0140061762 978-0140061765 New edition
, defrocked monks, mad professors, and wealthy eccentrics-a remarkable cast peoples Robertson Davies' brilliant spectacle of theft, perjury, murder, scholarship, and love at a modern university. Only Mr. Davies, author of Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders, could have woven together their destinies with such wit, humour-and wisdom.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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The Rebel Angels is the inaugural volume of the Cornish Trilogy, Robertson Davies's final completed series. These are Davies's oddest books, and they've sparked more controversy than any of his other works, simply because they are the most sensitive to a reader's tastes--depending on one's sensibilities, they will either prove to be delightful or dreadfully dull.

Like A Mixture of Frailties, the first of Davies's major novels, The Rebel Angels revolves around the execution of a difficult will. In this case, the estate is of one Francis Cornish, a fantastically rich patron and collector of Canadian art and a noted antiquarian bibliophile. A lost Rabelais manuscript is rumoured to be among his possessions, and his executors include the deliciously revolting Renaissance scholar Urquhart McVarish; Professor Clement Hollier, a classically middle-aged inhabitant of the ivory tower; and the Reverend Simon Darcourt, Davies's obligatory humanist clergyman. A heroine is provided in the form of Maria Theotoky, a beautiful Ph.D. student of Professor Hollier's. A rich, funny, and slightly ribald campus novel results, one that revels in the fustian of the now-vanished pre-postmodern university.

The Cornish Trilogy is by far the most arcane of Davies's major works. The later volumes, What's Bred in the Bone and The Lyre of Orpheus, extend out of the corporeal world, bringing angels, daimons, and souls in limbo into the fray. Davies's love for obscure learning is at its peak here. While he is often faulted for this, it is really the best part of the fun, provided the reader is willing to follow him into the storehouses of forgotten thought and accept that there is still much of contemporary relevance in the disused fancies of the past. --Jack Illingworth --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Frederick Davidson reads this multi-layered book with more or less success. On one level, Davies's novel is "about" four academics: Maria Theotoky, the brilliant, beautiful graduate student; her adviser, the ascetic Dr. Hollier; Simon Darcourt, the bon vivant priest; and Parlabane, once an outstanding scholar, now sycophant to his former classmates. Then there is the basic plot theme: Who will end up with the girl? Standard stuff. Yet the real focus here is on the spiritual and/or mystical personal explorations of the main characters. Unfortunately the story's lack of organizational coherence has a negative effect on the apparent striving for deeper meaning. In addition, while Davidson is an extremely competent reader of male voices, he makes the supposedly alluring Maria sound almost maternal. For all its imperfections, this book is a compelling performance. Recommended for moderate to large literature collections.?I. Pour-El, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A box of treasures, and an asylum of carricatures Nov. 28 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
About a quarter of way into the reading, I was reminded of Canada's other famous funny man, Saul Bellow, especially Humboldt's Gift. As I delved deeper, I saw a definitive difference: Bellow was more exuberant, and Davies wiser, more a deadpan. Just an aside, not meant as a comparative analysis.
As I read, I was swept off the floor by Davies's erudition and insight. While I understood that the disciplines described in the book were his own field of academic study, and I should not feel too badly for myself if I didn't know much about Mediavel culture, Rabelais, and Gypsy lores, however, the way Mr. Davies pulled them together is nothing short of magic. Regardless of your knowledge and scholarship, to make medieval stuff fun and funny is no small talent. Even for those who do not share Davies's sense of humor will not come out empty-handed, as the tidbits of knowledge and myth can sure serve one well in cocktail conversations. This is the positive, treasure box side.
Now the complaint. Despite the acclaim that the novel is a ground-breaking depiction of the ivory tower of academic pursuit, Mr. Davies failed to give a true, or truly inspired account in this regard. The characters are, by and large, two-dimensional caricatures, and in the case of female protagonists (Maria/Mamusia), not even fully a one-dimensional line. While Mr. Davies was unquestionably talented in seeing and playing off Academic Man's eccentricities and neurocism, he was not as good in injecting him with the proper counter dose of humanity, to make him truly three dimensional. Simon Darcourt is the best of the ilk, but even he does not compare in vivacity and believability to similar characters (e.g. Humboldt of the aforementioned Bellow). I find the carricaturization a severe flaw.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Perfect Novel? Nov. 7 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The Rebel Angels immediately entered my personal canon of favorite works of literature. Could it be the perfect novel? It features astounding characters, well defined and memorable (especially the unforgettable John Parlabane, almost as singular a character as Liesl in Davies' Deptford Trilogy). It features a page turning plot. I was initially hoping for a literary mystery, along the lines of Eco, when the "lost manuscript" is introduced. The plot doesn't exactly lead that way, but creates its own twists and turns, both comic and tragic.
Davies' fine novel is an erudite display of knowledge, philosophy, emotion. There are no blacks and whites, nor even shades of grey. Each character is peppered alternately both black and white...each an incredibly real person encompassing friendship and selfishness, good and evil.
This is the kind of novel you feel better for having read. It impressed me on each page; a great work of literature as well as a very enjoyable read.
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The Rebel Angels starts off Robertson Davies's Cornish Trilogy by introducing us to a cast of characters and a mood that are the raw material of the collection of related stories. Davies is an author who utilizes a palette of archetypes, applying them again and again in successive snippets and passages. This first book of the trilogy serves as a kind of under-painting for the books that follow. It sets the stage and lays a foundation. But, like all under-painting, it is incomplete in itself. It needs the detail that comes from what follows. In a sense, then, this book is not truly complete apart from the other components of the trilogy. But, that said, in no way should the reader be dissuaded from reading this novel, for the rewards are deeper than the limitations.
Davies gives the reader a rich feast of characters and experiences, heightened and exaggerated, but never untrue. His pages welcome us into reflection upon the common chords of life found mirrored back to us by somewhat uncommon people in somewhat unusual places. A few of the characters stand out. Parlabane, for instance, gives us an annoying villain who is both disturbing and likable. Sometimes the tidy fence between goodness and evil seems to melt away in this story, leaving the reader a bit unsettled by the dark shadows within him or herself. This is, however, merely a minor - not too jarring - revelation of what we attempt to hide from ourselves. Robertson Davies gives us, in The Rebel Angels, an uncommon window upon the common human experience. If you are like me, you will find that you remember less of the details of this book than you feel that you have been reminded of the characters and experiences of your own life that sometimes too easily pass from notice.
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In a tranquil Canadian University a voice spreads: Parlabane is back! Cave!Cave!, Molesworth would say. Cerebral and celebrate scholars, fascinating student girls, modern-style mecenates and unconventional researchers will soon find their lives upset by the most Rebel of the Rebel Angels. A disgraced teacher,Parlabane is philosophically contradictory, insolent, taking everyone for a ride in his absolutely anarchic world, and is the pivotal personnage of this wonderful novel. His ex-colleagues are also involved in the inventory of an inherited literary and artistic treasure, from which an important Rabelais' manuscript is missing.A literary puzzle that will be solved in a very bizarre manner.
All is wonderful in this novel: the irony, the depiction of the
academic world, the charachters beautifully detailed like Beerbohm caricatures, the great arcane erudition of Robertson Davies, and a marvelous story whose unpredictable end is absolutely unique. A gem of a book, whit an exquisitely arcane flavor
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars A first rate novel ruined by kinky sex and scatology
This would have been a great novel except for the kinky sex and scatalogical rubbush that permeates it. Why Robertson Davies has to ruin the novel with this stuff is beyond me.
Published on Jan. 2 2011 by David Huntley
5.0 out of 5 stars Deep erudition and fun: a rare cocktail for the mind
In a tranquil Canadian University a voice spreads: Parlabane is back! Cave!Cave!, Molesworth would say. Read more
Published on June 30 2003 by Ventura Angelo
4.0 out of 5 stars Parlabane is back...
Rarely have I read a book that is so dead-on in its depiction of the petty concerns turned to obsession and often ingrown, self-righteous "worldly" provincialism that is... Read more
Published on Aug. 21 2002 by NotATameLion
4.0 out of 5 stars Davies draws eccentric circles!
It took me a couple pages to catch on to the way Davies constructed this novel. It's written in six sets of chapter couplets, which made for a really unique storyline. Read more
Published on July 14 2001 by Cipriano
4.0 out of 5 stars wonderful erudition
I've resisted this writer for years out of a silly bias against academic novels. This one has converted me (to Davies, if not the genre). Read more
Published on June 6 2001 by Ron Dionne
4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful, witty book
Robertson Davies is a Candian literary icon. His genius imbues all his writing - this most of all. With a wonderful narrative told from three characters perspectives, he weaves a... Read more
Published on Nov. 10 2000 by Robert Knetsch
5.0 out of 5 stars The pleasures of scholarship revealed
There are too, too many novels about the comedy of academic life, but this is the single best novel that reveals not only how ridiculous academics are but why anyone would want to... Read more
Published on Nov. 2 2000 by Jay Dickson
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious, touching and profane.
There is a sort of sub-genre of literature that might be called the Academic Black Comedy. Kingsly Amis' "Lucky Jim" certainly falls into this category, as do many of... Read more
Published on Oct. 2 2000 by Michael J. Edelman
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Satire Ever Written on Academia
It's the best satire ever written on academia. I was loving it, guys. LOVING it. Every word.
Published on Aug. 20 2000
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