The yearmarks the th anniversary of one of the most original and gripping volumes ever written about the First World War Fussell illuminates a war that changed a generation and revolutionised the way we see the world He explores the British experience on the western Front fromto , focusing on the various literary means by which it has been remembered, conventionalized and mythologized It is also about the literary dimensions of the experience itself Fussell supplies contexts, both actual and literary, for writers who have most effectively memorialized the Great War as an historical experience with conspicuous imaginative and artistic meaning These writers include the classic memoirists Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Edmund Blunden, and poets David Jones, Isaac Rosenberg, and Wilfred Owen In his new introduction Fussell discusses the critical responses to his work, the authors and works that inspired his own writing, and the elements which influence our understanding and memory of war Fussell also shares the stirring experience of his research at the Imperial War Museum s Department of Documents Fussell includes a new Suggested Further Reading ListFussell s landmark study of World War I remains as original and gripping today as ever before a literate, literary, and illuminating account of the Great War, the one that changed a generation, ushered in the modern era, and revolutionized how we see the worldhalftones


10 thoughts on “The Great War and Modern Memory

  1. Warwick Warwick says:

    Very enjoyable, very thought provoking, but not necessarily very convincing, Fussell s sui generis book is an extended literary criticism masquerading as social history or perhaps the other way round There are various arguments going on in here, but the main thrust is that much of how we think about the modern world indeed our whole contemporary mindset has its origin in ideas that came about as an attempt to respond to the unprecedented scale and irony of the 1914 18 conflict Irony is Very enjoyable, very thought provoking, but not necessarily very convincing, Fussell s sui generis book is an extended literary criticism masquerading as social history or perhaps the other way round There are various arguments going on in here, but the main thrust is that much of how we think about the modern world indeed our whole contemporary mindset has its origin in ideas that came about as an attempt to respond to the unprecedented scale and irony of the 1914 18 conflict Irony is the crucial term And a famously vague one let me first, like a teenager giving a graduation speech, turn to the OED s third sense of the word A state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what was or might be expected an outcome cruelly, humorously, or strangely at odds with assumptions or expectations.For Fussell, Every war constitutes an irony of situation because its means are so melodramatically disproportionate to its presumed ends and the Great War wasironic than any before or since Highlighting the insanity of trench warfare, and the ridiculous proximity of the trenches to home , Fussell first traces the various ways people responded to this grotesque irony, and then considers how it has affected language, culture and thought processes since.Though he does look at some contemporary letters and diaries, his main sources of evidence are the great literary responses to the war, especially Sassoon, Graves, Blunden, Owen, and David Jones, and he locates the source of all their techniques in irony assisted recall.I love this attention to irony as the defining quality of the war but it also epitomises a sense I had that Fussell was claiming a special status for the First World War that it didn t really possess After all, irony is hardly new To me, it seems to be a central part of war literature almost as far back as you can go Homeric irony is almost proverbial.Similarly it seems quite a claim to say that 1914 18 was unusually marked by a sense of adversary proceedings , an us against them mentality, since this is surely characteristic of the whole notion of what war is If anything, the WWI literature I ve read has been notable for its awareness that the other side was exactly the same as them I think of the German and French soldiers trapped all night together in the shell hole in All Quiet on the Western Front, for instance.Just oneexample to make my point Fussell believes there is something unusually theatrical in the English conception of this war During the war, it was the British, rather than the French, the Americans, the Italians, the Portuguese, the Russians, or the Germans, who referred to trench raids as shows or stunts And it is English playwrights or at least Anglo Irish ones like Wilde and Shaw who compose plays proclaiming at every point that they are plays.But this is weird, not just because of the qualification he needed in that last sentence, but because when I think of deliberately artificial stagecraft I think of Brecht a German and the term used for this in modern theatre studies is a German one, Verfremdungseffekt In general his idea of specifically national characteristics seems a bit strained he uses Manning s Her Privates We as an example of how English writers were saturated with Shakespeare but Frederic Manning was an Australian.There are severalsuch quibbles I could adduce, but none of them stopped me enjoying Fussell s arguments, most of which are brilliantly constructed He is especially convincing on the pervasive influence of the Oxford Book of Verse on contemporary patterns of speech and thought, and he has a fantastic ability to spot poetic echoes buried in the most unlikely places When CE Montague writes of one destroyed battalion, Seasons returned, but not to that battalion returned the spirit of delight in which it had first learnt to soldier together , perhaps it is not too difficult to discern the presence of Milton s Thus with the year Seasons return, but not to me returns Day, or the sweet approach of Ev n or Morn But Fussell also finds parallels to both Sassoon s The Kiss and Owen s Arms and the Boy in Bret Harte s What the Bullet Sang and there are other, evenobscure examples.An American, he seems fascinated by the extent to which the idea of English Literature was a part of daily life for so many British soldiers, and he gathers a great deal of evidence from letters and diaries showing how common this was among all ranks.Carrington once felt a studious fit and sent home for some Browning At first, he says, I was mocked in the dugout as a highbrow for reading The Ring and the Book , but saying nothing I waited until one of the scoffers idly picked it up In ten minutes he was absorbed, and in three days we were fighting for turns to read it, and talking of nothing else at meals Perhaps the most interesting chapter for me was the one about the homoeroticism of war writing, which examines certain tropes in First World War literature and traces them back to the influence of Housman, the Aesthetes and the Uranians, with their veneration of wounded or dying soldier lads , forever stripping off and bathing in handy streams Here and elsewhere, Fussell follows the variations forward in time as well, to modern war literature, where he sees Heller s Catch 22 and Pynchon s Gravity s Rainbow as especially representative For him, this style of heavily ironised, conspiratorial writing has its roots in the Western Front Prolonged trench warfare, whether enacted or remembered, fosters paranoid melodrama, which I take to be a primary mode in modern writing Well, maybe I enjoyed seeing the argument made even if I m not sure I believe it.Fussell himself fought in Europe the Second World War and was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart in a certain sense this book is personal, and it has to do with exploring the gap between ideas of war and the reality The way he reacted to the fighting in Alsace was in some sense so at least he seems to be arguing pre moulded by society s experience of the Somme and Paschendaele And indeed, like many other writers I ve encountered recently, Fussell notes that one can easily conceive of the events running from 1914 to 1945 as another Thirty Years War and the two world wars as virtually a single historical episode


  2. Eric Eric says:

    When war broke out, the undergraduate Robert Graves pictured what service he might render as garrison duty literally holding down the fort while the professional Regular Army charged to glory on the continent The 100,000 strong force of British Regulars ferried across the channel in August 1914 to protect Belgium and assist the French was all used up by early November It is said, the high command and the staff officers survived the old army was beyond recall This isn t war cried an appa When war broke out, the undergraduate Robert Graves pictured what service he might render as garrison duty literally holding down the fort while the professional Regular Army charged to glory on the continent The 100,000 strong force of British Regulars ferried across the channel in August 1914 to protect Belgium and assist the French was all used up by early November It is said, the high command and the staff officers survived the old army was beyond recall This isn t war cried an appalled Lord Kitchener when he learned of the casualties consumed in the first collisions of those ignorant and hopeful armies, coming on with storybook airs and futuristic firepower To me the early clashes of autumn 1914 make one of the fascinating episodes of the Great War A voice from within the whirlwind This is a terrible war and I don t suspect there is an idle British soldier in France I wonder where it will end one hears so much There has beenfighting and loss of life crowded into seven weeks than there was in the whole of South Africa It is awful what the Brigade of Guards have lost and being like one big regiment one knows everyone and feels it all theThe last two days have been ghastly The Germans broke through the line We have lost ten officers in the last two days and yesterday the battalion was less than 200 men, though I expect some stragglers will turn up All the officers in my company were lost except myself We have had no rest at all Everyone is very shaken. The soldier writing his mother thus in September, 1914, was twenty one year old 2nd Lt Neville Leslie Woodroffe, 1st Battalion Irish Guards the regiment in which Rudyard Kipling lost two sons, and whose official history he wrote At First Ypres on 6 November, Woodroffe and the remnants of his company were all shot down counterattacking a trench from which they d been ousted I think he s abeautiful Georgian war martyr than the Bloomsbury Apollo Rupert Brooke That eye Haunting And it s hard to imagine this ephebic studio apotheosis bearded and begrimed and blasting at Germans with a rifle England at war Fussell s pictures are fascinating Life seemed to stand uneasily still, and in no direction was there any prospect Churchill the Regular Army obliterated Deadlock the government silent, but there are rumors in the pubs and families in mourning everywhere you look But of course they don t and can t know Lloyd George a draft of millions for 1916 s war ending Big Push the slaughter of infantry changes nothing, decides nothing 60,000 men down on the first day and Haig buts away at the German lines for another five months, until 400,000 are gone the Front so near the guns audible to Kent and Sussex an officer granted leave breakfasts in the trenches and dines at his club in London Both Fortnum Mason and Harrod s specialized in gift assortments for the front, Fortnum s fruit cake being especially popular for lasting well a society s powers of euphemism and denial strained to the limit Keep Calm Carry On Don t think you know better than Haig scapegoat the Pacifist for saying what we all fear Open Secrets so many have died and nothing is working a generation of Britons flounders in slime and shit, drowns in a vast excremental slough scattered in the millions of muddy men are the poets Sassoon, Owen, Blunden enter the Armageddonite landscape, plowed by infernal engines, carrying with them three hundred years of sophisticated literary pastoralism, England s inheritance of dulcet rural airs and homoerotic elegy The stylistic traditionalism of most of England s Great War writing, Fussell writes, has prevented us from seeing its connections to modernism Fussell made me feel bad for having uncritically accepted the Stein Lawrence view, at least as summarized by Ann Douglas, that American writers were best suited to writing the Great War because of America s relative detachment from English literary convention specious flummery, anyway , because of its recent experience of mechanized attrition the Civil War , because of the nervous tension and demonic primitivism of classic American literature Moby Dick, Poe s nightmares , and because of the precedents of spare and unsentimental war writing in American prose Ambrose Bierce, Grant s and Sherman s memoirs That s all well and good, Fussell says, if you don t care about irony Fussell is interested in English war writing because Sassoon, Owen and Blunden modify ironically the pre modern tropes and imagery with which they must describe a modern experience Sardonic but deeply conscious engagement with tradition the oneness of innovation and remembering, new meanings from old meanings is what interests Fussell Literature is writing that remembers and refers and Fussell doesn t buy the argument rather, the attitude, the pose that Literature is made mute by horrors I dunno I find Wilfred Owen too richly Keatsian, and Hemingway spare to the point of half wittedness Fussell ranges beyond WWI memoirs and poems to show how the Great War produced a mythic narrative of twentieth century technological conflict that later writers absorbed and augmented nonebrilliantly than Pynchon Fussell refers to Gravity s Rainbow throughout, and in his conclusion says it represents almost the first time the ritual of military remembering is freed from all puritan lexical constraint and allowed to take place with a full appropriate obscenity I ve heard Gravity s Rainbow invoked as a digest of wildly different insights, so it must be one of those mega anatomies touching Everything I ll add it to the list of to reads spawned by this, by every book


  3. Trevor Trevor says:

    When Bill aka Quo recommended this to me a couple of weeks ago I really didn t think I would get to it anytime soon I also decided that it would be a military book or sorts, dealing, perhaps, with how what is remembered of a war isn t necessarily what actually happened If that had been what it was about, it would have been an interesting enough book, but this proved much better than I could have anticipated.This book looks at how various mostly British writers wrote about the Great War and When Bill aka Quo recommended this to me a couple of weeks ago I really didn t think I would get to it anytime soon I also decided that it would be a military book or sorts, dealing, perhaps, with how what is remembered of a war isn t necessarily what actually happened If that had been what it was about, it would have been an interesting enough book, but this proved much better than I could have anticipated.This book looks at how various mostly British writers wrote about the Great War and what their writing about the war meant for modern literature, and therefore how we then came to understand that war and all wars subsequent to it It also provides insight into what people wrote home so, normal writers too, not just poets and writers.This is a glorious book I have learnt so much from it, and as a piece of literary criticism I was thinking that it is perhaps as good an introduction to that subject as you can find There are lovely bits to this His discussion of the power of the number three throughout much of the English literary canon was masterful He links this back to Christian imagery innocence, the fall, redemption and so you can see how this might be used when people were struggling to work out how they might represent this most horrible of wars.The Great War was a mess of contradictions Britain was evendivided by social class than it is now As he says at one point, one s social location was immediately apparent by the clothes one wore and the accent one spoke But a large part of social distinction depends on a kind of social distance and social distance was obliterated in the endlessly turning human meat mincing machine that trench warfare proved to be And given one s betters where the people responsible for the endless waste of life all around you, that hardly helped The horrors needed somehow to be comprehended but many of the usual ways of doing this writing down what you were experiencing and trying to make it understandable were barred due to censorship of mail from the front The government even issued printed form postcards that soldiers could essentially tick a box and then send home, something later mocked by writers such as Waugh I think the last couple of chapters here that discuss homosexuality are among the most interesting in the entire book Throwing so many young men together is going to be a problem at the best of times, but having them constantly believe and with total justification that they were moments away from death, that was hardly likely to make things better The death sex unity idea is very strong here But as the author says, homosexual acts were barred, but mass slaughter was encouraged One of the threes that I mentioned before turns up when he talks of a soldier in the trenches whose commanding officer got everyone in his unit to count off in threes so soldier after soldier called out one, two or three until the whole unit had a number dividing them into thirds Then everyone who was numbered three had to go over the top something that would prove an immediate death sentence, and something everyone already knew The soldier tries not to smile at his luck at not being numbered three, but, of course, the person beside him is So, he fixed his eyes on the trench wall in front of him Can you imagine Dear God, what a complete nightmare I m so glad it is you, rather than me I didn t know that poppies had been a symbol of homosexuality prior to the war And the dedications to fellow soldiers that I would have just taken as being the sorts of things soldiers say to each other that we will always be closer than brothers and so on clearly often had much deeper meanings than I d suspected At one point in this he says that Churchill believed that the First World War never really ended, or rather that it only ended at the end of the Second World War Its impact on literature is probably continuing in many ways up to today My own generation may be the last generation to have met and who remember people who fought in that war As is made clear in this book, for many of those who fought it was a constant presence throughout the rest of their lives I really liked this book it is anything but your standard book on military history


  4. Michael Michael says:

    This masterful book, published in 1975, provides a rewarding set of explorations in the way our experience of the war has been captured by literature and thereby filtered into our collective memory and understanding of it Fussell focuses almost exclusively on the British experience at the Western Front, which includes, out of the 500 miles of the continuous line from the Belgian coast to Switzerland, the trenches of the Somme region of Picardy and of the Yrpes salient in Flanders His thesis is This masterful book, published in 1975, provides a rewarding set of explorations in the way our experience of the war has been captured by literature and thereby filtered into our collective memory and understanding of it Fussell focuses almost exclusively on the British experience at the Western Front, which includes, out of the 500 miles of the continuous line from the Belgian coast to Switzerland, the trenches of the Somme region of Picardy and of the Yrpes salient in Flanders His thesis is that the unique qualities of the war in its senseless slaughter severely challenged the ability of any narrative to capture its horrors, but that the work of fiction, memoir, and poetry by certain notable participants forged some lasting truths that conform to an ironic turn in the literary enterprise This in turn paved the way for the reactions after the war in the Modernist masterpieces of irony by non participants with better writing talent e.g Joyce, Woolf, Pound, Eliot and later for aunfettered vision of its absurdity and obscenity in postmodernist works like Heller s Catch 22 and Pynchon s Gravity s Rainbow , despite their ostensible settings of World War 2 The long stalemate in trench warfare and its unprecedented levels of casualties due to automatic weapons and intensive artillery barrages contribute to the unusual qualities of this war so difficult to convey in its reality There was such a yawning gap between what was expected of the ill prepared men and what they could achieve, between the platitudes and euphemisms of the officers and the press and the reality in the field So many deaths with no territory gained did not jive with any propaganda gloss of honorable sacrifice Life in the trenches with its mud, lice, rats, and stench of excrement and decaying bodies, long periods of bombardment, and hopeless raids against machine guns and gas attacks, was a hell beyond reach of metaphors one might use to boost objective description All but the most peasant level of soldiers were surprisingly steeped in classical literature and Victorian romantic and pastoral traditions Most tropes for expressing meaning in existence worked only by way of contrast with life before the war or even the relatively short distances from the front As in all wars, your mate was your one core pathway to expressing a capacity to be human, and such bonds acquired an spiritual quality in the collective records and writings of this time, with the homoerotic elements submerged or sublimated As for God, either he was on a strike or out to lunch Many in letters home reach for references to Bunyan s passage through a dangerous wasteland in Pilgrim s Progress or the biblical Valley of the Shadow of Death The troglodyte life below ground and constant watch on the blasted landscape of no man s land before them engendered a special relationship with the sky above as about their only connection to the natural world The daily cycles of work between daytime post in the forward firing trenches, sleep and feeding time in support and reserve trenches a couple hundred yards behind, and intense work on refortification and body removals under cover of darkness rendered a ritual purpose to a Sisyphean existence The stand to group sessions at dawn and dusk was an especially significant turning point for anointing the isolated individuals with a sense of shared fate and enlightenment over calls for active attacks or defense For many, the unreality of their role in the war felt just like the pretense behind acting in a play, the three acts naturally fell to training in the first act, time at the front for the second, and return home the hoped for third act.The geography of the situation forever changed English language usage Almost daily one can feels echoes of the war in the common usage of no man s land , over the top , and entrenched When T.S Eliot in the 20s used The Waste Land in his poem, you can presume the connection despite no explicit reference to the war beyond bodies fertilizing fields Because of constraints on the press, the true status of the war was obscured from the public behind euphemisms If a journalist described fighting as sharp or brisk , that kind of adjective tended to refer to an outcome of casualties around 50% Everyone reached to make some kind of story out of a life so obviously just a cog in a nihilistic universe Inevitably, irony and dark humor was the only mode of expression that could come close to capturing the reality and render a means to put it into place Here a common soldier fights back with such a pose One s revulsion to the ghastly horrors of war was submerged in the belief that this war was to end all wars and Utopia would arise What an illusion In the hands of serious writers after the reality of this war, those who attempted to apply a romantic or pastoral cast to life at the front are trumped by the ones that succeeded with modes of irony and farce Fussell details how it is that David Jones epic poem about his war experience, In Parenthesis, applied allusions to Arthurian myths and other old narratives but failed to elevate this conflict to the standard heroic scenarios for plucky but reserved Brits at war With Kipling s history of the Irish brigade his son fought and died with, Fussell makes us see how inappropriate his crafted rhetoric is, with its prose rhythms, alliteration, and imposed causalities, which leaves us to wonder Is there any way of compromising with the reader s expectations that written history ought to be interesting, meaningful and the cruel fact that much of what happens all of what happens is inherently without meaning By contrast, he finds Sassoon s poetry and autobiographical trilogy, Sherston s Progress, makes a better frame to capture the paradoxical truths of human experience of the war, consistent with him being both an heroic combat leader and, eventually, a conscientious war objector In setting down so well his transitions from self centered fox hunter to a band of brother warriors and, as a consequence of visits or medical recovery to England, to a voice of resistance to the waste and advocate of a negotiated peace Big ironies for him was how his lucid sanity about the war got him treated at a psychiatric hospital and how the old nobility of loyalty to your men was what led him to choose to return to the front Despite the appearance of a memoir with names changed, the work leaves out that Sassoon was gay and that he was intensely active in writing and publishing poetry in this period and neglects the personal impact of his friendship with and mentorshiop of fellow poet Willfred Owen at the hospital.Sassoon s friend, Robert Graves, also wins high marks from Fussell for successfully capturing the miserable state of the British soldier and military society in his Good bye to All That Though called a memoir, he later admitted that many elements were fictional additions to give the general reader what they wanted and to boost sales, including assurance that the most painful chapters were the most jokiest Despite all the fictional elements, Fussell finds it a great record of truth and noble in its application of farce as an antidote to war Its brilliance and compelling energy reside in its structural invention and in its perpetual resourcefulness in imposing the patterns of farce and comedy onto the blank horrors or meaningless vacancies of experience If it really were a documentary transcription of the actual, it would be worth very little, and would surely not be, as it is, infinitely re readable It is valuable just because it is not true in that way A poet, we remember Aristotle saying, is one who mastered the art of telling lies successfully, that is, dramatically, interestingly And what is a Graves A Graves is a tongue in cheek neurasthenic farceur whose material is fact Graves is a joker, a manic illusionist Being a Graves is a way of being scandalously CeltishIt is a way perhaps the only way left of rebelling against the positivistic pretensions of non Celts and satirizing the preposterous scientism of the twentieth century His enemies are always the same solemnity, certainty, complacency, pomposity, cruelty And it was the Great War that brought them to his attention.The third memoir that Fussell delves deeply into is Edmund Blunden s Undertones of War My past readings have made me very aware of Sassoon and Graves, but I had not heard of this well revered British poet and essayist He was a shepherd s son who advanced the pastoral traditions of literature so prominent in the 19th century he later wrote the monumental Nature in English Literature What we get in his writing on his battalion at the front are innumerable perversions of the pastoral and a vision of an overall travesty of nature Bullets whiz like insects, and skulls underfoot seem like mushrooms But overall, the effect is to pit spoiled nature and lost innocence as a counter to war and to hold the unnecessary suffering and cruelty up to shame us all He finds his approach one of admirable literary bravery In a world where literary quality of Blunden s sort is conspicuously an antique, every word of Undertones of War, every rhythm, allusion, and droll personification, can be recognized as an assault on the war and on the world which chose to conduct and continue it It suggests what the modern world would look like to a sensibility that was genuinely civilized.Isaac Rosenberg is another author of focus here that I was unfamiliar with Fussell greatly admires how he walks the line between valuing the honor and bravery of the men with classical illusions while keeping their humbling misery constantly in view by means of subtle ironies For example, in Break of Day in the Trenches a soldier touches rat while reaching to pluck a poppy and put it behind his ear The sense of identity with this fellow denizen of the earth morphs into a form of envy as he imagines the freedom of the rat to visit the German lines, there where he might read comparable expressions of horror in their faces He recognizes the poppy as both a symbol of death and taking it as a temporary hold on life Poppies whose roots are in man s veinsDrop, and are ever dropping But mine in my ear is safe,Just a little white with the dust.The most popular poem from the war, and read at many a memorial to this day, is McCrae s In Flanders Fields Its dose of artful sentimentality always puts a lump in my throat similar to hearing the songs Waltzing Mathilde or No Man s Land Fussell finds it a bit funny for a flower associated with forgetfulness due to its opium to become one of remembrance Yet he admires the power of the poem s use of ghostly speech from the grave, despite its being a hackneyed device We are the Dead Short days agoWe lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,Loved and were loved, and now we lieIn Flanders fields.But for him it is forever ruined by ending with a propaganda argument against a negotiated peace Take up our quarrel with the foe To you from failing hands we throwThe torch be yours to hold it high.A surprise in Fussell s account is how often he reaches for writings from or about other wars to fulfill the completeness of the message of what we inherit from the human experience of the Western Front Time and again he pulls quotes from Gravity s Rainbow for that purpose For example, here is a mocking of the honor of the commanders of the war The presence of Brigadier Pudding in the novel proposes the Great War as the ultimate origin of the insane contemporary scene Pudding s greatest triumph on the battlefield , we are told, came in 1917, in the gassy, Armageddonite filth of the Ypres salient, where he conquered a bight of no man s land some 40 yards at its deepest, with a wastage of only 70% of his unit On the special kind of man love that grew in the trenches, the men themselves had Housman s Shropshire Lad in their minds for epitomizing the nobility of such bonds, the very word lad so potent for a beautiful brave doomed boy If truth in hearts that perishCould move the powers on high,I think the love I bear youShould make you not to die.But Fussell hands it to Pynchon provide the last word, as an aside directly to the reader about the historical loss of this type of love It wasn t always so In the trenches of the First World War, English men came to love one another decently, without shame or make believe, under the easy likelihood of their sudden deaths, and to find in the faces of other young men evidence of otherworldly visits, some poor hope that may have helped redeem even mud, shit, the decaying pieces of human meat While Europe died meanly in its own wastes, men loved.The British lost about a million people in the war The pointlessness of such loss is so hard to digest and take in stride, even to this time 100 years later Literature does its best in an ongoing process Fussell does a great job tying up his themes at the end, making frequent reference to Frye s theories of cycles in literary form The past is always present in his way of thinking The culture of the past is not only the memory of mankind, but our own buried life.


  5. Richard Derus Richard Derus says:

    Read for a history course at Southwest Texas State in the 1980s It was a before and after book Before the Great War was retronymed World War One in my database, after it was not That by itself was a huge reorientation of my thinking.A friend called this read to mind today, and I got to thinking about historiography and its pleasures, the mental laziness of accepting the nonce words bandied about instead of seeking out the contemporaneous views and language Armistice Day instead of Vete Read for a history course at Southwest Texas State in the 1980s It was a before and after book Before the Great War was retronymed World War One in my database, after it was not That by itself was a huge reorientation of my thinking.A friend called this read to mind today, and I got to thinking about historiography and its pleasures, the mental laziness of accepting the nonce words bandied about instead of seeking out the contemporaneous views and language Armistice Day instead of Veterans Day, for example.Paul Fussell s work was always linguistically exact and intellectually exacting It was all theformative for me because of that I don t guess too many people will thunder out to grab copies of this sizable and dense tome I call it a pity The exercise for the brain would make it well worth the spondulix


  6. Nick Milne Nick Milne says:

    Note I ve read this book twice, the first time years ago I set the read date as today so it updates on the Facebook wall properly In this landmark text from 1975, Fussell an American scholar and veteran looks at a selection of writings from certain soldier authors on the Western Front and examines the implications of same when it comes to how the war should best be understood It s difficult to express how influential this book has been, or how widely it has been hailed since its publica Note I ve read this book twice, the first time years ago I set the read date as today so it updates on the Facebook wall properly In this landmark text from 1975, Fussell an American scholar and veteran looks at a selection of writings from certain soldier authors on the Western Front and examines the implications of same when it comes to how the war should best be understood It s difficult to express how influential this book has been, or how widely it has been hailed since its publication it won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award, and is on the list of the Modern Library s one hundred best important non fiction books of the twentieth century It has never been out of print, and comes in three distinct editions the original 1975 volume from the Oxford University Press, the 2000 follow up to same a 25th Anniversary edition that boasted a new afterword from the author , and the most recent a lavish new illustrated edition from Sterling released in 2012 on the occasion of the author s death It is greatly expanded with full colour plates throughout, and the layout though not the content has been substantially revised.I repeat that it s an extraordinarily influential work, and has had a citation history since its publication that could almost be described as Total that is, it was very hard for a very long time to find a book on the war that did not include some nod to Fussell and his ideas It also led to a trend in naming books about the war with a similar convention see Stefan Goebel s The Great War and Medieval Memory 2007 or Jason Crouthamel s The Great War and German Memory 2009 , for but two examples there are many, but I guess I can t really complain about that.In any event, it s a big deal so why am I upset Fussell has faced a steady stream of criticism from historians of the war he is primarily a literary scholar, as am I, but eventhan that has characterized himself first as a pissed off infantryman for his over reliance on an archly editorial tone and a tendency to indulge in errors of fact when it makes for a good narrative There s a now famous critique of the book by the military historians Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson that first appeared in War in History 1.1 1994 , in which the two compare it to his later, similar work on WWII Wartime Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, 1989 The second book is another story, but when it comes to the first they are critical of what they see as Fussell s hostility to anything resembling official history and of his reliance upon utterly subjective literary engagements to tell the real truth This, anyway, is one of thefamous critiques there are certainly others.For his own part, Fussell has responded to his critics in the Afterwood to the 2000 edition of his work, after a fashion His errors of fact and grossly polemic tone remain in that edition and in the new illustrated edition, too , and all he offers in response is the suggestion that his critics are heartless apathetes who don t understand suffering, and that, as he was only writing in the elegaic mood to begin with, demanding historical accuracy of him was a foolish move on their part Yeah, how dare they He has elsewhere made it clear in an essay included in his Thank God for the Atom Bomb collection, though I can t remember its name that he thinks authors who respond to their critics in depth are idiots, so I guess it was never meant to be, but an ounce of humility might have been nice.Anyway, with due admission of the importance it holds to many people, and the reputation that it has won, there is much about that makes it a very poor book.Fussell makes a very big deal about how he wants to get back to what the real, regular men doing the real fighting had to say and think about the war experience, and to wrest command of this idea away from the intellectuals, the generals, the politicians the official narrative To do this, he has written a book that offers as real, regular men such luminaries as Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, Edmund Blunden and Wilfred Owen men, that is, who were all recipients of expansive educations, enjoyed a great deal of leisure in their civilian lives Sassoon was as notorious for his fox hunting as he was for his literary salons, for example , and had such exquisitely artistic, intellectual sensibilities that their first response to combat was to write sonnets about it As fantastic as these writers were, and as impressive specimens of men, regular they are not.Fussell indulges in gross sensationalism as a matter of course in a bid to support his book s overarching thesis, which is that war generally and the Great War evenso is a fundamentally ironic enterprise He conveys facts about the war in a manner calculated to bring out their apparent irony and stupidity, but it is very easy to go too far with this as he does when he blandly asserts in the book s early pages that the war saw eight million men killed because an archduke and his wife had been shot paraphrased, but not by much I can get the actual citation, if you like This is the kind of thing as are various claims about Sir Douglas Haig that s of a nature so trivializing, reductive and vicious that it would likely see a student who attempted it drummed out of his program The uneloquent Sir Douglas attempt to offer some words of inspiration to the BEF during the German Spring Offensive of 1918 which resulted in the catastrophic rout of the British army along a considerable front earns him a comparison to Hitler, for example.There s also a certain strange ignorance on display in what he chooses to address someone so fixated on the war s irony and the literary dimensions of it can not easily be forgiven for having nothing whatever to say about the death of H.H Saki Munro in 1916 Saki was one of the most famous English literary ironists of his time, and the supremely ironic manner of his death cut down by a sniper in the act of scolding an enlisted man for lighting a too noticeable cigarette at night would seem to make him an ideal inclusion in a book of this sort But no not even mentioned once At another point, Fussell says something factually incorrect about Kipling s The Irish Guards in the Great War 1923 and then uses this error as a platform from which to breezily attack Kipling s character This was actually the first deficiency I noticed in the work when I read it for the first time, and it put me on my guard at once.There are other things he fails to mention, and with considerablyimportant consequences He views the war as always an ironic and chaotic enterprise, and so studiously neglects to include anything about those elements of the war that were neither ironic nor especially chaotic You will look in vain for anything useful in this book about the war in the air, or at sea, or on the many non Western fronts that saw real gains being made in measurable and consequential ways The war s purposelessness and futility are again and again hammered home, but without giving any recognition to the experience of the many countries and peoples such as those within the former Austro Hungarian Empire for whom the war was the complete opposite of those things.If you want a book that confirms practically every bias exhibited by what everyone knows about the First World War, The Great War and Modern Memory is the way to go in part, in fact, it is responsible for crafting what everyone knows, so thoroughly influential has it been I would rather a newcomer read practically anything else, though, at least at first.In addition to all the above, there have been further and quite merited criticisms from feminist scholars who have noted that Fussell s characterization of modern memory is often exclusively masculine Even his gestures towards sexuality and romantic love are primarily homosexual and homosocial Claire Tylee s The Great War and Women s Consciousness 1990 is probably the best book length engagement with Fussell s ideas in this regard, if you can find a copy If you don t feel like reading an entire book on this, the same author s The Great War and Modern Memory What is Being Repressed in Women s Studies Quarterly 23.3 4 1995 offers an article lengthed precis.It remains an essential work, though one with a reputation that is slowly and, I may say, thankfully eroding There are several that could be said to have supplanted it, or at least supplemented it.Samuel Hynes A War Imagined The First World War and English Culture 1990 has become a standard text on this subject, though also a controversial one from an historical point of view Hynes characterizes the war as a gap in history, andto the point insists that those who experienced it viewed it in the same way While Hynes is farcomprehensive in the types and amount of literature he surveys than Fussell was, he still tends to highlight only those works that confirm what he proposes about the war s historical impact Plenty is excluded More to the point, Hynes writes of what he calls The Myth of the war a generation of innocent young men, their heads full of high abstractions like Honour, Glory and England, went off to war to make the world safe for democracy They were slaughtered in stupid battles planned by stupid generals Those who survived were shocked, disillusioned and embittered by their war experiences, and saw that their real enemies were not the Germans, but the old men at home who had lied to them They rejected the values of the society that had sent them to war, and in doing so separated their own generation from the past and from their cultural inheritance.While Hynes acknowledges as he should that this is an absurd oversimplification of everything involved in it, it is nevertheless the mythic lens through which many modern people observe the war The myth, he says, has value even though it is historically suspect I don t entirely agree, myself Hynes cites the myth to mean, in his words, not a falsification of reality, but an imaginative version of it The historian would say that it is indeed a falsification of reality to claim the things in the quoted paragraph above, or at least an overt rhetoricization of reality.Anyway, Hynes is not the only one worth considering, though the text remains a big one Janet Watson s Fighting Different Wars Experience, Memory and the First World War in Britain 2004 is a fantastic volume that attempts to offer arigorously historicized corrective to the work produced by the likes of Fussell or Hynes She is particularly interested in the period s book culture, but also in how those who experienced the war men, women, children, everyone conceived of that experience alternately as work or service The two conceptions produce very different reactions and inform very different types of cultural memory, and Watson does a marvelous job unpacking the implications Well worth checking out, if you can get it.I should close by admitting that, even in spite of all the above, the book does have merits Fussell is nothing if not an engaging writer, and the analyses he provides of Graves, Blunden et al is quite good indeed The book was also very important in opening up new lines of inquiry into the war and its culture that have since borne muchpromising fruit For the book itself, though, the day has rather passed For the student already well versed in the backdrop of the war itself, there s much here to be enjoyed I just wouldn t put it into the hands of a neophyte


  7. Rob Rob says:

    A great book Using the tools of literary criticism to reflect on WW1, Fussell digs into how the war changed consciousness It was the war Fussell argues, that makes the modern age an age of irony Traditional notions of the war virtues like honour, valour and bravery disappeared into the shit and mud of the Western Front The cynicism towards authority and the official view portrayed in newspapers etc started in the war The troops could read The Times or The Daily Mail in the trenches two day A great book Using the tools of literary criticism to reflect on WW1, Fussell digs into how the war changed consciousness It was the war Fussell argues, that makes the modern age an age of irony Traditional notions of the war virtues like honour, valour and bravery disappeared into the shit and mud of the Western Front The cynicism towards authority and the official view portrayed in newspapers etc started in the war The troops could read The Times or The Daily Mail in the trenches two days after it was published They would read nothing of the great disasters of British arms such as The Battle of the Somme.There is so much to this book Page after page there are fascinating observations about how the imagination of this generation of Englishmen possibly THE most literate, i.e imbued with literary tastes shaped their reactions to the war A small point but one of many is that while the red poppy was indeed all over the battlefields so too was the blue cornflower But it was a peculiar English literary convention that settled upon the poppy as the symbolic flower of the war This flower of spring while it symbolised life was also short lived The red suggested the blood of life and the blood of violent young death There are other overtones to the poppy that perhaps the official remembrance committees would like to overlook Fussell analysis goes to places that are no doubt uncomfortable for the Colonel Blimp s of this world such as a certain homo eroticism evident in much of the poetry and prose that came out of the war Words, and the shape they give to our memories and imaginations individually and collectively affect even the most visceral of experiences like modern warfare I did not understand this so fully until I read this book


  8. Michael Michael says:

    I rarely read non fiction, but this just took my breath away It s both a wonderful and achingly sad introduction to the poets and writers who emerged or didn t from World War I, as well as an eye opening description of how that conflict shaped modern life.


  9. Carol Storm Carol Storm says:

    THE GREAT WAR AND MODERN MEMORY is the kind of war book that is especially cherished by people who feel morally obligated to hate war, or perhapsaccurately to hate the soldiers mostly, but not always men who fight it Back in the days of Operation Desert Storm, when Barnard educated NY Times columnist Anna Quindlen was sneering at American combat troops as blue collar rabble not smart, not rich, not directed enough for college she also found time to make a ritualistic little salute t THE GREAT WAR AND MODERN MEMORY is the kind of war book that is especially cherished by people who feel morally obligated to hate war, or perhapsaccurately to hate the soldiers mostly, but not always men who fight it Back in the days of Operation Desert Storm, when Barnard educated NY Times columnist Anna Quindlen was sneering at American combat troops as blue collar rabble not smart, not rich, not directed enough for college she also found time to make a ritualistic little salute to that graceful writer, Paul Fussell But you can t always judge a man by the friends he chooses or who choose him.On one level, this certainly is an anti war classic Paul Fussell effectively dramatizes the horror, ugliness and futility of life in the trenches, using eyewitness accounts, historical records, and the best literature and poetry written after the war by the survivors But the irony that may not be apparent to privileged noncombatants like Anna Quindlen is that the war and its legacy had a brutalizing effect on everyone, soldier and civilian alike Perhaps the most brilliant passage in the book describes how the war in the trenches, by its very nature, forced the combatants to see the men on the other side not as men at all but as a sub human menace, as the Other Fussell describes how this way of thinking continued well after the war, and how it infected men from all walks of life The faceless enemy of the trenches soon became Tolkien s Orcs, Hitler s Jews, William Faulkner s Snopes Clan, Anthony Burgess Alex and Droogs This is revelatory writing, full of fresh insight, and Fussell deserves full credit for the brilliance of his intellect and the scope of his vision The irony, however, and Paul Fussell appreciated irony farthan some of his later followers is that the privileged elite who comprise today s anti war left are themselves a product of the trenches When she dismissed over one million men and women as not smart, not rich, not directed enough for college, Anna Quindlen was herself upholding a long and dishonorable tradition None of us were human to her then, or now To her, and to the privileged who share her prejudices to this day in America, the men and women of the Armed Forces are themselves the Huns, the Pigs, The Babykillers the Famine Irish, or simply The Other Paul Fussell understood his followers a lot better than his followers understood him


  10. Jamie Jamie says:

    Every war should have a guide like this, something to help later generations understand how the people who experienced the conflict interpreted their experiences It makes me wonder how much of other wars we gloss over without grasping the context of things that mattered a great deal to the participants and shaped their actions and memories The only other book I can think of that is as effective as The Great War and Modern Memory at interpreting soldiers and a society at war is Margaret Leech s Every war should have a guide like this, something to help later generations understand how the people who experienced the conflict interpreted their experiences It makes me wonder how much of other wars we gloss over without grasping the context of things that mattered a great deal to the participants and shaped their actions and memories The only other book I can think of that is as effective as The Great War and Modern Memory at interpreting soldiers and a society at war is Margaret Leech s Reveille in Washington 1860 1865 The poetry of the Great War had its roots in the pastoralism of English literature from the previous centuries, but, confronting the madness of the battlefields, the filth of the trenches, and the ever present prospect of death and dismemberment, the poets realized that the old forms of literary language were not just inappropriate, but obscene as vehicles to describe the war, and their poems howled in outrage and despair From this came some of the greatest poetry in the English language, but at such a cost.Fussell is an excellent guide to the Great War, both from literary and military history perspectives Having himself served in combat as an infantry officer in World War II, he has no illusions about the suffering, terror, and insanity that soldiers experience, and describes the battlefields in all their nightmarishness World War I has produced its share of great histories, memoirs, and poetry, but if any book should be considered an indispensable introduction to the conflict, this is it