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One day in 1925 a friend asked A. J. A. Symons if he had read Fr. Rolfe's Hadrian the Seventh. He hadn't, but soon did, and found himself entranced by the novel-"a masterpiece"-and no less fascinated by the mysterious person of its all-but-forgotten creator. The Quest for Corvo is a hilarious and heartbreaking portrait of the strange Frederick Rolfe, self-appointed Baron Corvo, an artist, writer, and frustrated aspirant to the priesthood with a bottomless talent for self-destruction. But this singular work, subtitled "an experiment in biography," is also a remarkable self-portrait, a study of the obsession and sympathy that inspires the biographer's art.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780940322615
ISBN-10: 0940322617
Format: Paperback
(204mm x 128mm x 130mm)
Pages: 312
Imprint: NYRB Classics
Publisher: The New York Review of Books, Inc
Publish Date: 1-Mar-2001
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions

Reviews

UK Kirkus Review » Hadrian the VII was a unique dramatized autobiographical fantasy published in 1904 and written by Frederick Rolfe, a would-be prelate, whose story is pieced together in this classic 'Experiment in Biography'. A J A Symons was himself a curious literary figure, most famous as the co-founder of the Wine and Food Society but this work is a lasting monument. It depicts a truly eccentric figure and, eschewing the norms of biography, turns the enquiry into a rivetting story. First published 1934. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » To coincide with its republication of "Hadrian the Seventh "(see above), the press has reissued Symons's near-legendary biography of Frederick Rolfe, a work as innovative and unusual as its subject, the slightly demented, perhaps clinically paranoid, Rolfe, whose strange life proposed many unsolved mysteries-these becoming, in part, the inspiration for Symons's detective-like study. As A.S. Byatt (herself a student of the genre) notes in her new introduction, Symons (1900-41) resembled his subject for sheer self-invention; his novelistic approach to biography, too, inspired her in her own work. The only limit on Symons's artistry was a commitment to the facts, though Symons also teased readers brilliantly with gaps left in the life-record, gaps that we now know to be as bad as implied, since Rolfe indulged in pedophilic pornography. In any case, "Kirkus "in 1934 detected a certain "snob appeal" in the "sheer originality of method and fascination of theme" in this unconventional work. We shared in the adventure of Symons's hunt for the facts and marveled at the figure of Rolfe that emerged. Best of all, we felt inspired to seek out as much of Rolfe's work as possible. What more can a biographer hope for? (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - A. J. A. Symons

A.J.A. Symons (1900-1941) pursued a wide variety of projects in his short life, writing and editing works on the verse of the 1890s, the history of the Nonesuch Press, and critical studies of various figures of note. He is remembered for his groundbreaking biography of the bizarre genius Baron Corvo and for his own eccentric hobbies, as chronicled in a biography written by his brother, the mystery novelist Julian Symons. A. S. Byatt's book of essays On Histories and Stories will be published in the US next year. Her new novel, The Biographer's Tale, will be published here in January. (November 2000)