The Cornish Trilogy: The Rebel Angels; What's Bred in the Bone; The Lyre of Orpheus

Written by: Robertson Davies

The Cornish Trilogy: The Rebel Angels; What's Bred in the Bone; The Lyre of Orpheus Book Cover
Woven around the pursuits of the energetic spirits and erudite scholars of the University of St. John and the Holy Ghost, this dazzling trilogy of novels lures the reader into a world of mysticism, historical allusion, and gothic fantasy that could only be the invention of Canada's grand man of letters.
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The Cornish Trilogy The Rebel Angels Whats Bred in the Bone The Lyre of Orpheus Reviews

Mark Bowman
This is one of the more memorable reads I've had in quite a while--both because of the length of this epic and also the brilliance of the writing. Canadian Robertson Davies is a truly literary writer with a vast range of knowledge that is rare to find and a joy to read. His extensive vocabulary kindles an appreciation for linguistics--both the sound and the meaning of words. He is a superb storyteller who portrays characters with depth who develop as the saga progresses over several generations This is one of the more memorable reads I've had in quite a while--both because of the length of this epic and also the brilliance of the writing. Canadian Robertson Davies is a truly literary writer with a vast range of knowledge that is rare to find and a joy to read. His extensive vocabulary kindles an appreciation for linguistics--both the sound and the meaning of words. He is a superb storyteller who portrays characters with depth who develop as the saga progresses over several generations in 20th century Canada and Europe. He also brings great wit and irony to his storytelling. Davies' insights into history, the arts, culture, human relationships, social struggle and development are quite profound and refreshingly fascinating to ponder. This book invites a leisurely read to savor and digest each page--but it could take a year to do this. If one could only read one book in a year, this would be one of my top recommendations.
Teresa Wright
I love Robertson Davies writing, completely.
Tony
Erudite and very well written but ultimately a lot of reading back-to-back (I'd actually already read the middle volume,"What's Bred In The Bone"). Aspects of the writing such as the rather arch intelligentsia approach, aggravate after a while and some phrases keep appearing, like old friends that you deliberately didn't invite to the party. Some interesting aspects, such as the commentary by angels.
The Deptford Trilogy: Fifth Business/The Manticore/World of Wonders :: Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach :: The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History :: Strong Motion :: Stanley and the Women
Tina
Robertson Davies, a Canadian, manages to be both entertaining and erudite at the same time. This is a highly enjoyable read. Because I read it almost 20 years ago and can't remember the details of the plot, I've pasted Good Reads' synopsis below.

The Rebel Angels is the inaugural volume of the Cornish Trilogy, Robertson Davies's final completed series. These are Davies's oddest books, and they've sparked more controversy than any of his other works, simply because they are the most sensitive to a Robertson Davies, a Canadian, manages to be both entertaining and erudite at the same time. This is a highly enjoyable read. Because I read it almost 20 years ago and can't remember the details of the plot, I've pasted Good Reads' synopsis below.

The Rebel Angels is the inaugural volume of the Cornish Trilogy, Robertson Davies's final completed series. These are Davies's oddest books, and they've sparked more controversy than any of his other works, simply because they are the most sensitive to a reader's tastes--depending on one's sensibilities, they will either prove to be delightful or dreadfully dull.
Like A Mixture of Frailties, the first of Davies's major novels, The Rebel Angels revolves around the execution of a difficult will. In this case, the estate is of one Francis Cornish, a fantastically rich patron and collector of Canadian art and a noted antiquarian bibliophile. A lost Rabelais manuscript is rumoured to be among his possessions, and his executors include the deliciously revolting Renaissance scholar Urquhart McVarish; Professor Clement Hollier, a classically middle-aged inhabitant of the ivory tower; and the Reverend Simon Darcourt, Davies's obligatory humanist clergyman. A heroine is provided in the form of Maria Theotoky, a beautiful Ph.D. student of Professor Hollier's. A rich, funny, and slightly ribald campus novel results, one that revels in the fustian of the now-vanished pre-postmodern university.
The Cornish Trilogy is by far the most arcane of Davies's major works. The later volumes, What's Bred in the Bone and The Lyre of Orpheus, extend out of the corporeal world, bringing angels, daimons, and souls in limbo into the fray. Davies's love for obscure learning is at its peak here. While he is often faulted for this, it is really the best part of the fun, provided the reader is willing to follow him into the storehouses of forgotten thought and accept that there is still much of contemporary relevance in the disused fancies of the past. --Jack Illingworth
Tiziana
Robertson Davies has become one of my favorite writers. This is my first time reading his books and I will absolutely read the others.

It took me a while to get into the book at first because of the size and story but I was not about to give up after reading so many positive reviews. Each book is amazing and full of great lines and great characters. A few of my favorite quotes are;
Page 862 -the great truths of life are the wax, and all we can do is to stamp it with different forms. But the wax i Robertson Davies has become one of my favorite writers. This is my first time reading his books and I will absolutely read the others.

It took me a while to get into the book at first because of the size and story but I was not about to give up after reading so many positive reviews. Each book is amazing and full of great lines and great characters. A few of my favorite quotes are;
Page 862 -the great truths of life are the wax, and all we can do is to stamp it with different forms. But the wax is the same forever-
-nothing keeps its own form but Nature who is the great renewer is always making up new forms from old forms. Nothing perishes in the whole universe-it just varies and renews its form.

Page 1132
- A Man's life of any worth is a continual allegory-
and very few eyes can see the Mystery of his life-a
life like the scriptures, figurative. John Keats

I truly loved "The Cornish Trilogy" and loved that it took place in Ontario.

Bettie
I really liked reading the Deptford Trilogy when I was in college. Maybe it's the twenty years that have elapsed since I read the other one, but this one seemed dated (why do the characters get drunk so much? why does he talk about Lesbians like they're something exotic?). Some of the narrative is entertaining, but the erudition gets to be kind of gimmicky--of course the ghost of an obscure 19th-century German Romantic author is going to have a speaking part in Book 3; and let's throw in some qu I really liked reading the Deptford Trilogy when I was in college. Maybe it's the twenty years that have elapsed since I read the other one, but this one seemed dated (why do the characters get drunk so much? why does he talk about Lesbians like they're something exotic?). Some of the narrative is entertaining, but the erudition gets to be kind of gimmicky--of course the ghost of an obscure 19th-century German Romantic author is going to have a speaking part in Book 3; and let's throw in some quotes from medieval French poets while we're at it. I would've like this well enough when I was a college student studying art and literature, but now it rang hollow. By page 1100, I was pretty bored with the whole affair.
PH
I'll give this trilogy three and a half stars because I think the last book lets the whole series down.
The Rebel Angels, which focus on academic life, and What's Bred In The Bone, that explores the history of XVI century painting techniques, are both really good. But The Lyre Of Orpheus, with its opera-centred plot, fell incredibly short of my expectations. It sounds as though the author was tired of the story and just wanted to get the trilogy over with (or maybe it's just me, I'm not the type I'll give this trilogy three and a half stars because I think the last book lets the whole series down.
The Rebel Angels, which focus on academic life, and What's Bred In The Bone, that explores the history of XVI century painting techniques, are both really good. But The Lyre Of Orpheus, with its opera-centred plot, fell incredibly short of my expectations. It sounds as though the author was tired of the story and just wanted to get the trilogy over with (or maybe it's just me, I'm not the type who finds opera an engaging subject, try as I might). Regretfully so, for if he had kept the standard of either of the two previous books the trilogy would have been a truly outstanding achievement.
Rob Tapper
This trilogy was crash read over Easter and on top of "The Salterton Trilogy" and so I feel saturated with Robertson Davies; recurrent and repetitive, formulaic and apologetic (or even cynical), I'll stay with my review of the original trilogy and add my intuition that this author seems now quite pleased in himself with his accolades and his financial, social and professional successes. In essence for me, his writing now seems emotionally quite unmoving; seems barren and thin, his characters mor This trilogy was crash read over Easter and on top of "The Salterton Trilogy" and so I feel saturated with Robertson Davies; recurrent and repetitive, formulaic and apologetic (or even cynical), I'll stay with my review of the original trilogy and add my intuition that this author seems now quite pleased in himself with his accolades and his financial, social and professional successes. In essence for me, his writing now seems emotionally quite unmoving; seems barren and thin, his characters more the stereotypes who can carry his wit and whim; his own idea of his own personal allegory --- his play within a play, his "Hamlet" imitation.
Ron
Very well-written in an engaging style, this hefty tome (1 lb. 12 oz. in the version loaned to me by my brother) consists of the three novels listed above. Well worth reading. Loved the character of Parlabane especially. From the store: Woven around the pursuits of the energetic spirits and erudite scholars of the University of St. John and the Holy Ghost, this dazzling trilogy of novels lures the reader into a world of mysticism, historical allusion, and gothic fantasy that could only be the inven Very well-written in an engaging style, this hefty tome (1 lb. 12 oz. in the version loaned to me by my brother) consists of the three novels listed above. Well worth reading. Loved the character of Parlabane especially. From the store: Woven around the pursuits of the energetic spirits and erudite scholars of the University of St. John and the Holy Ghost, this dazzling trilogy of novels lures the reader into a world of mysticism, historical allusion, and gothic fantasy that could only be the invention of Canada's grand man of letters.
Jeb
I loved "The Rebel Angels" and, after finishing it, I was thrilled to have two more books left in the "Cornish" trilogy.

The second book, however, totally drained me of my enthusiasm, and I even left it in my hotel room during a recent trip.

All of the great characters I'd come to enjoy in "Angels" were nowhere to be found. All I got was a long and painfully detailed biography of a person who had been a marginal character in the first book.

I'm not yet sure if I'll read the third and final book in I loved "The Rebel Angels" and, after finishing it, I was thrilled to have two more books left in the "Cornish" trilogy.

The second book, however, totally drained me of my enthusiasm, and I even left it in my hotel room during a recent trip.

All of the great characters I'd come to enjoy in "Angels" were nowhere to be found. All I got was a long and painfully detailed biography of a person who had been a marginal character in the first book.

I'm not yet sure if I'll read the third and final book in the trilogy.

Disappointing.
kyle
What fun. I love Davies' sense of humor, the mixture of the erudite and the scatological (not surprising considering one of the main characters is a Rabelais scholar). Yes it is flawed. The ending let me down. Davies often spells out far more than he needs to. But any book that brings me to laugh out loud this often while combining tales of Hoffman, alchemy, King Arthur, and so much more is worth my time.
Lara
Another excellent trilogy, although I did not much like the middle book--I think I'll have to go back to that one at some point and try again. Even so, the first and third books more than made up for it. I love the characters, and...just...Davies always made even the most mundane situations and conversations seem somehow magical. He really did have a talent for that. I'll read everything else of his I can get my hands on, and then I'll read it all again!
Janet
I think this was the first Davies trilogy I read. His books are long and involved and almost without noticing you learn so many interesting things along the way. There are too many books I really want to read for the first time and all of the trilogies take quite a time committment. Too bad; I would love to read them a second time.
Susanne Bohlin
One of my favorite book, the rebel angel, so I had to read all of them. It is also one of the first books I read in English after finding this book in st Barbara. The Swedish translation is excellent and I really loved the language where you have the feeling you are walking on a hilly green field. The second book was also a very interesting story and different to the first one, which I liked
Matt Grover
Robertson Davies is one of my all time favorite authors and all three of his trilogies are outstanding. My brother usually doesn't need any help finding his own books to read but I had the pleasure of introducing him to Davies and he also highly sings his praises.
Ann Webb
I've read the first two books in the trilogy and am leaving The Lyre of Orpheus for later as it deals with some new characters that interest me not a whit, having tried for 100 pages or so.

However, The Rebel Angels and What's Bred in the Bone are two excellent novels.
Assertagirl
Net gekregen voor mijn verjaardag van goede vrienden. Gauw eens lezen.

Fantastisch, ik ben gek op Robertson Davies. Complex verhaal, intrigerende karakters en veel intellectuele weetjes spelen mee op de achtergrond.

Een aanrader voor mensen die ook van Neal Stephenson houden.
Sally
My favourite book of all time. Over 1000 pages and I carried it everywhere for over a week wehn I first read it. It is complex, fascinating, literary, touching, scholarly, hilarious, moving and wonderful. Just read it.
Gözde
Beautifully and intelligently written. I had to read his other books too.
Jocelyn
Read over a quite fall in Algonquin. Whats Bred In the Bone was my favourite of the three.
Christina De Longhi
My favourite Davies Trilogy! Mystical and humourous all at once!
Badgerreader
How a complex man got to be the way he is. Francis Cornish is taken from birth to death by Robertson Davies. Am now reading The Lyre of Orpheus, the last book in the trilogy.
Mary L.
Includes in order "The Rebel Angels", "What's Bred in the Bone", and "The Lyre of Orpheus" As all of his books each is wonderful by itself but great fun to read in order.
Elizabeth Bradley
Read this for Part 2, "What's Bred in the Bone," which is gripping and gothic and full of intrigue. The 1st and 3rd parts, not so much... still, very sad to have finished my last Davies trilogy!
Kath Tomkins
Wonderful use of language, so elegantly written.
Ruth
I love Davies' writing, and the fact that this trilogy weaves in and around the art and music worlds makes it a my favorite of his works, by a very narrow margin.
Janet
Rereading an old favorite. Davies is quirky, similar to Irving, but the middle novel in the trilogy, What's Bred in the Bone, is one of my favorite books.
Muneera Salem-Murdock
Read in the 1980's. Might read again, one day.
Kim
What's bred in the bone was my favourite part of this trilogy! I love reading it over and over again!
Barry
Winding tale where the bad guy gets his comeuppance.
nicole
I liked this trilogy. It was the first one I read.
Happyreader
Gypsies, art forgeries, and opera. What's not to love?
Lucy
I will always love anything by this author.
Gretchen
I read this for the first time in school. I ended up reading everyone as they came out. I love the characters in all his books but especailly Maria in this one.
Sue
This was my introduction to Robertson Davies. I loved all three of these novels.
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