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Frederick William Rolfe Biography

(1860–1913), Stories Toto Told Me, The Yellow Book, In His Own Image

British novelist, essayist, painter, and calligrapher, self-styled variously as Baron Corvo and ‘Fr Rolfe’, born in London. Rolfe's desire to enter the Roman Catholic priesthood was never fulfilled; he converted to Roman Catholicism from a dissenting background and trained for Holy Orders, but his vocation was rejected. Six retellings of folk legends of the Catholic saints, Stories Toto Told Me (1898), were first published in The Yellow Book, and a collection of twenty-six were published as In His Own Image (1901). Rolfe's obsession with Renaissance Italy and the Borgias is displayed in his Chronicles of the House of Borgia (1901), the idealized self-portrait Hadrian the Seventh (1904), Don Tarquinio (1905), and Don Renato (1909). Rolfe, perpetually dogged by poverty, was supported by friends in Italy who were appalled to see their generosity repaid by scathing pen-portraits in The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole (published posthumously in 1934) and Nicholas Crabbe (1958). His prima-donna attitude to publishers and patrons, his obscure subject matter, and his falling foul of libel and homosexuality laws all ensured that he died in poverty. The Quest for Corvo (1934), A. J. A. Symons's ‘experiment in biography’, found him the audience that had eluded him in life; symposia such as New Quests for Corvo (1961; edited by Cecil Woolf and Brocard Sewell) were published for what had become a Corvo cult.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: John Rhode to Jack [Morris] Rosenthal Biography