(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Cornish Trilogy shares many of the themes that run through the Deptford Trilogy, and it is these themes as much as the characters that link the three novels that can be read completely independently. Davies is once again concerned with finding one’s personal myth, becoming fully oneself—something that often is connected with art or pure scholarship in these novels—and in each book he again approaches the topic somewhat differently.

The Rebel Angels is the only novel in the trilogy to be written in the first person; the main narrative voice is passed back and forth between Maria Theotoky, a beautiful graduate student who narrates the sections titled “Second Paradise,” and Simon Darcourt, an Anglican priest and teacher at the university, who narrates the chapters called “The New Aubrey.” Maria’s sections focus on her love for Clement Hollier, her dissertation director, and her problems with John Parlabane, a renegade monk who teaches skeptic philosophy and was a boyhood friend of Hollier. Darcourt is one of Francis Cornish’s executors, along with Hollier and Urquhart McVarish, and his chapters attempt to provide a broader view of the university, especially of its personalities. As Darcourt and Maria’s experiences overlap, the effect of two separate narrators is not a disjointed story line but one that is dovetailed. Maria’s voice, in fact, is much like Darcourt’s, and while this is a weakness in terms of portraying Maria, it does give the novel a continuity and a unity of vision.

The main thrust of the story comes from the actions of Parlabane, who deliberately sets out to get everybody excited. He badgers Maria, poking and prying into her personal life and giving her long lectures on his philosophy; he cadges money from Darcourt and Hollier; and he plays the sycophant to Urky McVarish, the professor everyone else is united in loathing. At the end of the novel, he kills McVarish in a gruesome way and then kills himself, leaving a letter explaining the circumstances of the murder to Hollier and Maria. Parlabane also writes a long, rambling novel called Be Not Another’s, which he thrusts on Hollier, Maria, and Darcourt, asking for their opinions and then ignoring them.

Parlabane—though his book is based on his own life, though he seems to obey no rules but his own, and though he gives perfectly good advice to Maria on knowing herself—does not fully know himself. For Dunstan Ramsay, David Staunton, and Magnus Eisengrim, knowing oneself involves a balance between intellect and wonder; Parlabane has no balance and relies on his intellect, despite his claim of belief in God. Parlabane is an egotist and, as such, cannot fully know himself, for he does not really accept anything outside his own authority. Nevertheless, he is able to become one of Maria’s Rebel Angels, helping her to realize that she must accept her Gypsy background as much as her university education if she wants to be herself. Maria also calls Hollier and Darcourt her Rebel Angels, placing them in her personal mythology, for the Rebel Angels taught wisdom to men after being thrown out of heaven, and Maria believes that the...

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The Cornish Trilogy Bibliography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Cude, Wilfred. A Due Sense of Differences: An Evaluative Approach to Canadian Literature. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1980.

Grant, Judith Skelton. Robertson Davies: Man of Myth. Toronto: Viking, 1994.

Jones, Joseph, and Joanna Jones. Canadian Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1981.

Keith, W. J. Canadian Literature in English. New York: Longman, 1985.

La Bossière, Camille R., and Linda M. Morra, eds. Robertson Davies: A Mingling of Contrarieties. Ottawa, Ont.: University of Ottawa Press, 2001.

Lawrence, Robert G., and Samuel L. Macey, eds. Studies in Robertson Davies’ Deptford Triology. Victoria, B.C.: University of Victoria, 1980.

Little, Dave. Catching the Wind in a Net: The Religious Vision of Robertson Davies. Toronto: ECW, 1996.

Monk, Patricia. The Smaller Infinity: The Jungian Self in the Novels of Robertson Davies. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982.

Peterman, Michael. Robertson Davies. Boston: Twayne, 1986.