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Frederick Rolfe

Frederick Rolfe, better known as Baron Corvo (July 22, 1860 - October 25, 1913), was an English novelist and eccentric.

Rolfe was a homosexual, and a number of his books can be read as veiled descriptions of homosexuality. Rolfe converted to Roman Catholicism at the age of sixteen in 1876 and was confirmed by Cardinal John Manning[?]. Rolfe took on the ambition to become a priest, but failed in this attempt due to his inability to concentrate on priestly studies. Rebuffed in this ambition, he spent most of the rest of his life in Venice, where, out of money and out of luck, he committed suicide.

"Baron Corvo" was not a real title --- he claimed he had been granted its use as a courtesy by an Italian countess, but nothing backs up this story. It is in fact his best known pseudonym; he also called himself "Frank English," "Frederick Austin," "A. Crab Maid," and several other pseudonyms. Using "Baron Corvo" or some other name, he was a frequent contributor to the Yellow Book published by John Lane[?].

Rolfe wrote a number of rather eccentric novels. If any of his works still find interested readers today, it is mostly on account of his prose style; erudite, ornate, and somewhat precieux, it belongs on the same shelf with Symbolist prose poetry. His works include Hadrian the Seventh[?] (1904), his most autobiographical novel, or rather, a fantasy autobiography in which an obscure literary Englishman is elected pope and moves forward with an ambitious and eccentric programme to remake the world in his image. His other works include:

  • Stories Toto Told Me (1898)
  • Chronicles of the House of Borgia (1901)
  • Tarcissus the Boy Martyr of Rome (1901)
  • Don Tarquinio (1909)
  • The Weird of the Wanderer (1912)
  • The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole (1909, published 1934)



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