This is the tale of the insalubrious and utterly failed life of the notorious nineteenth-century thief, murderer, professional impostor, and would-be philologist Edward Rulloff, who was condemned to die and hanged for his crimes. The life of Rulloff is a sordid account of misguided genius and abysmal consequences. Those who loved him courted disaster, and, in every case, the courtship flowered into catastrophe.
Richard Bailey's narrative, calm and impartial yet spiked with wit and suspense, captures perfectly the slightly haunted and overwrought air of Victorian rural America, calling on newspaper accounts, interviews, and eyewitness reports of the day. Inevitably, the quiet accumulation of details builds to a story that transcends its individual events to touch on the universal themes of any age.
Rogue Scholar is about the evil of one man who lived a life of deception and crime. Yet in a larger sense it is also the portrait of a condemned soul in its final hours, an examination of the death penalty, and a reminder that media sensationalism is nothing new.
For Rulloff, nothing in his life became him like the leaving it. His death was awkward---a new method of hanging proved a bad idea---but he accepted it gracefully, and thus, after death, won sympathy that had eluded him in life.
Copyright © 2003, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted September 2003 and January 2006.
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