…And the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity.”
That quote from Wilfred Owen is on the monument to the war poets in Westminster Abbey. A line from Owen also provides the title for the 2010 book by Wellington author and academic Harry Ricketts - Strange meetings: the poets of the Great War.
Owen has always seemed the most tragic of the war poets, dying as he did just days before the end of the war. Is it true that his mother received the news of his death just as the bells were ringing to celebrate the Armistice?
The Great War has contined to provide the subject matter for some wonderful fiction, including the Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker. The treatment of poet Siegfried Sassoon for shell shock at Craiglockhart Hospital is one of the major themes of the novel, and Sassoon’s fictionalised autobiography, the Sherston trilogy, is worth reading. Start with Memoirs of a fox hunting man.
A. S. Byatt’s The children’s book has Rupert Brooke (‘ the handsomest man in England’) as a bit player and ends with the return of the soldiers from the war. In a book of many fascinating (or irritating, depending on how you feel about staying on the subject,) digressions, Byatt’s listing of the names the soldiers gave to the trenches is among the most unusual.
Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong featured in the Big Read, which aimed to find Britain’s favourite book, and on Best British books 1980-2005. It’s sold a lot of copies, but it’s not one of my favourites; although Eddie Redmayne was in the T.V. series, which is a definite reason to watch it.
Do you have a favourite piece of fiction set in the Great War?