A Sheffield Wednesday

We had a good afternoon yesterday at Sheffield Hallam, talking about fiction of the Great War as part of the Off the Shelf festival.
I kicked off by talking about wartime fiction generally, and then explaining why I rated Patrick MacGill’s books, and The Red Horizon especially. (It’s because nobody else, except Frederic Manning, gives such an idea of the soldiers as a community, with a culture of their own).
Chris Hopkins then talked about Berta Ruck and The Lad with Wings, an aviation novel with some propagandist intent, but with an interestingly nuanced attitude to the War.
Finally, Erica Brown discussed two books by the remarkable Elizabeth von Armin. Christine, published pseudonymously during wartime, presented a resoundingly negative picture of Germans; Christopher and Columbus, which came after the War, was more ambiguous.
Between us, I think we got across the message that wartime fiction is varied and sometimes strange, and goes far beyond mere propaganda.
We had a good turnout for the session, and interesting questions afterwards. I gather that the responses on the feedback forms were very positive – except that some thought we should have been supplied with biscuits as well as coffee in the break. Fair point.
One thing strikes me. When I started researching fiction of the Great War, texts were hard to come by if you didn’t live have access to a copyright library. Now most of the texts we talked about are available free of charge for your Kindle through Project Gutenberg, and others can be bought in reasonably-priced print-on-demand formats, or through sites like www.bookfinder.com. I suspect a lot of other researchers are already digging into this fascinating material.
I used to spend a lot of time searching in second-hand bookshops for things that can now be found instantly on the internet. Now the bookshops are disappearing. Internet shopping is easier – and yet…
Will we soon lose forever the pleasure of browsing through a chaos of dusty volumes in the hope of finding a jewel?

3 Comments

  1. Dennis Anderson
    Posted October 23, 2014 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    So true, George, the joy of finding a book you never knew existed is fading. But with technology, I’ve also found more books than I ever would searching through a dusty used bookstore. I wish we could have it both ways.

  2. Roger
    Posted October 23, 2014 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    In PArenthesis also “gives …an idea of the soldiers as a community, with a culture of their own”, though the fact that it is emphatically a Welsh community and culture certainly makes it very different to Manning’s. I haven’t read MacGill so can’t assess his work yet.

    • Posted October 24, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      You’re absolutely right, Roger. Jones is terrific, too – and especially good on the sound of the war, and the soldiers language(s).


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