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The Rebel Angel
ISBN 014006270X / 9780140062700 / 0-14-006270-X
Publisher Penguin Books
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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 [via]