Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Frederick Rolfe Centenary: Letters

This year sees the centenary of the death of Frederick Rolfe Baron Corvo. To mark this, from now until the actual anniversary on the 25th October I shall be posting about the Baron and his life and work on a regular basis here on Front Free Endpaper.

This is my own set of the Centenary Edition of the letters of Frederick Rolfe. I'm particularly proud of these because they all have their original, and very scarce, glassine wraps which means the buckram boards have survived in beautiful, bright, clean condition. But beyond this display of geek-collector-bravado, these books are also still the only place you can easily access this treasure trove of Rolfe's epistolatory genius. It has been suggested on more than one occasion that Rolfe's literary genius did indeed lie first and foremost in his letter-writing and if you have only ever read Rolfe as a novelist, you should certainly try and lay hands on a volume of his letters.

In fact the three books are:

Letters to C. H. C. Pirie-Gordon (Nicholas Vane, London: 1959)

Letters to Leonard Moore (Nicholas Vane, London, 1960)

Letters to R. M. Dawkins (Nicholas Vane, London, 1962)

They were issued in a limited edition of 330, 290 and 290 copies respectively. They were edited by that Doyen of Corvine studies, Cecil Woolf with meticulous scholarship and a real tenacity to ensure that all the obscure references in Rolfe's sometimes baroque letter-writing style were properly footnoted and explicated. Clearly, these were published around the 1960 centenary of Rolfe's birth and so they seemed an appropriate way to ease ourselves in to the 2013 centenary blog posts. These are beautifully produced volumes and I've had them a long time and still refer to them even now. But it was only recently that I had the opportunity to see the prospectus for the series and realised just what ambition there was behind what was originally intended to be a ten volume set. The work involved in sourcing, permission-ing, editing, footnoting and publishing just the three volumes that exist is enough to make most publishers/editors quail in their boots but the notion of ten volumes produced to this level with a single editor beggars belief. Sure enough, the other seven volumes never came to pass and it has been left to others over the years to publish Rolfe's 'letters to so-and-so'.

So, in honour of the vision and the achievement, I thought I would share, from the prospectus, what could have been. The plan was to publish one volume every nine months starting in April 1959. In fact, as you will see below, even the first three didn't quite go to plan:

I: Letters to C. H. C. Pirie-Gordon

II: Letters to Leonard Moore

III: Letters to J. J. Walsh

IV: Letters to H. C. Bainbridge

V: Letters to Fr. C. S. De V. Beauclerk S. J.

VI: Letters to Messrs Barnard & Taylor

VII: Letters to Grant Richards

VIII: Letters to R. M. Dawkins

IX: Letters to Masson Fox

X: Letters to Various Correspondents

1 comment:

J said...

I look forward to the coming installments in this series. I have two of these books, but am still looking for the Moore volume. Though it's nice that at least some of the other letters did see print, they are in much reduced collections. (Neither the Walsh nor Bainbridge volumes make 60 pages!)

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