Earlier in the war, the opinions of those who did not support the national battle for Kultur were either rendered silent by the censor  or remained part of an ineffectual, ignored elite. Fritz von Unruh , for example, wrote anti-militarist material throughout the war. Der Opfergang Way of Sacrifice: was written at Verdun in , but published after the war. His tragedy Ein Geschlecht A Family was published in Unruh left Germany in This decline in enthusiasm on the home front would form the basis for much of the interwar literature of Germany.
It should also be remembered that German influence spread into the Austro-Hungarian Empire , and was reflected in their literary output. Given the breadth and structure of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, reactions to the war there were less homogenous. Of all the main combatants, Austria-Hungary had perhaps the most ineffectual propaganda agency. Nevertheless, there were several important literary responses, although some of the leading Austrian literary figures of the period such as Robert Musil and Stefan Zweig , are perhaps more associated with German intellectual circles.
As in other nations, important pre literary figures enlisted in the armed forces on the outbreak of war. Musil had edited several literary magazines between and , and published in the acclaimed Die neue Rundschau. He served as an officer during the war, and was decorated for his service on the Italian Front. Utilising a range of sources of the period, from newspaper articles to overheard conversations, it depicted the war as the product of propaganda, attacking the parasitic press, as well as generals and governments.
How widely known the play was across Europe is questionable. Its final version was not published until In Russia literacy was not as widespread as in other nations. Nevertheless there was still a sizeable readership, and at the beginning of the war at least, there was general support from the literary community for the conflict.
At one end of the cultural spectrum there was widespread enthusiasm; popular fiction played a role, but such works often had little interesting to say about the war. Many popular novels simply grafted pre-war plots about spies or romantic encounters onto a wartime setting. The satirical journal Novyi Satirikon , traditionally anti-tsarist since its establishment in , supported the war from its outbreak.
This support continued even between the revolutions. Some saw the war as an opportunity for reforms within their own artistic media.
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Yet, as has been seen in other combatant nations, as the war dragged on, enthusiasm began to waver. Writers and poets, such as Zinaida Gippius , began to feel conflicted or ambivalent about the war, publicly supporting it but privately having doubts. The great Russian poet and playwright Velimir Khlebnikov , a leading proponent of Russian Futurism, was conscripted in Initially he demonstrated fervent support for the war, eagerly anticipating the marching of Russian boots on the streets of Berlin, but his enthusiasm waned in the face of actual military experience.
Broadly speaking, there were many similar literary responses to the war across the nations involved. In most countries, war literature greeted the conflict with enthusiasm, at least until the reality of the conflict became apparent. There were cultural and geographical factors that affected responses. There was a disparity between the military realities of and the representations of the war conveyed to the German public through censorship and propaganda ; the shock of defeat and the impact of the Versailles Treaty served to create powerful yet contradictory understandings of the war in the years after Indeed, the literature that appeared across Europe in the interwar years is important for many reasons.
The meaning of the war in its immediate aftermath was malleable. Gradually over the next two decades, understandings of the war would be re-shaped, and this would have a great impact upon European society.
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Literary responses to the First World War in the years after were varied; the combatant nations were affected by the conflict in different ways. France and Belgium were physically and psychologically devastated by the experience of war. In terms of material damage, Britain had emerged from the conflict relatively unscathed, but the huge casualty figures took their toll. War memorials and rituals of remembrance across all of these countries served as permanent reminders of the loss.
In Germany, responses to the war reflected a sense of bewilderment and shattered confidence. Russia, on the other hand, was caught up in the aftermath of the Revolution of Its experience in the Great War was largely remembered as a tsarist folly, and drew few literary responses. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up, now a series of independent states lacking a singular national identity.
The political ramifications of the war in these nations impacted upon the type and quantity of literature produced. In France, the impact of the war on the nation had been colossal. Many lives had been lost and families bereaved. The French landscape had been irrevocably changed, both on the battlefields and in those parts of France deforested for the war effort.
In it was adapted for the cinema by Raymond Bernard Early French war books demonstrated the psychological upheaval of the war and questioned its achievements. Later French literature was imbued with the memory of the war. Le Feu seemed to fit with a general reaction to the war.
Indeed, many French novels of the interwar years were to be pacifist in nature. It should, however, be remembered that there was not one true reaction to the war. Many French writers despised the world that emerged from the war; some, such as Pierre Drieu La Rochelle , responded by embracing fascism. German novels of the interwar years, both liberal and conservative, reflected the sense of bewilderment that greeted defeat.
Heinrich Wandt , for example, was given a prison sentence for military treason after making public documents revealing German relations with Flemish separatists during the occupation. Literary responses to the war suffered peaks and troughs of popularity. These seemingly disparate accounts of the conflict reveal much about the Great War and the problem of language and memory. Its languages shifted along with social and cultural responses of the era. Throughout the interwar years, the country was torn between the liberalism of the Weimar Republic and more extreme elements in society.
Such debates were borne out in the literature of the period. Im Westen nichts Neues , for example, was seen by the Nazis as pacifist left-wing propaganda, and was subsequently banned. Indeed, it should be noted that the majority of books published by were not anti-war. Ein Brief Long live war! In many ways the clash between pro- and anti-war literatures across Europe was symbolic of the political instability, partly caused by the First World War, which pushed Europe towards another conflict in Moreover, these apparently opposite works often took similar forms.
Britain also saw a wealth of literature produced reflecting on the war in the interwar years. These generally took the form of semi-autobiographical accounts of the war on the Western Front. All of these were part of the so-called war books boom which internationally also included such writers as Ernest Hemingway and Remarque. Similarly to works produced during the war, novels and memoirs often had meanings attached to them unintended by their authors. Sometimes, society was not ready for the image of war being presented. It was first published in small numbers, and then republished in as Her Privates We in a heavily censored edition.
Interwar society may have been more prepared for the horrors than the language of the trenches. Moreover, not all war books were about the horrors of the Western Front. Raymond had no qualms about presenting the war as heroic, and celebrating the nobility of sacrifice, albeit within a context of loss and mourning. A film version of Tell England was released in Other responses took the war at face value, even expressing some pleasure in it.
Herman Cyril McNeile , known as "Sapper", a former officer in the Royal Engineers, wrote the adventure Bulldog Drummond , which spawned numerous sequels and was adapted for both stage and the screen. In the novel, Drummond is a former officer who seeks out adventure and conspiracies to cope with the boredom of interwar civilian life.
As in the hard-boiled examples from the United States, detective fiction was replete with former soldiers. In particular, the shadow of the war hung over the stories of Dorothy L. Sayers and her war veteran protagonist Lord Peter Wimsey. Throughout the interwar years, British bestseller lists were dominated by works about the war, many not conforming to the tone of the later war books boom. Because these novels had little literary merit, their legacy has not been seen as great as that of the canonical works of war literature.
The s saw a number of war-novels and memoirs published in the United States. Cummings published an autobiographical novel, The Enormous Room, in Other writers utilised the Great War in their fiction. All of these tales were populated with war veterans, and reflected the emotional legacy of the conflict.
One might argue that the American experience of the First World War was very different from that of nations in closer proximity to the fighting. Nevertheless, there was a strong correlation between the works of many soldier-writers. For soldiers on all sides on the Western Front there was a similarity of experience. Indeed, it was the question of experience that provoked many of the key debates and fierce reactions to war books. In most nations a general dearth of great literature during the war years could be attributed to the preponderance of literature as propaganda, and also the fact that many authors and future writers were serving in the military.
Once demobilised, veterans of a literary disposition could decipher their experiences and commit them to print.
Non-combatants also produced literature, but, as Modris Eksteins has suggested, there seemed to be an affinity between the soldier and the purveyor of the creative arts. The soldier became the equivalent of the avant-garde artist. It is the soldier-writers of the interwar years whose output has been assimilated into the canon of Great War literature, and particularly those that conform to an apparent literature of disillusionment.
It is important to remember, however, that this canon represents and often misrepresents just one reaction to the conflict.
Their contribution to war literature is equally important, particularly when it is understood that the literature of the interwar years is often a reflection of that period rather than the war itself. Furthermore, veterans of other non-military theatres had important contributions to make. The abundance of war books across Europe and the United States naturally led to different interpretations of the conflict and its meaning.
The literature that emerged from the conflict was, for Fussell, characterised by irony, and the experience of the war meant that the events of could only be presented in such terms; was a cut-off point for literature and history, and the sense of the ironic manifested itself in all war-literature afterwards. By consigning his argument to a narrow range of English-language texts, Fussell neglected some of the variations in European reactions to the war. The writing of the Great War was to have a lasting impact in several ways.
In Britain, the literature of disillusionment, despite its detractors, was becoming established as the literary response to the war. It raised questions about the worthwhileness of the cause in , particularly in the wake of the economic and social problems that dogged the continent throughout the interwar years. Across Europe, wounded veterans were highly visible, potent reminders of the catastrophic war years. Furthermore, social problems had not been alleviated by the conflict, and were often exacerbated. Of course this was not the whole story. The aura of disenchantment became an important one.
In France, the devastation of the Great War, memorialised in much of the literature of the era, helped to foster an anxiety in society, questioning the necessity of the conflict. Later, the Nazis later disassociated themselves from the hubris of the first year of the war after such widespread enthusiasm failed to materialise in Indeed, the legacy of the war, and the literature that came out of it, had an impact on the direction of European nations in the two-decade stumble towards the Second World War. The Great War inspired a multitude of literary reactions from its inception in In many nations the war had been greeted with enthusiasm in intellectual circles; the voices of dissenters were often either drowned out, or they were mindful to remain silent.
As the war dragged on, responses to the war did alter, although we do not necessarily see a unified movement expressing disillusionment with the war. Indeed, even those critical of the conduct of the war did not necessarily view the conflict as meaningless. Despite the modern tendency to interpret the conflict through a narrow range of literary sources, the variety of responses from authors and poets suggests that societies were unable to attach one specific meaning to the conflict.
Indeed, many works now seen as anti-war have been misinterpreted and misunderstood. Other writers faced the ire of commentators who disagreed with the version of the war they presented. To some extent, the sheer volume of war memoirs and novels lessened their overall impact. By the early s war books were the targets for satirists.
As a new war loomed closer, publication of such works declined in many countries. Great value has been placed on writers who served in the First World War, and experienced the fighting first-hand.
This was a key consideration for critics and readers at the time, and has to some extent shaped modern academic responses. Yet other writers with direct experience of the war, whose experience fails to tally with the literature of disillusionment, have been dismissed or ignored completely. Moreover, non-combatant writers were equally able to convey important and valid reactions to the war provoked by the experience of the interwar years. Although there were similarities of response between the fighting nations of the Great War, there is not one uniform response.
An analysis of right-wing militarist German fiction can certainly be used to comment upon the shift towards support for the Nazi regime, but it fails to take into account dissenting voices. Similarly, the literature of disillusionment in Britain may have contributed to a sense that the British were sick of war, but the plethora of war literature in the bestseller lists from this time provides a counterpoint to this argument.
Alongside the canonical memoirs and semi-autobiographical novels readers could find all manner of adventure stories set during or influenced by the Great War. Imagined spies, detectives, and plucky aviators were all prominent archetypes in interwar fiction. Ultimately, the literature of the First World War demonstrates the impact the conflict had on European society.
Millions were killed in the fighting, but those who survived wrestled with the memory of the war. The Great War provoked a range of psychological responses, all of which can be seen in the reams of war literature produced between and My book thus offers a series of case-studies which seek to illustrate or mobilise issues surrounding the growth of the culture industry and the administrative society and the countervailing impulse towards a poetry of sensation evocative of the free life of nature.
The second part of the book is devoted to a number of texts by Hardy, Jefferies and Ruskin, and culminates in a survey of the literary space of the South Country and its tragic apotheosis at the Western Front. Pingback: Top book blog Cool lady blog. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Email Address. Interesting Literature is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to Amazon.
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