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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 1897

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 play he had written some years earlier.

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.