'If there be one place in all this orb of earth where a secret is a Secret, that place is a Roman Conclave'
Part novel, part daydream, part diatribe, this strange masterpiece tells the story of George Arthur Rose, a poor, frustrated writer who lives in a shabby bedsit, saving his cigarette ends and eating soup - until one day he is made Pope. As the first English pontiff in five centuries, he is a mass of contradictions: infallible and petulant, humble and despotic. Yet Hadrian the Seventh is really a knowing self-portrait of its flamboyant author Baron Corvo, a would-be priest with aristocratic pretensions, and one of the greatest eccentrics of English literature.
Frederick Rolfe (1860-1913), also known as Baron Corvo, was born of a respectable Dissenting family in Cheapside. He converted to Catholicism when he was twenty-six and attempted to enter the priesthood. After he was ejected from the seminary, on the grounds of his extremely 'difficult' temperament and eccentricities, he pledged himself to two decades of celibacy and proceeded to write several semi-autobiographical novels. His relations with his publishers and friends, on whose beneficence he relied, were frequently fractious, and he died poor at his preferred restaurant in Venice.