The Cornish Trilogy by Robertson Davies
The Cornish Trilogy, written by the Canadian author Robertson Davies, is a complex and intriguing work of fiction that weaves together different themes and narratives into a single, cohesive whole. The novel is divided into three parts, each of which explores a different aspect of life and human experience, ranging from art and academia to love and identity.
The first part of the trilogy, titled "The Rebel Angels," introduces us to the world of academia and the eccentric personalities that inhabit it. The story centers around the characters of Maria Theotoky, a brilliant but troubled graduate student, and Simon Darcourt, a charismatic professor with a hidden agenda. As the two become embroiled in a web of intrigue and deception, they must navigate the complex social dynamics of the university and confront their own personal demons.
The plot begins with the arrival of Maria Theotoky at the University of St. John and the Holy Ghost in Toronto, where she has been invited to work on a project with the university's leading scholar, Dr. Hollier. Maria is a young, brilliant, and passionate scholar, but she is also troubled by her past and haunted by the memory of her dead father. Simon Darcourt, a charismatic professor and rival of Dr. Hollier, takes an interest in Maria and begins to manipulate her for his own purposes. He convinces her to join his secret society of scholars, called the Dead Metaphor Society, which is dedicated to the study of obscure and esoteric texts. However, as Maria becomes more involved in the society, she begins to uncover a web of deceit and betrayal that threatens to destroy her career and her sanity.
Meanwhile, Dr. Hollier is working on a project to authenticate a newly discovered manuscript by a famous 17th-century poet, Arthur Cornish. The manuscript is believed to contain a long-lost play by Cornish, which could revolutionize the study of English literature. However, as Dr. Hollier and his team work to decipher the manuscript, they begin to suspect that it may be a forgery, and that someone is trying to sabotage their efforts. As tensions rise and the stakes get higher, the characters are forced to confront their own personal demons and the complex social dynamics of the university.
The second part of the trilogy, "What's Bred in the Bone," takes us on a journey through the life and art of Francis Cornish, a wealthy and enigmatic art collector. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn about Francis's early life and the formative experiences that shaped him into the man he became. As we follow his path from childhood to adulthood, we are introduced to a cast of characters that includes his family, friends, and mentors, as well as a number of historical figures and mythical creatures.
The plot of this part of the trilogy begins with Francis Cornish's birth and early childhood in the small town of Blairlogie, Ontario. Francis is the son of a wealthy businessman and a socialite mother, and he grows up in a privileged but emotionally distant environment. From a young age, Francis shows a talent for drawing and painting, and he is encouraged by his aunt, who is a celebrated artist herself. As Francis grows older, he becomes more and more interested in art, and he begins to collect paintings and other works of art. However, his passion for art is complicated by his relationships with his family and friends, who do not understand or appreciate his interests.
As Francis enters young adulthood, he travels to Europe and begins to immerse himself in the world of art and culture. He meets a number of famous artists and writers, including the poet W.B. Yeats and the painter Pablo Picasso, and he begins to develop his own unique style as a collector and patron of the arts. However, his personal life is marked by tragedy and heartbreak, as he struggles to come to terms with his own identity and the complexities of his relationships with the people around him.
The final part of the trilogy, "The Lyre of Orpheus," brings together the disparate threads of the previous two parts and weaves them into a single, intricate tapestry. The story follows the efforts of a group of musicians and scholars as they attempt to stage an opera based on the life of E.T.A. Hoffmann, a 19th-century composer and writer. As they grapple with artistic differences, personal rivalries, and supernatural forces, they must confront the question of what it means to create art and how it can connect us to the world around us.
The plot of this part of the trilogy begins with the arrival of a mysterious benefactor who offers to finance a production of an opera based on the life of E.T.A. Hoffmann. The benefactor, who remains anonymous throughout the story, hires a group of musicians and scholars to work on the production, including the members of the Dead Metaphor Society from the first part of the trilogy. As the group begins to work on the opera, they are beset by a series of supernatural occurrences and strange coincidences. They begin to suspect that the opera is cursed, and that they are being haunted by the ghost of Hoffmann himself.
As the group struggles to overcome their artistic differences and personal rivalries, they must also confront the question of what it means to create art and how it can connect us to the world around us. They grapple with the legacy of Hoffmann and the meaning of his work, and they must navigate the complex social dynamics of the world of opera. In the end, they must confront their own personal demons and come to terms with the power of art to both inspire and destroy.
Throughout the course of the trilogy, Davies explores a wide range of themes and ideas, from the nature of creativity and the role of the artist in society to the complexities of human relationships and the search for meaning in life. He draws on a rich and diverse array of sources, ranging from mythology and folklore to history and philosophy, to create a work that is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally engaging.
At its core, The Cornish Trilogy is a celebration of the power of storytelling and the human imagination. Through its intricate plot, memorable characters, and evocative prose, it invites us to explore the mysteries of the human experience and to discover the hidden truths that lie within us all.