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Hadrian The Seventh

Spurned by the Catholic Church but refusing to deny his
Vocation, George Arthur Rose is a penniless writer in cheap London digs. He is first reconciled with the
Church, then, through the vagaries of curial politics, elevated to the papacy
as Hadrian VII. From that position he confounds the Vatican
bureaucracy, directs European politics, and settles old debts. But then some
low-life acquaintances from his former life come to Rome with the intention of blackmailing

The protagonist''s situation at the beginning of Hadrian the Seventh
reflects that of Frederick Rolfe (Baron Corvo) himself ? he was a Catholic
convert who failed to gain admission to the priesthood ? and much of the novel
is clearly wish-fulfillment. It gives Rolfe a chance to indulge himself with
diatribes on politics, national character and religion, and to settle scores
with institutions and individuals, in an eccentric mix of reactionary
authoritarianism, fawning on royalty, and English nationalism. And Hadrian''s
defense of his life as George Arthur is surely Rolfe''s defense of his own.

This may sound like a terrible recipe for a novel, but the result has a
curious charm. There''s not much action in Hadrian the Seventh, but it
rarely drags. And Rolfe is a brilliant sculptor of words, with a style that is
all his own. The result may be an Edwardian curiosity, but it''s one that''s
worth checking out.


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