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Haigh, S.S. (1935). The Quest for Corvo: By A. J. A. Symons. New York: Macmillan Company, 1934. 293 p.. Psychoanal Q., 4:354-357.

(1935). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 4:354-357

The Quest for Corvo: By A. J. A. Symons. New York: Macmillan Company, 1934. 293 p.

Review by:
Susanna S. Haigh

This recent biography is a brilliant and engrossing study of a little-known writer of the early years of the twentieth century—an eccentric, gifted, versatile man whose psychopathic personality wrecked his career and life. It is not often that a biography presents the interesting psychological aspects given to us by Mr. Symons in this life of Frederick Rolfe,—self-styled Baron Corvo.

Born in 1860 of middle-class English parents, the oldest of five brothers, Frederick is described from the first as being "gifted and flighty". Against his father's desires he left school at fifteen, studied in a desultory fashion at Oxford, became a schoolmaster and shortly after joined the Catholic Church—a great blow to his father, a firm Dissenter. Following this he became a candidate for the priesthood. His strivings in this direction were soon permanently quenched, as he was discharged from the seminary on the basis of "no vocation",—a decision which produced a deep psychological trauma from which he never recovered and which gave a firm basis in reality for his later paranoid trends. After leaving the seminary he showed great industry in developing his unusual and varied talents, wrote a number of excellent books, painted with distinction and had a wide variety of minor aptitudes. There can be no doubt but that he had unusual artistic ability.

As early as we have any information about him he had already established an emotional pattern of life, the intensity of which steadily increased until at the end it made him a penniless, friendless outcast. This pattern consisted of the development of a passionate friendship with a man, characterized by intense demands and great vacillations in mood, and by quarrels and reconciliations which would follow one on the other. As these increased in intensity his own sense of deep and, to him, unjustified injury, grew until the relationship was broken forever. The kinder the friend had been to him—and many were kind and forbearing indeed—the more irreparable the break and the more keen his sense of injury.

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