Category Archives: popular culture

A Depressing Story

In Herbert Jenkins’s jolly book, The Night Club (1917), a group of men agree to gather together regularly to tell each other stories (as so often in fiction of the time – did it ever happen in real life?) The first meeting, however, ended in a fiasco. A fellow named Roger Blint had been called […]

Crimson Field: self-inflicted wounds

I quite enjoyed the first episode of The Crimson Field,   but by the third helping it was getting a bit ridiculous. So many issues – cowardice, Ireland, homosexuals, class conflicts… And most of the characters more interested in the issues (and their personal lives) than in healing the casualties… But the big topic yesterday evening […]

Les Amis du Roman Populaire

In Amiens last week I attended a meeting of L’ Association des Amis du Roman Populaire. This is a group of academics and others interested mostly in French popular fiction of the last century, and the two-day conference was about the popular literature of the Great War. We met in the Logis du Roy in […]

Soldiers reading

In Fiction and the Reading Public (1932) Q.D.Leavis is very keen to prove that the contemporary novel is used mainly as a drug, as a substitute for living. Part of her evidence is that: men, coming from the trenches who had been deprived of reading matter for some short while would, however weary, seize on […]

Heavy Metal

After several years of research, I thought I was pretty well-informed about popular representations of the Great War, but I’ve just learned (thanks to Peter Grant) about a thriving genre of songs about the War in recent rock music. Peter’s database has nearly six hundred examples, from Britain, Germany, France and elsewhere. As regular readers […]

After Pathos?

Until recently, you could take it for granted that any television drama centred on the First World War would be dripping with pathos. Think Birdsong, with its key image of Eddie Redmayne (The Old Etonian male model) gazing mournfully into the distance in ways that showed off his cheekbones. Think The Village, with its piling […]


I do wish that Chickens (Thursdays on Sky 1) was funny. It has a reasonably original premise – treating WW1 non-combatants as a source of comedy. Possibly this has some appeal to the young audience who have been force-fed pieties about the War at school, and it is definitely an improvement on the glum reverence […]

‘One of England’s Broken Dolls’

Joanna Bourke, in Dismembering the Male mentions ‘a popular song’ about a maimed soldier: “A man and maiden met a month ago; She said there’s one thing I should like to know; Why aren’t you in khaki or navy blue; And fighting for your country like other men do? The man looked up and slowly […]

‘The Village’ concludes – for the time being

‘It is this obsession of futility, not any depth of sympathy or humanitarianism, which accounts for the piling up of the individual agony to so many poignant climaxes remote from the necessities or even from the incidental happenings of war [....] As for their infinite pity, nothing is easier, unfortunately, than to be bravely sympathetic […]


From time to time I have a go at the Spectator literary competition. A couple of weeks ago the set task was based on the fact that Sebastian Faulks has been roped in by the Wodehouse estate to write a new Jeeves novel. We were asked to imagine the reaction of the characters on discovering […]


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