A Conscious Englishman

Written by Margaret Keeping
Review by Janet Williamson

Set in 1914 shortly after the declaration of war, this biographical novel covers the final years of journalist and poet Edward Thomas and opens with his family visiting the Herefordshire home of American poet Robert Frost. Edward tells Frost: “I should like to be a poet just as I should like to live”, and Frost invites him to join him in America. Both their families suffer for their art.

Frost’s character is decisive and controlling, which contributes to his wife’s aloof listlessness. Edward leaves his cloying, poverty‑stricken wife to struggle with the three children. Desperate for recognition, doubting his abilities, Edward smarts at Frost’s criticism that his work is full of bookish rhetoric. His admirer Eleanor Farjeon disagrees and types his poems for him before sending them to publishing houses under the name of Thomas Easterman. Though his family are mostly Welsh, Edward considers himself a patriotic Englishman. On the brink of success and with a new attitude, he enlists in the Artists Rifles, before seeking active service.

The author’s research on Frost, Farjeon and Thomas is commendable, and her sympathies obviously lie with Edward, but I found this informative narrative difficult to read without analysing Edward’s introspection, behaviour and reasoning. This book would have benefited from better editing, with its instances of repetition and poor punctuation, and in my copy pages 103, 106 and 107 had lines missing through faded ink from lines four to six. Try it nevertheless.