Hooray for Drivel

‘Mr. Robert Graves is interested in the ‘ballads’ that came into existence among the British troops during the war, but these are the merest drivel as he would agree.’

John Spiers, Scrutiny (June 1935)

C. S. Forester: Randall and the River of Time (1951)

forester randall
A few days ago I complained that C.S. Forster had chosen to ignore the military achievements of the last hundred days of the War when he write The General, his attack on hidebound military incompetence.
In Randall and the River of Time, written fourteen years later, he made up for this by giving a very gripping account of the War’s last campaign.
Lieutenant Randall, the book’s rather lacklustre hero, was on leave in London when the German offensive of March 1918 broke through the British lines, destroying his battalion (‘most of [the] survivors were men who at the end of the war were found in German hospitals, limbless, or eyeless, or mad.’) Read More »

‘Barbed Wire’ and Hall Caine


This is just a quick note to recommend the film Barbed Wire (1927), available from Grapevine Video.

Pola Negri plays a Frenchwoman whose family’s farm is commandeered by the authorities as a prison camp for captured Germans. At first she is prejudiced against them, because her brother has been reported killed in action. Gradually, though, she gets to respect Oskar, played by Clive Brook.

When a French soldier tries to rape her, Oskar comes to the rescue. He is arrested for attacking a Frenchman, but she speaks up for him at the trial, incurring the anger of the locals, especially the women. She is branded a collaborator. Read More »

C. S. Forester, Hornblower and ‘The General’


It is C.S. Forester month at the Sheffield Hallam Popular Fiction Reading Group, and I have been reading (with considerable pleasure) the first Hornblower novel, The Happy Return (1937), but also re-reading The General (1936), Forester’s brilliant fictionalisation of the Liddell Hart view of the Great War and its military leadership.
Reading the two novels together, what surprised me was how much Curzon has in common with Hornblower. Both books are about men who have to wear the mask of command, who have to seem as though they know what they are doing when they take decisions that may costly the lives of many others. Read More »

Le Rocambole


Today’s post brought something I’d been eagerly looking forward to – Le Rocambole for Summer-Autumn 2015.

Le Rocambole is the Bulletin of Les Amis du Roman Populaire, whose conference in Amiens I attended last year, and this issue of the journal contains the papers delivered at the conference, including my own: Sapper : du réalisme au mélodrame, (translated into French by Sebastien Le Pipec, and reading much more impressively in his version). The collection provides enough essays on French popular fiction to be a complete crash course in the subject, and there are also some papers on popular literature in Germany,  Austria and Britain. I’m glad to see Michael Paris’s Le Subalterne, about the depiction of junior officers in British fiction included here, even though illness prevented him from attending the actual conference last year.

Full details of the journal and its contents can be found here.

As I read through the contents page, I am reminded of the high quality of the conference papers (surpassed in my memory only by the quality of the conference lunches). Perhaps the papers I shall read most eagerly, though, are those whose authors’ spoken French went too fast for my limited capability. What did they actually say?

G. F. Bradby: The Marquis’s Eye

This is my third Bradby novel, after The Lanchester Tradition, a satirical look at public schools, and For This I had Borne Him, an elegiac First World War novel.

The Marquis’s Eye was published in 1904, and I took a look at it because I had read that it satirised Boer War patriotism and Mafficking. It certainly does, but in a gentle way, unlike the harsh verses against concentration camps that Bradby wrote while the war was in progress. Read More »

Being Young During World War One


A conference on the subject of growing up during the Great War will be held at Manchester Metropolitan University on November 6th to 7th this year.
I’m very happy about this because I got the email yesterday to say that they are going to let me give my paper on the Magnet comics during the war.
This is a talk I’ve wanted to give for a long while. I’ll argue that while some other boys’ papers gave unthinking support to the war effort, and encouraged readers to indulge their prejudices and wallow in the ‘pleasure culture of war’, the Magnet behaved much more like the more thoughtful kinds of adult fiction, weighing the demands of war against the civilised conventions established in peacetime.
I’ve got the paper pretty well worked out already, but shall definitely be spending quite a bit of time over the next four months further exploring the careers of Harry Wharton, Coker of the Fifth, Vernon-Smith the Bounder, and of course Huree Ramset Jam Singh, the dusky nabob of Bhanipur…

The conference website is at https://www.hssr.mmu.ac.uk/mcrh/ww1/beingyoung/

The Somme, 99 years on…

The Battle of the Somme was titanic on the ground ravaging the Picardy countryside, but the concussion waves rippling out from the sickening crash of each artillery shell reached every corner of Britain and its Empire. In other words, the military history is actually the key to a myriad of other histories unfolding hundreds of miles away from the trenches.

A good article by Mark Connelly on the 99th anniversary of the battle, at https://www.hlf.org.uk/about-us/news-features/understanding-shadows-somme#.VZPXn0aYF8F

Review: An Arnold Bennett Companion


Declaration of interest: I’m not exactly unbiased, since this collection includes my own essay: ‘Against Prussianism’: Bennett and the Great War’.

Arnold Bennett is a great novelist who remains seriously under-celebrated. Even to many students of English Literature he is known only as Virginia Woolf’s whipping boy. Cultivated readers who can talk sensibly The Great Gatsby or Parade’s End may look rather blank when you mention Riceyman Steps.

Over the last decade or so, John Shapcott has been fighting Bennett’s corner, and doing a splendid job of reprinting Bennett’s novels and stories with his own perceptive introductions. Now he has edited a collection of essays that take a twenty-first century look at many facets of Bennett’s work.
The first sentence of the first essay, ‘Bennett and Realist Aesthetics’ by David Amigomi, sets the tone for this collection: Read More »

F. W. Harvey in the Daily Mail

I was browsing around, looking at 1915 issues of the Daily Mail, searching a bit vaguely for something else entirely, when I was delighted to find an article featuring that very likeable poet, F. W. Harvey, and the story of how he won his medal: Read More »


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