Saturday, 5 January 2013

Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli by Ronald Firbank

Many of the Anglican priests that went over to Rome in the early days of the Oxford Movement were drawn by the charms of its interiors and the access to ritual splendor, the chaunting and the sublime weight of the cope as the Tantum Ergo was sung. One might imagine them as a synchronised swimming team breasting the choppy Tiber in burgundy leotards.
Ronald Firbank was brought into the Church by Fr. Hugh Benson of whom I have written. Firbank was refused entry into the priesthood as was another associate of Benson’s, Frederick ‘Fr.’ Rolfe or Baron Corvo.
Already a published author and a fully formed personality by the time he entered Cambridge at the age of nineteen, Firbank took the further step of divorcing himself from English culture by converting, in 1907, to Catholicism, a religion whose ornate rituals, costumes, symbols, and pageantry provided him with a vehicle through which to express his homosexuality obliquely.

Down at the back of Charlie Byrnes I found a hardback copy of Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli for €2. It’s in perfect condition first published in 1926. This edition is from 1977 beautifully got up by Duckworth with an unusual ligature between st and ct. In the first chapter the Cardinal is baptizing the Duquesa’s dog:

And thus being cleansed and purified, I do call thee, ‘Crack’! he addressed the Duquesa’s captive burden.

If you can’t join them, mock them. Anthony Powell, Evelyn Waugh, W.H. Auden and others regard him as a fine writer. Ernest Hemingway had some books of his at the Finca in Cuba. Gertrude Stein recommended him:
In the three or four years that we were good friends I cannot remember Gertrude Stein ever speaking well of any writer who had not written favorably about her work or done something to advance her career except for Ronald Firbank and, later, Scott Fitzgerald.
(from A Moveable Feast by E.H.)

Let me leave you with this:
Bearing a biretta and a silver shawl, Madame Poco, the venerable Superintendent-of-the-palace, looking, in the blue moonlight, like some whiskered skull, emerged, after inconceivable peepings, from among the leafy limbo of the trees.


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

What a wonderfully peculiar writer. Your final quotation is a marvel.

ombhurbhuva said...

Hi Tom,
Firbank seems to have suffered from the ‘invisible man’ syndrome, he was so shy that he had to take all his clothes off to disappear or to put on a cloak of outre.
“Fingering a score of music he had been taking lead in a mass of Palestrina, and had the vaguely distraught air of a kitten that had seen visions”.