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The usual: Madman or Genius?
August 6, 2009 12:52 PM   Subscribe

"My Quest for Corvo was started by accident one summer afternoon in 1925..." so begins A.J.A Symons book The Quest for Corvo, an experimental biography of the bizarre genius Baron Corvo, much admired by D.H. Lawrence and by Graham Greene among others.
Mention Baron Corvo and bookdealers get excited. Only 5 copies (proofs) of his Don Renato existed. Symons sold his copy to Cecil Woolf, another biographer of Baron Corvo. This copy was later bought by an American Donald Weeks who, after reading Symons book, left his job and moved to England to become part of the growing cult of Baron Corvo. He was said to have amassed an enormous collection of Corviana. Weeks died in 2003: "He died ... of natural causes... Because, however, he left no will nor details of next of kin, he was officially classed as a missing person. He was "no one".' The fate of his rare-book collection has been a source of speculation.
Last week, Leeds University announced that "The University of Leeds has acquired a collection of books and manuscripts relating to Baron Corvo, one of the most controversial English novelists of the early 20th Century." Previews of the catalog. As to what makes Corvo so fascinating, readers can discover for themselves.
posted by vacapinta (13 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
What exactly can we read, to become readers and so discover for ourselves?
posted by msalt at 1:07 PM on August 6, 2009


Two of his better known books, In His Own Image and Chronicles of the House of Borgia are available on Google Books.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 1:09 PM on August 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks for this. There's some other interesting Corvo stuff on the blog you link to.

Also, I'm going to have to start calling the horrible performance management software I have to use at work, CorVu, The Baron. Thanks for that too.
posted by paduasoy at 1:14 PM on August 6, 2009


To be honest, msalt, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of Symons book The Quest for Corvo and go from there. Its definitely a page-turner.

One thing: Symons is very coy about the content of Baron Corvo's letters. I've seen parts of them and they may be online but even so, that would be a huge NSFW link....
posted by vacapinta at 1:39 PM on August 6, 2009


I've read The Quest for Corvo earlier this summer, on an advise by the critic Michael, and I was left fairly indifferent by it.

Don't know exactly why that was. It could be that the numerous letters Symons got from people that had known Rolfe a bit took up simply too much space, and constantly slowed down the space.

It could also be that I began to dislike Fr. Rolfe, and his many pretensions, too much; as I do not belief in the myth that only the works of suffering artists count.
posted by ijsbrand at 2:12 PM on August 6, 2009


I was peripherally involved with this, and had the great privilege of seeing and handling some of the Weeks collection before its transfer to Leeds. The unsung hero of the story is the book dealer Ed Maggs, of Maggs Bros, who managed to prevent the collection from being broken up. The whole story can't be told here, but it was bookselling at its most creative and public-spirited.

I also had the pleasure of attending the party to celebrate the sale of the collection, and had the great thrill of meeting Timothy d'Arch Smith, author of definitive books on Uranian poetry, Aleister Crowley and rock music, cataloguer of the Weeks collection, and my personal candidate for Greatest Living Englishman. I blogged about it at the time (to avoid self-linking I'll just cut-and-paste what I wrote):

I have to admit I've never been a great fan of Corvo, partly because he reminds me of a friend (now ex-friend) from my own past, another Catholic fantasist who left a trail of wreckage behind him wherever he went. But I've always been fascinated by the circle of his posthumous admirers who made it their business to collect every piece of information about him and every last scrap of writing from his pen. Weeks was the last of the great Corvo collectors, a line that runs in a kind of apostolic succession back to A.J.A. Symons in the 1920s and even further back to figures like R.M. Dawkins and Harry Pirie-Gordon who had known Corvo personally. In that sense, yesterday's party was a mildly historic occasion, at least for archive geeks like me, as it marked the end of the line, the moment when the last significant block of Corvo manuscripts moved out of private hands and into a permanent institutional home. It had to happen, of course, but there is something slightly sad about it, as when some rare and exotic animal disappears from the wild and survives only in captivity. Today the world seems just a little bit duller.
posted by verstegan at 2:12 PM on August 6, 2009 [11 favorites]


duh, Michael Dirda.
posted by ijsbrand at 2:12 PM on August 6, 2009


Read the quest years ago and liked it, but this is the first time I've seen the subject's picture.

Not at all what I imagined. But then, who is?

By the way, it appears that his own photography has been collected and published.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:53 PM on August 6, 2009


I read Hadrian the Seventh a couple of years ago, and found it great entertainment in the vein of Confederacy of Dunces until about a third of the way through when I realized the author was in no way – or in no way familiar to me – being ironic. It was still entertaining after that, but in a different, check-out-how-crazy-this-guy-is kind of a way.
Even so I didn't believe that I was somehow more aware of the depth of wild cloistered Catholic heresy-fantasy present in that novel than its author.
posted by $0up at 8:50 PM on August 6, 2009


Might be worth noting that Andy Warhol did the cover for The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole when New Directions published it - although that's long out of print.

It's still on my pile of books-to-read, but Don Renato: An Ideal Content is kind of insane: in the back, it includes a glossary in the back for the macaronic language that Rolfe invented for his narrator use in the book, some of which are common English words & some of which are Rolfe's own construction - in the C's, for example, we have "cachinnate", verb, to laugh loudly; "cadaver", subst., dead body; "caesarial", adj., dark-haired, i.e., beautiful according to the Roman taste; "calid", adj., hot, rash, fiery; "callid", adj., shrewd, skillful. Derivations from the Latin are also provided. There's an online version of this book (and cheap print-on-demand versions clearly made from the same source), but it's a bad botch, missing a few hundred pages in the middle.
posted by with hidden noise at 6:30 AM on August 7, 2009


There was just a piece in the Times Literary Supplement about the Weeks collection, but the piece - by James Fergusson in the 29 July 2009 issue - but it doesn't seem to be in their archive, or at least I can't find it.
posted by with hidden noise at 6:41 AM on August 7, 2009


(actually: that piece was very similar to the "Preview" link, so not worth bothering with.)
posted by with hidden noise at 6:43 AM on August 7, 2009


I was peripherally involved with this, and had the great privilege of seeing and handling some of the Weeks collection before its transfer to Leeds. The unsung hero of the story is the book dealer Ed Maggs, of Maggs Bros, who managed to prevent the collection from being broken up. The whole story can't be told here, but it was bookselling at its most creative and public-spirited.

Thanks verstegan. I have to say I am a bit envious!

I went to Maggs Bros (they're in Berkeley Square here in London) and picked up a copy of the Weeks catalog. They printed 100 of them. I was afraid they would have sold all of them by now but it appears they have a few left.
posted by vacapinta at 4:08 AM on August 10, 2009


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