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The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography

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4.16  ·  Rating Details  ·  202 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
This biography of an earlier biographer was written in 1934 by A.J.A. Symons with the goal that it should be as compelling as a detective story. In it Symons tells of his own unearthing of the documents of his very odd subject, Fr. Rolfe (in her introduction, A.S. Byatt quotes Freud's diagnosis of r
Paperback, New York Review Books Classics, 289 pages
Published March 31st 2001 by New York Review of Books (first published 1932)
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T.D. Whittle
Sep 28, 2014 T.D. Whittle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviews
I read this book years ago, when I was a young woman living in -- and, of course, in love with -- New York City. I immersed myself in its arts and culture, and its bustling liveliness, and prayed for some kind of mystical ascension, whereby I would become one with the grey heavens of Manhattan. Perhaps that's why I fell in love with the nutty Baron Corvo, whose love for Venice, and whose decadence -- contained only by purifying bouts of asceticism -- twanged a chord or two in my own mind and sou ...more
Hunter Murphy
Nov 29, 2014 Hunter Murphy rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most interesting books I've ever read. It's about Frederick Rolfe, a truly odd duck- prickly, brilliant, an Englishman obsessed with becoming a Catholic priest. I was enthralled. The way he lived his life seems almost fictional.

Rolfe upset nearly everyone he met. He's just the sort of character who should have a book written about him. This is one of the books you read that sticks to your ribs. It was in parts hysterical and tragic. People like Frederick Rolfe are fascinating
...more
Jose
Sep 25, 2010 Jose rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Uranians
This book is mostly famous as an example of how to write a proper biography . Rather than chronologically narrating the life of Frederic Rolfe a.k.a "Baron Corvo", the author follows his own progress and correspondence in search of the Baron's life details. The subject of the book itself is one of those late victorian characters that simply had to confront a new reality driven by capitalism and not just church or aristocratic patronage.
Frederic Rolfe was a delusional, tragic man with a talent
...more
Michael Spring
Apr 09, 2013 Michael Spring rated it really liked it
There’s a great man. Someone decides to write his life story. The profile is set against the times and the achievement is assessed.

That at least is the way most biographies work. AJA Symons’ The Quest for Corvo is a different beast.

It is partly a detective story, in which the author at the outset hardly knows what might happen. It is partly too, a revelation about the author himself. (Throughout, he readily confesses his likes and dislikes, his prejudices and enthusiasms. He is suspicious about
...more
Kay
Aug 01, 2007 Kay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This groundbreaking 'experimental biography' is a comical but curiously sad portrait of Frederick Rolfe, self-styled Baron Corvo. Rolfe was a consummate eccentric who also happened to be a talented writer. A.J.A. Symon's disappointment at not being able to find out anything to speak of about Corvo after reading one of his obscure books led to the 'quest' of the title. Symons was fascinated by Corvo, and we in turn become fascinated as well.

Corvo was a tortured soul, given to quarrels and parano
...more
DoctorM
Jan 04, 2011 DoctorM rated it really liked it
A wonderfully-done biography of Fr. Rolfe, the author of the classic "Hadrian VII"--- as fine a bit of Edwardian eccentricity and ecclesiastical fantasy as you'll ever find. Rolfe was a failed seminarian and mythomaniac who wrote a book about how a snobbish, conflicted, brilliant Englishman (oddly, a failed seminarian who looks just like Rolfe himself) is suddenly, inexplicably made Pope...and saves Europe for Catholicism before being martyred. Rolfe spent his life playing roles--- the Italian n ...more
Kobe Bryant
Dec 14, 2014 Kobe Bryant rated it really liked it
This was interesting and all but you have to wonder about a guy who reads a book he likes and decides to spend a decade obsessing over the author
Tony
Apr 02, 2013 Tony rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
THE QUEST FOR CORVO: An Experiment in Biography. (1934). A. J. A. Symons. ****.
Back around 1970, I found and read a play called “Hadrian VII,” that I found in a used paperback book store. I remember it because I had just moved to a new city and was exploring its shops. The play was written by Peter Luke, and had apparently had a short run on Broadway. It was a fascinating plot of fantasy about a young Englishman who had attempted to join the Catholic church as a priest, but didn’t make the grade
...more
Joshua Buhs
Jul 23, 2015 Joshua Buhs rated it it was amazing
Wow! This is excellent. How had I not heard about it before?
I only happened on the Quest for Corvo serendipitously while reading about the Dickens-Dostoevsky kerfluffle.
The book is nominally a biography, but so much better structured than the usual soup-to-nuts (or cradle-to-grave) bio.
Symmons sets out to learn about Fredrick Rolfe, author of Hadrian the Seventh, among other books, and uncovers quite a character. Rolfe is charming and talented, but also self-destructive, inevitably turning on th
...more
Kate
Aug 13, 2013 Kate rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
This biography is pure gold.

The subject: Fr. Rolfe, a.k.a. Baron Corvo. Impoverished aesthete, would-be priest, and pseudo-noble with literary talents unvalued, a gay man of the Edwardian age supported by wealthy acquaintances who found him interesting until he denounced them, one by one, in bitter letters.

The biographer: A.J.A. Symons, writing in the 1930's. Curiosity spurs him to learn all he can about Corvo, to document the man's strange life and thwarted ambitions, and to resurrect any unpub
...more
Jonathan Lopez
Sep 13, 2009 Jonathan Lopez rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs
I started this book two nights ago and didn't go to sleep until I finished it! I don't want to ruin it for anyone so won't explain except to say that it's truly astonishing and -- quite literally -- impossible to put down.
Bloodorange
Dec 16, 2015 Bloodorange rated it it was amazing
Stranger, and better, than fiction: The Quest... might appear to be casually conceived (man reads book, man falls in love; man reads book's author's letters, man gets both fascinated and appalled; man decides to write author's biography) and casually written, but at least the latter is not true. Symons, who only takes shape as a character-writer at the very beginning and end of his book, ensures the pacing, timing, findings, sources, and even a mysterious benefactor appear at just the right mome ...more
Rupert
Oct 26, 2009 Rupert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: tentatively
Beautiful writing and magically oddball subject. Corvo would have fit in very well in modern day Baltimore.
Alan
Nov 01, 2015 Alan rated it it was amazing
Mesmerizing. I have been a member of Corvo's cult following ever since a Roman bookseller handed me The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole in 2010. I've known vaguely about this biography for some time, but never got around to opening it. When I did, I got sucked in. I regret waiting so long!

In 1925, a London bookseller handed Symons Hadrian VII, which sparked his obsession to find out what kind of person could have written such a book. He tracked down all of Fr. Rolfe's living relatives, friend, a
...more
Jacob Wren
About Fr. Rolfe's lost novel Don Renato, or An Ideal Content, A.J.A. Symons writes:

No writer ever set himself a more difficult task. He, or rather Dom Gheraldo in his entries, tells a story: he reveals by slow and feline touches the character of the priest from within; and at the same time he attempts to give an English equivalent for the verbal mix-up of the pretended original. And in all this he succeeds, though in retaining Dom Gheraldo's macaronics he almost makes the book unreadable. Fortun
...more
Scott
Dec 27, 2014 Scott rated it it was amazing
Curious and fascinating
Llew
Jan 17, 2012 Llew rated it liked it
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
Odd in concept (memoir of a biographer) and maybe historically relevant for the idea, like a Tristam Shandy or the Orson Welles movie about hiring someone to discover who he really was etc...but relatively boring to read and the prose was nothing to write home about either.
Tosh
Oct 27, 2007 Tosh rated it it was amazing
A great weird biography on an even weirder subject matter for a biographer. Probably THE example for anyone who is interested in writing biographies.
Linda
Aug 09, 2011 Linda rated it really liked it
This is a gem of a book, a fascinating quest for the truth about a most unusual man.
Bill
Dec 17, 2008 Bill rated it liked it
an experiment in biography...you can say that again...very strange book
Jonfaith
Aug 12, 2010 Jonfaith rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
An amazing jaunt through sorting and the sordid.
Mark
Apr 06, 2015 Mark rated it really liked it
Haunting.
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Jan 31, 2016
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“Había pasado por la vida en un estado de oposición y exasperación, ofendiendo y siendo ofendido sin motivo ni escrúpulos.” 2 likes
“Un alma derrotada, torturada por sí misma,que habría podido hacer mucho de haber nacido en una época ó ambiente apropiado.” 1 likes
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