One day in 1925 a friend asked A. J. A. Symons if he had read Fr. Rolfe's Hadrian the Seventh. He hadn't, but soon did, and found himself entranced by the novel -- "a masterpiece"-- and no less fascinated by the mysterious person of its all-but-forgotten creator. The Quest for Corvo is a hilarious and heartbreaking portrait of the strange Frederick Rolfe, self-appointed Baron Corvo, an artist, writer, and frustrated aspirant to the priesthood with a bottomless talent for self-destruction. But this singular work, subtitled "an experiment in biography," is also a remarkable self-portrait, a study of the obsession and sympathy that inspires the biographer's art.
"Symons's biography of a little-known writer named Frederick Rolfe is unique in biographical literature in bringing the reader in on how the biographer knows what he knows about his subject; and in owning up to what he doesn't know or feels cannot be known. 'The Quest for Corvo' is biography in the form of a detective story, and as such it is riveting....The surest formula for a masterpiece biography—of which there are not that many—is an extraordinary human being writing about a great one. In 'The Quest for Corvo' we have an utterly charming man writing on a madly eccentric one....A slender book, an odd book, a completely original book, [it] also represents a new method of writing biography that has never been copied." —Joseph Epstein, The Wall Street Journal