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History Notes > Further Subject: Comparative History of WWI (1914-19) Notes

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Literature Culture - DISCORD AND CONTINUITY. Does over-emphasis on written sources impoverish our understanding of the war?
The Truth about the war will never get into books (Hemingway) What were the main impediments to truth telling in works published after the war?
Were novelists writing about the war self-indulgent and unrepresentative?
Do war novels support the idea of a 'lost generation'?
- A lost generation?
- Tradition
- Multiple voices
- Authenticity
- Limitations
- Comparisons to visual
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------General Considerations: Respective limitations and possibilities provided by visual and literary representations of the war.Many historians have perceived the Great War as the first truly literary war. In the large majority of the major combatants, a predominantly urban and literate society had full access to written materials, and often turned to them in order to recount experience or to understand the ordeals of war through a vicarious medium. o Establish definitional parameters: what are we taking to mean as propaganda here? We are reminded that though it was statedominated, it was not always state-directed. Take Barbusse, Le Feu. Written in the heat of battle (1916) and had a lasting political and social impact - was this not propaganda? Didn't necessarily constitute state manuals, etc - indeed as we've said, the most effective propaganda was that produced from the bottom-up. o Importance of literature and its significance as a channel of propaganda. Eksteins, new breed of 'war authors' liberated text and deeply impacted on society by subverting context: 'the great emancipatory adventure-experience of the modern age,

open to all, involving all, democratic, symbolic and inescapable. It is the representative event of our century.'Importance of the comparative approach - texts written out of experience are not full of images of the enemy. They take place in a broader framework of the cultural vectors of these images (propaganda, etc) yet they are not at the same time identical to them. Also have a longer and deeper history in the respective construction of national identities. How did war, representation of the enemy etc, weigh on tradition and identity and shape the experience of authors and artists?
o French writing more violent - perhaps a reflection of the fact that it is their territory that has been violated. A cumulative image of the 'Boche', whereas Germans distinguish between the Asiatic hordes (Russians) traitors to Kultur (Britain) etc. Reflects acute feeling of being under siege, present in a number of German works. German poet Richard Dehmel: brands the French as victims of Roman decadence, the Brits as cynics and the Russian empire as 'the barbaric state.'Vital: Critics fell into two camp in the case of early novels: those concerned with the need to avoid shrillness, not unsympathetic to traditional virtues of the battlefield. War as a natural, if cruel phenomenon. Contrasted with those, focussing on the appalling sacrifices, which regarded protest novels alone as worthy of attention. Become more clearly defined in the 20s/30s.Whose truth? Mass literacy of recruited soldiers. Even before the end of the conflict, and despite the censorship that was in effect, nearly one hundred journals, notebooks, memoirs, correspondences, and war novels had already been published. Beginning in the 1920s, these soldiers' narratives were analyzed, criticized, and compared to the ongoing memories of others who had been in the war. They were, in effect, measured against one or another standard of truth: the official truth of the high command, the literary truth of the postwar best-sellers, the existential truth of the living memories of soldiers who had served on the front lines.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------A lost generation?
Yeats, 'The Second Coming' (1919) Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.

H.G. Wells, Mr Britling Sees It Through (1916): 'It is now a war like any other of the mobbing, many-aimed cataclysms that have shattered empires and devastated the world; it is a war without point, a war that has lost its soul.'
- These lines lines perfectly illustrate the profound sense of social and cultural fragmentation inaugurated by the Great War. The confidence and certainties of an imperialistic nineteenth century, inching steadily towards greater progress and greater prosperity, was dashed into the mud as a gunshot rang out in Sarajevo on June 28th, 1914. o We think of the Lost Generation - Hemingway's generation - when we think how that gunshot and the war that followed would go on to shape literary culture. o Definition of 'Truth' here: o Capitalised Truth certainly did collapse, and the obstacles that prevented anything like the confidence of the pre-1914 literary world from emerging were several. o As yet no other way to express this most destructive of wars than by referring back to tradition. In any case, who wanted to hear the 'Truth'? And whose 'Truth' were they hearing?
o The collapse of a single objective reality for literature did ensure, as Hemingway predicted, anything close to a consensual understanding. But what emerged instead were the varying accounts of voices that would hitherto have been confined to the margins of the literary world: the advent of truths, not Truth. o As such, the very same obstacles that prevented this 'Truth' from entering the books allowed something new to flourish.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------H. Barbusse - Under Fire About Barbusse: A novelist and member of the French Communist Party.Barbusse's book diverged sharply in content and message from what had preceded it. o Filled with the gruesome detail for which fiction of the Great War has become famous, Le Feu provided a "realistic" panorama of experience in the trenches seldom seen in previous war writing. o But contrary to its later reputation, Le Feu was anything but a pacifist work. Rather, by representing the war in such graphic terms, Barbusse sought to remobilize "true" heroism by changing the ideological foundations of the war. The physical horror of the war, he concluded, was an unchangeable fact. o But by embracing the cause of "making war on war," and using the upheaval of the war to overthrow capitalism itself, Barbusse sought to make a reality the international socialist utopia envisaged throughout Europe before 1914.Served 17 months in the war until the end of 1915, when he was permanently moved into a clerical position due to pulmonary

damage, exhaustion, and dysentry. Wrote Le Feu the following year. By this time, Barbusse had become a pacifist, and his writing demonstrated his growing hatred of militarism. Le Feu drew criticism at the time for its harsh naturalism, but won the Prix Goncourt, one of the most distinguished academic awards in France. o About text: For the group of ordinary men in the French Sixth Battalion, thrown together from all over France and longing for home, war is simply a matter of survival, lightened only by the arrival of their rations or a glimpse of a pretty girl or a brief reprieve in the hospital. It vividly evokes life in the trenches: the mud, stench, and monotony of waiting while constantly fearing for one's life in an infernal and seemingly eternal battlefield.Describes men as 'human forms' in certain passages dehumanising qualities of an industrialised, total war. No longer individuals, but cogs in the machine. Loss of identity - could also understand this in relation to the severely injured: broken, malformed, no longer human. o One of the men in the company, Tulacque, finds a sharpened flint tool in the dug out. 'As he brandishes that axe of PostTertiary Man, he would himself pass for an ape-man, decked out with rags and lurking in the bowels of the earth.' Reduced to the state of primitive man, a primal and bestial world. o Her Privates We: 'Men had reverted to a more primitive stage in their development.' o Same realism used for descriptions of casualties: Mentions a fellow soldier, Barbier: 'He had the top of his back taken away by a shell...cut off like a razor. Besse got a bit of a shell that went clean through his belly and stomach.' Another soldier had 'the middle of his body blown away. He was emptied of blood on the spot in an instant, like a bucket kicked over.' o Sees hope in a rejection of futility - socialist rev: 'old world will be changed by the alliance that will one day be formed.'Soldiers become introspective - they 'turn in on themselves and think about their lives and deaths.'Helped those who did not experience the front firsthand understand the war o Barbusse, filled with gruesome detail and offering a more stark account of the war than hitherto, was able to bridge this gap for women. o Marie Chauvel de Chauvigny: 'I read your Feu with a quasireligious passion, not only because my two sons have lived, and continue to live, the life of the trenches, but because in truth I feel a bit the mother of all those who have fallen, and of all those who suffer, wherever they fought. Your work makes this passion stir in me.'

Shattering of tradition


Evokes pastoral idylls: juxtaposition with the shattered landscape created by conflict. 'Through their outer crust of coarseness and concealment, other hearts venture upon murmured memories, and the rekindling of bygone brightness: the summer morning, when the green freshness of the garden steals in upon the purity of the country bedroom; or when the wind in the wheat of the level land sets it slowly stirring or deeply waving, and shakes the square of oats hard by into quick little feminine tremors; or the winter evening, with women and their gentleness around the shaded lustre of the lamp.' o Constantly tries to come to terms with the new reality.Living in such close proximity to death, relief by another division can be the greatest joy that troops experience during wartime. 'If these men are happy in spite of all, as they come out of hell, it is because they are coming out of it. They are returning, they are spared. Once again, the Death that was there has passed them over...In both great and minor matters, fighting soldiers manifest the philosophy of the child. They never look afar, neither ahead or around. Their thought strays hardly farther than from day to day' (49) o Consider Baumer: no heroics, the real enemy is death o New kinds of death, Manning: "Death, of course, like chastity, admits of no degree; a man is dead or not dead, and a man is just as dead by one means as by another; but it is infinitely more horrible and revolting to see a man shattered and eviscerated, than to see him shot. And one sees such things; and one suffers vicariously, with the inalienable sympathy of man for man."

Irony was critical for the lost generation.'Fictional production in the inter-war years became polarised between the idealism of the traditional canon and the ironic approach of the modern.' (Fussell) o The war will not be understood in traditional terms: the machine gun alone makes it so special and unexampled that it simply can't be talked about as if it were one of the conventional wars of history. Or worse, of literary history.' o Collapse of traditional certainties.The true innovators and pioneers of the modernist movement were not themselves involved with the war. Instead, Fussell argues, it was left to the more traditional, technically prudent authors to recall a war they had actually experienced. 'But their compulsion to render the unprecedented actualities that they had experienced brought them fully to grips with the modern theme which we now recognise as the essence of Frye's ironic mode.'What do we mean by the ironic mode?

o o


a disassembling of meaning, which is dissolved and lost, a lack of control over one's situation - for Fussell, irony was the central literary characteristic bequeathed by WWI: '...there seems to be one dominating form of modern understanding; that it is essentially ironic; and that it originates largely in the application of mind and memory to the events of the Great War.' Northrop Frye: characteristics of literature can be defined by the scope of the protagonist's power of action. An omniscient narrator/central character can be equated with classical modes of epic and tragedy (high-mimetic), one with similar knowledge to the reader correlates with 18/19th century bourgeois novels one with less ability to make sense of the world around him was a distinct product of modern, post-war literature. (Low-mimetic)

Irony cut deep into memories of the war. Esme Wingfield-Stratford has argued that by describing the conflicts of 1914-18 in terms of battles - Loos, Verdun, the Somme - we assume that they parallel great victories that preceded them - Blenheim, Waterloo - and could be understood not only in similarly glorious terms but also as resembling such battles in terms of structure and meaning. o Hemingway: 'I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain... There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity....Abstract words such as glory, honour, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.' (A Farewell to Arms) Graves - 'The most painful chapters have to be the jokiest.' Add to this 'the best bet of all is battles', divide by the structural division into short stories, known as 'situations', and Graves's formula becomes apparent. o Graves - 'The memoirs of a man who went through some of the worst experiences of trench warfare are not truthful if they do not contain a high proportion of falsities. High-explosive barrages will make a temporary liar or visionary of anyone; the old trench-mind is at work in all over-estimation of casualties, "unnecessary" dwelling on horrors, mixing of dates and confusion between trench rumours and scenes actually witnessed.' (225) o Battle of Loos as farce - a series of catastrophes that lends itself well to dark comedy. Think of the grandeur of the name - doesn't correlate. o Sassoon, 'The General.' Cheery rhyme scheme belies the content. o But, important: What is the role of perspective in shaping artistic and literary responses?
o Graves - Welch rejected the possibility of him writing the real experience of the war. Opted for Sassoon instead. This endorses what Graves argues, that he looked for effect and exploited commercial tropes, not the realities.

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