The Quest for Corvo

The Quest for Corvo

A. J. A. Symons

Language: English

Pages: 304

ISBN: 014000291X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


One day in 1925 a friend asked A. J. A. Symons if he had read Fr. Rolfe's Hadrian the Seventh. He hadn't, but soon did, and found himself entranced by the novel -- "a masterpiece"-- and no less fascinated by the mysterious person of its all-but-forgotten creator. The Quest for Corvo is a hilarious and heartbreaking portrait of the strange Frederick Rolfe, self-appointed Baron Corvo, an artist, writer, and frustrated aspirant to the priesthood with a bottomless talent for self-destruction. But this singular work, subtitled "an experiment in biography," is also a remarkable self-portrait, a study of the obsession and sympathy that inspires the biographer's art.

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he would have done them credit and might have been useful. He was not fitted of course for a big dirty parish, but he could have done many things well. The Jesuits, I think, would have had more insight. So far as I know, his chief offence in the eyes of the Oscott people was his propensity to run up bills which he had no chance of paying. His books, breviaries etc. he had bound in the most expensive way. Ugly things really hurt him. It is quite possible that he was of very modest origin. I have

family which should be at once a gallimaufry of living pictures and a studious chronicle. How Rolfe had managed, in the course of his worried ap.d wandering life, to acquire sufficient knowledge of Italy and Italian history to equip him for the task is an interesting problem. Was this the legacy of those unrecorded Roman months ? At all events he was able to satisfy Mr. Richards of his competence to write the book ; for he had studied under the best of all masters-his own desires, his own

and resided for a considerable time at Boyndlie. He afterwards lived in Aberdeen, where he became favourably known in literary and musical circles. Subsequently he removed to London, where he wrote extensively under the pen-name of ' Baron Corvo ', and he came into considerable prominence through an article in a popular monthly, How I was Buried Alive. In London he was highly esteemed for his literary culture and his skill as a writer. He was a man of extraordinary genius and versatility, a

pseudonym of Baron Corvo. That artifice disguised the disappointing fact that he, who had left for Rome to assume the distinguishing title of Reverend, had returned plain Mr. Rolfe. Had his career as a painter been crowned witl1 success, time might have smoothed the smart of his rejection. But he failed, he was driven from pillar to post, from Christchurch to Aberdeen and Holywell. He could not deny to himself the reality of this further failure ; but it could be explained if not only his

combat his abnormal feelings, and it failed. At last he found the true vent for his talent, and became a writer in London. He defended his own character in whitewashing the Borgias, but still disappointment crossed his hopes. His work brought him neither rest nor money ; he could only exist by incurring debt. ' I sit in my bedroom during ten months in each year. This is mitigated by occasional plunges for pearls in the British Museum, an hour for Mass and strolls on the Heath on holidays, an hour

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