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The rebel angels by Robertson Davies

The rebel angels (original 1981; edition 1981)

by Robertson Davies

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,560278,987 (3.94)1 / 113
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)
Title:The rebel angels
Authors:Robertson Davies
Info:New York : Penguin Books, 1983, c1981.
Collections:Your library

Work Information

The Rebel Angels by Robertson Davies (1981)

  1. 00
    Brief Lives by John Aubrey (jakebornheimer)
    jakebornheimer: A character in the Rebel Angels is obsessed with this book - and it turns out that Aubrey's writings are actually interesting and humourous!
  2. 00
    What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: the sequel to Rebel Angels.
  3. 00
    The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber (BobNolin)

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» See also 113 mentions

English (23)  Spanish (3)  All languages (26)
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
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 in this first book of The Cornish Trilogy.
This review has been flagged by multiple users as abuse of the terms of service and is no longer displayed (show).
  StJamesLenoir | Apr 25, 2020 |
Literary novels are supposed to have depth, characterisation and style. What they often lack is story and this book lacks that. It is a contrived piece of nonsense. Scattered with intellectual biblical, classical and literary references, that are I presume inserted so we think the author is wise in academic ways, it often finds itself drifting into self-indulgent drivel territory. Its one defence is several good characters, but its obsession with scatology and rectums is both obscure and off-putting. It was sold to me as a comedy and needless to say I found no humour in it. I read this novel as part of a book group and completed it on principle, but will not be returning to Mr Davies work. ( )
  PhilOnTheHill | Sep 8, 2019 |
I’m not really sure how I feel about Rebel Angels, to be honest. This novel is a literary contemporary that focuses on two main characters within a Canadian university — a professor and a student. It explores the meaning of academia, what it means and what it contributes; the value of success, what success looks like, and how the definition of success changes based on what group you’re involved with; and, what relationships are meant for, what they mean, and how we’re supposed to go about them.

Basically, it wanders through a whole lot of complex ideas and tries to make sense of them. They’re interesting in and of themselves, but the book does feel like it meanders through the story because of the philosophical ideas that it takes on. I didn’t hate it, but I also didn’t love it. I found quite a few of the topics incredibly interesting — the student main character (Maria), for instance, is a gypsy who is trying to cast off her heritage and make a name for herself in academia, and having that culture talked about through her point of view is fascinating (I want to learn more!). The other main character I found somewhat boring, but he provides the foil to Maria’s young, brown, female character to give the more common perspective of the older white man.

If you’re into academic, literary writings, then this is for you. It provides a lot of food for thought and tons of stuff for analysis and contemplation. This is the opposite of a light, fun summer read — this is an undertaking (and it has sequels!). It has its dramatic points but it feels like it’s mostly written for the ideas and philosophies it explores.

Also posted on Purple People Readers. ( )
  sedelia | Nov 21, 2017 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (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."
Francis Cornish was undoubtedly the foremost patron of art and appreciator and understander of art this country has ever known. Immensely rich, and spent lavishly on pictures.... He was also a discriminating collector of books ... he was a not-so-discriminating collector of manuscripts.... He had three apartments. They occupied a whole floor of the building, which he owned. And they are crammed from floor to ceiling with works of art.
Part of our problem was the accumulation, in apartment number one, of a mass of pictures, drawings, and lithographs, as well as quite a lot of small sculpture ... apartment number two was so full of pictures that it was necessary to edge through the door ... we could make out that almost every important name of the past fifty years was represented there.... My own Aladdin’s cave was apartment number three, where the books and manuscripts were.
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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.

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