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The Professor and the Parson: A Story of Desire, Deceit and Defrocking (2019)

by Adam Sisman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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746292,188 (3.58)3
'I embarrassed myself by uncontrollable guffaws ... This is a truly wonderful story' A. N. Wilson, Spectator'A white-knuckle roller-coaster ride of fibs and frauds' Sunday Telegraph'An utterly mad, and wholly delightful story of chicanery and fantasy' Simon WinchesterOne day in November 1958, the celebrated historian Hugh Trevor-Roper received a curious letter. It was an appeal for help, written on behalf of a student at Magdalen College, with the unlikely claim that he was being persecuted by the Bishop of Oxford. Curiosity piqued, Trevor-Roper agreed to a meeting. It was to be his first encounter with Robert Parkin Peters: plagiarist, bigamist, fraudulent priest and imposter extraordinaire. Based on Trevor-Roper's own detailed 'file on Peters', The Professor and the Parson is a witty and charming account of eccentricity, extraordinary narcissism and a life as wild and unlikely as any in fiction.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
A hugely entertaining biography of a con man. Often very funny, rather tragic and always fascinating because of the subject’s unusual psychology. Robert Parkin Peters’s jaw-dropping, life-long series of bigamous marriages and impostures as a clergyman and professor. There was obviously something seriously wrong with the guy and a lot of the pleasure in reading about him is trying to work out what it was. He displayed what appear to be psychopathic traits. Sisman suggests Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which seems sensible to me. A pathological desire for social status.

It strikes me that it’s not the status he wanted, but rather the attaining of it. He appears to have picked the three institutions – marriage, academia, and the cloth – where being who you claim to be is of fundamental importance. He’s doing the three things where discovery leads to immediate failure, allowing him the opportunity to relive the attainment of status again. Several times he achieved safe status only to throw it away with yet another easily discoverable evil plan.

It’s also noteworthy that all three of his interests were heavily reliant on ritual. He doesn’t seem to have enjoyed having wives, yet he repeatedly performed the courtship and marriage rituals. He seems to have had the ability to appear normal for short periods, during courtship, during job interviews, during services. Always in ritualised settings. It was his behaviour afterwards that ultimately gave him away, if his fraud wasn’t discovered first. He doesn’t appear to have understood people, nor cared to, and his engagement with ritualised behaviour may well be the only way he could interact with human beings. He may technically have been physically disabled, but his only true disability was social. ( )
  Lukerik | Oct 14, 2021 |
Funny book about an audacious fraudster. ( )
  booklove54 | Jul 25, 2021 |
This is a fascinating story of the sad life of a defrocked clergyman of the Church of England. It is good light reading that will also make the reader fully appreciate clergy background checks! ( )
  danielsparks | Jun 19, 2021 |
I’ve been on a streak of books that don’t really hook me until around page 100, and this was no exception. Starts off a bit slowly, but becomes an amusing read with some surprising cameos from church historians of note (including one that I *really* wasn’t expecting, an old Yale professor of mine...).

In short, it’s the story of a sad and really quite terrible fellow who literally made a career out of tricking his way into a series of academic and ecclesiastical posts. It wouldn’t have been quite so amusing, I’m sure, if not for the deadpan storytelling, including that of historian Hugh Trevor-Roper (the author’s original research subject). A couple quotes that made me laugh out loud:

After running up a shocking bill at a Cambridge bookshop: “Some years later [...] Peters found himself seated next to the manager of Bowes and Bowes, who had not forgotten the gigantic bill. Peters extracted himself from this difficulty with a plea of non compos mentis, arguing that no sane person would have run up such an account.”

Trevor-Roper: “Could we not let [Peters] nestle for a time in some cosy clerical chair—not at Oxford, of course [...] but in some solemn, high-minded institution whose subsequent loss of face we can bear with equanimity? I have no doubt that he will give lectures which will be no less stimulating, and perhaps no more erroneous, than many you and I have heard and safely forgotten [...] Altogether, the appointment will add to the gaiety of nations, and who will suffer?”
( )
  LudieGrace | Aug 10, 2020 |
What an extraordinary story! My knowledge of Hugh Trevor-Roper was as author of a biography of Archbishop William Laud (which took me decades to finish), discredited in his old age by fake Hitler diaries. This book shows how dogged Trevor-Roper was when he came across the fraud and imposter, Robert Michael Parkins, aka Robert Parkins Peters, regarding him as both a menace and yet fascinating. The early life of Parkins/Peters probably explains his profligate romps round the world as an adult, the frustration of the book that, other than Parkins/Peters' own highly unreliable comments, there is no information. ( )
1 vote Roarer | Feb 8, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
NOTE THIS IS A PREVIEW BY THE AUTHOR

It was clear to me from the start that a conventional biography was not the best form for such a subject. For one thing, Peters was such an inveterate liar that it was impossible to believe a single word that he wrote or said: even the most mundane facts would need to be verified independently.

Studying Peters is like tracking a particle in a cloud chamber: usually one cannot see the man himself, but only the path he left behind.
added by elenchus | editlithub.com, Adam Sisman (Feb 3, 2020)
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Adam Sismanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hart, ChrisAuthor photographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ljoenes, RichardCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
MacGuru Ltd.Designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Trevor-RoperSubjectsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"It shows, my dear Watson, that we are dealing with an exceptionally astute and dangerous man. The Rev. Dr Shlessinger, missionary from South America, is none other than Holy Peters, one of the most unscrupulous rascals that Australia has evolved -- and for a young country it has turned out some very finished types. His particular specialty is the beguiling of lonely ladies by playing upon their religious feelings, and his so-called wife, an English woman named Fraser, is a worthy helpmate."

from "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" by Arthur Conan Doyle
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The letter itself has not survived in the file; nor had the envelope.
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'I embarrassed myself by uncontrollable guffaws ... This is a truly wonderful story' A. N. Wilson, Spectator'A white-knuckle roller-coaster ride of fibs and frauds' Sunday Telegraph'An utterly mad, and wholly delightful story of chicanery and fantasy' Simon WinchesterOne day in November 1958, the celebrated historian Hugh Trevor-Roper received a curious letter. It was an appeal for help, written on behalf of a student at Magdalen College, with the unlikely claim that he was being persecuted by the Bishop of Oxford. Curiosity piqued, Trevor-Roper agreed to a meeting. It was to be his first encounter with Robert Parkin Peters: plagiarist, bigamist, fraudulent priest and imposter extraordinaire. Based on Trevor-Roper's own detailed 'file on Peters', The Professor and the Parson is a witty and charming account of eccentricity, extraordinary narcissism and a life as wild and unlikely as any in fiction.

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