A remarkable 20th century life
This is an online event hosted on the British Library platform. Bookers are sent a link in advance giving access and can watch at any time for 48 hours after the start time.
Drawing from her new biography, Trauma, Primitivism, and the First World War: The Making of Frank ‘Toronto’ Prewett, Joy Porter explores the extraordinary life of this Canadian veteran, poet and exceptional man of letters, and the history of trauma, literary expression and the power of self-representation after World War I.
While serving with the British forces on the Western front during World War I, Prewett was thrown from his horse and suffered severe back injuries in one battle and clawed his way out of the earth after being buried alive in another. Recovering at the same psychiatric hospital as Siegfried Sassoon, Prewett was encouraged to ‘dress up’. Yet in so doing, he took on an entirely fictitious identity as an indigenous Canadian named Toronto.
With his exceptional good looks, Prewett soon became the love interest not only of Sassoon himself, but also of Lady Ottoline Morrell, the transgressive British Bloomsbury society hostess. Through them, he connected with all of the major writers of the early 20th century and his work, and ‘primitive’ genius, was lauded by all. Eventually, Prewett ‘cracked’ and the group cast him out, yet he himself never let go of this alter-ego.
The event is chaired by author and editor Erica Wagner. Actor Alex McMorran will read examples of Prewett’s poems during the event.
The book Trauma, Primitivism, and the First World War: The Making of Frank ‘Toronto’ Prewett, by Joy Porter can be ordered at 35% discount from bloomsbury.com by using the code PREW21
Joy Porter is a writer, researcher and academic from the North of Ireland who writes about indigenous and environmental history, modernity and war. She is a Leverhulme Major Research Fellow (2019-2022) and Principal Investigator of the Treatied Spaces Research Cluster (treatiedspaces.com) based at the University of Hull. She recently launched Brightening the Covenant Chain, a research project funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council. Her next book is Canada’s Green Challenge, contracted with McGill-Queens University Press.
Erica Wagner is the author, most recently, of Chief Engineer: Washington Roebling, the Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge (Bloomsbury), for which she received the Eccles Centre & Hay Festival Writer’s Award. She is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and consulting literary editor for Harper's Bazaar. She is a lecturer in creative writing at Goldsmiths College.
Alexander McMorran is a Canadian actor and musician originally from Vancouver but now based in London. Since graduating from LAMDA, his theatrical highlights include playing Joey “the Lips” in the first UK and Ireland tour of Roddy Doyle's The Commitments, and his West End debut in the UK premiere of Steven Dietz's Lonely Planet. Alex has proudly been the lone Canadian cast member in Come From Away since it opened in the West End in 2019, which is (hopefully!) having its long-awaited re-opening in July. His voice can be heard in many video games, cartoons and audiobooks, and he is the narrator of the Animal Planet show Nature's Strangest Mysteries: Solved.
This event is supported by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.
Images: Frank James Prewett by Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1919. © National Portrait Gallery, London
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