- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; New edition (June 12, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199971951
- ISBN-13: 978-0199971954
- Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 0.7 x 5.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #122,047 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Great War and Modern Memory New Edition
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"One of the best nonfiction works I've ever read. I'm a huge fan of virtually everything Fussell has ever done, but this unique book, which uses literature and social history to examine World War I, may be his best. Unflinching."--James Gray, The Week
"Literary and historical materials, in themselves not unfamiliar, are brought together in a probing, sympathetic, and finally illuminating fashion. It is difficult to think of a scholarly work in recent years that has more deeply engaged the reader at both the intellectual and emotional level." --The New Republic
"Skillful, compassionate.... An important contribution to our understanding of how we came to make World War I part of our minds." --Frank Kermode, The New York Times Book Review
"A learned book that is also bright and sensitive." --The New Yorker
"An original and brilliant piece of cultural history and one of the most deeply moving books I have read in a long time." --Lionel Trilling
"Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory introduced an entirely new and creative way of writing both about war and the literature it generates. It has been a profound influence on historians and literary critics alike." --John Kegan
About the Author
Paul Fussell was an American cultural and literary historian and critic. He is the author of over 20 works and winner of the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award.
Top Customer Reviews
Anne Fuller (Ph.D.)
The reader should know that Paul Fussell was a junior Army officer in WWII. He was in action, including "going over the bags: and defending from night attacks. He survived the loss of people he acknowledges were better soldiers than he. . That this book is focused almost exclusively on the British soldier's enrolment in close modern combat and he main reference will be the mostly young officer class who survived, or at least survived long enough to publish books and poems about their experience.
In nine chapters he will explain how combat divides people between those who have been there, and the rest of us. He will force readers to contemplate the degrading, horrible place that was a WWI trench and the special demands this life makes on retaining your humanity.
For me, the image that I had to carry was of a soldier crouched behind a parapet that was made , in part from the rotting corpse of a shot up horse and identifiable parts of fellow soldiers. Such a baracade has to stink, but so does much of the rest of this "battle space" it has to be soul destroying to have so manifestly present , `In your face". And ultimately, it stops the bullets or shrapnel that would otherwise kill you so that soldier will simply put the these facts out of mind. Just as ultimately these facts have to become part of what the survivors will have to become. Stark as this image is. What is the psychic weight of an attack by a battalion of almost 900 men that ends with 80 men alive?
As a reader you will have to take in these images, the hammer blows of the static nature of trench warfare. Participants could be taken away injured, returned to England for long recoveries only to return to the same line. Whatever the hopes of high command that the next attack would break through and turn the war into a mobile effort with cavalry in the lead, this would not happen for years. Meantime friends beyond count would be reduced to blood and memories. All of this with no one who can understand except those who had been there.
Words alone cannot explain the arbitrary and messy facts of wartime death.
Military censorship prohibits too much truth from spilling out
Polite conversation precludes these kinds of topics and especially the brutal words that best describe brutal events
There is little reason to want to talk about these things in the time you get to be away from them
And so the soldier's own limits conspire with the military need for and the civilian's dependence on the soldier's own preference for discretion. He does not want to talk, and we do not want to hear about it. How then does the human who has been there put an end to all that?
Fussell is not sure he has any answer. Having oriented the reader towards the reality of trench warfare, he then turns to the literature of this time and these people. The British Army was remarkably well read and its officer corps included a number of writers, poets and novelists. It will be through selected members of this group that we will find some of the common themes and literary conventions that will attempt to answer this question.
Among the most lingering and least remembered cultural effects of WWI was the replacement of a mostly optimistic and trusting population with one more leery and disbelieving. Numerous specific new cultural expressions would inhabit our language, from "over the top" to the ubiquitous form called by the soldiers the "Quick Fixer". In the latter case, one of the first universal experiences of filling in a form would be The Field Service Post Card, Form A 2042 which allowed the soldier sender to check one of a few blocks to complete one of a few sentences to at least tell his family he was still alive. A soldier could report that he was in hospital, but only to say he was recovering, not that he was recovering from a lost limb.
Moving from the more general experience to the specific, Fucell gives us short reviews of several writers. The first two, Sasson and Graves are given in unexpected contrast with themselves. Sasson will write a fictional trilogy of the war. Fussell, will make it clear that nearly every person and fact has a biographic true counterpart. Graves will write a memoir, and Fussell will insure that we understand that it is not to be taken as literal truth and infact is too pat, too perfect and is otherwise to be treated as fiction.
Much of this book is devoted to poets. Indeed both Graves and Sasson were poets more than novelists. He will link the battlefield to the older British themes of gardening and to the common birs and flowers of home and the battle field. (Larks, and Nightingales, Roses and Poppies.)
Perhaps because so many of the writers and poets of this period were homosexual; or that so many had their sexual awakening in all boys British schools, or because the forced all male existence of trench warfare, Fussell devotes a chapter to the homosexuals and homoerotic. He make a distinction between homosexual practices, and the emotional love ties between soldier, the more popular officers and the especially between people who depend on each other for elemental survival. This is his weakest chapter. Much of it is devoted to a pre-war, Victorian movement to promote public expression by homosexuals. The latter experience he can only call homoerotic. The word choice places too much emphasis on the possibility of physical sex and seems dismissive of what is for many in uniform intense brotherly love. Again too much of this chapter is about the nearly universal WWI literary device of soldiers bathing naked and being admired and wondered at by their officers.
Fussell's conclusions tend to the sweeping and seem strained. There are many who would agree thst WWI was, as is quoted form historian John Keegan, Mysterious and pointless. Many agree that WWII is something of a continuation of WWI. But an assertion that all post war literature is war novels takes more explanation. Stating that war, because of WWI has become the natural state of the modern world is a bit too literary and not sufficiently justified. If we accept that the last 50 years have been virtually constant war, that does not make WWI the cause. It also tends to forget the many wars of the Victorian era and so on back into the pre WWI era.
There is a case that everyone should read The Great War. It is not overly academic in style. Much here can promote both war veteran self-understudying and appreciation by those who have not"been there". I can wish that all might read this book, but this is not a book for everyone. Not everyone will want to envision rotting flesh as a part of a day's work. War poetry is not a subject many can appreciate. I am not sure I did so, fully. There is more here attempted than achieved. This is not a criticism as he is attempting something great and almost unique. What has been achieved is worth serious attention.
This book was a gift, I think bought from Amazon.
Given by a friend specifically not the writer, publisher, book seller etc, with no expectation of any review.
Paul Fussell grew up with the legacy of the First World War and fought in the Second World War. He experienced the foxhole warfare of his time and, “Instinctively related my circumstances” to the effect of the earlier trench warfare on European culture. In “The Great War and Modern Memory,” Fussell examines the writings of literary-minded soldiers in both wars. He finds “The Great War” elicited “curiously great writing” about the human experience of warfare. Moreover, in the writings of men like Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, and Robert Graves, he finds that industrial warfare created a watershed in western Society that can be traced clearly in language and culture.
The Great War was fought curiously close to civil society. Farmers in East Anglia could hear the guns on the western front. Soldiers rotated from the trenches to staging areas to home leave and back again on a regular basis (the journey (mostly by train) from the front to London took about twelve hours). While the war was close, the soldiers remained distant. What we today recognize as post-traumatic distress was as common as lice in the trenches. The psychological distance and the physical devastation created a gulf in civil society that really has never healed.
The war influenced language in so many ways, not the least of which is the entry of the word “lousy” into the vernacular. A soldier is a “warrior.” Obedient soldiers who “Went over the wall” to their death in waves of automatic machine gun fire are referred to as “Brave.” Their actions are “deeds.” We see these phrases today in dispatches from embedded journalists.
The poetry and literature of the war is infused with Arcadian images. Some of the most common are larks over the wasteland, and swatches of blue sky above the trench. The idyll of nature contrasts with the churned mud and crushed bones of no-man’s land.
Homo-eroticism is another persistent theme. There is brotherly love in the trenches and there is brotherly love in the poetry. Soldiers know best about their bonds, but it is a curious fact that many of the authors examined in this book such as Christopher Isherwood and Robert Graves were homosexual.
We forget sometimes how young our soldiers are. The poetry, the novels, and the memoirs of war are the products of youthful authors. Even when the authors take ten or twenty years to process and publish, the experiences of war are coming-of-age experiences.
“The Great War and Modern Memory” is a remarkable examination of the effect of a particular epochal event on modern society. It helps to be familiar with the history of the time, and some of the authors discussed, but even if you are not, Fussell provides sufficient context as well as quotations (remarkable quotations) to get his points across. The edition I read was a reissue (2009), and was lavishly illustrated with rare photographs and eye-catching recruiting posters, which underscore many of points in the text.