The Rebel Angels

This is an addictive read, combining the tantalising page turning plotlines of a blockbuster with the erudition of Anthony Burgess and the light comic touch of Alison Lurie. Robertson Davies ( and introduces us to more than just a novel. He creates for us a world populated by scholars, priests, witches and itinerants, whose journey leads to more questions than answers but teaches readers more about themselves than they possibly imagined.

In The Rebel Angels, Davies has created an intricate web connecting the threads of science, superstition, scholarship, desire and friendship. He uses the most base of themes: scatology, pornography, mysticism and vanity, woven together with the most elegant of prose, to confuse the reader. The exuberant writing style and eclectic cast of characters suck the reader into the narrative while obstinately obscuring the message until the final brilliant denouement.

Three cloistered scholars, a brilliant Mediaevalist, his Vicar contemporary, and his Venus-like protégée are brought closer together by the discovery of a Rabelais Manuscript which threatens to undermine the cornerstone of their academic reputations. However, their comfortable existence is disturbed not by the contents of the manuscript, which are tantalisingly kept from the reader, but by the seemingly innocuous arrival of the brilliant but evil Brother Parlabane.

Unable to overcome the weight of his intellect and personality, they reluctantly indulge what they think to be his attempts at intellectual banter and his frequent demands for financial assistance. As they continue to indulge him, he draws them deeper into his world, a world populated by scepticism, deceit and decadence, but also by an intellect greater and far more dangerous than each of their own. A most intriguing read.


Born in Thamesville, Ontario, a student at Queen’s University in Kingston in the 1930s, and editor and later publisher of the Peterborough Examiner from the 1940s to the mid-1960s, playwright, essayist, critic, professor, and novelist Robertson Davies (1913-1995) was one of Canada’s pre-eminent literary voices for more than a half-century. Davies, with his generous beard and donnish manner, was the very epitome of the ‘man of letters,’ a term he abhorred. Best known for his Deptford Trilogy of novels (Fifth Business, The Manticore, World of Wonders), he also wrote two other trilogies (Salterton and Cornish) and was at work on the third volume of another trilogy (Toronto) when he died. With a life as rich in character and colour as that found in his fiction and essays, Davies had a great fondness for magic and myth, both of which are found in abundance in his work, along with a prodigious streak of wry humour. Follow up an interest in this author with Robertson Davies: Magician
of Words (2009, by Nicholas Maes.
Rebel Angels was first published 1982.


336 pages in Penguin paperback edition

ISBN 978-0140118605

Robertson Davies

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