Ex Libris Kirkland

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Subtitle An Experiment in Biography
First Written 1934
Genre Biography
Origin UK
My Copy library hardback
First Read April 25, 2016

The Quest for Corvo

The story of Rolfe's life is just hard to deal with for me: he's just so obviously talented and so obviously lightly mentally ill. The self-delusion is painful. This triggers something in me that a friend calls 'shame-pathy', when you're ashamed of someone else. You might say cringe-worthy, perhaps? But at any rate, I had an actual physical response to the way that Rolfe pushed away his friends and turned them into enemies, all due to an inflated sense of importance or outrage.

Noted on April 28, 2016

This is a fascinating book, mostly because it's as much about the author's journey researching as it is about Rolfe's life. The first part of the book is so personal, and so interesting, that for a long while I really wondered how much of it was fictionalized.

The WSJ has a good review.

Noted on April 27, 2016

Another whim which may be noticed is his avoidance, in the chapter entitled 'The Legend of the Borgia Venom', of the word 'poison', which only defiles his pages in quotation. He revived an old form, and for 'poison' wrote 'venom', for 'poisoned' 'envenomied', for 'poisonous' 'veneficous', and 'venenation' for 'poisoning'.

Quoted on April 28, 2016

Cesare Borgia was a governor whose power, justice, and ever-present indefatigable energy seemed superhuman. [quoting from Rolfe's Borgia book:] 'He was hated: hated by the great Baronial houses which he had ruined, whose heirs he had slain; but he was not even disliked by the people whom he ruled. It was not extraordinary, for the mob always adores the strong bowelless man, the rigid fearless despot, the conquering autocrat who brings peace with security.'

Quoted on April 28, 2016

He was nearly forty, the age at which most men who are to make a mark in the world have struck the first impressions. But Rolfe had made no mark: the world had stamped him, not he the world: no rolling stone ever gathered less moss.

Quoted on April 28, 2016

His smile of welcome was reassuring after the reserve of Mr. Rolfe; and I discovered with delight at lunch that my host (though he grieved me by leaving his excellent hock untasted) shared my own sense of verbal humour, and neither reserved all his intelligence for his writings, nor all his cordiality for those whom he knew well. Moreover, voices have always been one of my tests for new acquaintances: Mr. Leslie's intonations charmed my ear.

Quoted on April 28, 2016

Ex Libris Kirkland is a super-self-absorbed reading journal made by Matt Kirkland. Copyright © 2001 - .
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