- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (October 22, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 039308907X
- ISBN-13: 978-0393089073
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 10 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #456,443 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Now All Roads Lead to France: A Life of Edward Thomas 1st Edition
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*Starred Review* This exquisite, sad book’s British subtitle, The Last Years of Edward Thomas, is more exact than the American one. Especially since Thomas’ last years included the most important literary friendship in Anglophone modernist poetry, that of Thomas and Robert Frost. Both men seethed with impatience, Frost to publish a first collection—U.S. publishers wouldn’t oblige, and he’d come to England to see whether their British confreres would—and Thomas to write literature rather than the journalism and contract books he pumped out to support his family. Both achieved their goals. Frost’s A Boy’s Will and North of Boston each first saw the light in England, promoted by Thomas, among others; and Thomas began writing poems with exceptional fluency when work dried up with the outbreak of WWI. Initially ambivalent about the war, Thomas eventually enlisted; the salary offset some of his lost income, and he discovered the profound patriotism that quietly informs his verse—lyrical nature poetry as psychologically charged as the dramatic scenes and dialogues of his American friend. Frost returned to New England and, at last, a great career, corresponding with Thomas until a shell killed him at the front. Thomas had completed 141 poems, most of which Hollis discusses as he compellingly reveals the troubled personality of Britain’s first great modernist. --Ray Olson
“[An] excellent account…beautifully structured by place, year and season.”
“A perceptive biography that traces an author’s trajectory from disillusioned prose scribe to acclaimed poet.... Poet Hollis (Ground Water, 2004), who edited a volume of Thomas’ selected poetry, expertly recreates the upheaval of English society as it made the transition from genteel post-Victorianism to brash modernism. Thomas stood poised on the dividing line between W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot and justly remains a towering figure in English poetry. This diligently researched and masterfully written exposition will appeal to Anglophiles and fans of literary biography.”
- Kirkus Reviews
“I read this book entranced, inspired, anxious, and grateful, and I finished it in tears. It is important and it is wonderful.”
- Carol Ann Duffy, British poet laureate
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Having said that, Thomas is really not a very sympathetic human being. It is hard to know how much to blame him, given the times; but it is clear that he was in a loveless marriage (loveless for him). Everything points to the grim fact that he didn't love his wife, and was desperate to flee whenever the opportunity presented itself. His wife and children are left hanging, over and over again. Helen, his wife, keeps believing that it will work out in the long run, but there is no evidence that it ever would have. The love of his life was Edna Clarke Hall, who he meets again in 1915 (she was a graduate of the London Slade Art School in the 1890s, and then herself became trapped in a loveless marriage). While Hollis is judicious about what was going on between them, it's pretty obvious she was the one. In the book there is a ravishing photograph of her which explains almost everything you need to know about why he fell for her. But the clincher is the terrible letter Helen Thomas wrote to her after ET's death (quoted in the book). The whole thing has a kind of doomed hopeless sadness about it, both for the dead and for the living (especially considering Clarke Hall had a nervous breakdown in 1919, and then lived on for another 60 years and never lived up to her promise.....). I suppose the poetry that is left rescues all these things, maybe.
He decided that he had to enlist in the British army to fight for his country in France during the First World War. In his late thirties he departed from his wife and three children, the English literary scene, his many friends and was quickly killed in the quagmire of the war. How a man could sacrifice all he had, to participate in a futile struggle which was to be repeated some 22 years later, is as stated, heartbreaking.
Hollis also did not stint on his use of Thomas' poems in situ...a wonderful plus for the reader. He also included a section on Thomas' editing process which conveys just how a poem worked for the writer, and how he tried to improve it along with the frustration of making it just right.
And yes, from the start we know that Thomas is doomed to die--albeit from some sort of concussion or internal bleeding after a shell landed too close. In his last days in England, he walked 13 miles to see his daughter once again. Hollis' writing is perfect, and I loved reading his words. In fact, I received as much pleasure from Hollis prose as I did Thomas' poems. Every detail, the description of the countryside, nature, the change in the seasons, the tedious training before battle, all made me feel as if I was walking side by side through Thomas' life. As a biography, it's a masterpiece.
I enjoyed Hollis's literary biography from top to bottom, and learned from it a lot about not only Thomas, but about English literary society around the time of the Great War, to include characters like Pound, Eliot, Drinkwater, and others. One of the great things I respect about this book is that it was composed (so the author says) only from primary sources and from no previous biographies of Thomas.
The book includes a generous selection of maps and photographs as aids.
I was struck, near the end, about how Thomas was bending birches to clear a path for his artillery pieces to fire at the Germans at Arras. I could not help but think of Frost's poem on that subject.
He was a poet and his story is worth the journey.
From tree lined villages and forest pathways to his last days before he died in the war, the story is as much literary as it is biographical and historical. It is a story of the world as it existed just before and leading up to The Great War. It is the story of one of England's greatest poets, his circle of friends, his family, and how he lead his life right up to the end.
All Roads Lead To France combines fine writing and scholarship to make this a must read for any study or interest in Edward Thomas. Author Matthew Hollis is an exciting & talented literary biographer.