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Secret Information

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 some reason Hichens always refers to it by its French title). One day while browsing he is struck by something Harris says in his autobiography and decides to use it in a sermon - without acknowledging his scandalous source, of course.

Unfortunately for the Canon, in the congregation when he preaches is Gordon Ripley, a man who knows his Harris so well that he immediately recognises the passage. Ripley confronts Bankton, setting off a series of events that cause Bankton to reconsider his vocation.

Robert Hichens is mainly known for for his authorship of The Green Carnation (1894), a roman a clef about Oscar Wilde and his circle which was supposedly in part responsible for Wilde's downfall. Hichens knew Wilde well during this period. Secret Information did not achieve the same notoriety, understandably, as it is rather dull and repetitive. For some reason Hichens decided that the outcome of the Canon's threatened exposure is to be rather mild and anti-climatic, though there is an awful lot of business to be got through on the way. He exhibits a skill in spinning out his plot that would be envied by the writers of soap operas.


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