Sassoon and slanginess

An article in the Guardian alerts us to an interesting new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. It tells the story of a century of anti-war protest, and one of the exhibits is a manuscript copy of ‘The General’ by Siegfried Sassoon.

general Read More »

Henry Carr, and the history behind ‘Travesties’


Last week I hugely enjoyed the excellent production of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties at the Apollo Theatre in London. A note in the programme about Henry Carr (the play’s central character) was interesting enough to send me off on a minor investigation. Read More »

Aberdeen conference ‘The Fictional First World War’

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.


(Image from Wikipedia)

Trooper to the Southern Cross

The War had many a bright moment even for the diggers so far away from good old Aussie. For instance there was the day the diggers got wild with the English A.P.M. And somehow lost him in the canal. I did my best with artificial respiration, but the bugger had me beat. We had one of the best laughs over that we’d had for many a long day.

Angela Thirkell published Trooper to the Southern Cross in 1934 under the name of Leslie Parker. It’s a fictionalised version of her own journey to Australia with her husband in 1920. The ship was unreliable (sabotaged by its previous German owners) and the lower decks were full of diggers, and also a load of criminals (murderers, deserters and so on) being transported home. Read More »

Sassoon’s copy of ‘Goodbye to All That’

There is an excellent article by jean Moorcroft Wilson in this week’s TLS . She has been looking at Siegfried Sassoon’s own copy of ‘Goodbye to All That’, which he annotated indignantly, marking factual errors and marking various passages as ‘rot’, ‘fiction’, ‘faked’ or ‘skite’. As Moorcroft Wilson explains:

He was particularly critical of Graves’s account of his (Sassoon’s) protest, which fell a long way short, he believed, of the “impartial exactitude required for such a sensitive topic”. “He exhibits me as a sort of half-witted idealist”, he complained to Louis Untermeyer and his wife, “with a bomb in one hand and a Daily Herald in the other.”

He  expressed his dislike of the book not only with marginal comments, but also by turning it into a wild collage: Read More »

P.G. Wodehouse and the First World War

A while ago I wrote a chapter on Wodehouse and the War for a collection, Middlebrow Wodehouse, that tried to locate PGW in the context of his times, and of popular literature.

The book appeared, and seems to have sunk without much trace. It was published at the sort of silly academic price that means individuals won’t buy it, only university libraries. And in these straitened times all but the better-off libraries concentrate on buying books connected with syllabuses. Which tends to rule Wodehouse out.

The collection has attracted little in the way of  attention from reviewers until recently, when a blog post has appeared, objecting to the vocabulary and tone of some chapters.

I won’t say that this is completely unjustified. There is a chapter which looks at Jeeves and Wooster from the standpoint of queer theory, but does so very clumsily. In one or two other chapters there is an uncertainty of tone, as though dealing with Wodehouse obliges the writer to be facetious; when facetiousness mixes with critical jargon, the results are not happy.

The best of the essays do, however, try to understand what PGW is doing, and why. I think that this is a useful operation. Too much critical writing about Wodehouse has been generalising (and slightly condescending) stuff about his creating a ‘world’ that is somehow apart from our world and apart from other literature of his time. I think he deserves better.

For a while I’ve been publishing a critical monograph about his astonishing short story ‘Honeysuckle Cottage’ which shows how it relates to all sorts of themes current in the twenties (and tries to understand why this particular story  was selected for special praise by Wodehouse fan Ludwig Wittgenstein). I hope to at last get round to publishing it quite soon.

Meanwhile, I note that some other contributors to Middlebrow Wodehouse have made their chapters available on their own websites (and a fragmentary version of the whole thing can be found on Google Books).  I’m therefore uploading my own  Wodehouse-and-WW1 to this site.

Re-reading it  a couple of years after writing, I’d criticise it for being a bit of a plod through the relevant material, but I don’t think there’s too much off-putting academic jargon. And I think that what I say about PGW’s brother Armine adds considerably to what can be found in the standard biographies.

Tunnel Trench’ – and Arnold Bennett

Tunnel Trench is a play by Hubert Griffith, first staged in 1924 by the Repertory Players at the Princes Theatre. It was one of those club performances where the play was presented for just one night in the hope that a commercial management might take it up for a longer run. No managements seem to have been interested, but the play got serious attention in the press.
The script has recently been republished in First World War Plays (Bloomsbury), edited by Mark Rawlinson, and can best be described as a fascinating mess.

Read More »

Who is the politician?

I’m currently reading (and admiring) C.R. Benstead’s 1930 novel, Retreat, whose central figure is a chaplain attached to an artillery unit in the Fifth Army during the momentous  German assault of March-April 1918.
The novel graphically describes the efforts of the over-extended unit to hold their position as the Germans relentlessly advanced.
But a detail is puzzling me. Can anyone identify the politician described with such scorn in this extract from Chapter Three? Read More »

Coming Soon to a Cinema near You…


The 2017 film that I am most looking forward to is, of course, Wonder Woman. In this movie the legendary heroine (daughter of Zeus) comes to the early twentieth century to sort out World War One.

There have been several trailers, and this YouTube video combines most of the meat of  them. Read More »

Richard Blaker essay online

Richard Blaker

I’ve added a lengthy essay about the war novelist Richard Blaker to the resources on this site.
I wrote it several years ago, and it is in fact a draft of what was to have been a chapter in my Ph.D. thesis, a case study of the changing attitudes towards the war of a minor and now mostly forgotten twenties novelist. In the end this chapter was not included. Some paragraphs from it, adapted, found their place in various parts of the final thesis.

Blaker interested me for a few reasons. The main one is that he is a writer whose attitudes changed in a direction opposite to that assumed in many accounts of war writing. Read More »