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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 III: The Projection of the Author’s Image in His Fiction: Frederick Rolfe and his Hadrian the Seventh


3.1 Introduction: Frederick Rolfe in the Tradition of the British Decadence

For a certain period of time, Rolfe was at the risk of being forgotten. Despite appearing in the Yellow Book, most of his works appeared in the 1900s, as a result of which he was left out of Holbrook Jackson’s opus, The Eighteen Nineties.251 There was even a chance that he would become a Enoch Soames-like character, forgotten yet nonetheless notorious. Shane Leslie’s article, in spite of being credited as one of the most significant pieces of writing that saved him for posterity, actually furthered this notion by stressing his “diabolical character,” presenting him as a forgotten author and professing a negative view of the quality of his work. However, although in itself inaccurate, A. J. A. Symons’ The Quest for Corvo put an end to this by re-establishing Rolfe’s position in the landscape of 1890s and Edwardian literature.

The fact that Rolfe had to be restored for the public by the writings of others meant that any image of himself that he had desired to create became of secondary importance, subsiding in favour of the modified versions stemming from his biographies. Amongst other things, this popularised the autobiographical approach towards his work and the assumption that the historical Rolfe can be rediscovered through his literary output. These two issues, in relation to Hadrian the Seventh, shall be the main topics of this chapter. Nonetheless, the zeitgeist of the late 19th and early...

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