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Unformatted text preview: oring jingoistic poems. A breakthrough in the way of portraying the war
came only after the loss of “the first hundred thousand”, as the British
Expeditionary Force was called; the desperately pointless attacks in the
Battle of the Somme in 1916; and the necessity of introducing conscription. The terror and tediousness of the war of attrition caused war neurasthenia in many soldiers. Some of them, like Wilfred Sassoon and Robert
Owen, wrote their poetry of protest while on leave curing their nerves.
Sassoon composed his poems which rejected the euphemistic vocabulary
of jingoistic verse and showed the misery of suffering and the death of
soldiers, completely devoid of glory, in minute realistic detail. Robert
Owen in “Dulce et decorum est” clearly rejected the grandeur of war and
focused on the atrophy of emotions in soldiers as the only possible protection against the horror and despair of the trench combat. The futility
of the war and the anguish of its participants so aptly recreated by the
Trench Poets increased the number of the conscientious objectors to war.
Unlike poetry, prose accounts of the Great War, naively believed
to be the war to end all wars, appeared only in the late 1920s, long after
the Armistice. Wiśniewski stresses that contrary to poetry, some of
which presents high artistic value, the war novels of the period are historically important accounts of the war by its survivors, but their literary
value does not compare to Barbusse’s Feu.
Robert Graves’s poems and autobiography Good bye to that all
show an original perspective on the war. Even in the first, jingoistic period of literature, he could not accept the exaggerated image of the
bloodthirsty Huns, as he had German relatives, whom he had visited before the war. Both his poetry and prose show distance to the topic
through the employment of farce, caricature and public school understatement. His bitter humour and resignation to war, which despite its
carnage and absurdity is just another human condition and has to be lived
through, put him side by side with such outstanding Second World War
novelists as Evelyn Waugh, Joseph Heller and Thomas Pynchon and
their black humour and anti-heroes.
Overall, British literature of the First World War is best known for
Winfred Sassoon’s poetry of anger and Robert Owen’s poetry of pity and Chapter III 96 the novels from the school of despair. It seemed that the disillusionment
with the lie of the Glory of War Myth was so profound that it would not be
possible to arouse any enthusiasm for war in the future generations. Yet
this was not the case. Despite the increase in the pacifist attitudes, the
younger brothers of the Great War soldiers, infatuated with the leftist ideology soon discovered that it was necessary to wage a war to fight Fascism. The Spanish War (June 1936-March 1939) gave them an opportunity
to test their ideals in battle. In the first period, represented by John Cornford, the belief in an unambiguous alignment between good and evil
dominated the scene. Cornford’s writing was strongly ideological, as he
was an active communist; despite his conviction that to be anti-Fascist
precludes being an...
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