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

I never knew there was any family.

Here I was able to intervene with special knowledge. There isn’t. So the University took over and there was a very private funeral. Just a couple of people from the President’s office at the crematorium.

That can’t have been much of a ‘ceremony’. But a parson, one presumes? Who was it? Not you, Simon?

No, not me. I read the service for the murderer, however, if you collect such information. I’d known him all my life.

I think that fellow — the murderer — deserves public thanks, said Elsa Czermak.

Elsa, we never knew you had it in for Urky!

I mean for finishing himself off and not putting the public to heavy expense in the matter of a trial. He must have been a man of considerable quality.

He was, I can assure you, said Hollier.

Suicide, wasn’t it? The curious Deloney again. I heard he drank a whole can of Dog-Off.

Strange to hear Hollier defending Parlabane. Nothing of the sort I assure you. He was an exceptional man, a man of formid­able abilities, with a sense of style that would utterly reject death by Dog-Off.

Of course, the book! The great book. Is it really magnificent? said Durdle.

When will it be published? said Aronson. You are supposed to be attending to that, aren’t you, Hollier?

Somebody else has been dealing with it while I have been ill, said Hollier. I understand the bidding among the publishers is not yet concluded. The film rights have been in demand from people who haven’t even seen the book.

The really important point is that the original manuscript should be lodged in the University Library, said Jubilei, who was an expert in archival work. It sprang from this University, it led to an incident in University history that is inescapable, however reprehensible, and we must have it where it properly belongs.

It’s been left to his old college library, said Hollier. St. John and the Holy Ghost. Spook, to you.

I am not convinced such a small library will know how to deal with it, said Jubilei. Can you guarantee that it will be pre­served, page by page, between sheets of acid-free paper?

I thought of Parlabane’s squalid mess of typescript, and smiled a private smile.

I don’t see how you can possibly speak of it as ‘an incident’, said Durdle. It’s our Crime, don’t you see, and a real beauty! How many other universities can boast a crime — an acknow­ledged, indisputable crime, that’s to say? It gives us a quality all our own, lifts us high above every other university on this continent. It was international news! Worth at least three Nobel Laureates! Raises us all immeasurably in our professional stature!

Oh rubbish! How can you possibly say such a thing? said Stromwell.

You can ask that? You, a medievalist! What were the great scholars of the past? Venal, cadging, saucy, spiteful, contumeli­ous, and quarrelsome — Urky and his murderer are right in the pattern — and they were also great humanists. What is the mod­ern scholar? A frowsy scarecrow of bourgeois conventionality.

Speak for yourself, said Stromwell.

I do! I do! I was saying precisely that to my wife this morning at breakfast.

And what did she say?

I think she said Yes dear, and went on making a list for her shopping. But that’s beside the point, which is that some grotesquerie, some wrenching originality, is a necessary part of real scholarship, and brings a special glory with it. We all share in the dark splendour of Urky’s murder; we are the greater for his passing, and his murderer’s book is in a special sense our book.

You don’t even know whether or not it is a good book.

As they wrangled, some of the others were trying to change the subject, to please the Warden.

I have it on very good authority that we shall shortly have another Nobel Laureate in this University, said Boys.

You mean he’s got it? said Gyllenborg.

Can’t be absolutely certain until the announcement is made, but there are only three possible contenders this year, and I hear our man is top of the list.

I thought it might be so when I read his Kober Lecture. Ozy spoke like a man who knew he had come to disturb the sleep of the world. We shall all have to revise our thinking. Ex­crement: daily barometer of whether the body — perhaps even the mind — is tending towards health or sickness. Of course he stands on Sheldon’s shoulders, but don’t we all stand on some­body’s past work?

That is what lends splendour to a university, said the War­den. Not these dreadful interruptions of the natural order.

You lean always towards the light, Warden; perhaps both are necessary, for completeness.

Quite so, said the Warden. I confess I never really liked McVarish, but it is good modern theology to acknowledge every man’s right to go to hell in his own way.

As I listened, I felt a sadness creeping over me that was un­questionably tinged by the self-pity I had condemned in Hollier earlier in the day. Ah, well; a little self-pity is perhaps not amiss in circumstances where we cannot reasonably expect pity from anyone else. So I gave way to a measure of the harlot-emotion, and to my immense satisfaction it turned in a few minutes to a deep tenderness.

Vogue la galère, Maria. Let your ship sail free.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson