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Rolfe, Rose, Corvo, Crabbe

The Literary Images of Frederick Rolfe


Miroslaw Miernik

Drawing on theories of biography and autobiography, including the works of Philippe Lejeune, Michel Foucault, and Philip Roth , Rolfe, Rose, Corvo, Crabbe attempts to tackle the issue of Frederick Rolfe’s image. Like many other authors, Rolfe (1860–1913), also known as Baron Corvo, wanted to influence the way others see him through his works. However, the image he wanted to project was skewed by A.J.A. Symons’ fascinating, yet inaccurate, biography, The Quest for Corvo, which popularized a strongly autobiographical approach to his work. Analysing the issue, this book takes into consideration his biographies, his self-fashioning in his letters, and his novels, particularly focusing on the characters who were heavily inspired by his own experiences, such as Nicholas Crabbe and George Arthur Rose.
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Chapter II: The Biographies of Frederick Rolfe


2.0 Introduction

This chapter will analyse the biographies of Frederick Rolfe as works that contribute to his literary image, but also to that of their authors. It will offer an analysis of the three narratives of his life, each of which represents a different approach to biography: A. J. A. Symons’ The Quest for Corvo, Donald Weeks’ Corvo, and Miriam J. Benkovitz’s Frederick Rolfe: Baron Corvo. Two earlier accounts, Shane Leslie’s article on Rolfe’s life and the Aberdeen attack, will also be discussed. Even though they are significantly shorter, they are equally important for Rolfe’s image.

The analysis will be conducted on three levels: one will focus on how biographers portrayed Rolfe, how they interpreted the materials they used, and on which aspects of his life they particularly focused. The second level of the analysis will examine the methods and devices employed by the authors in order to influence the reader’s approach towards their biographies’ subject. Finally, it will examine how the biographers portrayed themselves in their studies of Rolfe’s life. Such an endeavour will be aided by the fact that the three published biographies reach different conclusions, and their authors openly debate with the previously published accounts of Rolfe’s life.67

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