Playing with FaceApp

What kind of poet would Wilfred Owen have become had he survived the war? It’s one of the unanswerable questions that it’s fun to occasionally consider. It happened to be in the back of my mind when I was playing with the silly but clever little computer program, FaceApp, which takes any photo portrait and offers to age it by twenty years.

I loaded this photo, tweaked it in a few FaceApp ways, and came up with this – an imaginary Owen some time in the 1930s. I chose a version with neat beard and (from the limited selection of backgrounds the program offered) put him in Venice, because I thought he’d have wanted to be in Europe – a comfortable distance from his rather difficult family. I like the way the program has brought out the kindness of his face.

Of course, the question is – would he still have been a good poet? War poets divide in four groups after the war. Some were strictly poets for the duration, and stopped writing altogether after 1918. Others, like Sassoon, kept on writing, but rarely wrote anything good (except, in Sassoon’s case, when coming back to the subject of the war). A small third group (of which I can only think of Ivor Gurney and David Jones, kept on writing about the war, and produced their best war poetry long after the Armistice. A fourth group is typified by Robert Graves, who deliberately turned his back on the war, refused to be defined as a ‘war poet’, and wrote notable verse on other subjects. I’ve a suspicion that Owen too, although a very different poet from Graves, might have joined him in this category, left the war behind, and produced a corpus of work on less immediately topical themes – love, time, sorrow. But of course, we’ll never know.

By the way, I also put a photo of myself through the FaceApp process. Here’s me in twenty years time, when I’m even more ancient but doubtless still pontificating on early twentieth-century literature to an ever-dwindling body of readers.


  1. Anonymous
    Posted July 31, 2019 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    George; I remember you once giving us a booklist to work through during the summer holidays to get used to reading prior to O Levels. I still have some of those books at home, and they have become firm favourites, notably Catch-22 and Rogue Male

    • Andrew White
      Posted July 31, 2019 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      Forgot to include my name – Andrew White!

      • Posted July 31, 2019 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

        Good novels, both of them. I’d still include them in booklists for 16 year-olds today.
        Whether modern students could handle that amount of reading is another matter…

  2. MESH theatre co
    Posted July 31, 2019 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    George, Dr Barry Matthews has written a fascinating play about Owen based on his many unpublished poems and letters (which are protected by family trust from public view), busting all sorts of myths about man and poet. It’s called « Being Greek ». I can put you in touch if you’d like to know more, guessing he’d be happy to discuss as he’s hugely passionate and knowledgeable about Owen and his legacy. All best Sally

    MESH Theatre Co. Tel: +44 (0) 7817707517 Email:


  3. Posted August 1, 2019 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Rogue Male was a fascinating novel, as was the 1941 film made of it, Man Hunt, with Walter Pidgeon, George Sanders, and Joan Bennett (not so much the 1976 version with Peter O’Toole).

  4. Janet
    Posted August 3, 2019 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    I like what you say, George, but am very sceptical of the beard you’ve given the older Owen. In the 1930s, men with beards were considered eccentric and/ or bohemian, and Little boys would pursue them with shouts of “Beaver!” . I doubt that Wilfred Owen would have let himself in for that.

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