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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 IV: Nicholas Crabbe: Between Autobiography and Fiction


4.0 Introduction

In the introduction to her 1969 novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin writes that an author’s profession is inadvertently connected with lying. Philippe Lejeune would most likely disagree with her, as he has expressed his belief that a work of fiction essentially is a product of an author’s imagination; as one wields creative authority over it, one cannot be accused of lying. However, he would undoubtedly agree with Le Guin that authors commonly use elements of the real world in order to lend their novels a feeling of authenticity.349 Frederick Rolfe’s Nicholas Crabbe novels are characterised by a very peculiar mixture of fact and fiction, treading over the border between these two in a manner that often perplexed researchers. For this reason many elements of these books were considered autobiographical, to the extent that they were used as a source of biographical information. These elements invite further discussion, both in the aspect of the border between fiction and autobiography, as well as the impact they have on the author’s image.

Nicholas Crabbe is the protagonist of three novels and several short stories. Two out of these novels (Nicholas Crabbe or the One and the Many and The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole) are abundant in elements directly drawn from Rolfe’s life, and, unlike Hadrian the Seventh, their plots deal with situations taken directly from Rolfe’s experience. However, the case is different with The Weird of the Wanderer,...

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