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Life of Frank Harris

I do not propose here to provide a full biography of Harris - for that I recommend Phillippa Pullar's exhaustive Frank Harris (1973).  Instead I have taken what appear to me to be the key events of his life and set them out in the form of a timeline.

As an alternative, you can read one of Harris' own accounts of his life.

You may also want to examine the relationship between Harris and Wilde, or goggle at his sex life on the Loves page.


1856-1880 Childhood, America

Feb 14 1856 born James Thomas Harris, in Galway, Ireland
Early 1869 Attends Ruabon Grammar School, Denbighshire, Wales
June? 1871 Sails for America from Liverpool
? 1872 Arrives Lawrence, Kansas, meets up with his brother William
? 1874 Enrols in the University of Kansas, as James Frank Harris (Thomas was his father's name, and this seems to have been a symbolic rejection of his father)
June 25 1875 Graduates to the Douglas County Bar
August ? 1875 Visits his sister Annette and his father now resident in Tenby, Wales
Winter 1876 Gains post as tutor of French at Brighton College, England
February 1878 Joins the Philology Department at Heidelberg University, Germany
October 17 1878 Marries Florence Adams
August 27 1879 Florence dies
? late 1879-188? Travels in Europe: Berlin, Venice, Florence, Athens

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1881-1899 London, The Successful Editor

? 1882 Arrives in London
July 7 1883 First piece published in the Spectator: a review of Some Impressions of the United States by E. A. Freeman
1884 ? Gains editorship of the London Evening News
July 1886 Leaves Evening News and becomes editor of the Fortnightly Review
November 2 1887 Marries Emily Mary Clayton, a rich widow
June 22 1889 Is adopted as Conservative candidate for the constituency of South Hackney, London
December 12 1891 Resigns as Conservative candidate: Harris had shown sympathy to Parnell in the scandal that bears his name, a view decidedly out of step with traditional Conservative hypocrisy on the subject of adultery
June 1891 Publishes first short story in the Fortnightly Review: 'A Modern Idyll'.
? 1894 Loses editorship of the FortnightlyReview.  Leaves his wife.
October 1894 Purchases the Saturday Review
? 1895 Publishes first collection of stories 'Elder Conklin'
April 3 1895 Oscar Wilde rashly sues the Marquess of Queensberry for libel
April 6 1895 Wilde charged with offences relating to the corruption of minors
May 21 1895 Wilde sentenced to 2 years hard labour. Harris had begged him to skip bail and leave the country, but Wilde refused and stood trial.
January 11 1896 Visits South Africa to report on the notorious Jameson raid debacle
May 1895 Wilde released, leaves England for France
? 1898 Takes up with both May Congden, who bears him a child, and Nellie O'Hara, with whom he is to share the rest of his life.  Nellie's age is the subject of some speculation, as if her 1920's passport is believed her age at this time would have been eleven!  One must assume that she lied about her age later in life, not an uncommon transgression.
November 1898 Gives up the Saturday Review.
End 1898 Enters the hotel business, building a restaurant in Eze and setting up a hotel in Monte Carlo, both of which eventually fail, amid recriminations about their financing

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1900-1913 The Successful Author, The Failing Editor

October 25 1900 Presents his play Mr. and Mrs. Daventry in London, at the Royalty Theatre.  This play was written after an idea by Oscar Wilde, who neglected to tell Harris that he had also sold the play to a number of others, who therefore had to be paid off.  Nevertheless the play was a modest success, and ran for about three months with a short break due to the death of Queen Victoria.
? 1900 Publishes Montes the Matador, a second volume of short stories
? 1900 Publishes How to Beat the Boer, a Conversation in Hades.
December 1900 Oscar Wilde dies
May 1 1901 Brings out the first issue of The Candid Friend, a society paper.
August 9 1902 Last issue of The Candid Friend.
January 7 1905 Appointed editor of the Motorist and Traveller by the Dunlop Tyre Company
October 30 1905 Acting as agent, sells Winston Churchill's biography of his father Randolph to Macmillans publishers for £4,000.  Churchill was very pleased by Harris' work on his behalf in this matter.
January 1907 Purchases Vanity Fair
September 7 1907 Travels to America, gathering material for articles for Vanity Fair and his other literary ventures
Mid November 1907 Returns from America
October 1908 Publishes his first novel, The Bomb.
? 1909 Brings out The Man Shakespeare
End 1909 Gives up Vanity Fair.  Travels to Ravello, Italy at the invitation of Lord Grimthorpe. While there, writes his life of Oscar Wilde.
April 1910 Finding Italy too expensive, goes to stay in Nice, France
June 1911 Publishes his 'Thoughts on Morals' in the English Review.  This essay, which espoused an un-English, but prototypically Harrisian, openness on sexual matters caused a minor scandal at the time, predictably causing high blood pressure in the reactionary editorial staff of the Spectator.  The English Review itself also came under attack for advertising itself as 'The Great Adult Review'.
August 1911 Back in England, first encounters Hugh Kingsmill Lunn (who dropped the 'Lunn' for his nom de plume).
? 1911 The Women of Shakespeare published
? 1912 Becomes the editor of Hearth and Home, a 'ladies paper'.  Kingsmill and Enid Bagnold (who was briefly Harris' mistress) are amongst the new staff.  This episode in Harris' career in journalism is one of the most bizarre.  It is difficult to picture the outspoken, roaring, desk-banging Harris editing a magazine which was supposed to supply an undemanding read for middleclass Edwardian women, but he did, although according to Kingsmill and Bagnold they did most of the work.
November 16 1912 Travels to America on a lecture tour.
? 1913 Abandons Hearth and Home.
? 1913 Unpath'd Waters published.
August 1913 Takes up Modern Society

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1914-1920 War, The Downward Slide

February 1914 Sent to Brixton Prison, London for contempt of court.
March 1914 Out of prison, returns to Nice
June 1914 In a precarious financial situation, searches for work in Paris
August 1914 Britain declares war on Germany
September 1914 Arrives back in England, using the pseudonym 'Frank Vernon' to avoid the attentions of the bankruptcy court.  Stays with Lady Warwick, whose autobiography he is contracted to write.  This was supposed to feature revelations relating to the then King, Edward VII, about an affair he had with her when he was Prince of Wales, and whose letters she still had in her possession.  In the end it all came to nothing.
October 1914 Sails for America
? 1914 Great Days published
? 1914 The Yellow Ticket and other Stories published
January 1915 Publishes England or Germany? which takes the German side in the war.  Understandably the British press attacked him and he fell out with Nellie as well.
July 1915 The first Contemporary Portraits published.
November 1915 Appointed advertising manager for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad (!)
April 1916 Sacked as advertising manager.
? 1916 Oscar Wilde published.
? 1916 Love in Youth published.
October 1916 Made editor of the American Pearson's magazine
? 1919 Second of the Contemporary Portraits published.
? 1920 Third of the Contemporary Portraits published.
? 1920 A Mad Love published.

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1921-1931 "Life and Loves", The End

April 1921 He and Nellie become American citizens
End 1921 Pearson's arranged to be sold, they return to Nice, where he starts planning his autobiography
June 1922 Returns to America
September 1922 Finally shot of Pearson's
November 1922 Travels to Berlin, where he has the first volume of the Life and Loves printed.
Christmas 1922 Nellie makes her debut as a singer.  Nellie had been taking lessons for some time, much to Frank's annoyance.  Apparently the debut was not a success.
January 1923 Arrives in Paris.  He tries to get his books brought into France, but they are seized by the authorities.  Returns to Nice, where he starts on the next two volumes of the autobiography.
January 1924 Aleister Crowley comes to stay for a while.  He has similar money troubles to Frank and an equal hypochondria.
March 1924 Buys the Paris Evening Telegram, but cannot find the money required and has to give it up.
? 1924 Undream'd of Shores, another volume of short stories, published.
? 1924 Fourth of the Contemporary Portraits published.
? 1926 Publishes Joan La Romèe, a second volume of short stories
September 22 1927 Emily Harris dies, aged 89.
? 1927 Latest Contemporary Portraits published.
October 15 1927 Marries Nellie.
November 10 1928 Arrives in America again.  By now his health is poor.
January 1929 Returns to Nice
January 1930 Contracts to write a biography of Shaw.  This was written with the help of Frank Scully, and finally of Shaw himself.
? 1930 On the Trail: Being My Reminiscences as a Cowboy published
? 1930 Pantopia published
August 27 1931 Dies, aged 75, after a heart attack.