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125 THE DATE OF COMPOSITION OF FREDERICK ROLFE·S NICHOLAS CRABBE By G. P. Jones (Memorial University of Newfoundland) Frederick Rolfe's semi-autobiographical novel, Nicholas Crabbe, has generally been misdated. Primarily because of its libellous nature, the novel was not published until 1958, long after its author's death in 1913· As is commonly the case, much delayed publication brings with it distinctive bibliographical problems. While the misdating of a minor work by a minor writer is less than momentous, scrutiny of the factors that have led to the mistake is moderately instructive. Cecil Woolf, the doyen of Rolfe's latter day commentators and editor of Nicholas Crabbe. surmises that the body of the novel (excluding the Prologue) was written in 1905· This date is certainly too late: a version of the novel was being offered to the publisher, John Lane, midway through 1904.2 Since Lane is scabrously and recognisably lampooned in the novel as the deceitful and absurd publisher , Slim Schelm, it is less than surprising that he declined to publish it. That Rolfe had the temerity to offer it to him at all provides food for thought. The date of composition for parts at least of the novel can be pushed back somewhat further than 1904, on the basis of evidence provided by two emendations in the typescript of the novel preserved in the Bodleian Library,3 the typescript on which the published version is based. In Chapter XXIII of Nicholas Crabbe reference is made, according to the published text, to "the juvenile cleric who at the time was Pope Leo the Thirteenth." In the Bodleian typescript the original reading was "the juvenile cleric who now was Pope Leo the Thirteenth," the "now" having been cancelled and "at the time" substituted for it by hand. Pope Leo XIII died on 20 July 1903. so that the original wording must have been framed prior to that date. Another holograph emendation in the Bodleian typescript pushes the date back even further. In Chapter V a passage of dialogue reads, according to the published text« "if Schelm thinks that Oldcastle wants your Daynian Folk-lore, nothing on earth short of barratry, the King's enemies, or an Act of God, will persuade him to part with it." The original reading of the typescript was "Queen's enemies," a reading which would have been incorrect after Queen Victoria's death in January 190I. Even though such set phrases tend to become engrained in the course of a long reign, it is unlikely that so punctilious a writer as Rolfe would have made the slip as late as July I903 (the earliest date possible for the Leo emendation), unless he were merely copying something written earlier . Some of the material in the body of the novel, then, was committed to paper in one form or another no later than January I9OI. In his unpublished doctoral thesis, C. A. Andrews also wonders about the date usually assigned to Nicholas Crabbe. He argues 126 correctly that "the book is so closely and intimately connected with Rolfe's experiences from 1899 to 1903 that it is difficult to accept Cecil Woolf s opinion that it was begun in I905. · . . If Rolfe began the book as late as this, he must have had available rather extensive diaries, a correspondence file, and an exceptionally good memory."* Apart from having a very good memory, Rolfe certainly kept detailed records of his correspondence, as is evidenced by his constantly referring correspondents (particularly those with whom he happened to be squabbling at the time) to previous letters written by either party. It is also probable that he kept a business diary, if only in response to such an admonition as he places in the mouth of Nicholas Crabbe's lawyer, Neddy Carnage (representing Rolfe's erstwhile friend and adviser, E. J. Slaughter), that he should "buy a bally big diary; and write down a full account of this affair. And you'd better make a rule of keepin a diary of your business doins" (Chapter XII). Nicholas Crabbe itsel-f is probably that diary, lightly fictionalised and elaborated. Certain material in the novel, however, could not possibly have been...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 125-130
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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