This is my review of Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas by Matthew Hollis.
I read this as much to find out about a period, in this case the development of the “New Poetry” of the early C20, as about the poet in question, in this case Edward Thomas. However, this biography requires a strong interest in Thomas and familiarity with his work.
A poet himself, the author is good on showing you Thomas composed, striking out lines and on occasion suffering from “poet’s block”.
I was interested to see how the now famous poets of the day formed a kind of community of fellowship, rather than work in isolation.
The friendship with Robert Frost which helped move Thomas from a prose writer to a poet caught my attention. Even more so, I was intrigued by the depressive personality which Thomas himself felt might be a necessary condition for his work, raising the question of whether he could have been so creative in a modern age where drugs are so widely prescribed as a solution.
The author is very honest in showing how the generally gentle and sensitive Thomas was often driven to thoughts of suicide, cruel words and neglectful treatment of his patient wife Helen: one can understand his pent up frustration over having been trapped in marriage after getting her pregnant while still an undergraduate, missing out in the process on the expected First in History which would have given him an academic career and the financial security to look after his three children with the freedom to write creatively without worrying about having enough money.
Although I wanted to admire this book, it did not engage me as it should have done. I think this was because of the rather disjointed structure, and the tendency to cram too many disparate famous names and unassociated facts into a passage.
However, I think that lovers of Thomas will enjoy it and it has certainly left me with the intention of reading more of his poetry.