FREDERICK ROLFE, British novelist, born (d: 1913); Attention Boys and Girls! How many of you have read A.J.A Symon’s The Quest for Corvo? Raise your right hands. Mmmhmmmmm…Just as we thought.
Since Symon’s book is one of the great works of literary detection and should not be left gathering dust on library shelves, here’s enough basic information on Rolfe to pique your interest and get your juices flowing: Rolfe, who liked to call himself Frederick Baron Corvo, also calling himself “Frederick William Serafino Austin Lewis Mary Rolfe,” although these were only two of his aliases, was a novelist, more than a bit of a crook, reportedly a terribly sweet fellow, and the self-styled head of the Roman Catholic Church. Have we got your attention now? Try to keep up!
You really can’t make this stuff up. Rolfe was born in Cheapside, London, the son of a piano manufacturer. He left school at the age of fourteen and became a teacher. He taught briefly at The King’s School, Grantham, where the then headmaster, Ernest Hardy, later principal of Jesus College, Oxford, became a lifelong friend.
His most famous work is Hadrian the Seventh, a fantasy about himself as Pope. In reality, Rolfe’s near-surreal life is much more interesting and funny than his writing. Read The Quest for Corvo and find out why. The book was very successfully adapted by Peter Luke as a stage production in London in 1968, in which the part of Hadrian/Rolfe was played by Alec McCowen. Further productions with Barry Morse played in Australia, on Broadway, and in a short U.S. national tour. Director Terry Hands produced a stage version adapted by Peter Luke, starring Derek Jacobi in the title role in 1995.