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The Great War and Modern Memory Paperback – Feb 18 2003
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"Paul Fussell's Great War and Modern Memory introduced an entirely new and creative way of writing both about war and the literature it generates. It has been a profound influence on historians and literary critics alike. It is a model of intelligence and fine writing and will remain a key
text in our culture for decades to come."--John Keegan
Praise for the previous edition
"Skillful, compassionate....An important contribution to our understanding of how we came to make World War I part of our minds."--Frank Kermode, The New York Times Book Review
"One doesn't know quite where to begin to praise this book in which literary and historical materials, in themselves not unfamiliar, are brought together in a probing, sympathetic, and finally illuminating fashion. It is difficult to think of a scholarly work in recent years that has more
deeply engaged the reader at both the intellectual and emotional level."--The New Republic
"A learned and well-balanced book that is also bright and sensitive....A last irony leaps from these pages: the men of the First World War were heroes as great as the cast of the Iliad, yet their words destroyed the concept of themselves, of all warriors, and of war itself as heroic."--The New
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Top Customer Reviews
Fussell's focus is the literary context of the British trench experience of WW1. Contending, as he well illustrates, that for the British WW1 was an extremely literary war. In the trenches young men were reading books, writing poetry, sending letters home, subscribing to magazines, and for those who were not slaughtered, beginning careers as writers... such as with Robert Graves.
Fussell starts out with Thomas Hardy and ends off with Thomas Pynchon, Norman Mailer, and even connects Alan Ginsberg's Howl to the Great War literary tradition. Along the way he explores a panoply of authors whereby the terribly horrid war was imagined within a context of the British literary tradition (Chaucer, Shakespeare, King Arthur etc.), and it becomes evident that the war may have been prolonged, and not sooner negotiated to a close, as a result of the elaboration of heroic story.
The summer of 1972 Fussell spent in the British War Museum in a secluded room going through boxes of troop correspondence. There is an interesting emphasis on the "language" of war, the words used to describe bodies blown about into indistinguishable lumps of flesh sort of thing.
War is not an imaginable event, and yet we as conscious humans need to give war a face that we can live with... and in some cases be willing to die for. I find the book relevent to now in respect of considering how the War on Terrorism is envisioned within the American literary tradition (Bush knows his Huck Finn). The metaphors, the words, the use of past examples to describe war derive from our literary and historical context.
I have been obsessed with The GW&MM since I first read it in 1978, so obsessed that I have read it many times. Each time I read it new ideas and new authors spring out of the text and send me to the library or bookstore. Fussell's prose is captivating, and his scholarship is breathtaking in both breadth and depth. My first reading of The GS&MM was in Belgium during a Sabbatical year in Brussels. Our son was writing a senior ISP on the effect of the German invasion on Belgium, and we went to Ypres as part of the research. We were both overwhelmed by the 105 Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries there, and reading The GW&MM during that period helped to put these beautiful and touching burial grounds into the context of the mud and stink that was the Salient during (and for several years after) 1914-1918.
Prof. Fussell introduced me to Graves (my favorite) and Sassoon and Blunden and David Jones and Wifred Owen and opened the door to these wonderful novelists and poets for a biochemist without much appreciation of British literature.
The GW&MM presents an amazing constellation of knowledge and understanding and compassion for the victims of WW I, and my recommendation of this masterpiece is totally enthusiastic and without reservation.
How did people in all of the belligerent nations greet the war in August, 1914? They greeted the war with a sense of adventure and a belief that the war might provide some meaning to their lives. "It'll all be over by Christmas", so you better get in on it while you can! As the years of industrialized slaughter went on and on, these idealistic young men became embittered and cynical and it is this bitterness and cynicism which Paul Fussell explores.
Fussell uses the poetry, the memoirs and the myths of the First World War to explore the dichotomous world view of the pre-war period and the world of The Great War and after. He carries this exploration forward to our era, tracing our cynicism, our sense of the bitterly ironic and our distrust of authority back to the experiences of the British infantry in the trenches of 1914-1918.
This is an amazing book which not only helps us to understand the world in the trenches of The Great War but also to understand our own world a little better. The voices of a century ago still resound strongly in our modern culture, a culture far removed from yet still connected to those days of mud, blood and bloated corpses.
From this book, I've gained a better understanding about life in the trenches and the general backgrounds of the Great War soldiers (at least a better understanding than would be expected from a spoiled Gen. Xer who would never experience such a watershed event). Fussell explains the trench system and the daily routines very well by including many details a lot of books do not offer. I did not realize the close proximity between the trenches and the civilian populations or how speedy and efficient the mail service was at the front. He gives a nice overview of the time period (what was considered important, etc.) to help the reader understand what ideas shaped the lives of soldiers before the war and how their backgrounds helped them cope and make some sort of sense out of the wretched conditions they faced (i.e. a common interest in pastoral images). "Pilgrim's Progress," for example, was a novel most British soldiers read. In fact, language, in general, was one of the only forms of entertainment at the time, so most soldiers were connected by literature no matter their social class (hard to imagine these days).Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
A psychological analysis of how we "see" things that involve so much of ours emotions like the Great War to end all wars.Published on Jan. 28 2013 by Paul Noel
Keegan does a better job of explaining the "what" of war and his volume on WW I is superb. Read morePublished on April 24 2003 by Fred R. Nelson
One of the most remarkable non-fiction works I have ever read. Picking up this book you may think you've got a hold of a historiography of some sort or other. Read morePublished on Aug. 30 2002 by Virgil
Our American culture currently values works of scholarship and criticism less than a Big Gulp mainly because most scholars in the humanities have ceased talking to the general... Read morePublished on Aug. 7 2002 by Mark D Burgh
In 1916 on the Western Front, in a single hour, a well-placed single machine gun could slaughter a thousand men rising up out of the trenches, as they did in wave after wave. Read morePublished on June 9 2001
In 1916 on the Western Front, in a single hour, a well-placed single machine gun could slaughter a thousand men rising up out of the trenches, as they did in wave after wave. Read morePublished on June 2 2001
This is a memorable book, and I think is the best book on the literature that came out of World War One. Read morePublished on Feb. 26 2001 by Schmerguls
Paul Fussell, critic, memoirist, and sometime gadfly, produced in this book something rare: a work of contemporary literary criticism that's not only readable and comprehensible,... Read morePublished on May 3 2000 by Dale Keiger
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