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FREDERICK W. ROLFE, BARON CORVO« AN ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY OF WRITINGS ABOUT HIM By Jeanette W. Gilsdorf and Nicholas A. Salerno (Arizona State University) "Pray for the repose of his soul. He was so tired." These words from the ending of Hadrian the Seventh, by Frederick W. Rolfe, Baron Corvo, could serve as epitaph for Rolfe himself. An ultraDecadent ignored by all major and virtually all minor figures of his literary age, he attracted little critical attention until several decades after his death in 1913· Even today, despite the efforts of a coterie of fervent admirers, most of the interest he has aroused centers on his strange life, rather than on his fiction . Soon after Rolfe converted to Catholicism in early manhood, he tried to enter the priesthood. Two seminaries dropped him. He retained all his life the conviction that Catholic enemies had interfered to frustrate his genuine vocation. He vowed to- live celibate , repressed for most of his life his homosexuality, and developed gradually a strong paranoia. Disappointed of the Church and believing himself exceptionally gifted, Rolfe labored at several arts - literature was only one, and a third choice after photography and painting - hoping to earn a decent living by his artistic efforts. Though of humble birth and inferior education, he thought well enough of his abilities that he asked a great deal of support from other people« financial backing, collaboration, recommendations and contacts, unqualified and constant praise, room and board. He would attach himself to a patron or a friend, gradually increase his demands, and almost inevitably press the patron beyond his endurance . A quarrel would result, and Rolfe would leave, wrathful, to begin writing the ex-patron a stream of brilliantly insulting letters. As periods of support alternated with periods of privation , Rolfe lived a feast-or-famine existence; his lifetime of hard work earned him no money of his own. Late in I898 Rolfe was staggered by an anonymous, three-part, violent, personal attack on him, printed in the Aberdeen DAILY FREE PRESS. Early reviews of his Toto stories were favorable, but reviews of his other books were mixed and sparse. Hoping to stir up controversy about his work, Rolfe would write supercilious or angry letters to magazines and newspapers, usually alienating editors and readers alike. Often he wrote his enemies into his fiction and flayed them. Clearly he preferred to be hated rather than be ignored. After the brief fame from the Toto stories had faded, public interest in his work all but disappeared. After his death his works, especially the Venice Letters, were read and circulated by a few admirers. Such readers as Christopher Millard, Shane Leslie and A. J. A. Symons kept his work from disappearing altogether. In 1923 Leslie wrote a long biographical and critical article for the LONDON MERCURY, and the cult of Corvo was born. Symons' research, aided by Maundy Gregory's money, produced the lecture read at the meeting of the Sette of Odd Volumes , the two Corvine Society papers, and, in 193^. the masterpiece of biography, THE QUEST FOR CORVO, which has gone into numerous editions and translations. Symons and Gregory worked to find Rolfe1s unpublished manuscripts and get them into print. Three appeared in the thirties« The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole, Hubert's Arthur, and The Songs of Meleager. Rolfe's audience began to grow« these later readers pitied his unhappy life, enjoyed his rich and inventive writing style, and rejoiced in the play of his invective. George Sims brought out Three Tales of Venice in I95O. Cecil Woolf began to gather Rolfe's ephemeral pieces and his letters, publishing A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF FREDERICK ROLFE, BARON CORVO in" 1957· Woolf brought out numerous works by Rolfe« novels, collections of short stories, a collection of poems, volumes of letters. By I963 all Rolfe's major known manuscripts were published. A few titles have eluded all search. Rolfe's reputation has steadily risen. Reviewers and critics have paid far more attention to his works in the last three decades than at any time in his life. Cecil Woolf and Brocard Sewell gathered and published a collection of essays entitled CORVO, I86O-I96O. In 1968 Peter Luke wrote a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 3-83
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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