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Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Authors

Frederick Rolfe

Added By: Engelbrecht
Last Updated: Engelbrecht

Frederick Rolfe

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Full Name: Frederick William Rolfe
Born: July 22, 1860
Cheapside, London, England
Died: October 25, 1913
Venice, Italy
Occupation: Author
Nationality: English


Frederick William Rolfe, better known as Baron Corvo, and also calling himself 'Frederick William Serafino Austin Lewis Mary Rolfe', was an English writer, artist, photographer and eccentric.

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.

He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1886 and was confirmed by Cardinal Manning. With his conversion came a strongly-felt vocation to the priesthood, which persisted throughout his life despite being constantly frustrated and never realised. In 1887 he was sponsored to train at St Mary's College, Oscott near Birmingham and in 1889 was a student at the Scots College in Rome, but was thrown out by both due to his inability to concentrate on priestly studies, his "reputation as a pederast", and his erratic behaviour.

At this stage he entered the circle of the Duchess Sforza Cesarini, who, he claimed, adopted him as a grandson and gave him the use of the title of "Baron Corvo". This became his best-known pseudonym; he also called himself "Frank English", "Frederick Austin" and "A. Crab Maid", among others. More often he abbreviated his own name to "Fr. Rolfe" (an ambiguous usage, suggesting he was the priest he had hoped to become).

Rolfe spent most of his life as a freelance writer, mainly in England but eventually in Venice. He lived in the era before the welfare state, and relied on benefactors for support. But he had an argumentative nature and had a tendency to fall out spectacularly with most of the people who tried to help him and offer him room and board. Eventually, out of money and out of luck, he died in Venice from a stroke on 25 October 1913. He was buried on the Isola di San Michele, Venice.

Rolfe's life provided the basis for The Quest for Corvo by A.J.A. Symons, an "experiment in biography" regarded as a minor classic in the field. This same work reveals that Rolfe had an unlikely enthusiast in the person of Maundy Gregory.

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