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Chibiabos83
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Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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Location: Cambridge, UK

PostPosted: Sun Dec 28, 2008 7:00 pm    Post subject:  Reply with quote

Well, thanks for the encouragement!


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Castorboy



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 1798


Location: Castor Bay Auckland NZ

PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2009 10:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

From: Chibiabos83  (Original Message)                Sent: 7/3/2008 6:38 AM
I've noticed that of the many adjectives I use in my predominantly adjectival book reviews, remarkable is one that crops up more than most. The Quest for Corvo: an Experiment in Biography (to accord it its full title, of which the second part is quite important) by A.J.A. Symons, first published in 1934 and recently reissued by NYRB with a fun introduction by A.S. Byatt, is a remarkable book, for its structure if nothing else. The book's subject is Frederick Rolfe (1860-1913), self-styled Baron Corvo, who was variously wannabe priest, painter, writer, closet gay and all-round eccentric. It's not a straightforward biography: it begins with Symons' discovery of Rolfe's books and then moves on to the various ways in which he researches Corvo's life in order to write the biography, so there are two parallel narrative strands, of Corvo's existence and Symons' research, which makes it particularly involving to read.

Corvo seems to be a writer who inspires passion in his readers, and while I haven't read any of his books (nor have any great inclination to, I regret), his verbal facility and love of obscure vocabulary is clearly his strength (the neologism 'dilimilism', coined by Corvo and cited by Byatt in the introduction as a disparaging adjective pertaining to the Daily Mail, made me laugh out loud). He certainly comes across as a pretty hateful person, a self-important, petulant, manipulative sponger, constantly biting the hand that feeds him, and presumably this infamous reputation and his own books are what keep his memory alive today.

I didn't expect this book, written a good 30 years before Wolfenden took effect, to be particularly forthcoming on the subject of Corvo's sexuality, not least because of threatened injunctions from Corvo's brother at the time of its publication, and it's true that the contents of the scandalous letters that were discovered on Corvo's death are not gone into, but Symons is quite sympathetic to Corvo's difficulties living as a homosexual in Victorian Britain, and goes so far as to suggest that his reprehensible behaviour may be due to the sexual repression forced on him by the society he lived in.

It's not a perfect book, though Symons writes very well, and perhaps it's inclined to drag very occasionally, but by and large it's an innovative and fascinating document, groundbreaking, I dare say, in terms of literary biography, and certainly well worth a look.


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Chibiabos83
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Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 07, 2009 11:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

When I wrote 'adjective' last July I obviously meant 'noun'. Thank you for continuing to harvest posts from the old board, castorboy - I'm not sure I've got the energy!


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Castorboy



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 1798


Location: Castor Bay Auckland NZ

PostPosted: Fri Jan 09, 2009 9:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chibiabos83 wrote:
When I wrote 'adjective' last July I obviously meant 'noun'. Thank you for continuing to harvest posts from the old board, castorboy - I'm not sure I've got the energy!

Chib I am happy to change ‘disparaging adjective’ to ‘disparaging noun’ in your excellent review. Very Happy
Ever since I started reading the Sunday Times in the sixties I had seen Baron Corvo’s name mentioned along with A J A Simons’and the 1934 book. Thanks to you I now have no reason to read Rolfe’s work because he was obviously a minor literary figure (and there are so many books to read).
As to the ‘harvesting’ my energy is miniscule compared to the energy put into composing the reviews which are worth reading over and over again.


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Chibiabos83
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Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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Location: Cambridge, UK

PostPosted: Fri Jan 09, 2009 11:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'll take it as a compliment that a review I wrote has persuaded you not to read books, I suppose...  Smile  Rolfe/Corvo is undoubtedly a minor figure, but then sometimes people on the periphery are more interesting than those in the mainstream, and he certainly led an interesting life. Whether his own books are readable or not I can't say, though I don't feel desperately inclined to find out, but I certainly recommend the Symons biography.



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