Books: Mad but Memorable

NICHOLAS CRABBE (245 pp.) -Fr. Rolfe (Baron Corvo) -New Directions ($4.75).

Like a stink bomb with a time fuse, a typescript of Nicholas Crabbe has lain for almost half a century in Oxford's Bodleian Library. Now exhumed for first publication, the novel fulfills the pungent promise hinted by literary investigators who have concerned themselves with the strange case of its author, Frederick William Serafino Austin Lewis Mary Rolfe, alias "Baron Corvo."

The son of a piano manufacturer, Rolfe became a Roman Catholic convert at 26, studied for the priesthood but was expelled from his seminary in Rome. For the rest, he was a...

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