The Great War and Modern Memory
|The Great War and Modern Memory|
|Publisher||Oxford University Press|
The Great War and Modern Memory is a book of literary criticism written by Paul Fussell and published in 1975 by Oxford University Press. It describes the literary responses by English participants in World War I to their experiences of combat, particularly in trench warfare. The perceived futility and insanity of this conduct became, for many gifted Englishmen of their generation, a metaphor for life. Fussell describes how the collective experience of the "Great War" was correlated with, and to some extent underlain by, an enduring shift in the aesthetic perceptions of individuals, from the tropes of Romanticism that had guided young adults before the war, to the harsher themes that came to be dominant during the war and after.
Fussell's criticism crosses genre boundaries, attempting to describe how the experience of the war overwhelmed its participants and forced them to share a common atmosphere in their essays, letters home, novels, humor, and poetry. This experience, in turn, dealt a death-blow to the way they and their peers had responded to the prewar world. Fussell later (1996) described what he had found to an interviewer from the National Endowment for the Humanities:
Also, I was very interested in the Great War, as it was called then, because it was the initial twentieth-century shock to European culture. By the time we got to the Second World War, everybody was more or less used to Europe being badly treated and people being killed in multitudes. The Great War introduced those themes to Western culture, and therefore it was an immense intellectual and cultural and social shock.
Fussell describes the lives and works of many figures, but centers on four key writers of early English Modernist literature who became productive, or who significantly changed the form of their literary work, in combat on the Western front: Edmund Blunden, Robert Graves, Wilfred Owen, and Siegfried Sassoon. In many cases, the experiences of trench warfare not only affected what these and other authors wrote during the conflict, but (if they survived the war) shaped their output for the remainders of their lives.
The Great War and Modern Memory was honored with the last annual National Book Award in category Arts and Letters and with the inaugural National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism. It was ranked #75 on the Modern Library's list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the 20th century.
- ""The Initial Shock: A Conversation with Paul Fussell"". National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved 2012-02-23.
- "National Book Awards – 1976". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-23.
"Arts and Letters" was an award category from 1964 to 1976.
- ""National Book Critics Circle: All Past National Book Critics Circle Award Winners and Finalists"". National Book Critics Circle. Retrieved 2012-02-23.
- "100 best nonfiction". Modern Library. Retrieved 2012-05-28.