James Elroy Flecker

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The greater part of James Elroy Flecker’s brief adult life was spent in the Near East. He was born in the Lewisham district of London, the son of the Reverend W. H. Flecker, head of Dean Close School, Cheltenham. He attended his father’s school, then transferred to Uppingham, and matriculated at Trinity College, Oxford, in 1901, where he took his A.B. degree in 1906. In 1907 he went to London and taught school there until 1908, at which time he entered the Consular Service and was sent to Caius College, Cambridge, to study modern Asian languages.

His first consular post was at Constantinople in 1910, but his ill health soon required a period of recuperation in England. On his return to duty, he was sent to Smyrna in 1911. In May of that year, while on leave in Athens, he married Helle Skiadaressi. In the autumn of the same year, he was transferred to Beirut, but again the tuberculosis from which he suffered required leave of absence, until, in the spring of 1913, he was compelled to go to Switzerland for treatment. There he spent the last year and a half of his life. He died at Davos, on January 3, 1915. His body was returned to England and buried at Cheltenham in the Cotswold Hills.

Flecker is an extremely uneven poet who wrote in several different manners without ever quite arriving at a distinctive style of his own. Some of his early work is decidedly in the “decadent” tradition of the 1890’s; he next came under the influence of the French Parnassians and, in the preface to The Golden Journey to Samarkand, tried to explain his sympathy with their approach to poetry. The Parnassians believed in a purely objective, rigidly correct kind of verse as a reaction against what they considered the excesses of Romanticists such as Victor Hugo. Yet in spite of his admiration for their work, it is difficult to find much of the Parnassian in Flecker.

Flecker is chiefly remembered for what might be called his “Oriental” poems that were written after he had been sent to the Near East. They are highly colored, romantic verses, employing swinging metrics and evoking a kind of Arabian Nights atmosphere. Several of them were worked into his prose play Hassan. The posthumous publication of this play in 1922 and its production in London in 1923 gave the author a greater reputation than he had enjoyed during his lifetime.

As he proved in such poems as “Brumana” and “The Burial in England,” Flecker could also write in the Georgian manner, although he is not usually regarded as a member of that school. He is best described as one of the last of the Romantics. His poor health and...

(The entire section is 657 words.)