THE QUEST FOR CORVO by A.J.A. Symons

THE QUEST FOR CORVO

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KIRKUS REVIEW

To coincide with its republication of Hadrian the Seventh (see above), the press has reissued Symons’s near-legendary biography of Frederick Rolfe, a work as innovative and unusual as its subject, the slightly demented, perhaps clinically paranoid, Rolfe, whose strange life proposed many unsolved mysteries—these becoming, in part, the inspiration for Symons’s detective-like study. As A.S. Byatt (herself a student of the genre) notes in her new introduction, Symons (1900–41) resembled his subject for sheer self-invention; his novelistic approach to biography, too, inspired her in her own work. The only limit on Symons’s artistry was a commitment to the facts, though Symons also teased readers brilliantly with gaps left in the life-record, gaps that we now know to be as bad as implied, since Rolfe indulged in pedophilic pornography. In any case, Kirkus in 1934 detected a certain “snob appeal” in the “sheer originality of method and fascination of theme” in this unconventional work. We shared in the adventure of Symons’s hunt for the facts and marveled at the figure of Rolfe that emerged. Best of all, we felt inspired to seek out as much of Rolfe’s work as possible. What more can a biographer hope for?

Pub Date: March 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-940322-61-7
Page count: 312pp
Publisher: New York Review Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2001