HADRIAN THE SEVENTH by Fr. (Baron Corvo) Rolfe


Age Range: 1860 - 1913
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Rolfe, who was neither a priest nor an aristocrat, though his names might suggest so, was in fact something of a crackpot genius, as Alexander Theroux notes in his new introduction to this eccentric masterpiece, a fantasy of colossal wish fulfillment that shares with Theroux’s books a love of baroque sentence structure, a passion for unusual and nonce words, and delight in an orgy of color. A failed Roman Catholic priest, Frederick Rolfe (1860–1913) translated his sense of failure into this amazing story of George Arthur Rose, a hack writer, much like Rolfe, who is suddenly accepted into the priesthood and through a series of bizarre events becomes the second English-born pope. He’s an admitted misanthrope (and altruist), and Rose’s “feline” nature serves him well in Rome, where he proceeds to remake the Church in his own image: liturgically conservative but open, honest and ecumenical. His reforms startle his cardinals, and his vision for world history is equally odd. He indulges in a taste for astrology, designs a new cross, and vents constantly about ugly and ill-mannered socialists. While Rolfe’s Hadrian speaks in purple prose, with a distinct level of inspired pomposity, the novel in general displays an unerring skill in Latin and Greek and a dazzling ease with canon law, scripture, and Church esoterica. Arch, campy, but not as froufrou as Ronald Firbank, Rolfe’s mind-boggling tale exists somewhere between reverence and heresy: be grateful it’s back.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-940322-62-5
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: New York Review Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2001