The worst novel I’ve ever read…

July 8, 2013

Hadrian the VII by Fr Rolfe, alias Frederick Baron Corvo, is truly bizarre. To begin with, the Wordsworth Classics edition I acquired is full of typographical errors, which it’s charitable to think are the result of an un-proof-read OCR scan. Next, it’s written in bizarre English, with lots of nonce-words made up from Latin and Greek roots. And then there’s the plot…

Basically, and unknown and unordained Englishman is accidentally (!) elected pope, and then goes on to set the world (Edwardian, early 1900s) to rights, before being blackmailed and murdered by a deranged Scottish socialist in league with a woman with a mysterious past…

The plot rambles and wanders all over the place – the concept itself is vaguely interesting, which is why I decided to read it in the first place – but, as my research revealed, it’s thinly disguised autobiographical wish-fulfilment on the part of the writer. Things one might expect to have explained, such as how an unordained Englishman happens to be in the conclave in the first place, never mind being chosen as pope, or how he then manages to convince the entire world and its leaders to follow his plan for peace and happiness ever after, are glossed over unconvincingly. Vatican infighting is a little more convincing, though under-developed, and the mad socialist is a totally unconvincing plot device to allow the writer one of his many diatribes against the world and everything… the one event in the book that surprised me was the shooting of the pope, which reminded me of the attempted assassination of John Paul II.

I’m pleased I read it, but it really is a bad novel in so many ways – just like McGonagall’s poetry…weird!

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