The use of war books

There is a revealing passage in James Lansdale Hodson’s Return to the Wood (1955)

In the mid-thirties, the pacifist convictions  of Hargreaves, the book’s narrator,  begin to wane, and he tries to re-kindle his faith by reading:

A while later I began to read some of the war books again. Could I recapture my old passion, I wondered? Kate saw what I was doing, and was glad. She began to read them too- Graves’s Goodbye to all That, Blunden’s Undertones of War, Sassoon’s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, Manning’s Her Privates We, Aldington’s Death of a Hero, Thompson’s These Men Thy Friends.

They also read poems by Wilfred Owen and Israel Zangwill, and Philip Johnstone’s ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is High Wood…’. Also the Sermon on the Mount.

What interests me is that by no means all these works had been  intended as arguments for pacifism, but that is the cultural meaning that they have accrued by the mid-thirties. These are texts that for Hargreaves and Kate  stand for the total rejection of war.

The rise of Hitler makes Hargreaves doubt the effectiveness of pacifism (‘But – Hitler: do you see any sign of him being influenced by the Sermon on the Mount?’). Even the War Books are not enough to maintain his faith.


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