The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

A hallmark of Robertson Davies’ fiction is his ability to fashion fascinating characters rich in psychological foibles and driven to reveal themselves within the gripping plots he has framed for them. As a moralist, Davies strives to demonstrate that destiny is, in fact, character. Each of the principal characters in The Rebel Angels struggles with a fate embedded within his or her psychological makeup, and at least three of the characters consciously struggle with the components at war within them. They are all intellectuals, and one source of tension arises from this question: Does self-knowledge lead to self-mastery?

For the Reverend Simon Darcourt, attraction to Maria Theotoky causes him to imagine abandoning the freedoms of his self-chosen bachelorhood and—since he is a devout Anglican—the requisite celibacy. At forty-five, Darcourt has drawn considerable creative energy from his chosen style of life. The temptation that Maria represents, in part imagined as a form of completion, is blunted by his knowledge that he has mythologized her into the “Sophia” of his theological studies. Darcourt is drawn to the life of the senses, the life of the mind, and the life of the spirit. As a pudgy scholar-priest, he has already turned into himself, and his dalliance with his brilliant and beautiful student becomes a trial that confirms his identity.

Maria is herself split between her desire to be a fully contemporary Western woman...

(The entire section is 553 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Maria Magdalena Theotoky

Maria Magdalena Theotoky, a graduate student. The beautiful Maria is studying the works of François Rabelais in preparation for her doctoral thesis under the direction of Professor Clement Hollier, whom she loves. Maria comes to understand that her Gypsy heritage, her “root,” is as important as her university persona, her “crown” (as of a tree). She marries Arthur Cornish. She narrates the chapters collected under the title “The Second Paradise,” which form approximately half of the novel.

The Reverend Simon Darcourt

The Reverend Simon Darcourt, a professor of classics. He is one of the three faculty members who are executors of Francis Cornish’s will. The kind, somewhat overweight Darcourt narrates the chapters titled “The New Aubrey,” so called because he wants to limn the personalities of those at the university, following the spirit of John Aubrey’s Brief Lives (1898). He loves Maria and proposes marriage to her, telling her that she is his Sophia, a feminine personification of God’s wisdom. Maria in turn calls him her “Rebel Angel,” a teacher of some of the secrets of heaven.

Clement Hollier

Clement Hollier, Maria’s dissertation director and the second of the three executors from the university. Hollier’s field is paleopsychology, which examines folk beliefs and customs to understand the thought processes of people of the Middle Ages. His special area of research is filth therapy: He examines such beliefs as the one that...

(The entire section is 643 words.)