The Rebel Angels. The Cornish Trilogy #1 by Robertson Davies

Which could lead to –?

I wouldn’t want to guess what it might lead to. But if there is a pattern of formation which is as identifiable for everybody as a fingerprint, that would be interesting. But I’m not going to go off half-cocked. People can do that, after reading Sheldon. There was a fellow named Huxley, a brother of the scientist — I think he was a writer — and he read Sheldon and he went to foolish ex­tremes. Of course being a writer he loved the comic extremes in the somatotypes, and he lost his head over something Sheldon keeps harping on in his two big books. And that’s humour. Sheldon keeps saying you have to deal with the somatotypes with an ever-active sense of humour, and damn it, I don’t know what he’s talking about. If a fact is a fact, surely that’s it? You don’t have to get cute about it. I’ve read a good deal, you know, in general literature, and I’ve never found a definition of humour that made any sense whatever. But this Huxley — the other one, not the scientist — goes on about how funny it would be if certain ill-matched types got married, and he thought it would be a howl to see an ectomorph shrimp and his endomorphic slob of a wife in a museum looking at the mesomorphic ideal of Greek sculp­ture. What’s funny about that? He rushed off in all directions about how soma affects psyche, and how perhaps the body was really the Unconscious that the psychoanalysts talk about — the unknown factor, the depth from which arises the unforeseen and uncontrollable in the human spirit. And how learning intelli­gently to live with the body would be the path to mental health. All very well to say, but just try and prove it. And that’s work for people like me.

It was getting late, and I rose to go, because it was clear that Ozy had shown us all he meant to show. But as I prepared to leave I remembered his wife. Now it is not tactful in these days to ask about the wives of one’s friends too particularly, in case they are wives no longer. But I thought I’d plunge.

How’s Peggy?

Good of you to ask, Simon. She’ll be delighted you remem­bered her. Poor Peg.

Not unwell, I hope? Of course I remember her as our top cheerleader.

Wasn’t she marvellous? Wonderful figure, and every ounce of it rubber, you’d have said. A real fireball. God, you should see her now.

Very sorry she isn’t well.

She’s well enough. But her type, you know — her somato-type. She’s a PPJ — what Sheldon calls a Pyknic Practical Joke. Pyknic, you understand? Of course, Greek’s your thing. Com­pact: rubbery. But the balance of her three elements was just that tiny bit off, a 442, and — well, now she weighs well over two hundred, poor kid, and she’s barely five foot three. No; no children. She keeps cheerful, though. Takes a lot of night courses at one of the community colleges — Dog Grooming, Awake Alive and Aware Through Yoga, Writing for Fun and Profit — that crap. I’m here so much at night, you see.

I saw. The Rum Old Joker had been a bit rowdy with Ozy and Peggy, and even if Ozy’s sense of humour had been more active than it was, he could hardly have been expected to relish that one.

As we walked up the campus together, Maria said: I wonder if Professor Froats is a magus.

I think he’d be surprised if you suggested it.

Yes, he seemed very dismissive about Paracelsus. But it was Paracelsus who said that the holy men who serve the forces of nature are magi, because they can do what others are incapable of doing, and that is because they have a special gift. Surely Ozias Froats works under the protection of the Thrice-Divine Hermes. Anyway I hope so: he won’t get far if he doesn’t. I wish he’d read Paracelsus. He said that each man’s soul accords with the design of his lineaments and arteries. I’m sure Sheldon would have agreed.

Sheldon appears to have had a sense of humour. He wouldn’t mind a sixteenth-century alchemist getting in ahead of him. But not Ozy.

It’s a pity about science, isn’t it?

Miss Theotoky, that is very much a humanist remark, and you must be careful with it. We humanists are an endangered species. In Paracelsus’s time the energy of universities resided in the conflict between humanism and theology; the energy of the modern university lives in the love-affair between govern­ment and science, and sometimes the two are so close it makes you shudder. If you want a magus, look for one in Clement Hollier.

With that we parted, but I thought she gave me a surprised glance.

I walked on towards Ploughwright, thinking about faeces. What a lot we had found out about the prehistoric past from the study of fossilized dung of long-vanished animals. A miraculous thing, really; a recovery of the past from what was carelessly rejected. And in the Middle Ages, how concerned people who lived close to the world of nature were with the faeces of animals. And what a variety of names they had for them: the Crotels of a Hare, the Friants of a Boar, the Spraints of an Otter, the Werderobe of a Badger, the Waggying of a Fox, the Fumets of a Deer. Surely there might be some words for the material so near to the heart of Ozy Froats better than shit? What about the Problems of a President, the Backward Passes of a Footballer, the Deferrals of a Dean, the Odd Volumes of a Librarian, the Footnotes of a Ph.D., the Low Grades of a Freshman, the Anxieties of antjntenured Professor? As for myself, might it not appropriately be called the Collect for the Day?

Musing in this frivolous strain I went to bed.


I thought it would not be long before Hollier pushed Parlabane in my direction, and sure enough he turned up the night after I had visited Ozias Froats.

I was not in a good mood, because I had been haunted all day by Ozy’s humbling estimate of my physical — and by im­plication my spiritual — condition. A 425, soft, chunky, doubtless headed towards undeniable fat. I make frequent resolves to go to the Athletic Building every day, and get myself into trim, and if I were not so busy I would do it. Now, at a blow, Ozy had suggested that fat was part of my destiny, an inescapable burden, an outward and visible sign of an inward and only partly visible love of comfort. Had I been deceiving myself? Did my students speak of me as Fatso? But then, if the Fairy Carabosse had appeared at my christening with her spiteful gift of adiposity, there had been other and better-natured fairies who had made me intelligent and energetic. But because human nature inclines towards dissatisfaction, it was the fat that rankled.

Worse, he had suggested that I was the sort of man who broke wind a great deal. Everyone recognizes, surely, that with the passing of time this trivial physical mannerism is likely to in­crease? No priest who had done much visiting among the old must be reminded of it. Need Froats have made a point of it before Maria Magdalena Theotoky?

This was a new reason for disquiet. Why should I care what she thought? But I did care, and I cared about what people thought of her. Hollier’s revelation had annoyed me; he ought to keep his great paws off his students (no, no, that’s unjust) he should not have taken advantage of his position as a teacher, however elated he was about his work. I thought of Balzac, driven by unconquerable lust, rushing at his kitchen-maid and, when he had taken her against the wall, screaming in her face, You have cost me a chapter! and rushing back to his writing-table. I had not liked the suggestion that Maria was a singer of bawdy songs in public; if she had done so, there must have been some reason for it.

Darcourt, I thought, you are being a fool about that girl. Why? Because of her beauty, I decided; beauty clear through, for it was beauty not only of feature but of movement, and that rarest of beauties, a beautiful low voice. A man may admire beauty, surely, without reproaching himself? A man may wish not to seem fat and ridiculous, a Crypto-Farter, in the presence of such an astonishing work of God? Froats had not, I remembered, made a guess at her type, and it could not have been reticence, for Ozy had none. Was it — good God, could it be? — that he recognized in her a PPJ, another Peppy Peggy who would ex­plode into grossness before she was thirty? No, it could not be: Peggy had been pneumatic and exuberant, and neither word applied to Maria.

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