Baron Corvo (Fr. Rolfe), Don Tarquinio: A Kataleptic Phantasmatic Romance
Fr. Rolfe (Baron Corvo), Hadrian the Seventh
A. J. A. Symons, The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography
R. Murray Gilchrist, The Stone Dragon and Other Tragic Romances
All Valancourt e-Classics, $2.99
I say, the chaps at Valancourt have come up with another top-hole idea! Here’s what they say:
So we’ve been looking at ways to make more great books available at ultra low prices, which has resulted in the creation of a new series, Valancourt eClassics, focusing mainly on rare and hard-to-find Victorian and Edwardian literature at prices as low as $2.99 each.
These are editions of public domains works by Valancourt authors, sans the lovely covers and intriguing introductions, but otherwise carefully produced and proofread. But fans of dead trees need not fret:
These are intended to supplement our print editions, not replace them. In most cases, these are out-of-copyright works for which dozens and dozens of low-quality print-on-demand paperbacks stolen from Google Books or Project Gutenberg exist, making it unlikely we’d be able to offer them as paperbacks.
Valancourt is quite right, too. Not only does Amazon allow this, but it even mixes together the reviews of all sorts of kindle and even print editions into one listing. To be fair, Amazon does offer previews of the work (to find out if it’s some error-ridden scan but not useful if the problems set in after the first 10%, the arbitrary cut-off of Amazon’s automatic preview) and no questions asked refunds (taking a few days to show up, but few of us even these days need to keep track of every $0.99).
Anywho, it’s another chance to load up on authors from the Good Olde Days, when people could do some real writing without taking advice form the Neo-Cons or looking out for the PC police.
So far, authors include Baron Corvo, Forrest Reid, and Richard Marsh. (Counter-Currents readers will no doubt look forward to the upcoming release of a Gabriele D’Annunzio title). And if you’re asking who this “Baron Corvo” is, there’s A. J. A. Symons’ The Quest for Corvo to explain it all. Or most of it; research on this fascinating specimen continues among his acolyte even today.
The man born as, no kidding, Frederick William Serafino Austin Lewis Mary Rolfe was perhaps the strangest figure to emerge from the English decadent period. At first, things were fairly normal, as Rolfe took up the usual schoolmaster position, while dabbling in painting and poetry, usually of the “boys bathing” style of the period. Then, also in period style, he converted to Roman Catholicism, and the strangeness started.
Leaving his post, he adduced a vocation for the priesthood and headed to Rome to study; after a brief stay, he was declared to have no such vocation and given the boot.
Others might have slunk home and taken a job at the post office, but not Rolfe; he returned literally entitled, bearing the sobriquet of “Baron Corvo” supposedly — he said — in return for some small services to an Italian princess of the Borgia line. Unlike other European nobility, Italians are apparently free to distribute titles to any property they own, though few in England seemed to take Rolfe’s word for it.
The new name came in handy; stubbornly convinced of his vocation, he took a twenty-year vow of celibacy and resolved never to hold a paying job (such would be unworthy of a man of God) but would, under various pseudonyms, (including placing his name on title pages as “Fr. Rolfe” so as to be thought a priest), live by his immense wits, practicing various crafts — writing, painting, photography, etc. — and calmly expecting to be paid his full value (also immense, according his calculations) by the clients he obtained among his “fellow Catholics.”
At least, that’s his story. Others approached by Symons as part of his quest told a different one: he was a complete con man, a sponger on an epic scale, a total ingrate; a fellow seminarian recalled for Symons that “he had the Protestant horror of lying, but was by common agreement the biggest liar we had ever known”; or, as he was dubbed — by modern day enthusiast— “Baron Corvo: The Greatest Asshole Who Ever Lived.”
All this is more relevant to appreciating his work than most, or any, other author, since — apart from some artsy-fartsy Yellow Book style 1890s verse, mostly homoerotic triolets and such nonsense — his major works are all epics of complaint and self-justification, made palatable — even delightful, in most cases — by being rendered in a real, inimitable style.
Symons’ epic detective work is itself a triumph of style, a true “experiment in biography”:
Rather than simply present a biography of Frederick Rolfe from cradle to grave, Symons chronicles his own efforts to discover all he could about the author of Hadrian the Seventh. At times, the book risks becoming a dossier of press cuttings, letters, and archival material; that it never does so is due to a soothing prose style and a subtle attention to framing and rhythm, as well as a contrast of humor and pathos, light and shadow. Chapters introduce us to bookish clergymen, eminent publishers and novelists, quiet eccentrics, and even a mysterious millionaire spymaster, nearly all of them victims of the ruthlessly demanding Rolfe, who made friendship “a minor experiment in demonology.”
Symons leaves his readers with the tantalizing prospect of Rolfe’s ultimate — in many senses — work, The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole (hee-hee), which might have been titled Biting the Hands that Fed You (or in Rolfe’s case, the hands that scooped you up from starvation at the bottom of a gondola, took you to hospital for treatment, and then, recovered, put up in a Venetian palace. A work not just containing libel but literally made up of it, head to toe.
The Reverend Bobugo Bonsen [E. F. Benson, writer and son of the Archbishop of Canterbury] was a stuttering little Chrysostom of a priest, with the Cambridge manners of a Vaughan’s Dove, the face of the Mad Hatter out of Alice in Wonderland, and the figure of an Etonian who insanely neglects to take any pains at all with his temple of the Holy Ghost, but wears paper collars and a black straw hat.
And what’s this? It’s our favorite punching bag, Oxford’s Prof. Richard Dawkins! Wait, no, it’s not the supremely irritating “New Atheist” busybody, but R. M. Dawkins, then Professor of Greek in the University of Oxford, who paid for his new friend Rolfe to come to Venice with him and got this for his trouble:
Nicholas Crabbe, being bored (to the extent of a desire to do something violent) by the alternate screams and snarls of a Professor of Greek (with the voice of a half-strangled Punch) who had let him down [i.e., stopped paying his exorbitant bills], departed from Venice . . .
What was Rolfe’s deal? As Symons sees, the problem was not Rolfe’s sexual bent, at least not as such; rather, he was possessed with the idea that he was a great artist, and, as such, should be rewarded and even subsidized by society at large (as would be the case in his ideal period, the Medici).
He was willing, on those terms, to produce his work; lots of it, in fact. The publisher’s job was to get the public, through whatever methods, gentle or not, to provide the ready cash in return. If no money from the public was forthcoming, the fault could only be with the publishers, who weren’t doing their job or else — here we go — were conspiring against him.
Hence were born his chief characteristics: an unwillingness to scale back his lifestyle demands, complemented by a willingness to beg or borrow — though never steal — the money needed, on the promise of great works to be produced, with never a hint of gratitude, and when the money inevitably stopped, feeling free to resort to extensive, lovingly produced novelistic or epistolary libel against the conspirators.
All this would just be a subject for pathology if it the works themselves didn’t turn out to be such damnably good reads! Rolfe, of course, will always be an elite taste, as Symons acknowledges — D. H. Lawrence, who you wouldn’t think would get him, said that, if it was caviar, “at least it came from the belly of a real fish.”
From Hadrian (for which he put himself down on the title page as “Fr. Rolfe,” hoping the abbreviation would be mistaken for holy orders):
A voice came out of the gloom, an intense voice, reciting some formula.
George did not take the Latin easily from an Italian tongue: he found himself translating, Reverend Lord, the Sacred College has elected thee to be the Successor of St. Peter. Wilt thou accept pontifically?
‘Reverend?’ he thought. Why not ‘Most Eminent’? He instantly turned to the bishop, with another question on his tongue. The bishop was kneeling behind him. The crowd also was kneeling. Why in the world did not he kneel too? Why should he hesitate for a moment? He faced round once more, a single black figure with an alert weary white face, alone and erect in the splendour of violet. He glanced again at the canopies.
It was on him, on him, that all eyes were. Why did he not kneel?
Speaking of caviar, it should also be noted that Rolfe, like most of the Decadents — and unlike today’s “queer theorists” and “gender warriors” and other guttersnipes and hobble-de-hoys — was a staunch traditionalist and authoritarian; he did, after all, imagine himself as Pope, reordering the world by his — I mean, His — word (and assassinated by a deranged socialist).
“‘Your Holiness would perhaps prefer to be called Leo, or Pius, or Gregory?’ the Cardinal Dean inquired [sic] with imperious suavity. ‘The previous English pontiff was Hadrian the Fourth: the present English pontiff is Hadrian the Seventh. It pleases Us; and so, by Our own impulse, We command.’ And so George Arthur Rose became Pope.
He even wrote a verse riposte to proto-gay Edward Carpenter’s “Toward Democracy” entitled “Toward Aristocracy.” What could be more “traditionalist” than imagining oneself living the life of ancient Greece or Renaissance Florence?
“What do I care for the world, that I should plane my prominences down to fit its narrow groove?”
Caviar it may be, but it may be strangely nourishing these days. As Alan Watts once said, metaphysics may sound abstract, but it is actually “rockily practical.” Rolfe’s obsessively recorded details of his life of proudly independent penury and starvation, from crummy flats rural England to living in a gondola in Venice, have an ironic usefulness today, when more people are out of the workforce than any time since WWII, especially those under 30.
Here is Rolfe, as we readers now know from Symons’ book, answering the public attacks on his lifestyle through the mask of Pope Hadrian the Seventh, sounding like one of today‘s downwardly mobile:
Do you suppose a man of my description goes about bilking landlords for the fun of the thing? It’s no such deliriously jolly work, I can tell you.
So I accepted credit. It was offered, and I had hope. I wish I had died.
They say that I ate daintily, and had elaborate dishes made from a cookery book of my own. The recipes (there may have been a score of them), were cut-out of a penny weekly, current among the working classes. The dishes were lentils, carrots, anything that was cheapest, cleanest, easiest, and most filling — nourishing — at the price. Each dish cost something under a penny, and I sometimes had one each a day. . . .
The youngest cardinal wept into his handkerchief, shaking with sobs.
All in all, you could do worst that take Hadrian or The Quest as a vade mecum for surviving The New Normal or The Lesser Depression.
Even Christopher Millard, the survivor of the Age of Wilde who reveals Rolfe’s books to Symons, is a case study in a world of genteel poverty, lost to the post-War Boomers but coming to a house near you soon:
[D]espite his cramping poverty, he continued to live almost entirely as he pleased. He rose early or late, and idled or worked, according to his mood. When the successful sale of a book brought him a profit, he would live in perfect contentment until the money was gone; not till then would he look about for more. Much of his time he spent in correspondence with literary Americans on points of bibliographical research: he had an eighteenth-century appetite for that pastime . . .
In person this natural philosopher was a striking figure. More than six feet tall, always hatless, dressed in dark blue shirt, grey flannel trousers, and green jacket (all of which he mended and patched with his own hands when necessary), he had an air and dignity which never left him. A deep voice and abundant, greying, curling hair, set off his confident carriage; he was perhaps the most self-possessed man I have ever known . . . A queer character in modern London; but such was the man to whom I owe my first knowledge of the life and work of Baron Corvo. Alas, that he did not live to learn the end of the story.
Another contemporary relevance: Rolfe was only one of a whole generation of Decadents — the fin de siècle — that somehow managed to find a more or less comfortable home in the Catholic or Anglo-Catholic churches. The ability of all these deviants to coexist, both ecclesiastically and in their own souls (once a convenient confessor could be found), with a church that officially considered them as arch-sinners, is an interesting historical problem and, I have suggests, perhaps a model for how modern pagans might find a home today (the Catholic Church being, as Protestants insist, already a pagan institution, not because of “those Vatican II modernists as conservative Catholics insist, but from day one, and essentially).
Finally, Rolfe provides another lesson in archeofutuism. Our metapolitical efforts today need not, perhaps cannot, bear fruit now but will rise again in the future.
As I quoted here recently about Ed Wood, another penniless social outcast (though he preferred angora to Rolfe’s cardinal’s get ups): “any endeavor pursued with sufficient vigor will achieve results, those results potentially surpassing the endeavor’s original intentions.”
In the last hundred years Rolfe has been forgotten, remembered, rediscovered, re-forgotten and rediscovered anew. . . . So why does he remain an object of veneration for a fervent few, how did this cult arise and what form does it take? . . . The Quest for Corvo was published in 1932. As well as revealing the improbable course of Rolfe’s life, it fulfilled the dual role of chronicling the early Corvine cult while simultaneously serving as a catalyst for its expansion.
It is extraordinarily alive, even though it has been buried for twenty years. Up it rises to confront us . . . Only a first-rate book escapes its date . . . The book remains a clear and definite book of our epoch, not to be swept aside. — D. H. Lawrence
If you don’t know Rolfe, you owe it to yourself to grab these cheap kindles and make his acquaintance. I suggest you start with Symons and, if he puts the hook in you, go on to read Hadrian and marvel at how Rolfe transformed a crummy life into a glittering work of art. Or, perhaps you could discover him as Symons did, first reading Hadrian and then joining him on his Quest for the facts of Rolfe.
You can then dip a toe into Don Tarqunio, based not on Rolfe’s life but on one of his obsessions, the Borgias. It purports to be the narration of an young exiled Roman who regains his family’s honor by performing a service for the young Cesare Borgia (or as Rolfe would style him), but it’s actually Rolfe delighting in imagining two beautiful young men set free by money and nobility to enjoy their lives at the height of the Renaissance, and delighting in language itself.
Don Renato (not part of this release) takes the language game even further, perhaps too far, using the conceit of being a humble attempt to “faithfully” translate (or “tralate” as Rolfe would say) the “macaronic” style of Renaissance priest’s diary of his interactions with the — of course, beautiful — boys under his tutelage.
This day of Venus, at Nemi, in the ilicet, an immense number of little serpents were disturbed in the termination of their torpor; and, having returned to this munimental city, palatial and ducal puerice has adsisted at vespers with a still torpid serpent on each head, in the similitude of the anguicomous Gorgon, in order to secure immunity from snake-bite. And the said serpents, decapitated, are dejected in the river.
Let’s say it needs, and has, a glossary, and pass on.
But first, we must notice this passage from Don Tarquinio, which may be said to exhibit Rolfe’s love of the beautiful and strange, the strangely beautiful or the beautifully strange, in words, or things, or people, as well as a philosophy of life; all of which might be summed up as “perverse,” if, that is, we understand the word as Watts suggested we should, as “by means of poetry.”
There was an immense crowd of familiars along the quay and by the water-gate, free-lances from Ferrara, Gothic halberdiers, Dacian slingers, red-haired Skythian wrestlers very gigantic, roe-footed runners from Utter Britain, North African Moors, Ethiopic athletes, Indian acrobats, all selected for some singular physical beauty or capability. The crowd, as I have said, seemed to be immense: but considering that Ippolito was a prince as well as a cardinal, a family of merely cccc persons was by no means over-abundant.
Many barons and many sacredly purpled persons are well known to keep much larger families: but Ippolito cared more for quality than for quantity, and he cared nothing at all for ostentation or display. This trait of his character was very pleasing to me: for I myself at all times would rather have those exquisite things which no other prince hath, than a superfluity of those things which are common to all.
Rather than Don Renato, you would do better to take up Gilchrist’s The Stone Dragon, a book and author unknown to me — another one of Valancourt’s discoveries. Gilchrist seems to have been something of a decadent, writing around the fin de siècle, and this is some of his only works in the specifically “weird” genre.
But anyone expecting something like Lovecraft, or some modern gore-fest, will be sorely disappointed. As has been noted by modern readers, these Victorian and Edwardian types don’t really seem all that “scary.”
“Notice: Don’t get your hopes up over the title; the eponymous stone dragon is a piece of garden decor. It probably is symbolic of something.”
The emphasis is more on creating a mood of unease or “creepiness.” In Gilchrist’s case, this is overlaid by a decadent fascination with language: odd words and archaic — perhaps pseudo-archaic — diction. The emphasis is so much on words and so little on plotting that I confess I have almost no idea of what actually happens in most of these stories. I’ll let the brave blogger just mentioned have a try:
This story was, thankfully, much more readable than The Crimson Weaver. It takes place in the real world, so Gilchrist reins in the florid language, although he still manages to sound like an early Victorian despite writing at the turn of the century.
In the story, a wealthy Frenchwoman, living on a creepy, gothic, remote estate with two daughters, tries to bully her brother-in-law into arranging a marriage between his son and one of her daughters. The father refuses, and forbids his son from having any contact with the aunt. He goes against his father’s orders, though, and meets his two cousins; one anemic, passive and sweet, and the other active, independent, clever, brazen, and possessed of an aggressive beauty.
Luckily our hero chooses the right one for a wife; that is, the dull, lifeless one with no discernible personality.
The ending is sorta interesting. It’s a decent gothicky story. There is no supernatural element.
Usually, they end — or at least seem to end — with a beautiful dead girl, satisfying Poe’s poetic desideratum. Our brave blogger is not impressed:
Yes, this Gilchrist seems to have had something of a fixation. Was he surrounded by femme fatales who kept flinging themselves at him? It wasn’t like he was an international spy or anything like that; his main passion in life was topography.
Some people like this sort of thing:
The book is sinister, enveloped in gloom — yes, and Decadent (like much fine literature): but it is strong, it has authenticity; the effect sought is the effect won. There is nothing quite like The Stone Dragon in modern English fiction: but in it you may distinctly trace the influence of Poe, and perhaps also Villiers de l’Isle Adam and Charles Baudelaire. Indeed, if there is a man who could catch and cage the spirit of Fleurs du Mal in our Saxon tongue, it is the author of The Stone Dragon.
One the other hand, another “critic of the time described his work as ‘incomplete, elliptical, mannered and uncontrolled’. Elsewhere the same critic, after praising the good qualities of one particular novel, condemned him as a writer of ‘great moments and appalling weaknesses.’”
Some passages seem as if they were written to stump the kindle’s built-in dictionary, and do so:
As I paused to look up at the domed roof, with its gargeting of wyverns and cockleshells, a feeling of chilliness made me shiver.
By Venus, Queen of Love, a wagtail’s song!
Hast ever watched the heart of a palm-catkin when a wanton hand has fired it?
Others are just plain odd:
There was much honeysuckle — so sweet that life grew absolutely perfect. I gathered a large bunch, wherein lay many bees, and chanting extempore rhymes I hurried onward.
And downright creepy:
A pair of fancifully worked gloves were fastened to her girdle; they were made of a claret-coloured, semi-transparent skin.
And yes, that’s “skin” as in:
“They were made of the skin of a murderess gibbeted in these parts a hundred and twenty years ago. Old Barnard Verslst insisted on having apiece; he wanted to cover a book with it, but his wife, whom tradition reports as a real she-devil, insisted on having these gloves instead. Between ourselves, the result was that she poisoned her lord, but as he was very old, nobody was much the worse.”
Ah, the restful peace of the countryside!
As for myself, I love this stuff, at least in small does. The best one here is “The Manuscript of Francis Shackerly,” which has a kind of Blackadder III feel to it, what with Regency theatre types and powdered wigs mixing it up with alchemists and toothless eunuchs. The language is a bit more florid than Lovecraft in his Dunsanian period, but not nearly as unreadable as Hodgson’s The Night Land.
Anyone with a taste for literary caviar, or just the weird, should download these today. You can’t lose at the price, and they’ll make excellent reading among, or to, your new hobo friends as you ride the boxcar to the nearest Obamaville.
1. See my previous discussions of Valancourt’s wholly admirably re-issue program on this site.
2. See the Corvine exhibits in Venice and New York organized last year by Boo Hooray Galleries, here.
3. Interviews with pupils years later show no trace of “funny business,” so Rolfe’s explanation, a vocation for holy orders, seems for once in his life to be the truth.
4. I’ve speculated from time to time that the title of “Baron Evola” has similar origins — my admittedly amateur searches have never found a trace of any such title, nor any family other than a New Jersey mob boss of the ’50s (which fits the Sicilian connection). Like Rolfe, Evola was proud of never having worked for a paycheck, but whence the money? After being crippled in the war, his Rome apartment was provided by a princely supporter, a la Rolfe. Evola even admits, in his autobiography Path of Cinnabar, that his anti-bourgeois bent was fueled by a youthful reading of Oscar Wilde, the leading figure of Rolfe’s decadent 1890s.
5. “Symons Said: On the trail of a strange, elusive life in literature” by Michael Dirda, The Weekly Standard, Dec. 17, 2012, here.
6. As in Friedrich Hollaender’s tune for The Blue Angel, “Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt” (literally: “I am, from head to toe, ready for love”). Symons had a severely edited version published in 1934; by 1993 enough libellants were dead to permit Quartet to be published an unexpurgated edition.
7. To be fair, this is Rolfe’s riposte to Benson’s own portrait of him in 1908’s The Sentimentalist; as James Conway describes the Rolfe character: “Dell, Yolland’s old Oxford friend, presents with numerous Rolfean symptoms. He is a spiky, suspicious, quixotic character, sensitive to criticism, in whom supplication gives way to grotesque expressions of entitlement at unpredictable intervals. He is a pitifully poor vagrant who cannot, however, relinquish his silk pyjamas and leather-bound Decameron.”
8. Those inclined to lionize any old time poofter will likely draw the line at Rolfe’s post-vow career in Venice of, what the Penguin editors are happy to call “furious pederasty.” Christopher Millard, Symons’ psychopomp, had revealed this to him, in the form of the infamous “Venice Letters” (in which Rolfe offers, for a price, tours of the city’s youthful demimonde to his better financed but equally depraved correspondent), but only after first enticing him with the mysteries of Hadrian.
9. “My own terms; the only ones anyone knows” –Howard Roark. It would indeed to interesting to compare the figures of Rolfe and Roark. Both expelled from college, defiantly living by their own sweat (Roark a construction worker, Rolfe a painter/sculptor/photographer/writer/inventor) rather than bend to an employer’s demands; Enright, who rescues Roark with his first commission, was exactly the benefactor Rolfe pursued (what Burroughs in Junky called “the set up guy” that the low lifes in the Broadway cafeterias always talked about, even though no real set up guy — Joe in Reservoir Dogs — would possibly pick such losers). Both were subject to vicious though somewhat accurate newspaper attacks (Toohey is perhaps Rolfe giving as good as he got with a public outlet for his libels). And just as Rolfe always confused his benefactors with the “divine friend most desired” by the such a discreet fin de siècle queer, so Roark has a love-hate relationship less with Dominique than with “Gail” Wynand. Rolfe, however, would definitely have taken Peter Keating’s offer of money. Did Ayn Rand know about Rolfe, perhaps from Symons’ biography? Can we imagine Roark as a Decadent aesthete, perhaps a less than successful Robinson Jeffers or Clark Ashton Smith?
10. See Colin Wilson, The Strength to Dream: Literature and the Imagination (Maurice Bassett, 1962), p. 186
11. “Corvo’s Syndrome — a quasi-delusional state in which an individual sees himself, not the incumbent, as the Pope of Rome — is now rampant, in and out of the Catholic Church. . . .
And it must be emphasized that the delusion of being Pope marks the extreme manifestation of the syndrome. Less chronic forms are characterized by the belief that one enjoys an authority more or less equivalent to that of the Pope.” — “Corvo’s Syndrome and Papal Authority” by James Murray, here.
12. “Rolfe put all his intensity of passion, all his hate and suffering, his dreams and fantasies into his creation of Hadrian VII, the shabby outcast suddenly able to right the wrongs of a lifetime and [my emphasis] reshape the whole political world.” — 1963 Penguin paperback blurb.
13. As one of Hermann Hesse’s typically oppressed schoolboys sneers, “All this classical stuff is a big fake. If one of us tried to live a little like a Greek he’d be out on his tail.” Beneath the Wheel (Picador, 2003), p. 75.
14. Rolfe once painted an immense banner of the death of St. Hugh, in which the saint and all the mourners have the same face — his own.
15. I already had these books, obviously, but the low prices make it easy to have the reassurance that should I need to bug out and hit the road, my Kindle can bring them along.
16. Symons notes with amazement that Millard not only did his own shopping but cooked his own food. A glimpse at the pre-War world where gentlemen had no need to do anything when a few pennies could provide a servant. One is reminded again of Huysmans, who in works like Downstream and En Rade takes for granted a world in which one marries to have the cooking done (“love and soup” as he says in the latter book) and bachelors starve or put themselves at the mercy of filthy Parisian restaurants (the subject of the former book).
17. “And beware of the Anglo-Catholics. They are all sodomites with atrocious accents.” Cousin Jasper to Charles Ryder, Brideshead Revisited (Waugh, of course, would know best). James Conway characterizes Rolfe as “a defector to Rome, a lover of Italy, in sway to the gods of antiquity as much as their singular successor. . . . the heterodox believer in unnatural thrall to the pagan ancestors of the Mother Church.” See, generally, Ellis Hansen, Decadence and Catholicism (Harvard, 1997) and, specifically, Boston Bohemia, 1881-1900: Ralph Adams Cram: Life and Architecture (Volume 1) by Douglass Shand-Tucci (University of Massachusetts Press, 1996) as well as my own “Ralph Adams Cram: Wild Boy of American Architecture” here and in The Eldritch Evola … & Others (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014).
18. “Now, that summer term with Sebastian, it seemed as though I was being given a brief spell of what I had never known, a happy childhood, and though its toys were silk shirts and liqueurs and cigars and its naughtiness high in the catalogue of grave sins, there was something of nursery freshness about us that fell little short of the joy of innocence.” — Charles Ryder, Brideshead Revisited.
19. Already in the 1898 Yellow Book itself, Rolfe was subverting official Catholicism by presenting Italian folklore tales of the Saints infused with an innocent paganism in the series of Stories Toto Told Me (Valancourt, 2008).
20. Greg Johnson thinks otherwise: how could we deceive the arch-deceivers? Perhaps this strategy works only for sexual orientation, for some peculiarly Roman reason; or perhaps the moment has passed. Even Rolfe was, after all, expelled supposedly for “lacking a vocation” but likely for debts and dissolution. Symons quotes a successful fellow-candidate for orders who sneers that “Rolfe had no feeling for religion. He imagined himself doing picturesque things in a picturesque manner”; a pretty good description of Rolfe the literary artist.
21. “Corvo’s cult century” by James Conway, Strange Flowers, October 25, 2013, here.
22. “From it, we learn that a progymnast is a ‘slave who performs gymnastics with (but preceding) his master,’ proterve is an adjective meaning ‘violent, wanton,’ a pube is ‘one arrived at puberty,’ and something that is pudibund is ‘modest.’” — Dan Visel of With Hidden Noise.
23. Thus the title of Huysmans breviary of Decadence, Against Nature; or Watts’ own autobiography, In My Own Way.
24. Three of his tales appear in The Dedalus Book of Decadence: Moral Ruins, ed. Brian Stableford (1992).
25. He seems to have been mostly a “regionalist,” as in his next collection, A Peakland Faggot: Tales Told of Milton Folk (London: Grant Richards, 1897). No, really.
26. This blogger is forcing herself to read through some of Gilchrist’s stories; you can view her travails here. She seems to have disappeared in 2009; I hope all is well. As for the dragon, this chap thinks it’s “a symbol of emotion frozen for all time, just as in a conventional marriage.”
27. “My wife instinctively disliked [Rolfe], and unhesitatingly qualified him as a liar, a sponger, and sexually abnormal. He filled her with what she called ‘creepy loathing.’”– A. J. A. Symons (quoting Trevor Haddon), The Quest for Corvo.
28. A contemporary anonymous review, quoted by Laurence Bush, “Robert Murray Gilchrist (1868-1917): Lost among Genres and Genders”. Bush also notes that (like Rolfe) he seemed to fancy the priestly role — “periodically appear[ing] in his local Anglican church wearing a cassock and girdle,” while also sharing Rolfe’s un-decadent teetotalling: “He also was the only writer of the Decadent Movement who regularly contributed to The Abstainer’s Advocate, the journal of the British temperance movement.” Rolfe, however, was a terrific smoker.
29. Quoted here.
30. Hodgson’s stilted prose moved even Lovecraft to declare that its “attempt at archaic language [is] grotesque and absurd.” Recently a cottage industry has emerged of fans taking their turn at trying to just re-write the damn’d thing; see this account.