The Great War and Modern Memory
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The Great War and Modern Memory

4.23 of 5 stars 4.23  ·  rating details  ·  2,636 ratings  ·  149 reviews
The year 2000 marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most original and gripping volumes ever written about the First World War. Fussell illuminates a war that changed a generation and revolutionised the way we see the world. He explores the British experience on the western Front from 1914 to 1918, focusing on the various literary means by which it has been remembered, c...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published March 2nd 2000 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 1975)
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Eric
When war broke out, the undergraduate Robert Graves pictured what service he might render as garrison duty—literally holding down the fort while the professional Regular Army charged to glory on the continent. The 100,000-strong force of British Regulars ferried across the channel in August 1914 to protect Belgium and assist the French was all used up by early November. It is said, “the high command and the staff officers survived: the old army was beyond recall.” “This isn’t war!” cried an appa...more
Warwick
Very enjoyable, very thought-provoking, but not necessarily very convincing, Fussell's sui-generis book is an extended literary criticism masquerading as social history – or perhaps the other way round. There are various arguments going on in here, but the main thrust is that much of how we think about the modern world – indeed our whole contemporary mindset – has its origin in ideas that came about as an attempt to respond to the unprecedented scale and irony of the 1914-18 conflict.

‘Irony’ is...more
Rob
A great book. Using the tools of literary criticism to reflect on WW1 Fussell digs into how consciousness was changed by the war. It was the war Fussell argues, that makes the modern age an age of irony. Traditional notions of the war virtues like honour, valor and bravery disappeared into the shit and mud of the Western Front. The cynicism towards authority and the official view portrayed in newspapers etc started in the war. The troops could read The Times or The Daily Mail in the trenches two...more
Nick Milne
[Note: I've read this book twice, the first time years ago -- I set the read date as today so it updates on the Facebook wall properly.]

In this landmark text from 1975, Fussell (an American scholar and veteran) looks at a selection of writings from certain soldier-authors on the Western Front and examines the implications of same when it comes to how the war should best be understood. It's difficult to express how influential this book has been, or how widely it has been hailed since its publica...more
Erin Deathstar
Extraordinary. One of the best books I've read on WWI. By employing literary critique, Fussell manages to capture virtually every aspect of the war from its mammoth obscenity to its myriad tiny obscenities, to the beauties of light and birdsong as experienced in the trenches, to the social fabric of the poor doomed trench-bound souls, to the wit and wonder of The Wipers Times.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough for conveying the vast and complex reality of WWI . Perhaps Fussell's idiosyn...more
Steve
One of the most important books I've ever read.
Michael
This is a most remarkable book. Over the years I have read quite a bit of history, but never a book quite like this one - it is thoroughly unique. It brings together poetry, literature, language, and all sorts of events that changed our way of speaking and thinking of war forever. All this was done in one fairly small book. Some might find it a little scholarly, but never, in my opinion, was it petulant. This book brings with it a deeply, touching human side to those who suffered though the '14-...more
Al
Before tackling Paul Fussell's book, it's useful to understand that this is in no way a conventional history of World War I. While the events of the war are covered insightfully, the war serves as the source of Fussel's analysis of how those who wrote about the war reflected the influence of the literature of the times as well as how the Great War writers would influence those who later wrote about war such as Norman Mailer or Joseph Heller. At times it reads like someone's brilliant dissertatio...more
Jeff
Paul Fussell raises a provocative question in his most acclaimed nonfiction work The Great War and Modern Memory: What happened to the world between 1914 and 1918? His shocking but illuminating conclusion is apparently the mindset of an entire generation completely changed. How we write poetry, how we talk about war, how we see reality. His study delves into the poetry and prose of the First World War, focusing primarily on the British experience whose countrymen endured the horrors of the war a...more
James
Paul Fussell's landmark study of WWI remains in my mind as fresh and gripping today as when I read it many years ago. It is a literate, literary, and illuminating account of the Great War, the one that changed a generation, ushered in the modern era, and revolutionized how we see the world. Exploring the work of Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, Edmund Blunden, David Jones, Isaac Rosenberg, and Wilfred Owen, Fussell supplies contexts, both actual and literary, for those writers who most effectiv...more
Susie Wilde
I learnt more about WW1 from this book than almost any other. Fussell charts the war's progress via language use. There was a huge shift away from the heroic, used as a tool to lure thousands to their death. For example, 'the fallen' quickly became 'the dead', 'chargers' became 'horses', clearly showing the men's utter disillusionment and contempt for euphemism. Their new way of speaking made it impossible for them to talk candidily when they returned home. It was a literal, as well as ideologic...more
Erik Simon
Speaking of WWI, which we have been doing lately, this is my single favorite book on the war. It's a look at the history of it through the literature written about it. It covers everything from poetry and such written before the war to that written during and after, even way after, such as GRAVITY'S RAINBOW. And in doing so, it visits so many of the horrific and pathetic battles that were part of this horrific, pathetic war.
Erika Schelby
A book that is very special to me, autographed by Paul Fussell
himself during a two-hour class meeting of only three people.
My professor and Fussell were old friends, and both were
extraordinary as teachers. It was an intense, fascinating
experience, and I have treasured this fine book ever since,
Michael
Jun 26, 2011 Michael rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Historians, Literature students, Military history buffs
Recommended to Michael by: Victoria Belco
By academic standards, this book is "old," but it remains a very useful study. Fussell doesn't claim to tell us anything new about the "Great War" (called World War One in the US), but rather looks at how it was remembered by those who lived through it. He says himself that the book is about "some of the literary means by which it [the British experience on the Western Front] has been remembered, conventionalized, and mythologized" adding that it is "also about the literary dimensions of the tre...more
Edward Waverley
Jan 21, 2014 Edward Waverley marked it as to-read
Shelves: rushdoony
Historian Otto Scott spoke with RJ Rushdoony in 1990 about this book: "This is one of those remarkable works in which everything worked. Most writers have this. They have one book in which everything works. And this is Fussell’s. I think it was his first. He is talking about World War I. And he began by examining the poetry of Hardy and others before the war. And, of course, you recall that what happened?

[Rushdoony] When was it written?
[Scott] Well, part... 1975.
[Rushdoony] I... I must have read...more
Tyler
Jun 11, 2009 Tyler rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone; Fans of Literature
Recommended to Tyler by: Book Awards
Fussell’s “elegiac commentary” unearths the cultural terrain of the Great War to find out what made the war distinct. Doing this means properly locating the war within an ephemeral cultural and technological firmament. He first uncovers the immediate past from which the war had emerged and by which it came to be understood. Then he takes on a much trickier task: to help readers see through a glass darkly to an event now totally masked by World War II. This thorough and daring excavation of the w...more
Bob
I was reminded of this book because the PG Six band (http://www.myspace.com/pgsixband) is rehearsing Fleetwood Mac's "Dust" whose lyrics (despite the lack of credits on the LP sleeve) were adapted from Rupert Brooke who is usually mentioned in the same breath as Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Wilfred Owen as one of the quintessential literary figures of World War I. Fussell's book is about the literary culture that grew up around the war and its profound impact on 20th century literary con...more
Caroline
It's almost impossible to overstate the importance of this book. It's definitely one of the landmark publications on Great War literature, and Fussell's arguments and conclusions are so lucid and compelling that you almost find it strange that no-one else thought of it before him.

Each chapter draws on a central theme found throughout the war poetry; the binary oppositions of 'us' and 'them', the troglodyte horrors of the trenches, the comparison of the war to theatre, the homoeroticism of soldie...more
Kay
A magisterial and sweeping examination of the historical experience of WWI, especially as portrayed by writers such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Robert Graves. More concerned with literary matters than military ones, Fussell's analysis goes surprisingly deep -- to the heart of the profound change in thinking that took place during and after the war. The consciousness of an entire generation, if not an entire country, underwent a profound shift. Things that are pervasive in modern time...more
Patrick Santana
There's so much here that falls outside my inherited knowledge of World War I. Russell weaves in literature, poetry, poster art, songs, Uranians, Walt Whitman, painting, and more into his thesis that modernity (ironic, violent, self-aware, cynical) was forged in the crucible of this European bloodbath. It's a pretty heavy read at times, full of reference and quotation from a lot of not-well-known authors. Still, I enjoyed it immensely. You learn how and where phrases like "over the top" come fro...more
Scotchneat
Fussell has the academic's attention and breadth of knowledge on British poetry in the Romantic and Modern eras. He is surprising post-modern in his readings of poetry and pop culture around the first great war.

His themes include the false age of innocence ascribed to the time before the war, and over to the overtly homoerotic imagery of war poetry.

It was like reading a thesis from one of my favourite Vic Lit profs in university.
Jeffrey Williams
Paul Fussell's "The Great War and Modern Memory," first published in 1975, has become a classic read for those who are interested in the literature of World War I. In it, Fussell fuses together the literary influences of Great Britain, biographies of such notable First World War authors like Sigfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, and observations of the detailed minute of life in the trenches, to create a composite image of how the British, through literature, remember the Great War of a century ago...more
Sareene
This book is literary criticism, but does not read like one. I actually enjoyed reading this book - even though my eyes did glaze over when the author discussed books I did not know. This is also a good book to read if one is interested in the British and WWI. It's somewhere between a history and lit crit book, but without being boring!
Kenneth
Fine book on the Great War. Explores much of the literature from the period. An entire chapter on the homosexual inclinations of British military officers towards soldiers is documented with thorough attention to detail. Also of particular interest is the section on the SOE or counterpart to the OSS in the US. Quoting Fussell at length.

“Like its American counterpart, the Office of Strategic Services, the SOE performed two functions, espionage and sabotage. The un-military informality of the SOE'...more
J. Dunn
An incredibly thorough look at the British literary and cultural experience of the Great War, and how this shaped modernism and the rest of our culture ever since. Reading some excellent weblog retrospectives on WWI around Armistice Day turned me on to this one.
William Leight
Fussell analyzes the writings of First World War soldiers (mostly English ones), teasing out the patterns in their descriptions of the war and showing how they came to define, to a significant extent, the way we (for modern Anglo-American values of we) think about not just wars in general but modern society as well. Admittedly the book, now about 40 years old, feels slightly dated, but, in a remarkable demonstration of the way World War I still defines modern life, not much more than slightly. S...more
Karen Witzler
The Great War as the genesis for all modern artistic/critical sensibilities. Loved the beautiful web of history, reporting, literature,and influence.
Jay McNair
This excavates the mood and culture of the Great War, at a time when men rode off to war on their bicycles, earnestly excited. When the infantry company kicked a football as they charged, when they figured they'd be home by Christmas, and when Christmas came, they walked across No Man's Land the first year in the trenches and shook hands with their enemies.

"Never such innocence again."

Then men literally drowning in mud in November, the ground churned up by the week or two or three of poorly-thou...more
Neil
This is probably the best book I ever gave only two stars to. I couldn't finish the damn thing - Fussell's scholarship is undoubted, and is well demonstrated in the pages of this book. He delves at great length in the recurring themes and literary devices, the ideas and recollections, the myths and rumors, that can be traced in the poetry, novels, memoirs and wartime letters of men who served in the Great War. Some of it is quite fascinating, but in stretches I found it to be tedious to my not-s...more
Martin
I was introduced to Fussell's work when I read his biting criticism of the patriotic lunacy surrounding the memory of the Second World War, "Wartime."

"The Great War and Modern Memory" is his classic literary criticism of soldiers' experiences in the first major conflagration of the 20th century, the world's first war of mass mobilization and industrialization whose dimensions stretched beyond man's ability to comprehend. And that is where Fussell strikes deepest in his analysis: not only was the...more
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Paul Fussell was an American cultural and literary historian, author and university professor. His writings covered a variety of topics, from scholarly works on eighteenth-century English literature to commentary on America’s class system. He was an U.S. Army Infantry officer in the European theater during World War II (45th Infantry Division) and was awarded both the Bronze Star and the Purple He...more
More about Paul Fussell...
Class: A Guide Through the American Status System Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War Poetic Meter and Poetic Form The Boys' Crusade: The American Infantry in Northwestern Europe, 1944-45 Bad, or the Dumbing of America

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“Every war is ironic because every war is worse than expected. Every war constitutes an irony of situation because its means are so melodramatically disproportionate to its presumed ends.” 16 likes
“If truth is the main casualty in war, ambiguity is another.” 8 likes
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