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

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

by Adam Sisman


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This “amusing and elegantly written” romp takes readers on a wild ride through the life of Robert Parkin Peters (The New York Times Book Review)—a liar, bigamist, and fraudulent priest who tricked some of the brightest minds of his generation.

One 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.

The Professor and the Parson is a witty and charming portrait of eccentricity, extraordinary narcissism, and a life as wild and unlikely as any in fiction. Motivated not by money but by a desire for prestige, Peters lied, stole, and cheated his way to academic positions and religious posts from Cambridge to New York. Frequently deported, and even more frequently discovered, he left a trail of destruction including seven marriages (three of which were bigamous) and an investigation by the FBI.

"I was captivated from start to finish by this utterly mad, and wholly delightful story of chicanery and fantasy, and which involves a man who relentlessly duped our most cherished institutions of godly pursuit and higher learning. Plus I learned how to defrock a priest, always good to have on hand in these troubling times." —Simon Winchester, author of The Perfectionists

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781640093287
Publisher: Catapult
Publication date: 02/04/2020
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 192,930
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Adam Sisman is the author of Boswell’s Presumptuous Task, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, and the biographer of John Le Carré, A. J. P. Taylor, and Hugh Trevor–Roper. Among his other works are two volumes of letters by Patrick Leigh Fermor. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and an honorary fellow of the University of St Andrews.

Table of Contents

Prologue 1

Introduction 3

Part I 1958-9

1 In which the professor meets the parson and hears his history 11

2 In which the parson is ejected from Oxford 25

Part II 1959-83

3 In which the professor studies the parson's past 41

4 In which the parson pledges to do better 57

5 In which the parson finds a saviour 79

6 In which the parson does some silly things 101

7 In which the parson appoints himself principal 119

8 In which the professor comes a cropper 141

Part III 1983-2005

9 The apartheid parson 163

10 In which the parson appoints himself principal (reprise) 171

Epilogue 197

Conclusion: Person parson 201

Chronology 205

Acknowledgements 217

Index 219

List of Illustrations 233

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