Frank Harris

A Study in Black & White
Year: 
1931

This was published in a limited edition of 1000 not long after Harris died, in 1931. Tobin & Gertz were friends of his who had known him from his later years in America, Tobin being an avid disciple of Harris who had smuggled My Life and Loves into the U.S., while Gertz was an attorney who had acted as Harris' literary agent.

It is the first attempt at a complete life of Harris: his autobiography being of course highly selective and unreliable, while Hugh Kingsmill's Frank Harris, published the next year, is really only an extended memoir - albeit an excellent one. Unfortunately where the authors did not have direct access to information they tended to rely on sources that cannot be trusted, including the novel John Johns and Harris' own accounts of his cowboy adventures. Their apparent readiness to believe almost anything about Harris is frustrating, as a more critical view of their sources could have taken them closer to the truth. (It would not be until 1975 and the publication of Philippa Pullar's Frank Harris that we would get a more rounded picture).

Its interest mainly lies in the number of excellent photographs and drawings, many not available elsewhere, and in its extensive and detailed bibliography. Useful, too, is their very lucid explanation of the difficulties caused by Alfred Douglas over the publication of the Oscar Wilde biography in England.

A good idea that does not quite come off is their attempt to survey those subjects of the Contemporary Portraits who were still alive to see how what they thought of what Harris said about them: in reading the results it is apparent that many of those who bothered to reply were too polite to say what they truly thought. Although Tobin and Gertz managed to cast doubt on the conventional image of Harris as simply an unscrupulous liar, the result is inconclusive.

Though this book may not present a very accurate version of Harris' life, yet there is enough of value for it to be worth seeking out.