Saturday, January 21, 2012

Raven 15: The Splendid Olympian


It has been six years since the first of Robert Scoble's Raven series about Frederick Rolfe Baron Corvo was published. That first Raven was a real-life detective story based in Venice, tracking down the identity of the mysterious 'Cockerton', a companion of Rolfe's in Venice. It is particularly satisfying then, that this last in the series returns to Venice and to The Venice Letters and unravels the life of another of the group of young men who floated around the eccentric Englishman at the turn of the last century.

I will paste the full blurb for this title at the bottom of this post but it is worth pausing just a moment to express just what an acheivement this represents by Robert Scoble. The last six years have been full of constant research: inimitable in tracking down every scrap of information, unswerving in follwing every lead to its final end, and unerring in pressing always for the fullest accuracy of fact and presentation. Scoble must have sent literally thousands of emails, and has had researchers working on his behalf all round the world in libraries and university collections.

In terms of adding to the canon of information about Rolfe's life and work, this body of work puts Scoble up there with some of the great Corvine scholars and at Callum James Books we are proud to have been able to support such a stellar effort.




Raven Fifteen: The Splendid Olympian


by Robert Scoble

In a letter from Venice to Charles Masson Fox, written in late 1909, Frederick Rolfe describes a casual conversation in the street with a seventeen-year-old youth on the staff of the Bucintoro Club. Rolfe has seen him working at the rowing club, but does not yet know his name, so refers to him in the letter as ‘the Corfiote Greek Jew.’ The young man pops up only a few more times in the correspondence, so previous scholars have taken no note of him. True to form, however, Rolfe has left us several clues which, when pieced together, identify his importunate young interlocutor as none other than Giorgio Cesana, who remains to this day Italy’s youngest-ever Olympic gold medallist.
Born into a Levantine Sephardi Jewish family which had emigrated from Corfu around the time the island had been transferred from Britain to Greece, the boy had grown up in Venice's Ghetto district and at the age of thirteen been chosen to cox the Bucintoro's crews at the Olympic Games. Winner of three gold medals, Giorgio soon found that his celebrity was destined to fade, and although the Bucintoro initially gave him a job in some menial capacity, history gradually lost sight of him.
In this final essay in the Raven Series, Robert Scoble brings Giorgio Cesana back from obscurity. He describes a young man with an exuberant and playful personality, whose antics as Rolfe's assistant gondolier endeared him to one of the most original writers to have graced the canals of Venice, and ensured him a tiny but immortal place in the literary history of that enchanting city.
Of a full edition of 70, the first 12 copies of The Splendid Olympian constitute the special state, case bound in dark blue paper-covered boards with gilt titles, and signed by the author. Numbers 13-70 form the ordinary state of the edition, and are sewn into dark blue card covers with a paper label and acetate wrappers.

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