Critical Context

The Rebel Angels was the first work to follow Davies’ celebrated The Deptford Trilogy (1983), comprising Fifth Business (1970), The Manticore (1972), and World of Wonders (1975). These spectacular novels lifted Davies from the status of Canadian literary jack-of-all-trades to that of a contemporary world master, a man who wrote with astonishing verbal virtuosity, whose vision significantly expanded the reader’s understanding of human experience, and whose craft expanded the borders of the novel.

In The Rebel Angels, Davies does not surpass the standard of the first two novels of the earlier trilogy, but his level of achievement here certainly solidifies his stature as a novelist of the first rank and an entertainer without peer. The Rebel Angels, though it has an independent life, is part of a projected trilogy that includes an even more ambitious and audacious work, What’s Bred in the Bone (1985), in whose pages the most curious life of Francis Cornish—art restorer, collector, and uncle of Arthur Cornish—is revealed, once again through a dual narration. As in all of Davies’ works, the embracing concerns of these related novels are the manifold ways in which the present of individuals, cultures, and the human species is shaped by the past.