April 27, 2017

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April 27, 2017

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FRANK HARRIS

Frank Harris (1855-1931) was a British writer, editor and publisher.  He wrote many books, including The Bomb; The Man Shakespeare and his Tragic Life Story; The Yellow Ticket and Other Stories; fh2Contemporary Portraits; and My Reminiscences as a Cowboy.  He edited a series of London papers including the London Evening News; the Fortnightly Review; and the Saturday Review as well as the American Pearson’s Magazine.  Known as a great talker and contrarian,  Harris was variously a conservative, socialist and anarchist.  He was the friend or acquaintance of many famous people, including Bernard Shaw, Wilde, Crane, Whitman, Crowley, Churchill and Wells.  A notorious womanizer, at one time he maintained two separate families and appeared to have had children by several other women.
My Life and Loves was Harris’s autobiographyIt was published in four volumes from 1922 to 1927, with a fifth volume, based on notes found after his death, published in 1954.  He wrote it, he noted, to see “if a man can tell the truth naked and unashamed about himself and his amorous adventures in the world.”  Writing it was also his response to becoming sexually impotent.  The book contained zestful descriptions of his lovers and their lovemaking.  It also included boastful explanations of his role in history as well as vivid portraits of the many famous people he knew.  (H.G. Wells called his books “….writing that was loud talk in ink”).   Some of My Life and Loves was clearly imaginary.  (As Time magazine reflected in 1960, “Had he not been a thundering liar, Frank Harris would have been a great autobiographer….he had the crippling disqualification that he told the truth, as Max Beerbohm remarked, only ‘when his invention flagged’.”).  The first volume was burnt by customs officials and the second volume resulted in him being charged with corrupting public morals.  The New York Supreme Court ruled the book ‘unquestionably obscene, lewd, lascivious and indecent’, and it was banned in several countries.  
Harris also created a card game called Dirty Banshee. The art on the cards showed satyrs and goddesses engaged in assorted positions of sexual intercourse.
I was fascinated with My Life and Loves when I read it years ago.  It was refreshing to encounter a book that wrote explicitly about sexuality, instead of tip-toeing around it.  But I was aware, even then, that at least some of it was invented.  A unique book.

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