[ilds] DG Bitter Lemons -- more corvo

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Thu Jul 5 19:33:53 PDT 2007

On 7/5/2007 9:56 PM, william godshalk wrote:

>Bruce, it's a literary allusion which Charlie will explain -- because 
>he knows more than I do about Corvo. 

Well, where to begin?  Rolfe/Corvo might be best defined in Durrell's 
words:  he was one of those "/deeply wounded in his sex/."   If he had 
lived beyond his Venice years I can imagine him showing up in 
Alexandria.  He left a broken trail behind him and there was no 
returning.  Alexandria was the perfect climate for a "bankrupt" like him.

I suppose that Durrell is citing Corvo and having the bat-lark because 
Rolfe lived in Venice for a while by mooching and died there 
impoverished and bitterly paranoid after writing /The Desire and Pursuit 
of the Whol/e and his /Venice Letters/.   If you enjoy reading /fin de 
siecle/, Yellow-Bookish prose limning homosexual themes and 
crypto-catholic imagery--and who does not?--then these books might be 
for you. 

>     In August 1908 Rolfe left for Venice and never returned, living
>     out a kind of degenerate and vituperative envoi to his earlier
>     years. His squabbles with publishers and his vicious exploitation
>     of those who befriended him continued as before. He began to
>     compose detailed fantasies about mystic cults signed 'Frederick of
>     Venice', and embarked upon a series of sexual relationships with
>     adolescent boys. Don Renato appeared in 1909, but was immediately
>     suppressed. The Weird of the Wanderer, the last novel published in
>     his lifetime, was brought out in 1912 in collaboration with Harry
>     Pirie-Gordon. Rolfe then established residence at the Albergo
>     Cavaletto, where he died of a stroke on 26 October 1913. He was
>     unmarried, and his Venetian will left his estate to his brother,
>     Alfred, a schoolteacher in Australia, who was unable to claim it
>     for fear of creditors. The estate, consisting mostly of
>     'incriminating' letters, photos, and manuscripts, was confiscated
>     by the British consul, and most of it was destroyed. Rolfe was
>     buried on 30 October 1913 in a pauper's grave in San Michele
>     cemetery, Venice, where he was re-interred in 1924. His last
>     novel, a homoerotic fantasy, The Desire and the Pursuit of the
>     Whole, was published in 1934 to critical acclaim.
>     David Bradshaw [DNB]

Rolfe also claimed to have been adopted by the Duchess of 
Sforza-Cesarini--Durrell would have liked that name.  So would Pynchon.

/Hadrian the Seventh/ is a marvelous little fantasy novel--fantasy in 
the sense that it is Rolfe's own projection of how the priest he never 
could be finds himself suddenly tapped by the College of Cardinals and 
rising from obscurity to the Papacy.  Hilarious and moving, perhaps both 
at times, especially when Rolfe did not intend. 

Corvo's /Chronicles of the House of Borgias/ is something that I imagine 
Durrell reading.  That would be fit since Corvo himself was a magpie who 
liked taking up and making off with other folks' shiny prose and shiny 


And Symons's /Quest/, as Michael and Bill have said, is simply 
unavoidable for anyone interested in twentieth-century biography as a 
prose art.


Charles L. Sligh
Department of English
Wake Forest University
slighcl at wfu.edu

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