Eliot and Wodehouse?

The new annotated edition of the poems of T.S.Eliot, edited by Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue is a delight and a revelation, and easily the most engrossing book that I have read in the past year. Its voluminous notes illuminate the familiar canonical poems, and it includes a wealth of hitherto unpublished or scattered material, some of which casts Eliot in an unexpected new light.
I shall write a longer blog post soon, extolling the edition’s virtues, but today I shall just raise a small question about a poem published for the first time in this collection. Read More »

Arnold Bennett on Siegfried Sassoon

Bennett is discussing recent publications in the Evening Standard (11 Oct, 1928):

‘Anonymous’ (whose identity is amply revealed by internal evidence) has issued an autobiographical novel, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, of real importance. Written with a certain sporting negligence of composition, it has much originality and much beauty, and is certainly right past the comprehension of nineteen M.F.H.’s out of twenty.

Many honest open-air fellows who buy this first prose work of Siegfried Sassoon on its title will assuredly want their money back.

National Libraries Day


Regular readers of this blog may have twigged that a fair bit of the reading I mention here is actually re-reading. ‘Sapper’, Ian Hay, A.E.W. Mason, P.G. Wodehouse, H.G. Wells, Agatha Christie, Leslie Charteris, George Bernard Shaw, G.K. Chesterton: these and others are writers whom I first read as a young teenager. Mostly I found them on the shelves of the Whalebone Lane branch of the Borough of Dagenham public library. Read More »

Films of 1916


The BFI website offers a new selection of films of 1916, free to view.

The image above is from a ‘Topical Budget’ film showing soldiers receiving hydrotherapy at Devonshire House in Buxton. The treatment was mostly for rheumatic diseases, and the website comments: Read More »

A war poem

light brigade

I’ve written a lot here about other people’s war poems, so when one of my own is published, I might as well post it here too, even though the war is not the Great one that I usually write about.

The  Spectator sets a literary challenge each week.  This time it asked us to imagine a collaboration between two poets.  So I speculated what would have resulted if John Betjeman had helped out  Tennyson when writing The Charge of the Light Brigade: Read More »

A centenary

On January 27th, 1916, conscription was introduced in Britain.


Middlebrow Wodehouse

middlebrow wodehouse

I don’t think it’s on general sale yet, but my contributor’s copy of Middlebrow Wodehouse arrived on Saturday. I was very chuffed to see my chapter on Wodehouse and the First World War in print, in such a sturdy and attractive volume. Read More »

Rappelez-vous 1914

In the window of a second-hand bookshop in Paris, an envelope with a stamp on the back. From the twenties?



My favourite street in Paris is the Rue Christine. This evening we had dinner at the remarkable Christine restaurant (excellent confit of veal followed by an extraordinary mojito baba) and then crossed the road to the Action cinema for John Ford’s The Lost Patrol (about a group of British soldiers stranded in Mesopotamia after their officé has died)l.

Could I imagine a better evening? Well, actually yes.It could have been the silent version of The Lost Patrol directed by Walter Summers a few years before Ford made his movie. But that is one of the great legion of silent films that are probably forever lost.

The Ford version is probably the better film (and seeing it this evening reminded me how very taut and economical it is dramatically.) The Summers version, though, according to reports, was much closer to Philip MacDonald’s original novel,  including flashbacks to the soldiers’ civilian lives, and so showing tensions inherited from peacetime destroying the c0hesion and morale of the patrol. Ford hints at this, but the theme doesn’t dominate.

Boris Karloff played the same part in both silent and sound versions – Saunders, increasingly controlled by religious mania. Not a subtle performance, but a superb one.








Ernest Raymond’s ‘The Quiet Shore’


Ernest Raymond’s novel of Gallipoli, Tell England was the great best-seller about the war in the early 1920s. It was reprinted fourteen times in 1922, and six times in 1923; by 1939 it had sold 300,000 copies, and subsequent editions stayed in print for forty years. Raymond returned to Gallipoli at least twice in later novels – in The Jesting Army of 1929 (which I have not read), and in The Quite Shore of 1958.
Tell England is a book divided in two. The first half is about the intense friendship between two boys at a public school; the second half takes them to war, just in time for the retreat from Gallipoli. Writing about Tell England in his 1968 autobiography, Raymond remarked:

Another thing that is a cause of wonder to me as I re-read the book is the indubitable but wholly unconscious homosexuality in it,’ since ‘“homosexuality” was a word which — absurd as this seems now — I had never heard.

Read More »


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