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The Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies

The Rebel Angels (1981)

by Robertson Davies

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Cornish Trilogy (book 1)

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1,326235,867 (3.98)1 / 101

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I read [b:The Lyre of Orpheus|76897|The Lyre of Orpheus (Cornish Trilogy, #3)|Robertson Davies|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1290199305s/76897.jpg|1178556] first, but as I got closer to finishing bought this book from a local bookshop, a first edition no less, important to me chiefly because there's a wonderful picture of Trinity College at night on the front cover, and a wonderfully Mephistophelian picture of Davies on the back (it's the eyebrows). Of course this is the first book in the Cornish trilogy and I started with the last one, and the characters all make a little more sense to me now. I'd have had a better understanding of Hollier especially, and knowing what Arthur would be to Maria by the end made me look at him quite a bit more closely than the new reader would.

There were things that I liked a lot and things I wasn't struck by. McVarish's ceremonies didn't interest me, and Parlabane is difficult to believe in. Obviously he's meant to have a stylised speech pattern, and I don't think Davies intends for us to find the characters' monologues realistic--he favours artistic interpretation over verisimilitude (and verisimilitude in speech can be deeply annoying, with all the 'ums' and 'uhs' and boring bridge-words of real world conversations). But I liked the setting and his representation of academics plodding along with their research fascinations, acknowledging how little it means to the world, and yet how much it means at the same time. I don't know if I'd choose this book to represent Davies best to others, and I'm not in a rush to read [b:What's Bred in the Bone|265767|What's Bred in the Bone (Cornish Trilogy, #2)|Robertson Davies|https://d2arxad8u2l0g7.cloudfront.net/books/1328019283s/265767.jpg|2994820] yet, though I know I will. (I have yet to finish a Davies trilogy. I've read 2 out of 3 of the Deptford ones as well.) ( )
  likecymbeline | Apr 1, 2017 |
The word "erudite" appears in nearly every positive review of this novel, and what that means to me is this: if you're not familiar with Rabelais and Paracelsus you're not going to get the most out of reading it. It is true "literary fiction", and not the drivel that passes for that so often these days. But I couldn't say I enjoyed reading Davies this time. Aside from missing so many of his references, a single line from one reviewer kind of sums up my reaction to his characters: "For some reason, I felt a little dirty after I finished this one." I have a feeling that some of the distasteful bits are the parts where other readers have found humor, but since no one gave examples of what they considered funny, I can't be sure of that. I've never appreciated scatalogical humor, although I realize its appeal is wide and ancient in human culture generally, and in literature specifically. I feel a little like that kid watching the Emperor's parade...I see that the Emperor has clothes, but I just don't like them very much.
Review written in 2013 ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Jan 8, 2017 |
One of my favorite Davies books it's chock full of of great characters stuck in the quicksand of his wry wit. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Rebel Angels is classic [a:Robertson Davies|23129|Robertson Davies|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1225671081p2/23129.jpg]. The characters are experts in their fields, all too wise for their own good, quirky, and riddled with various personality traits and flaws that make even the most exaggerated of them read as if he or she was real.

That being said, I don't know if I will read the rest of the series yet. It is a good book, but is it worth the time investment? I still don't know.

If you're new to Davies work, I recommend reading [b:The Deptford Trilogy|74403|The Deptford Trilogy|Robertson Davies|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1192421535s/74403.jpg|1352] first. ( )
  IsotropicJoseph | Apr 28, 2014 |
This is a book that really feels like the first volume of a trilogy-of-ideas: there are all sorts of different intellectual threads being laid out for us to follow through the next two books. But it's also an extremely playful book, with a parody of a conventional romantic plotline mixed up with a parody of a murder mystery against an Oxbridge-style collegiate background (at one point we even get a sketch plan of where the guests at an academic dinner were sitting). And for good measure we also get a bizarre twist on the literary cliché of the missing manuscript.

From time to time it all gets a bit much, and you wonder whether it's Matthew Arnold with ear-rings or Inspector Morse with maple syrup, but on the whole I think Davies is a writer more than good enough to get away with occasional excesses. If anything, you end up wishing that you knew a bit more about Rabelais and Paracelsus. And looking forward to the next two parts of the trilogy. ( )
  thorold | May 29, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
" ... when I read at the start of 'The Rebel Angels' that, according to Paracelsus, the 15th-century alchemist, 'The striving for wisdom is the second paradise of the world,' a kind of fog invaded my head. And for the rest of the story, I felt like a restless, inattentive boy who has been told to sit still and pay attention in an overheated lecture hall."

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robertson Daviesprimary authorall editionscalculated
BascoveCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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`Parlabane is back.'
I'll bet Adam and Eve left the Garden laughing and happy with their bargain; they had exchanged a know-nothing innocence for infinite choice.
`I have read official lives of people I have known well, and they never seem to be about the person I knew. ... It is part of the received doctrine of modern biography that all characters are Flawed ... but the Flaws the biographers exhibited usually meant that the person under discussion had not seen eye to eye with the biographer.'
"Maker, mender, lover, mother, bondwoman of violins and all the viol family.... It's keeping violins alive. Who wants a new violin? A child. You make half-size and quarter-size for children, yes, but the big artist doesn't want a new fiddle; he wants an old one. But old fiddles are like old people, they get cranky, and have to be coaxed, and sent to the spa, and have beauty treatments and all that.... It goes beyond repairing. It means resting; it means restoring youth."
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A goodhearted priest and scholar, a professor with a passion for the darker side of medieval psychology, a defrocked monk, and a rich young businessman who inherits some troublesome paintings are all helplessly beguiled by the same coed. Davies weaves together the destinies of this remarkable cast of characters, creating a wise and witty portrait of love, murder, and scholarship at a modern university.… (more)

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