The best known of Frederick Rolfe's novels today, and still in print, is Hadrian the Seventh. It is a wonderful piece of wish-fulfilment fantasy full of rococo flourishes and obscure neologisms in which a penniless Catholic writer is plucked from obscurity in his London garret and through a series of unlikely chances is made Pope. The novel continues from that point to give an account of what the main character, Rolfe's alter ego George Arthur Rose, does with his new found position and authority. It's an amusing romp and is, in places, politically very prescient. Remarkably, even in a novel so clearly based on an author's fantasy, a large amount of information about Rolfe's actual life can be gleaned from the novel and nearly every character is a carefully chosen pseudonym for one of Rolfe's friends or enemies.
In 1968 the book was produced as a play in a very clever adaptation by Peter Luke in which the main character's name is Fr. William Rolfe. The lead was taken originally by Alec McCowen and, at the Mermaid Theatre in London, is was a surprise runaway success. The play hasn't been produced all that often since but as a little bit of Corvine ephemera, the programmes and other materials from its occasional productions make a nice addition to any Rolfe collection. Hence, I was delighted the other day to come across this programme for a 1995 production at the Chichester Festival Theatre with Derek Jacobi in the lead role.
Perhaps in 2013, the hundredth anniversary of Rolfe's death, someone might find the inspiration to put it on again. What I wouldn't give to see Ben Kingsley or David Suchet as Rolfe