CORVO: Saint or Madman? by Donald Weeks

CORVO: Saint or Madman?

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

On the extreme outer fringes of the faddish Anglo-Catholicism of the 1890's, Frederick Rolfe is surely one of the most singular and enigmatic personalities in English letters. A. J. A. Symon's much earlier The Quest for Corvo began the inquiry into his strange, precariously balanced psyche and Weeks, an avid collector of Rolfe's letters, photographs and drawings, ventures even deeper into the legend and life of the misanthropic author of Hadrian the Seventh. Rolfe was not a likable man. Ejected from two seminaries he nursed a lifelong grudge against the Catholic Church whose ""defalcations,"" he believed, had denied him his true vocation -- the priesthood. Embittered, supercilious, parasitic, he lived a hand-to-mouth existence convinced that his troubles were caused by the ""underlings"" from whom he was forced to beg handouts. Again and again paranoia made him turn on those who befriended him; as Weeks shows, his novels, most notably Hadrian, were used to revenge the real and imagined wrongs he suffered. With brilliant, dazzling cruelty all the personae of his life were slain and dissected by his poisoned pen. A consummate prig, Rolfe scorned the mediocre herd of mankind, creating for himself a mysterious Italian ancestry and the baronial title, Corvo. Astrology, necromancy, magic and spiritualism enthralled him and so did the beautiful bodies of young boys; in the later years of his life, while living in Venice, he indulged in the most flagrant homosexuality. Though much of his obscene writing has been destroyed, Weeks provides enough repellent samples to confirm the most sinister rumors. Weeks has done a dedicated and thorough job of researching the obscure recesses of Rolfe's secretive, tormented life. And yet the curiosities only become curiouser, the paradoxes more outlandish. Rolfe seems to have been a sui generis mental and moral freak and after Week's scrupulous detective work, his oddities are more intriguing than ever.

Pub Date: Jan. 2nd, 1972
Publisher: McGraw-Hill