Booking is now open for the conference in Aberdeen, on ‘The Fictional First World War’, (6-9 April, 2017). Here’s a link to it.
I’ve been sent a provisional programme, and it is packed with good speakers and interesting topics.
My own paper will have the title: ‘They ought to ’ave shot that bugger’: A Century of Fictional Executions. In it I will contrast the presentation of the shooting of deserters in fiction of the twenties (like Herbert’s The Secret Battle and Montague’s Rough Justice) with representations since the 1980s (as in Private Peaceful and Sebastian Barry’s A Long Long Way and beyond). The deserter increasingly becomes an admirable, even heroic figure, rather than a pathetic one.
My title is from the greatest of First World War novels, Frederic Manning’s Her Privates We. It is the scornful comment a soldier makes about Miller, a deserter who had been sentenced and then reprieved. Manning describes him: ‘He had a weak, mean, and cunning face; but there was something so abject in his humiliation, that one felt for him the kind of pity which can scarcely tolerate its own object.’
How different this attitude is from that evoked by the emotive Shot At Dawn statue in the National Arboretum.