On Bookish Students of History

From The Bulpington of Blup (1932) by H.G. Wells:

The bookish student of history in the future will find a curious interest in the contrasts between the literature which tells the story of the English going to war on the one hand, a complex, reluctant, voluntary affair, and that which describes the fatalistic acquiescence of the conscript countries on the other.

Well, we’re in the future now, and bookish students of literature haven’t quite fulfilled Wells’s prophecy. I’m still surprised by how many accounts of British war literature don’t seem aware of its exceptional nature; the school of naturalistic, humanistic war poetry in particular, which sprang from the Georgian school, has no equivalent in other countries.

Even more striking is the difference in post-war writing between Britain and Europe. Britain has no equivalent of the angry extremism and mad comedy of Celine, or Alfred Doeblin, or Brecht. Is this wholly explicable in terms of the fact that Britain never suffered invasion or defeat, and survived the conflict with its institutions and traditions more or less intact? Or is it a matter of differing literary traditions?

Wells’s novel has its share of mad comedy. The hero, a fantasist never quite in control of his imagination, is unhinged by his experience in the trenches, and has visions of huge black dogs patrolling No Man’s Land. I’m enjoying the book more than I thought I would, and shall write more about it later.

One Comment

    Posted January 27, 2020 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    Richard Aldington’s Death of a Hero is full of fury at the “hero” – partly autobiographical – and his family and friends and the society they live in. It couldn’t be published in the UK because of its language. How far did other writers censor their thoughts and language as they wrote rather than later?
    D,H, Lawrence was the other great hater in English literature at the time.He seems to havehad very mixed emotions about the soldiers and soldiering

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