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The Rebel Angels

  The Rebel Angels

  ROBERTSON DAVIES (1913–1995) was born and raised in Ontario, and was educated at a variety of schools, including Upper Canada College, Queen’s University, and Balliol College, Oxford. He had three successive careers: as an actor with the Old Vic Company in England; as publisher of the Peterborough Examiner; and as university professor and first Master of Massey College at the University of Toronto, from which he retired in 1981 with the title of Master Emeritus.

  He was one of Canada’s most distinguished men of letters, with several volumes of plays and collections of essays, speeches, and belles lettres to his credit. As a novelist he gained worldwide fame for his three trilogies: The Salterton Trilogy, The Deptford Trilogy, and The Cornish Trilogy, and for later novels Murther & Walking Spirits and The Cunning Man.

  His career was marked by many honours. He was the first Canadian to be made an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, he was a Companion of the Order of Canada, and he received honorary degrees from twenty-six American, Canadian, and British universities.

  By Robertson Davies




  Leaven of Malice

  A Mixture of Frailties


  Fifth Business

  The Manticore

  World of Wonders


  The Rebel Angels

  What’s Bred in the Bone

  The Lyre of Orpheus

  Murther & Walking Spirits

  The Cunning Man


  High Spirits


  The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks

  The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks

  Samuel Marchbanks’ Almanack

  The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks


  One Half of Robertson Davies

  The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies

  The Merry Heart

  Happy Alchemy

  Selected Works on the Art of Writing

  Selected Works on the Pleasures of Reading


  A Voice from the Attic


  Selected Plays


  Robertson Davies

  The Rebel Angels

  New Canadian Library electronic edition, 2015

  Copyright © 1981 Robertson Davies

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.

  First published in Canada by Macmillan in 1983, 1987

  First published in the U.S. by Viking in 1982

  First published in Great Britain by W.H. Allen in 1982

  All rights reserved.

  e-ISBN: 978-0-7710-2786-4

  Cover Design by Lisa Jager

  Detail of original cover artwork by Bascove

  Electronic edition published in Canada by New Canadian Library, an imprint of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, a Penguin Random House Company, Toronto, in 2015.

  McClelland & Stewart with colophon is a registered trademark.

  Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication available upon request.




  About the Author

  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page


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  The New Aubrey - 2

  Second Paradise - 3

  The New Aubrey - 3

  Second Paradise - 4

  The New Aubrey - 4

  Second Paradise - 5

  The New Aubrey - 5

  Second Paradise - 6

  The New Aubrey - 6

  Second Paradise


  “Parlabane is back.”


  “Hadn’t you heard? Parlabane is back.”

  “Oh my God!”

  I hurried on down the long corridor, through chattering students and gossiping faculty members, and again I overheard it, as another pair of professors met.

  “You haven’t heard about Parlabane, I suppose?”

  “No. What should I have heard?”

  “He’s back.”

  “Not here?”

  “Yes. In the college.”

  “Not staying, I hope?”

  “Who’s to say? With Parlabane, anyhow.”

  This was what I wanted. It was something to say to Hollier when we met after nearly four months apart. At that last meeting he had become my lover, or so I was vain enough to think. Certainly he had become, agonizingly, the man I loved. All through the summer vacation I had fretted and fussed and hoped for a postcard from wherever he might be in Europe, but he was not a man to write postcards. Not a man to say very much, either, in a personal way. But he could be excited; he could give way to feeling. On that day in early May, when he had told me about the latest development in his work, and I—so eager to serve him, to gain his gratitude and perhaps even his love—did an inexcusable thing and betrayed the secret of the bomari to him, he seemed lifted quite outside himself, and it was then he took me in his arms and put me on that horrible old sofa in his office, and had me amid a great deal of confusion of clothing, creaking of springs, and peripheral anxiety lest somebody should come in. That was when we had parted, he embarrassed and I overcome with astonishment and devotion, and now I was to face him again. I needed an opening remark.

  So—up the two winding flights of stairs, which the high ceilings in St. John’s made rather more like three flights. Why was I hurrying? Was I so eager to see him? No, I wanted that, of course, but I dreaded it as well. How does one greet one’s professor, one’s thesis director, whom one loves and who has had one on his old sofa, and whom one hopes may love one in return? It was a sign of my mental state that I was thinking of myself as ‘one’, which meant that my English was becoming stiff and formal. There I was, out of breath, on the landing where there were no rooms but his, and on the study door was his tattered old hand-written sign saying ‘Professor Hollier is in; knock and enter’. So I did, and there he was at his table looking like Dante if Dante had had better upper teeth, or perhaps like Savonarola if Savonarola had been handsomer. Stumbling—a little light-headed—I rattled out my scrap of news.

  “Parlabane is back.”

  The effect was more than I had reckoned for. He straightened in his chair, and although his mouth did not open, his jaw slackened and his face had that look of intentness that I loved even more than his smile, which was not his best expression.

  “Did you say that Parlabane was here?”

  “That’s what they’re all saying in the main hall.”

  “Great God! How awful!”

  “Why awful? Who’s Parlabane?”

  “I dare say you’ll find out soon enough.—Have you had a good summer? Done any work?”

  Nothing to recall the adventure on the sofa, which was right beside him and seemed to me to be the most important thing in the room. Just professor-questions about work. He didn’t give a damn if I’d had a good summer. He simply wanted to know if I had been getting on with my work—which was a niggling little particle of the substructure of his work. He hadn’t even asked me to sit down, and brought up as I had been I could not sit in the presence of a professor until asked. So I
began to explain what work I had been doing, and after a few minutes he noticed that I was standing and waved me to a chair. He was pleased with my report.

  “I’ve arranged that you can work in here this year. Of course you’ve got your own dog-hole somewhere, but here you can spread out books and papers and leave things overnight. I’ve been clearing this table for you. I shall want you near.”

  I trembled. Do girls still tremble when their lovers say they want them near? I did. Then—

  “Do you know why I want you near?”

  I blushed. I wish I didn’t blush but at twenty-three I still blush. I could not say a word.

  “No, of course you don’t. Couldn’t possibly. But I’ll tell you, and it will make you jump out of your skin. Cornish died this morning.”

  Oh, abomination of desolation! It wasn’t the sofa and what the sofa meant.

  “I don’t think I know about Cornish.”

  “Francis Cornish is—was—undoubtedly the foremost patron of art and appreciator and understander of art this country has ever known. Immensely rich, and spent lavishly on pictures. They’ll go to the National Gallery; I know because I’m his executor. Don’t say anything about that because it’s not to be general knowledge yet. He was also a discriminating collector of books, and they go to the University Library. But he was a not-so-discriminating collector of manuscripts; didn’t really know what he had, because he was so taken up with the pictures he hadn’t much time for other things. The manuscripts go to the Library, too. And one of those manuscripts will be the making of you, and will be quite useful to me, I hope. As soon as we can get our hands on it you will begin your serious work—the work that will put you several rungs up the scholarly ladder. That manuscript will be the guts of your thesis, and it won’t be some mouldy, pawed-over old rag of the kind most students have to put up with. It could be a small bombshell in Renaissance studies.”

  I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to say: am I just a student again, after having been tumbled by you on the sofa? Can you really be so unfeeling, such a professor? But I knew what he wanted me to say, and I said it.

  “How exciting! How marvellous! What’s it about?’

  “I don’t really know, except that it’s in your line. You’ll need all your languages—French, Latin, Greek, and you may have to bone up some Hebrew.”

  “But what is it? I mean, could you be so interested if you really didn’t know?”

  “I can only say that it is very special, and it may be a—a bombshell. But I have a great deal to get through before lunch, so we must put off any further talk about it until later. You’d better move your stuff in here this morning and put a sign on the door to say you’re inside.—Nice to see you again.”

  And with that he shuffled off in his old slippers up the steps into the big inner room which was his private study, and where his camp-bed lurked behind a screen. I knew because once, when he was out, I had peeped. He looks at least a million, I thought, but these academic wizards are shape-shifters: if his work goes well he will come out of that door within two hours, looking thirtyish, instead of his proper forty-five. But for the present, he was playing the Academic Old Geezer.

  Nice to see me again! Not a kiss, not a smile, not even a handshake! Disappointment worked through me like a poison.

  But there was time, and I was to be in his outer room, constantly under his eye. Time works wonders.

  I was sufficiently bitten by the scholarly bug to feel another kind of excitement that somewhat eased my disappointment. What was this manuscript about which he was so evasive?


  I WAS ARRANGING MY PAPERS and things on the table in the outer room after lunch when there was a soft tap at the door and in came someone who was certainly Parlabane. I knew everyone else in St. John’s who might have turned up in such a guise; he was wearing a cassock, or a monkish robe that had just that hint of fancy dress about it that marked it as Anglican rather than Roman. But he wasn’t one of the divinity professors of St. John’s.

  “I am Brother John, or Dr. Parlabane if you prefer it; is Professor Hollier in?”

  “I don’t know when he’ll be in; certainly not in less than an hour. Shall I say you’ll come back?”

  “My dear, what you are really saying is that you expect me to go away now. But I am not in a hurry. Let us chat. Who might you be?”

  “I am one of Professor Hollier’s students.”

  “And you work in this room?”

  “After today, yes.”

  “A very special student, then, who works so close to the great man. Because he is a very great man. Yes, my old classmate Clement Hollier is now a very great man among those who understand what he is doing. I suppose you must be one of those?”

  “A student, as I said.”

  “You must have a name, my dear.”

  “I am Miss Theotoky.”

  “Oh, what a jewel of a name! A flower in the mouth! Miss Theotoky. But surely more than that? Miss What Theotoky?”

  “If you insist on knowing, my full name is Maria Magdalena Theotoky.”

  “Better and better. But what a contrast! Theotoky—with the accent firmly on the first ‘o’—linked with the name of the sinner out of whom Our Lord cast seven devils. Not Canadian, I assume?”

  “Yes, Canadian.”

  “Of course. I keep forgetting that any name may be Canadian. But quite recently, in your case, I should say.”

  “I was born here.”

  “But your parents were not, I should guess. Now where did they come from?”

  “From England.”

  “And before England?”

  “Why do you want to know?”

  “Because I am insatiably curious. And you provoke curiosity, my dear. Very beautiful girls—and of course you know that you are very beautiful—provoke curiosity, and in my case I assure you a benevolent, fatherly curiosity. Now, you are not a lovely English rose. You are something more mysterious. That name—Theotoky—means the bringer of God, doesn’t it? Not English—oh dear me, no. Therefore, in a spirit of kindly, Christian curiosity, where were your parents before England?”


  “Ah, now we have it! And your dear parents very wisely legged it to hell out of Hungary because of the trouble there. Am I not right?”

  “Quite right.”

  “Confidence begets confidence. And names are of the uttermost importance. So I’ll tell you about mine; it is a Huguenot name, and I suppose once, very long ago, some forebear of mine was a persuasive talker, and thus came by it. After several generations in Ireland it became Parlabane, and now, after several more generations in Canada, it is quite as Canadian as your own, my dear. I think we are foolish on this continent to imagine that after five hundred generations somewhere else we become wholly Canadian—hard-headed, no-nonsense North Americans—in the twinkling of a single life. Maria Magdalena Theotoky, I think we are going to be very good friends.”

  “Yes—well, I must get on with my work. Professor Hollier will not be back for some time.”

  “How lucky then that I have precisely that amount of time. I shall wait. By your leave, I’ll just put myself on this disreputable old sofa, which you are not using. What a wreck! Clem never had any sense of his surroundings. This place looks just like him. Which delights me, of course. I am very happy to be snuggled back into the bosom of dear old Spook.”

  “I should warn you that the Rector greatly dislikes people calling the college Spook.”

  “How very right-minded of the Rector. You may be sure that I shall never make that mistake in his presence. But between us, Molly—I think I shall call you Molly as short for Maria—how in the name of the ever-living God does the Rector expect that a place called the College of St.John and the Holy Ghost will not be called Spook? I like Spook. I think it is affectionate, and I like to be affectionate.”

  He was already stretched out on the sofa, which had such associations for me, and it was plain there would be no getting rid of
him, so I was silent and went on with my work.

  But how right he was! The room looked very much like Hollier, and like Spook, too. Spook is about a hundred and forty years old and was built in the time when Collegiate Gothic raged in the bosoms of architects like a fire. The architect of Spook knew his business, so it was not hideous, but it was full of odd corners and architecturally indefensible superfluities, and these rooms where Hollier lived were space-wasting and inconvenient. Up two long flights of stairs, they were the only rooms on their landing, except for a passage that led to the organ-loft of the chapel. There was the outer room, where I was working, which was of a good size, and had two big Gothic arched windows, and then, up three steps and somewhat around a corner was Hollier’s inner room, where he also slept. The washroom and john were down a long flight, and when Hollier wanted a bath he had to traipse to another wing of the college, in the great Oxbridge tradition. The surroundings were as Gothic as the nineteenth century could make them. But Hollier, who had no sense of congruity, had furnished them with decrepit junk from his mother’s house; what had legs was unsteady on them, and what was stuffed leaked stuffing here and there, and had unpleasantly greasy upholstery. The pictures were photographs of college groups from Hollier’s younger days here at Spook. Apart from the books there was only one thing in the room that seemed to belong there, and that was a large alchemist’s retort, of the kind that looks like an abstract sculpture of a pelican, that sat on top of a bookcase; someone who did not know of Hollier’s indifference to objects had given this picturesque object to him many years ago. His rooms were, by ordinary standards, a mess, but they had a coherence, and even a comfort, of their own. Once you stopped being offended by the muddle, neglect, and I suppose one must say dirt, they were oddly beautiful, like Hollier himself.

  Parlabane lay on the sofa for almost two hours, during which I do not think he ever ceased to stare at me. I wanted to get away on some business of my own, but I had no intention of leaving him in possession, so I made work for myself, and thought about him. How had he managed to get so much out of me in so short a time? How did he get away with calling me ‘my dear’ in such a way that I did not check him? And ‘Molly’! The man was all of brass, but the brass had such a soft, buttery sheen that one was disarmed. I began to see why people had been so dismayed when they heard that Parlabane was back.

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