Kay's Reviews > The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography

The Quest for Corvo by A.J.A. Symons
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's review
Aug 01, 07

bookshelves: biogr-memoir, eccentrics, nonfiction
Read in April, 1999

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 paranoid delusions. He seemed to have been besieged by the sort of extravagant bad luck that always follows those who feel the world doesn't fully appreciate them. But he was also an charismatic charmer, leading at times a high-rolling life that contrasted sharply with periods of abject poverty. His writing was likewise distinct -- erudite and lavishly ornamental. A noted homosexual, Corvo converted to Catholicism and even aspired to the priesthood, but he was so distracted by other "callings," including an obsession with the Italian Renaissance, that he never manged to become a priest. He was, in short, a fantasist - a man who lived more in a world he created himself than the real world.
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