Echoes of Sassoon

“The General’s a cheery old fellow. An indifferent general, I understand. But that’s a normal condition of British generals, apparently.”

That sentence suddenly appears as an offhand comment in The Deductions of Colonel Gore (1924) a rather run-of-the-mill detective story by Lynn Brock.

Surely it’s an echo of Siegfried Sassoon’s poem, ‘The General’:

“He’s a cheery old card,” grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
* * * *
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

Otherwise the book has little to say about the war – except that there is a disillusioned, restless feel to the characters. The war seems to have disturbed their lives, and many have been paired off with partners they don’t feel are adequate. Which produces plenty of motivations for murder.
The detective is Colonel Gore, a professional soldier who “had gone, very abruptly, to France in 1914.” He served there throughout the war, and “A year on the Rhine had completed his military career.” An unexpected legacy enables him to spend a year in Rhodesia hunting big game, and writing a book about the experience. But then:

Two days after his forty-second birthday, he had landed in England,,, and, bored to extinction by a London which seemed to him entirely populated by Jews, had fled westwards in search of such of his kith and kin as still survived.

Oh dear. However much twenties fiction I read, these blatant gobbets of Anti-Semitism still have the power to shock.
The echo of Sassoon interests me. I’ve written before about an Edgar Wallace story that is more or less a version of Sassoon’s “The Hero”, and The Victors by “Peter Deane”(Pamela Hinkson) works hard for a feeling of authenticity by incorporating several phrases and ideas from Sassoon. He had the reputation of being the great realist poet of the war, and his work was clearly a strong influence on writers of the twenties who wanted to conjure the impression of wartime realism. There’s probably an interesting paper to be written, developing this, but I shouldn’t think it’s one that I’ll get round to writing.


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