Frank Harris - 'My Life and Loves'

These days if you didn't know this book existed, you'd be hard pressed to ever hear about it. Yet it's one of the great memoirs of all time, full of bawdy sex, wonderful portraits of people and hilarious anecdotes. The first section (volume) was published privately in 1922 in Paris, around the same time as Joyce's Ulysses, and subsequent volumes followed throughout the 1920s. It was instantly scandalous and banned all over the place.

Grove Press

Ever since then, Frank Harris (who died in 1931) has been the target of character assassinations by his biographers, who have called him "vain," "arrogant," a "pathological liar" and not a "highly sophisticated thinker." Anthony Burgess in a foreword to the edition shown above declares that "the author's phallus marches forward in the vanguard of the author" and he dismisses him as impossibly vulgar. "He was not a gentleman, nor did he look like one" and "He never grew up." Like these are criticisms?

Harris was far more sophisticated than these twits and he is never better than when he delivers political invective like these lines from 1924, looking back at World War I and attempting to spread the blame:

And because of this conviction I loathe wars and the combative, aggressive spirit of the great conquering race, the Anglo-Saxons with their insane, selfish greeds of power and riches. I hate their successes and dread the life they're building with blood for plaster.

That didn't make him popular either. He goes on to say:

A year or two ago I was honored on all hands: wherever I came I felt that men and women spoke of me with interest, curiosity at least. Since the first volume of My Life appeared, everywhere I feel the unspoken condemnation and see the sneer or the foul, sidelong grin. I have paid dearly for my boldness.