Caroline's Reviews > The Great War and Modern Memory

The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell
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's review
Mar 23, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: world-war-1, british-history
Read from August 25 to 27, 2013

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 soldiers as comrades and brothers, the pastoral imagery used as a contrast to the industrial machinery of war, the prevalence of myth and romance - and he uses an enormous swathe of literature to illustrate his points. I found upon finishing this book that I had a shopping list as long as my arm of books mentioned in these pages that I want to go on to read.

Fussell's central argument seems to be that WW1, more than any other war, was a literary war, both in the way that those who fought in it used literature as a tool to help them understand what was happening, but also in the way that we ourselves have to come to remember it. Most people's impressions of the Great War have not come from the history books; they've come from the literature that came out of the war - from Graves and Sassoon and Owen. Our very memories of that war have been shaped by literature: think of the very words we use on Remembrance Day from the poem by Laurence Binyon - 'at the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them'.
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