Confessional

Author: 
Year: 
1930

As a physical entity, this is a highly attractive book - produced in an edition limited to 3010 copies, beautifully printed on high-grade heavy paper, deckle-edged, bound in black cloth with a design of leaves, and with gilt lettering and an image of Harris stamped on the front.

Sadly the content does not live up to the quality of its vehicle: this is a rather tired effort, a series of mediocre essays of small interest or worth. The title 'Confessional' is misleading, too, for there is no confession here. Divided into four rather uninspired categories, "People", "Places", "Principles" and "Passions", what we get instead are some random ramblings on topics that Harris had not already exhausted elsewhere.

The "People" are Columbus, Joan of Arc, Napoleon and Tolstoy. Harris strives to present an original view of them but ultimately these are simply retellings of old stories without enough inspiration in the telling.

The "Places" are various locations round the world that Harris knew, but again he fails to make them interesting. His travel writing is barely above that of the guidebook, consisting largely of evocations of picturesque scenes and views, banal in their generality.

The "Principles" are more interesting though only intermittently - he writes about writing short stories and biography, then about morality and religion, but there is a curious half-heartedness about it all. There is the sense that he was too tired to write at his best, which given the state of his health and situation at the time, a year before his death, was - sadly -probably the case.

The "Passions" are merely a couple of items that don't fit into the other categories. "An Execution in Paris" is presumably the account that Harris gave to Arnold Bennett, the realism of which Bennett was convinced by, until Harris told him he had just made it up. "A Strange Story of Love" is nor an essay at all - presented as a story sent to him by a correspondent, its tale of a man who has a sexual relationship with his uncle's wife, which while certainly out of the ordinary, would barely rate a raised eyebrow these days.

A handsomely-made but generally vacuous piece of work, then. The best of it is in the Introduction, which I have scanned in as part of the Preface Project.