Friday, August 26, 2005

Goodbye to all that...

Via Mark Grimsley, I note an interesting post by Esther MacCallum-Stewart on her excellent site regarding Brian Bond's "The Unquiet Western Front".

For what it's worth, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and, generally speaking, agree wholeheartedly with its central thesis, which will be obvious to anyone who has read post on Wilfred Owen. I would echo one of the inhabitants of Esther's comments box in noting that I think she perhaps misinterprets Professor Bond's argument in implying that his stance is that literature is somehow inherently bad or misleading or soppy gloop.

In reality I'd classify Bond's argument as encompassing two broad strands.

1) In reading Great War literature, both generally and with a view to employing it as a piece of historical source material, people have generally been deeply selective in precisely WHICH pieces of literature they have chosen to use, with the result that what one sees, over and over again, is not a sweeping canvas but a torn fragment of the whole picture - and a misleading fragment at that.

2) Those very selective examples of the Great War canon that we reliably choose to lavish our time, approval and quotation passages on (Owen, Sassoon, Sheriff etc etc etc) are, in turn, rarely placed within any sort of reliable context and, lacking that context, their impact on the popular imagination leads to distortion and their use as historical source material has been and remains rather dubious.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, I think I see now what the misunderstanding is. I meant, specifically, later literature and not the early war books writers - so that Bond reserves spleen for Faulks, Barker, Oh What a Lovely War and the post 1960s writing. My feeling is that here, Bond has very little positive to say about the ways that literature has shaped understandings (in fact, I can't find anything positive at all!) and then argues that it is historians alone that should redress the balance.

11:57 AM  

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