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Frank Harris (1856-1931)

This part of the site is dedicated to the notorious author and editor Frank Harris, whose My Life and Loves scandalised Britain, Europe and America in the 1920s. Notwithstanding his reputation as a rogue and womaniser, he was an entertaining writer and individual who was always his own man.

Introduction to Frank Harris

Frank Harris was an infamous character of the late 19th and early 20th century. He made his name as a journalist and author, becoming a key figure of the literary and political scene. He was a friend of Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, and amongst many others he also knew H. G. WellsMax BeerbohmWinston ChurchillAleister CrowleyGeorge Moore and Arnold Bennett.

He was notably outspoken and candid, which did not suit the tenor of the times, but it was the publication of his autobiography My Life and Loves which finally destroyed his reputation. This work immediately scandalised the society of his day with its unshrinking depiction of sexual matters, and it has remained one of those works like The Story of 'O' or Venus in Furs which are known better for their erotic content than for any other qualities.

Harris is one of those ambiguous figures of history of whom there are so many contradictory reports that to divine the truth is more a matter of psychological than historical analysis. He was a man whose talents were outstanding, but who was disabled by his own flaws from making full use of them. A man who idealised Jesus, Goethe, and Shakespeare, but played the role of rake and bounder so well that the role was almost universally mistaken for the man. A man who nearly became a Conservative M.P., yet who entertained romantic anarchist fantasies and talked of blowing up Gladstone with a bomb.

These pages attempt to document Harris, what he said and wrote, and what has been written about him, to bring him to a new public, and foster a balanced and sympathetic understanding of him. There are too many purported heroes being noised from every corner of the 'net: let us instead sing of one who was undoubtedly not a hero, but that greater treasure, a remarkable individual.

Latest updates

The archive of the Spectator magazine has a reproduction and transcript of what is probably Frank Harris's first printed article, a review of E. Freeman's Some Impressions of the United States (1883).  In My Life and Loves, volume 2, Frank describes how he wrote it: ... after reading Freeman with great care and finding that indeed he was the very type of an arrogant, pompous pedant who mistook… continue reading
I just came across this passage in volume 1 of My Life and Loves, and felt it should be more widely appreciated. Here's how Frank Harris taught himself French, in a week. I first spent five whole days on the grammar, learning all the verbs, especially the auxiliary and irregular verbs by heart, till I knew them as I knew my Alphabet. I then read Hugo’s Hernani with a dictionary in another long… continue reading
After a recent upgrade to this site, the Frank Harris genealogy page disappeared. There was no mystery involved: the genealogy was displayed using a custom Drupal module which I wrote some while ago and hadn't migrated to the latest release of Drupal. I've now updated the code and it's working again. (Should anyone be interested in how it works, it queries a set of tables derived from GENMOD data… continue reading
Secret Information by Robert Hichens (1938) is a novel with a curious Frank Harris connection: rather than Harris being featured as a character, pseudonymously or otherwise, it is My Life and Loves that performs a crucial role in the plot. Canon Bankton, a Church of England priest, has a presumably unusual hobby for one in his position: he collects dirty books, including Ma Vie et Mes Amours (for… continue reading
A correspondent of mine asked this question recently. The answer is to be found in Philippa Pullar's biography of Harris, where she says he was interred at the British Cemetery at Caucade, Nice - Section G, Row No 11, Grave No. 1 - "high up in the aromatic hills, with a view to the sea, shaded by an olive tree". The burial ceremony took place three weeks after his death (as usual Pullar omits to… continue reading