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Toward the Flame: A Memoir of World War I Paperback – Apr 11 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 282 pages
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press (June 1 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803259476
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803259478
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 1.8 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 431 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,210,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"This work has been considered by many to be the finest American frontline memoir to come out of World War I. It is powerful and certainly a classic."—Michael D. Hull, ARMY Magazine
(Michael D. Hull ARMY Magazine)

About the Author

Hervey Allen was the author of many volumes of poetry and prose, including the popular novel Anthony Adverse. Steven Trout is an associate professor of English at Fort Hays State University. He is the author of Memorial Fictions: Willa Cather and the First World War (Nebraska 2002) and a coeditor of Literature of the Great War Reconsidered: Beyond Modern Memory.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa4d18318) out of 5 stars 14 reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4c9db58) out of 5 stars Perhaps the Finest American Memoir of the First World War June 14 2005
By W. W. Garvin - Published on
Format: Paperback
Hervey Allen's memoir is certainly one of the finest personal narratives of World War One, and perhaps the best American memoir of that war. In my opinion, it is a neglected classic. The narrative covers his unit's march from the area around Chateau Thierry in July 1918 to the Fismes/Fismette area in August. The book begins with Allen's unit on an almost bucolic road march through unspoiled French countryside, and ends with its virtual decimation in Fismette. As the title suggests, the closer Allen and his comrades get to Fismette, the more intense the action, until they are literally facing the fire of a German flamenwerfer attack. The story ends abruptly; in a preface to the second edition, Allen compares the ending to a filmstrip burning out suddenly.

Allen, a novelist and poet, was a keen observer; he gives the reader a vivid picture of what it was like to be an AEF soldier in France. Particularly compelling are his descriptions of the shattered homes, farms, and buildings that his unit occupies as it moves forward, and what they tell him about the original French owners, and the Germans who, in some cases, have left the premises just minutes before.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4c9dba0) out of 5 stars A Definitive WWI Memoir Dec 29 2006
By A A Marcus - Published on
Format: Paperback
Hervey Allen is at his finest in this carefully crafted memoir of his time as a soldier in France. While he is best known as author of the sweeping historical fiction Anthony Adverse, which was a best seller in the 1930s(and later a pretty mediocre movie), he proves in Towards the Flame that he is also able to communicate great depth with an economy of words. This book illuminates that far away time in which young men went off the to fight the Last Great War for reasons that now seem so trivial and also gives a wonderful sense of the French countryside from the perespective of a young soldier. I believe that this book is a hidden treasure of American literature that deserves to be rediscovered.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4ca36a8) out of 5 stars Reality of WWI Feb. 21 2009
By Ben Lee Mcdonald III - Published on
Format: Paperback
My Grandfather was with an Artillery Battery. A lot of what he described was the same as the memoirs in this book. He had 2 vivid memories one was the constant noise of the Artillery firing 24-7, and the other was 11-11-11 1918. His description was the knew the Armistace was scheduled to take effect but they were told the firing would probably taper off and stop but instead it was like somebody flipped a switch. At the exact time suddenly there was dead silence and it was over.
EB Sledge wrote With The Old Breed about the Marine Infantryman in WWII and I think this is one of a few books which does the same for WWI.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4ca3b70) out of 5 stars and unclear like war itself May 23 2015
By CJ - Published on
Format: Paperback
Chaotic, and unclear like war itself. At times incredibly gripping, at others I had to re-read sections to make sure I knew what exactly was happening (and even then I wasn't always entirely sure). I think I should re-read the book after I read a few descriptions of the actions before and during the battle of Fismette. It really helped me understand more clearly what all was going on, and I would probably appreciate Allen's text better.

I tend to gravitate towards more over arching military books (though not TOO in depth, because sometimes they can be unreadable) where I can get a sense of objectives and where things fit in. But as far as a story of the guys on the ground, this is really well done.
7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4ca3bf4) out of 5 stars American Finds WWI Europe Drifting Away from Itself Oct. 22 2008
By Bradford Morgan - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The strength of Hervey Allen's "Toward the Flame" as a war memoir lies in its being a first-person narrative, with all the seeming immediacy and honesty that firsthand experience affords. We remember George Santayana's deliberately hyperbolic warning against the more academic third-person alternative: "History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren't there." Hervey Allen was there.

Allen allows a "you are there" window into the daily life of WWI combat (Second Battle of the Marne) during six summer weeks in 1918. Missing is the familiar focus on stalemated trench warfare that characterized other battles. For most of the memoir, Allen is actually on the move through once-picturesque hilly regions of France, but usually in the more peaceful wake of front-line units. The end of the memoir finds him in the intense "Flame" of Fismette fighting.

Allen's matter-of-fact tone owes something to the blunting effects of memory (the book was published in 1926) but perhaps also to a healthy skepticism about fighting a war largely within European nations and their colonies. Christendom was attacking itself, with the YMCA standing-in for the ineptness of the church itself, "selling gum drops and cakes when civilization hung in the balance." Allen contemptuously notes that "As a matter of fact, there was little else it could do, and that in itself was a great comment." It is to Allen's credit that he doesn't allow later research and speculation about the larger picture to infiltrate his direct experience account.

There is no mention, for example, of WWI's other (and some would argue more significant) battlefield: the fight against militaristic Islam represented by the Ottoman Turks. After all, the war started in the Balkans. The lasting triumph of WWI was, for some, not the defeat of Germany and its allies, but the Crusader-like retaking of the Holy Lands. Who will forget the photograph of General Allenby victoriously entering Jerusalem?

Then, too, Hervey Allen's biographical fascination elsewhere with Edgar Allan Poe is partly owing to Poe's having enlisted in the US Army as a private, rising to Sergeant Major of Artillery, and later attending West Point. Poe's preoccupation with phantasmagoria resonated well with the horrific images of Allen's combat experiences late in WWI. Throughout "Toward the Flame," the reader can feel the pull-and-tug between the accustomed innocence of comfortable America back home and the lurking wartime realities all but purged from peripheral consciousness.

Poe's successful formula continues to work in media today. We see folks, youth particularly, flirting with the scary and violent--but indirectly, through no-risk admitted "fiction" such as horror movies, violent computer games, and monster-type toys. It seems healthy to see children fighting to keep from being smothered by too many well-meaning but sugar-coated animations and holiday fantasies, as well as Disney-style escapes into a peaceful-kingdom falseness, none of which correspond with "the way God made the world." As Allen might have worried, will such sheltered youth wilt prematurely in the flame of future combat?

Passing many German graves in his march toward the front allows Allen to reflect on larger issues otherwise denied in the overweening literalness of combat itself. He notes an epitaph on one such grave (markers in WWI and WWII were crosses, not just tablets as we find today in national cemeteries): "He was a good Christian and fell in France fighting for the Fatherland, `Heir ruht in Gott.'"

Looking further, Allen cannot help but speculate on what seems to be the waning mission of European culture: "Verily, these seemed to be the same Goths and Vandals who left their graves even in Egypt; unchanged since the days of Rome, and still fighting her civilization, the woods-people against the Latins. Only the illuminating literary curiosity of a Tacitus was lacking to make the inward state of man visible by the delineation of the images of outer things."