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.