Private Thomas

Andrew Motion

  • Edward Thomas: A Portrait by R. George Thomas
    Oxford, 331 pp, £12.95, October 1985, ISBN 0 19 818527 8

R. George Thomas is a cautious man. His life of Edward Thomas (no relation) is ‘a portrait’ not ‘a biography’. Maybe this is just as well. The poet was a cautious man too. He was also a scrupulous one, and when we read in the first few pages that research for this book began ‘in the early 1960s’, we are encouraged to feel that author and subject are kindred spirits. Our expectations are raised still further by discovering that ‘some years before her death’ Edward Thomas’s ‘widow Helen gave her friend George Thomas open access to all her papers which included some eighteen hundred letters’. Here at last, we are made to think, is the definitive account of one of the century’s most important writers: important for his intrinsic qualities, and because his work illuminates the motives of the first great Modernists, as well as the treatment they have received from subsequent generations of English poets. Anyone contemplating the life of Edward Thomas has the chance to tell a human story of great fascination and poignancy, and simultaneously to characterise a literary climate which profoundly affects our own. Edward Thomas was a man in whom an enormous number of conflicting compulsions – personal as well as artistic – met, were recognised, and were robed as destinies.

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