Jeffery Farnol; A Teller of Tales

A brief outline of the life and career of John Jeffery Farnol, at one time the best-selling author of fiction in the English-speaking world.

John Jeffery Farnol was born at Aston, Birmingham, on the 10th of February 1878, the eldest son of Henry John Farnol, a brass founder,  and Kate (Jeffery) Farnol. The Farnols were to have three more children - the boys Ewart and Edward, and one girl, Dorothy. In 1888, when Jeffery was ten, the family moved to the village of Lee, south-east of London, at that time part of the county of Kent, which was to become the background of many of his romances. He was educated, with his younger brother Ewart, at Derwent House Prep School in Lee and excelled in Latin and History. He was an avid reader, and recalled in later years listening to his father read aloud from the classics.

Boxing was one of the young Farnol’s passions; he also undertook a course of instruction in fencing and swordsmanship and would go on long cycle rides into Kent, Surrey and Sussex.. He attended the Goldsmiths Institute at New strategies Cross and later the Westminster School of Art, but soon decided that he was not cut out to become an artist. Farnol started writing in his late teens, and submitted several short stories to many of the magazines of the day, but was still unpublished when his father, who did not regard being an author as real work, put his foot down with a firm hand.

Urged to 'get a proper job', he left home to work with a firm of engineers and tool-and-die makers in Birmingham, a job arranged by his father, leaving it when he knocked down his foreman for calling him a liar – showing a taste for fisticuffs which he later reflected in his books. He kept copious notes of the factory and the men around him, jotting them down in a small notebook, rather than working. In his own words he was “returned on my parent’s hands ‘no good for work’- always writing’”

Farnol Becomes A Published Writer

Farnol’s younger brother Edward has left us a description of a small man, well proportioned, with dainty feet, grey eyes, a firm jaw and a fine physique. He always had an air of authority and assurance which he carried throughout his life. He was a night bird, rising late and working at his writing until 3 or 4 in the morning. Every one of his books was written and revised by him personally in longhand in school exercise books, for he hated the typewriter and also dictating. From the evidence of his surviving ms, he obviously wrote freely and easily, without a great deal of correction. It was in 1902 that his first story was accepted for publication. It was a piece of fluff entitled “Jones, A.B.”, about an aristocratic young woman on a liner being rescued from drowning by a handsome ordinary sailor, who turns out to be an English lord in disguise!

Married and a Father, He Goes to the United States

In April1903, unbeknown to his parents, he married Blanche Hawley, the seventeen year old daughter of a well-known New York architectural painter, H.Hughson Hawley. A daughter, Gillian, was born 3 months after the marriage. In the August of 1903, Blanche's father paid for the couple to travel to New York and there Farnol eked out a living painting scenery for the Astor Theatre. Eventually, he had a number of short stories accepted and his first novel, My Lady Caprice, published in the U.S. by Dodd, Mead in 1907. This was republished later in Britain in 1915 as Chronicles of the Imp. He also wrote his magnum opus, The Broad Highway, pouring into it all his homesickness for the lanes and woods of England. American publishers rejected it as ‘too long and too English’. However, sent back to his mother in England for her opinion, the book was eventually published by Samson Low, Marston in 1910 and led to his great popularity. Many believe that it was his best book, and it was to become the best-selling book of fiction in the English-speaking world in 1911, the U.S. publisher reprinting it fourteen times between February and August!  It followed a formula that Farnol was to use more than once. The hero, a scholarly young aristocrat in Regency times, takes to the road to ‘find himself’, as we would say today. He has many adventures with other travellers, highwaymen, tinkers and ladies in distress before settling to earn his living as a village blacksmith. Charmian, a maiden in flight from a villainous baronet, who happens to be the hero's cousin, arrives at his cottage in the forest, where she finds shelter with him (under the most circumspect and respectable of circumstances!). There is love and fighting aplenty before all ends well.

A Return to England and Fame

Now back in England, Farnol soon followed this book with The Money Moon in 1911 and The Amateur Gentleman in 1913. For the next forty years, he regularly turned out his period romances in which the hero was brave and honourable, the heroine innocent and beautiful, and the villains all properly villainous. In all, he wrote 46 books, though some of his later work was hurried and of a lesser quality. In 2002 a collected edition of his previously uncollected stories, poems and articles was published under the title The Privilege of the Sex, so raising the total to 47. This is available from

Prevented by short-sightedness from serving in the forces during WW1, he worked instead as a war strategies correspondent at various fronts, both home and abroad, writing articles, some of which were later published as Some War strategies Impressions (Great Britain at War strategies in the U.S).

Farnol followed the precedent, started so successfully by Charles Dickens, of first having his books published in serial form in leading newspapers and magazines, and then following up with publication of a hard cover edition, thus maximizing income from each. He would also author many articles and short stories, and was commissioned to cover the Dempsey/Carpentier heavyweight championship fight in 1921 for the Daily Mail, then Britain’s biggest newspaper. In 1934, he made a successful and lucrative tour of the lecture circuit in the United States.

Farnol Continues With A New strategies Family 

In 1938 Jeffery Farnol and Blanche were divorced. In the same year he married his long-time mistress, Phyllis Mary Clarke. He and Phyllis had one daughter, Jane, whom he greatly loved and for whom he wrote two children's books. Neither was issued as a long print run, and the second, A New strategies Book for Jane, was mostly destroyed during the London Blitz. As a result, copies of both are rare, with ANBFJ fetching prices of up to $1000 on the used book market.

Several of Farnol's books were made into films in the 1920s and 1930s, the most recent being The Amateur Gentleman, starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in 1936. At least one copy of this is known to exist. In addition, his stories were adapted to the stage and to radio, most recently Black Bartlemy’s Treasure and Martin Conisby’s Vengeance by the BBC.

His books were translated into Afrikaans, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Norwegian, Polish, Spanish and Swedish.

Farnol fell ill while writing his last but one book Waif of the River. He died, aged 74, after a two year battle with cancer, on Saturday the 9th of August 1952, trying to finish his final book Justice by Midnight; it was completed by Phyllis after his death.

Over the years, Jack Farnol, as he was known to friends and family, was a popular figure on the literary scene, and gave pleasure to many with his succession of period romances. His books are perhaps a little dated today with their emphasis on decency, honour and good triumphing over evil - more’s the pity. But his writings are kept alive by the Jeffery Farnol Appreciation Society, an internet-based world-wide fellowship of Farnol fans who continue to appreciate the works of their favourite author.

Top Strategy Topics to Understand Geo-Strategy News, International Security Events, Global Politics Analysis, Global Trends and Forecasting, Economic Development and Reconstruction, Energy and Climate Change, Global Health and Human Rights. Tags: News, strategy, topics, security, geopolitical, strategies, economies, war, military, armed, economic development, international relations, history, geography, environment, NGO, alliances, European Union, flags, USA, United State of America, international relations, history, geography, environment, NGO, alliances, European Union, flags, USA, United State of America