A Sassoon afternoon

I spent a pleasant afternoon yesterday at the Annual general meeting of the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship.
We met in the Lamb pub in Lamb’s Conduit Street, Bloomsbury. This used to be Charles Dickens’s local, apparently, and it’s where Ted Hughes took Sylvia Plath on their first date. And they serve very good fish and chips.
After the business part of the meeting, I was the speaker. Meg Crane and Deb Fisher had heard my paper at the Oxford War poetry conference, and were kind enough to ask me to repeat it at their AGM. I was only too happy to do so.
The Oxford paper was about the representation (often unflattering) of the figure of the War Poet in novels of the 1920s. I tweaked this here and there to bring in references to Sassoon, and added a section about a possibility that I find fascinating.
In September 1917, Warwick Deeping published a novella, Valour, in the New Magazine. A key event in this is the publication, by a dissatisfied officer, of a letter of protest in his local newspaper. Could this have been inspired by Sassoon’s statement of protest, publicised in July? I think it’s just possible. Later Deeping turned his novella into a full-length novel, which I blogged about some while ago.
I didn’t know of the earlier printing of the novella until I came across the stupendous collection The Lost Stories of Warwick Deeping, compiled by Frederick Studenberg, an American whose enthusiasm for Deeping knows no bounds. The magazine version of Valour is in the third huge volume of stories – and volumes five and six have now been published.
I enjoyed giving my paper to the Sassoon Fellowship; questions afterwards were plentiful and intelligent.
The Fellowship is doing well at the moment,with a membership greater than that of most literary societies. Maybe some readers don’t know, though, that you can get joint membership of both this and the Wilfred Owen Society (which includes a subscription to both of their rather good journals) at a very reasonable rate.


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