Monday, 4 August 2014

Literature of the First World War

I just finished watching the Remembrance Ceremony in Westminster Abbey and have turned my lights back on. It was a beautiful service which I will go into a bit more tomorrow. However, for now I want to put up a list of my posts regarding the First World War. Although this may seem very self-serving, I started this series in January as a way of educating myself about the literature of the First World War. Events such as these do not just shape abstract history, they very directly impact upon the hearts and minds of those who live through it and this leaves its marks on their work. Below are the works I read.

This was a poem that crept up on me and, with full force, brought war incredibly, uncomfortably close. There are some poems which are clearly a result from the poet being witness to something and they seem to have written themselves.
From Owen one easily comes to Sassoon and 'Hero' was deeply tragic where 'Dulce et Decorum Est' was confronting. It makes one realize how much of a burden these soldiers carried upon returning home.
This novel is the one that hit me, perhaps, hardest. It is brutally honest in its portrayal of the hopelessness that pervades these soldiers. A similar feel appears in the two poems above, but worked out at novel-length, Remarque moves one to tears.
It must come as no surprise that Tolkien was deeply inspired by his experiences in the First World War, as was his close friend C.S. Lewis. Nowhere is that more present than in his Dead Marshes, a wasteland in which the dead are just under the surface. 
What made Under Fire, one of the first WW1 novels, remarkable in relation to the others that it perfectly fit in, or rather made room for the others to fit in. The desparation of Remarque's soldiers was an echo of that of Barbusse's. The camaraderie, the loss and above all the hopelessness is everywhere.
Similar to its French and German counterparts above, Manning writes a novel in which every expectation of the brave, heroic soldier is erased. Rather than get Sassoon's meticulously crafted Hero for the sake of a mother, we get humans trying to survive.
I felt the role of women shouldn't be forgotten in this so purposefully went out to find a novel by and about women. West's novel is the perfect opposite to those of the men above. The men return, altered, changed forever, and those that had been left behind are out of touch with everything they used to know and need to know.
Trumbo's other is like no novel I have ever read. Its claustrophobic style drives the message home in a way different to all the others and yet eerily similar. The complete disconnect between the soldier and his world becomes very palpable.
I wanted to end with something beautiful, something to remind myself and others that soldiers are brothers, sons, fathers and lovers. Nothing can pull humans through the dark times like a little bit of light, and love, no matter how cliche it sounds, is the strongest light we have.

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