There are not many works of literary criticism in the Folio Society’s backlist. Most of the books that are given the sumptuous Folio treatment are classics of fiction, biography and travel writing – the sort of thing that a bookish person of means might want to decorate his or her shelves iwith in preference to a cheap paperback.
Paul Fussell’s 1975 book, The Great War and Modern Memory is no ordinary work of literary criticism; since its publication its ideas have set the agenda for literary critics writing about the War, even those who dissent from its findings ; some historians too have been strongly influenced by its interpretation of the conflict. Moreover, it has been a best-seller. By the time that the second (‘Twenty-fifth anniversary edition’) was published in 2000, fifty-three thousand copies of the book had been sold.
It is a cultural landmark, and it is a marker of that status that the Folio Society has chosen it for reissue in the centenary year. They have kindly sent me a copy for review.
The book has the usual Folio Society quality: a striking cover, protected by a cardboard slipcase; clear print; good quality paper. There are forty illustrations of various kinds, compared with the fifteen in the 2000 paperback edition on my bookshelves. The new additions include photographs of the War, and of one or two war poets, posters, and paintings by war artists such as Orpen and Nash. Oddly, though, the editors of the new edition have not included some of the original photographic choices.
(Click for a larger image)
I miss especially the pair facing each other on pages 43 and 44 of the paperback; one of these shows King George sagely inspecting some very neat and shipshape model trenches, and the other presents the chaotic shambles of an actual trench on the Somme. That is exactly the sort of ironic contrast that Fussell at his sardonic best specialised in.