The protagonist's situation at the beginning of Hadrian the Seventh reflects that of Frederick Rolfe ('Baron Corvo') himself — he was a Catholic convert who failed to gain admission to the priesthood — and much of the novel is clearly wish-fulfillment. It gives Rolfe a chance to indulge himself with diatribes on politics, national character and religion, and to settle scores with institutions and individuals, in an eccentric mix of reactionary authoritarianism, fawning on royalty, and English nationalism. And Hadrian's defense of his life as George Arthur is surely Rolfe's defense of his own.
This may sound like a terrible recipe for a novel, but the result has a curious charm. There's not much action in Hadrian the Seventh, but it rarely drags. And Rolfe is a brilliant sculptor of words, with a style that is all his own. The result may be an Edwardian curiosity, but it's one that's worth checking out.
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