Gilbert Frankau

Here’s another 1919 Land and Water caricature by Bohun Lynch. This one is of novelist Gilbert Frankau, whose reputation has lasted less well than that of Ford Madox Ford.

Gilbert Frankau

The caption is:

Distressed at the necessity of cutting 200,000 words out
of his new novel, which will shortly appear in LAND &
WATER, in order to adapt it for serial publication

which was very much  a magazine in-joke, because it was published just before they started serialising his Peter Jackson, Cigar Merchant in Autumn 1919. This is an odd, intriguing and sometimes annoying novel, based on Frankau’s experience in the artillery. When it was published in book form, Punch reviewed it like this:

The publishers of Peter Jackson: Cigar Merchant (HUTCHINSON) seem in their announcements to be desperately afraid lest anyone should guess it to be a War book. It is, they suggest, the story of the flowering of perfect love between two married folk who had drifted apart. It is really an admirable epitome of the War as seen through one pair of eyes and one particular temperament. I don’t recall another War novel that is so convincing. The almost incredible confusions of the early days of the making of K.’s army; the gradual shaping of the great instrument; the comradeship of fine spirits and the intrigues of meaner; leadership good and less good; action with its energy, glory and horror; reaction (with incidentally a most moving analysis of the agonies of shell-shock and protracted neurasthenia) after the long strain of campaigning–all this is brought before you in the most vivid manner. Mr. GILBERT FRANKAU writes with a fierce sincerity and with perhaps the defects of that sincerity – a bitterness against the non-combatant which was not usual in the fighting- man, at least when he was fighting; or perhaps it was only that they were too kind then to say so. Also as “one of us” he is a little overwhelmed by the sterling qualities of the rank-and-file–qualities which ought, he would be inclined to assume, to be the exclusive product of public-school playing-fields. I haven’t said that Peter Jackson gave up cigars and cigarettes for the sword, and beat that into a plough-share for a small-holding when the War was done. A jolly interesting book.

The beginning of that is sort-of-interesting. If Hutchinson played down the war aspect,  Land and Water  insisted on it, and promoted the book more  for its authenticity rather than for its qualities as fiction. Here is the notice preceding the instalment of 4 December 1919:

The last two instalments of “Peter Jackson” have been of unusual interest, for in them Mr Gilbert Frankau opened his unofficial account of the Battle of Loos, at which he himself was present, and which has recently been the subject of important controversy in the Press. Mr Frankau’s narrative is continued this week, and it will be found that Peter Jackson’s experiences, though fiction, make up a vivid picture of the battle as a gunner-officer might have seen it.

Maybe both Hutchinson and Land and Water shared the feeling that War fiction was going out of fashion. So one advertised the book as non-War fiction, and the other as War fact (for which there was a big market in the twenties).

Frankau is a readable novelist, but by no means a great one. In this book he is just too fond of his central character, and his central character is too obviously himself. Peter Jackson’s failure in the cigar trade, and his difficulties with his marriage are very like Frankau’s own story – but in the novel the failure of the cigar business is all down to the machinations of the Germans, while Jackson’s wife learns to value his true qualities. Things weren’t quite like that in real life. Having said which, the battle scenes are very well done, and the treatment of shell-shock is fascinating.


  1. Tim Smith
    Posted February 14, 2007 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    This is fascinating and a fair comment. Gilbert was my grandfather. I am working on a book mainly about his extraordinary mother, Julia, who wrote as ‘Frank Danby.’ I’d not seen the Bohun Lynch before, almost the only portrait of him where he is wearing any tie other than the Old Etonian.

    • Alan Harris
      Posted March 3, 2010 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

      Hi Tim – Gilbert’s brother, Paul Ewart Frankau was commemorated on the Macheke War Memorial in the former Rhodesia.
      I am keen to obtain a photograph of him for a record of the servicemen of Macheke district who lost their lives in WW1.
      Will make my day if you are able to assist please.

      • Posted March 4, 2010 at 7:57 am | Permalink

        I’ve not seen a picture of Paul Ewart, but there is a description of him as a boy in Gilbert’s ‘Self-Portrait’ (1941).
        Paul was always known to the family as ‘Jack’ and according to his brother was ‘a strange troublesome character who had been sent away from his first school for refusing to say his lessons except with a waste-paper basket on his head.’

      • Tim d'Arch Smith
        Posted March 24, 2011 at 10:56 am | Permalink

        I have two snapshots of Paul Frankau as a boy, both taken by his brother, Gilbert. I can scan them and send them to you if you let me know your email address. Sorry: I have only just read your request.

  2. Posted August 10, 2011 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Tim – I much appreciate your offer to send photos of Gilbert Frankau – thank you. My contact details

    • David Blanchard
      Posted November 3, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      Did Ronald Frankau also serve in the Great War. If so do you know which regiment he fought with?


      • Posted November 4, 2014 at 12:34 am | Permalink

        I don’t know which regiment he was in, but I think I read that he served in Africa.

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] For a quick primer on the two literary allusions in this summary, I’ll refer you to George Simmers’ Great War Fiction blog.  Here are his entries for Simon Called Peter and Peter Jackson, Cigar Merchant. […]

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