The Rebel Angels Paperback – Mar 31 1983
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
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
Most recent customer reviews
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
In a tranquil Canadian University a voice spreads: Parlabane is back! Cave!Cave!, Molesworth would say. Read morePublished on June 30 2003 by Ventura Angelo
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 morePublished on Aug. 21 2002 by NotATameLion
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 morePublished on July 14 2001 by Cipriano
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 morePublished on June 6 2001 by Ron Dionne
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 morePublished on Nov. 10 2000 by Robert Knetsch
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 morePublished on Nov. 2 2000 by Jay Dickson
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 morePublished on Oct. 2 2000 by Michael J. Edelman