Skip to main content

Introduction to Frank Harris

Romantic portrait of 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. Wells, Max Beerbohm, Winston Churchill, Aleister Crowley, George 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.