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The Rebel Angels – Robertson Davies



Posted September 1, 2016 by

The Rebel Angels – Robertson Davies – 1981

Reviewed by: D.W. Cymbalisty         Date: 15 July 2001

rebelIt took me a couple pages to catch on to the way Davies constructed this novel. It’s written in six sets of chapter couplets, in which two narrators take their turn in describing the current thread of the story. One is the beautiful and brilliant student of Comparative Literature, Maria Theotoky. The other is Professor Simon Darcourt who teaches New Testament Greek. He is not the only professor of the University who acknowledges that Maria is among the “scholarly elect”… Darcourt becomes enamored of her, but she has already become the special pet of Professor Hollier. His impetuous seduction of her leaves her a bit bewildered, for rather than the continued intimacy she desires from this man she greatly admires, he becomes distant. When his eccentric longtime friend John Parlabane returns for a live-in visit (which never ends) the relationship between Maria and Hollier becomes even more confined to that of professor – research assistant.

Meanwhile, a wealthy art collector (Arthur Cornish) passes away and leaves his estate to be settled by three executors, all of them being professors at the University. They are Hollier, Darcourt, and a true nut by the name of McVarish. As they sift through the mountain of Cornish’s priceless items, Hollier becomes obsessed with the recovery of a manuscript of Rabelais which he is convinced McVarish once purloined and never returned. McVarish denies ever having borrowed the papers from Cornish, but Hollier will not give up. His obsession is motivated and fueled by the fact that the authentic document would greatly advance Maria in her own doctoral work on Rabelais, and he longs to do something tangible to atone for his earlier seduction of her.

Without ruining some of the comic turns in this story for those who haven’t read it, I will hint that it is ingenious how Davies knits the eccentricity of Parlabane and the extra-curricular nightime perversions of McVarish together in a way that becomes the ONLY way the above dilemna (of the missing manuscript) could be solved. And not before Hollier himself has degenerated into a superstitious nut in his own right. Being a bit of a nut myself made this book all the more enjoyable!

ReadLit Team


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