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The Rebel Angels (The Cornish Trilogy #1)

4.09  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,840 Ratings  ·  223 Reviews
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.

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Paperback, 326 pages
Published 1985 by Penguin Books (first published 1981)
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Jun 14, 2013 Terry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian
4 - 4.5 stars

Some books are comfort reads. They are old friends whose familiarity provides us with a sense of stability and well-being, and they fit like a glove to the intellectual, emotional, and purely personal elements of our psyche. Sometimes this is because we came to them in formative years when their mode and message could be deeply impressed on us, sometimes it is because they simply express aspects of our nature that we ourselves may not be fully aware of, but to which they harmonize c
Stephen P
Apr 29, 2013 Stephen P rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love reading about the academic life. I have never been in academics yet I've also not been a researcher and I could read endlessly on a person dedicating their life to the study of a specific subject within the walls of a library, their live's enfolded in cluttered stacks of paper and tilted piles of books. If I'm going to get truly confessional here I admit to a desire to read about someone reading even without me knowing what it is they read. Seeing the act of reading for me is enjoyment.

May 31, 2012 Josh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadia, 2012
Robertson Davies is probably the greatest writer Canada has ever produced. Not that Canadian literature is all that great, but even overshadowing the likes of Atwood and Munro is still a pretty remarkable achievement.

He writes about things that should be really boring in a way that's somehow really interesting. Like the drama of Renaissance professors and graduate students. Does that get your heart racing? No? Well what if I told you it's all interspersed with Gypsy mysticism and Rabelaisian al
Carl R.
May 08, 2012 Carl R. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It’s humbling--I suppose I need it--to be introduced to wonderful writers I ought to have known about years--nay, decades--ago. So I’ve been chastened once again by following a tip, again from that Canadian son-in-law I’ve mentioned before, that I might like a certain author of Canadian renown named Robertson Davies. Why I haven’t run across this prolific storyteller of great intellect and wit before must be a matter of my earwax or some kind of American literary snobbery. The man is a first ra ...more
Feb 23, 2013 Ensiform rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
The first part of the Cornish Trilogy. Alternating between two narrators – Maria, a half gypsy graduate student in love with her mentor and a Simon, a priest who teaches at the University and falls for her – the book tells a complex story of love, lust, art, pride, scholarship, academic rivalry and criminal actions. John Parlabane, a defrocked gay monk and sort of evil genius, stirs up the brew with his sharp eyes and tongue, yet somehow it tuns out right for the characters whom the reader sympa ...more
¡Qué bueno es Robertson Davies! Lo descubrí por medio de la Trilogía de Deptford, mención especial para el primer libro perteneciente a la misma, 'El quinto en discordia', y de decir que es un escritor absolutamente delicioso. Mientras leía 'Ángeles rebeldes', no dejaba de pensar en llamar a todos mis conocidos para leerles algún fragmento memorable, por su humor y por su inteligencia. Y es que este libro, y la obra de Davies en general, se caracteriza por la variedad de temas que trata, siempre ...more

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

She is so perfect--a beautiful brainiac. How much I would have given as a student to have her knowledge of languages. However, I remember spending hours trying to conjugate Ancient Greek verbs and remember proper endings of nouns--all these many years later, the only sentence I remember? "The boat is in Byzantium." Not really too useful, for translations or conversations.

Davies does try to give Maria some faults--she has a Gypsy family to contend with and ha
Jul 30, 2007 Gill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good reading for a nerd like me who loves good sentences and endearingly wacky characters.
Feb 18, 2013 Matt rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
What TEDIUM this book was. Interesting premise and characters, but one of the most unsatisfying, contrived and rediculous stories I can remember setting eyes on. Ostensibly about several academics in a large univ., the book was only saved by the presence of a colorful gypsy family, who were the only authentic and vaguely stirring elements in an otherwise drab, Canadian yawn of a novel.

A few good passages and interesting references, but overall it needed to be edited down to a third its size. Mi
I was so disappointed in this novel. For one thing, it struck me as incredibly dated: its attitudes towards women for one thing, and the constant assessment of any progressive sentiment as "fashionable" (and therefore, one assumes, temporary). Simon Darcourt was a good narrator, but I couldn't stand Maria and I found myself wondering how they gypsy passages would read to an actual gypsy.
But whatever. The mythological/supernatural/religious moments were interesting. I liked the idea of a pure evi
Alan Chen
May 19, 2015 Alan Chen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's hard to describe this novel because it's got a little of everything: religion, university life, romance, old world/new world, scatological studies, gypsies, and murder. Davies brings it all together deftly, and while the novel is lighthearted, it's not trivial. The novel is told, back and forth, from the point of view of beautiful, young, graduate student Mary Magdalene Teotoky and Simon a priest who falls for her. Mary is, however, in love with Prof. Hollier who is in charge of her studies ...more
This book really petered out for me. I loved What's Bred in the Bone, another one of the Cornish trilogy, but this I just grew impatient with. Perhaps I read it over too long a time, although that might also be because it never really engaged me...
Christopher Walborn

Robertson Davies’ The Rebel Angels is an engaging and energetic novel with a vigorous sense of humor. The novel reads quickly and never feels weighed down by ideas or seriousness. This is deceptive.

Davies gives us a novel populated by Medieval and Renaissance scholars. Their intellectual landscape is thus not unnaturally populated by Paracelsus and Rabelais, two constant figures in the dialectic of the novel. Of the two, Rabelais seems the most significant. He is a figure frequently claimed by b

Apr 23, 2012 robert rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
After raves from Harold Bloom, Salon, and my favorite bookseller this book became my lackluster traveling companion for a journey across the Atlantic. None of the intellectual protagonists sound all that smart, their ideas are far from stimulating, and even the analysis of excrement is somehow boring. Like Possession, this is a writers wet dream (nothing wrong with that!). But though The Rebel Angels is much better than Byatts book, Davies liberated notions at times seem strangely dated and offe ...more
Aug 22, 2012 Lara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, read-in-2012
Robertson Davies books always just...completely suck me in. I don't even care what the hell he writes about (wrote about? talking about books by dead authors always confuses me), I always have a very difficult time putting his books down once I've picked them up. This one involves a 23-year-old half-Gypsy research assistant and several professors at the College of St. John and Holy Ghost (Spook for short), the complicated will of an art patron and donor, a deadbeat defrocked monk who has arrived ...more
Oct 26, 2014 Zsofi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
at first I was to give five stars for this book. It was an amazing feeling how I could relate to its grotesque depiction of the academia. When i find an interesting book, i usually do everything to promote it among my friends. But this one, I wanted to hide away so that no one would have known how perfectly, intimidatingly touché it felt. How desperately I wanted to recycle those insightful sentences in casual discussion.
The reason why I ended up giving only for stars is one of the narrators, M
Aug 06, 2014 Krista rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: can-con, 2014
Subtle wits like to refresh themselves with a whiff of mild indecency.

Call mine, then, a subtle wit for I enjoyed this book full of indecencies. I first read The Rebel Angels probably 25 years ago and what impressed me most about it was how Robertson Davies can describe situations totally outside my frame of reference (here, the inner workings of a graduate school and the lofty topics of professorial research) without making me feel ignorant or undereducated -- as Davies' characters speak know
Jun 18, 2014 Maj rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

Make this rating a very strong 3/5, nevertheless, about a decade after I read the second part of the Cornish trilogy, finally reading the first part left me disappointed and unsatisfied.

Some of it could have something to do with the wildly differing forms of the novels...the Angels are pretty much diaries of two people spanning one year, while What's Bred In the Bone is a fictional biography. Some of it - and actually a great deal of it in my case is the fact that Maria's voice was just way
Kate Millin
May 21, 2011 Kate Millin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am reading this in a different version - one that has the Cornish trilogy in one volume, but want to record each book as a separate read, so this is not the same as the copy I am reading.

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 th
Jul 18, 2010 julieta rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Quiero empezar diciendo que amo a Robertson Davies. A excepción de un libro suyo que realmente no me gustó, todo lo demás siempre me parece entrañable, entretenido, divertido, profundo. En fin, tiene algo que también debe ser de su carácter, que lo hace muy cálido para leer. Este libro me encanta porque entra al mundo académico, un mundo por el cual siempre he suspirado, por nunca haber vivido ni de cerca algo por el estilo. La vida me llevó a otras cosas, y una vida académica no estaba en los p ...more
Apr 25, 2014 Giedre rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unfinished, canadian
I feel quite bad about adding this book into my "unfinished" shelf, especially when I'm pretty close to the end already. The book counts with a wide public, has great reviews and I can only praise the author's talent to transmit in a witty way the usually unseen side of the academia.

The characters reflect Davies' deep and admirable knowledge of philosophy, literature, history and a number of other subjects, but while I was profoundly enjoying this part, I could not get rid of the feeling that t
Strange book. I'm still digesting it and am very much in two minds. Can it be said to successfully grapple its grand and sweeping themes? Or does it just disappear up its own rear end in a medley of poo and seediness?! The study of excrement is probably as someone else has suggested a bit of fun being poked at academia, but is also part of the bigger theme of taking people as a whole, roots and crown, past and present, physical beauty and the not so attractive digestive system and products there ...more
Nov 22, 2011 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
No one creates characters like Robertson Davies does. Maria Theotoky, John Parlabane, Simon Darcourt, Clement Hollier, so many ordinary yet extraordinary characters. Just like in "Fifth Business", Davies builts his story based on obscure knowledge. The main action all takes place at a University and the academic squabblings and adventures that go on there. It's almost comforting for me to read so soon out of university myself and it almost makes me want to go right back.

Maria is a grad student w
Perry Whitford
Jan 27, 2016 Perry Whitford rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Rebel Angels is the first in a superlative trilogy about friendship, love, knowledge, obsession and the arts, set in a Canadian university campus.

As an eccentric, millionaire art collector dies and the three appointed executors get down to the task of sorting through his massive, uncataloged paintings and manuscripts, another old, disreputable university figure reappears on the scene, penniless and dressed in a dishevelled monk's habit, shamelessly cadging off all and sundry yet convinced o
May 14, 2012 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
This book is set at the University of Toronto (College of St. John of the Holy Ghost) and concerns the doings of a group of scholars: three professors, graduate student Maria Theotoky, and renegade monk John Parlabane. I was thoroughly enchanted with this novel - it's way more fun than I would have thought. Davies writes with plenty of wit and humor and embues the plot and the university setting with a sense of magic and adventure. The three professors are named the joint executors of the estate ...more
Feb 06, 2010 Marie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wry humor, delightful characters, and that deft touch with scoundrels I've come to expect from Davies. Add to that the fact that three out of five main characters are medieval scholars and it had lots of fun local color for me. The book alternates narration by two characters, an Anglican priest who teaches New Testiment Greek at a Canadian college, and one of his students, Maria Theotoky, half-gypsy, in love with her thesis advisor, and all-around gifted student. They are both great narrators an ...more
Kristine Morris
A little bit slow at the beginning, but I was stuck on a plane with no other book so... Once past the long introduction, the book hums along quite comically as you uncover more about each odd ball character. There is a plot (a few actually) but it is secondary to the characters and their interactions. At points the character Parlabane got a little too philosophical and my eyes started to twitch a bit. I am still digesting his tautological diatribe on how skeptics can only be skeptic because ther ...more
Roger Burk
Dec 05, 2014 Roger Burk rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I picked this up, I had forgotten I read it 11 years ago. The atmosphere slowly came back to me. Fortunately I had forgotten most of the plot, so I enjoyed the surprises as much or more than the first time. The unlikely heroes are a portly middle-aged clerical don in an Oxford-style Canadian university and his half-Polish, half-Gypsy graduate student. Her all-Gypsy, all-Old-World mother also plays a prominent role. The novel is chock-a-block with mystery, Gypsy culture, Rabelais scholarship ...more
Rafa Sánchez
Aug 09, 2013 Rafa Sánchez rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Magnífica novela del autor de "El quinto en discordia", dentro del mismo estilo de plantear pequeños misterios casi cotidianos dentro del ámbito de la "Gran Cultura", con eruditos en los más pintorescos o exóticos campos del conocimiento de nuestra civilización. La trama transcurre, como es casi habitual en Robertson Davies, dentro de una destacada universidad canadiense (tan distintas, lamentablemente, a las españolas) y nos descubre campos de saber que no sospechamos que existan, como en la tr ...more
Loved it! Entertaining, well-crafted, intelligent. The story is developed carefully and lovingly. Story is told from two characters' perspective, two narrators. Both are interesting and I enjoyed both of them. Darcourt, the priest/ professor was most interesting and Maria, the gypsy/ student wonderful and easy to see why all the male characters fell in love with her. It's been ages since I read anything by Robertson Davies and I'm glad I read this story. I look forward to reading the other stori ...more
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William Robertson Davies, CC, FRSC, FRSL (died in Orangeville, Ontario) was a Canadian novelist, playwright, critic, journalist, and professor. He was one of Canada's best-known and most popular authors, and one of its most distinguished "men of letters", a term Davies is sometimes said to have detested. Davies was the founding Master of Massey College, a graduate college at the University of Toro ...more
More about Robertson Davies...

Other Books in the Series

The Cornish Trilogy (3 books)
  • What's Bred in the Bone (Cornish Trilogy, #2)
  • The Lyre of Orpheus (Cornish Trilogy, #3)

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“I wish people weren't so set on being themselves, when that means being a bastard.” 96 likes
“Conversation in its true meaning isn't all wagging the tongue; sometimes it is a deeply shared silence. ” 26 likes
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