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Bloomsbury attitudes to the Great War
Author: Jonathan Atkin

The Great War still haunts us. This book draws together examples of the ‘aesthetic pacifism’ practised during the Great War by such celebrated individuals as Virginia Woolf, Siegfried Sassoon and Bertrand Russell. It also tells the stories of those less well known who shared the attitudes of the Bloomsbury Group when it came to facing the first ‘total war’. The five-year research for this study gathered evidence from all the major archives in Great Britain and abroad in order to paint a complete picture of this unique form of anti-war expression. The narrative begins with the Great War's effect on philosopher-pacifist Bertrand Russell and Cambridge University.

Open Access (free)
Jonathan Atkin

, the experience of being within the war machine acted both as a compass toward and a justification of his later anti-war stance. Two further examples of this process concerned possibly the most celebrated poets of the war – Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Sassoon has much in Writers in uniform 111 common with Plowman: both were rated good officers, both possessed an acute sympathy towards their men and both resigned their commissions as a protest against the war. In December 1915 the country-loving Sassoon, newly arrived in France as an officer with the 1st

in A war of individuals
Open Access (free)
Jonathan Atkin

Introduction The Great War still haunts us. During the first few weeks of 1998, various British national broadsheets carried articles on recently released War Office papers dating back over eighty years and relating to the case of the celebrated First World War poet, Siegfried Sassoon. Although at times a fearless and sometimes reckless warrior, known to the men who served under him as ‘Mad Jack’, Sassoon had also written powerful anti-war poetry and, though decorated for his bravery on the Western Front, had thrown his Military Cross into the river Mersey

in A war of individuals
Open Access (free)
Jonathan Atkin

war to be partly due to misdirected destructive energies; forces that could be channelled during times of peace into creative efforts. In a letter to Siegfried Sassoon written as the conflict neared its end, Forster confirmed that ‘all vigour these days is misdirected’ and that the human race needed time and the opportunity to re-align itself.1 What of further evidence of similarities of response amongst the wider literary intelligentsia who, though they did not take part in the actual fighting (see Chapter 5), could, as with Bloomsbury and Russell, regard the

in A war of individuals
Open Access (free)
Jonathan Atkin

mental illness, ‘I should have joined up, because, though I hated the war, I felt and still feel an irresistible desire to experience everything’.62 As with others, Garnett’s experience turned his thoughts against war. He had observed the displaced and bitter people of France and how the country itself was being ‘bled white’. As discussed in Chapter 4 in the case of Siegfried Sassoon, Garnett, through his experience in France, came to see that Government and military policies were misplaced and resulted only in the suffering of innocents, which made him full of

in A war of individuals
Jonathan Atkin

those who produce literature’. Though horrific, the war in Galsworthy’s opinion had to be endured in order that artists and writers could attempt to preserve, ‘that humane freedom which is the life-blood of any world where the creative imagination … can flourish’. Galsworthy thought that for some young artists, ‘innocent hitherto of creative powers’, the experience of the war could possibly be a ‘baptism into art’, and hence creativity could be born of the conflict in some quarters – as discussed in Chapter 5 in the cases of Siegfried Sassoon and, possibly to a

in A war of individuals
Open Access (free)
Sara Haslam

relationship with life-threatening behaviour: if one looks and sees oneself, one may not be able to fight, one may go mad, or die. (Siegfried Sassoon associates his mental breakdown with an ability to see with the near-focused eyes of his troops, but not with the abstract vision of his employers.46) Many soldiers seem to have maintained a splintered perception of reality, the fragmenting pendulum of which swung between the carapace suggested by Keegan and the real terror of the apprehension of one’s own face in war. Each new sight increased its parabola. When Bourne steps

in Fragmenting modernism
Open Access (free)
Jonathan Atkin

, to become immune to the beauty of a sunset or early morning mists. Only occasionally did he find that these sights brought back a ‘grubbing in one’s wretched soul’. Most of the time he felt isolated and devoid of feelings; now, his ‘most real life’ was with his own inner thoughts, and this encouraged him to the Three individuals 199 resolution (as it had Siegfried Sassoon) that, ‘one must keep an inner life going’, if one wished to preserve anything of an individual’s former independence of thought if not of action. His feeling of comradeship was one of the few

in A war of individuals
Jonathan Atkin

Russell, Edward Carpenter, Israel Zangwill, Patrick Geddes, Henri Barbusse and Siegfried Sassoon. This ‘newer’ civilisation would discard living soldiers as well as toy ones and would enable man to understand his adversary instead of trying to destroy him, while common humanity would be expressed by a shared appreciation of beauty and the processes of creation rather than destruction, as Russell had also hoped. Reason would triumph over material force: principle over policy and love over hate. It had been largely the practicalities of rehousing the dispossessed that had

in A war of individuals
Open Access (free)
Jonathan Atkin

critics who viewed a war novel as naturally inferior to a ‘truthful’ memoir: ‘We anxiously assure one another that the George Sherston of one book is Mr. Siegfried Sassoon’57 (alluding to Sassoon’s fictional counterpart). The waters of analysis were muddied further by certain memoirs/novels in which an almost deliberately thin line was placed between fact and fiction, as in the accounts of Helen Zenna Smith/ Evadne Price, Mary Borden and others. In addition, it was rare indeed to find a woman’s account, fictional or otherwise, of events surrounding individual humanistic

in A war of individuals