Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Great War in Literature Special

The Great War of 1914 to 1918, the First World War that was called so, covered our beautiful planet with blood and suffering. Millions of soldiers around the world, many of them scarcely prepared for battle, were sent into an inferno of dimensions beyond thought until then. Danger lurked everywhere: on the ground, in the air and even under water. Terror and fear filled the hearts of those who, by sheer luck, survived the slaughtering executed by faceless enemies serving soulless machines. It was a new kind of war that must have left many fighting men speechless because they couldn’t even think of appropriate words to express the horrible experience in its full extent. 

But there were others at the front, gifted writers whose minds could translate inhuman impressions into human language to share them with those off the battlefields and to maybe, just maybe inspire them to stand up for peace. Many of them were killed in action and thus prevented from revelling in their success. Many survived and only started to write after the war when there was time to sit down and put pen to paper in a peaceful and safe environment. Also those who stayed behind at home, above all women and children, wrote about hardships and sacrifices that war asked of them to tell the world that their life wasn’t a bed of roses, either. 

Is it much of a surprise that this first great war of the twentieth century had a huge impact on literature? Topics changed, but also language and style. In which ways? I decided to make a special to find out book after book! By the way, if you would like to suggest a read (one that doesn’t glorify war) – you’re welcome to leave a comment

And here's my list of novels which are – one way or another – related to the Great War of 1914-1918 (subject to change). Links are to my reviews: 

  • Peregrine Acland: All Else Is Folly. A Tale of War and Passion (1929)
  • Enid Bagnold: A Diary Without Dates (1917)
    - - -: The Happy Foreigner (1918)
  • Louis-Ferdinand Céline: Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932), translated into English as Journey to the End of the Night
  • Jean Echenoz: 14 (2012), translated into English as 1914 
  • Mark Helprin: A Soldier in the Great War (1991)
  • Ernest Hemingway: A Farewell to Arms (1929)
  • Henning Mankell: Djup (2004), translated into English as Depths
  • Ian McEwan: Atonement (2001)
  • Anaïs Nin: Lilith in: The Winter of Artifice (1939)
  • Leo Perutz: Wohin rollst du Äpfelchen... (1928), translated into English as Little Apple
  • Erich Maria Remarque: Im Westen nichts Neues (1929), translated into English as All Quiet on the Western Front 
  • Joseph Roth: Radetzkymarsch (1932), translated into English as The Radetzky March  
  • Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn: Август Четырнадцатого (1971), translated into English as August 1914
    - - -: Oктября Шестнадцатого (1985), translated into English as November 1916
    - - -: Март Семнадцатого (1989), not translated into English yet
    - - -: Aпрель Семнадцатого (1991), not translated into English yet
  • Marcelle TinayreLa Veillée des armes. Le départ; Août 1914 (1915), translated into English as To Arms! as well as previously as Sacrifice  
  • Sylvia Townsend Warner: Mr. Fortune's Maggot (1927)
  • Franz Werfel: Die vierzig Tage des Musa Dagh (1933), translated into English as The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (the Great War is only the background of the story about the cruel banishment and slaughtering of Armenians in Turkey in 1915)
  • Rebecca West: The Return of the Soldier (1918) 
  • Edith Wharton: The Marne (1918)
    - - -: A Son at the Front (1923) 
  • Virginia Woolf: Jacob's Room (1922)
    - - -: Mrs. Delloway


  1. Hi Edith,

    I thought The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West was very good.


    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Emma! The book has already been on my list, but apart from its title and author I didn't know anything about it. Since you liked it, I can be sure that it's a read to be looking forward to.


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