A Conscious Englishman is a novel based on the lives of the poet Edward Thomas and his wife Helen, set in and around 1914. A great deal has already been written about him and this author recycles what she has learned from biographies and memoirs.

Most of the facts were known to me, but I found it an absorbing book nevertheless.

Edward is 35, not yet a poet but an overworked literary critic with a demanding young family. He is often depressed.

Women fall in love with him, but the earth of England means more to him than any woman.

The Downs, the Malvern hills, the countryside around Dymock in Gloucestershire provide the raw material for his imagination.

The great event in his life is his friendship with the American poet Robert Frost, also the father of a family, who convinces him that he can write poetry too.

The First World War breaks out and, not much wanting to be involved, he considers following Frost to the United States.

But he suddenly finds himself writing about the corners of England which haven’t yet been overwhelmed — cottage gardens, country stations, a badger’s lair.

As the war goes on, he is forced to choose between emigration and enlistment.

Something in the real Edward Thomas wanted to go into the dark, get away from his family and prove that he was worthy to be an Englishman.

This novel is very good on the influences behind the wonderful poetry he wrote in his last few years — including Adelstrop, which we all remember after his railway trip in 1914 on what is now the Cotswold Line.

In the background, Oxford author Margaret Keeping, a former teacher and probation officer, shows several unhappy women, who have their own point of view.

In case you didn’t know, the poet was killed during the Battle of Arras in 1917.