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by Heather Walker

James Elroy Flecker has one of those names that you don’t easily forget. Consequently, most people have heard of him without necessarily having any idea who he was or what he did. Heather Walker’s biography aims to redress the balance by providing substantial detail on the life and activities of this very versatile writer.

Flecker (real name Herman Elroy, and it is unclear when, why or how he changed it to James) died in 1915, aged only thirty; but his death was unrelated to the First World War which snatched away so many talented poets of his generation in their prime. This young man was not only a poet, but a novelist and dramatist, and who can say what he might have achieved had not his delicate constitution brought a premature end to his life.

The primary sources available to Ms Walker include a memoir published by Flecker’s parents ten years after his death, and this biography attempts to delve into the couple’s attitudes to their son as well as into the poet’s own motivations. Much of James Elroy Flecker’s early career seems to have hinged on a rebelliousness that had as much to do with his father’s efforts to control him as with his own inclinations. Becoming a pupil in a school where your own father is the headmaster is rarely the auspicious start to an academic career that one might expect.

Although the author struggles manfully with the source material, I sometimes felt that she was barely scratching the surface. At other times I had difficulty in understanding her reasoning, and the picture of Flecker and his relationships that emerge from the biography is complex and occasionally obscure. This is a common characteristic of independently-published non-fiction, which is generally a project born of the author’s own enthusiasm and completed as a result of his or her personal determination. These authors do not have access to an army of researchers and the publisher and printer are usually unable to provide the support necessary to edit and polish the work so as to bring the final product up to the writer’s and reader’s expectations.

It is certainly a lovely-looking book and makes an excellent first impression. The dust jacket is beautifully designed, and there are copious illustrations and footnotes, not to mention an exhaustive bibliography. If only some attention had been paid to proof-reading. The author cannot be entirely blamed for this; errors will creep into any passage of text, especially in a work of this length – which is why it pays to have a third party cast his or her eye over the proofs. Perhaps the average reader will not find the misuse of commas irritating, but no one who has actually read the book could fail to notice the duplication of half a sentence (that’s just one example). I am very disappointed in Melrose for not making more of an effort to ensure that the content was as professionally presented as the book’s exterior.


ISBN 978 1 905226 06 1
Melrose Books, 2006
775pp, illustrated hardback
Retail price 16.99

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher