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.
, 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 – SiegfriedSassoon and Wilfred Owen. Sassoon has much in
Writers in uniform
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
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, SiegfriedSassoon. 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
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 SiegfriedSassoon 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
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 SiegfriedSassoon, 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
end of the 1920s, very few were widely available.2
The publication of soldiers’ memoirs followed a very different pattern.
Very few had been produced during the war itself,3 but the late 1920s
and early 1930s saw an outpouring of powerful and moving memoirs,
which were produced in large numbers and were widely read. Among
them were Edmund Blunden’s Undertones of War, SiegfriedSassoon’s
Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on
the Western Front, and Robert Graves’s Goodbye to All That.4 Soon
after the publication of the earliest soldier
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 SiegfriedSassoon and, possibly to a
relationship with life-threatening behaviour: if one looks and sees oneself, one may not be able to fight, one
may go mad, or die. (SiegfriedSassoon 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
’s Progress.1 The romantic, narrative trope involved the testing
of a (male) hero, through the ‘ordeal’ of his experience. If he could
withstand this test, he would be transformed through ‘apotheosis’ – a
process that mirrored religious ideas of transcendence. The hero was,
therefore, not just courageous, but also saintly: morally and spiritually pure. For the young men of the war generation, combat was their
ordeal; surviving it with ‘honour’ would result in self-transformation.
Such ‘myths’ were exploded, after the war, by writers such as Siegfried
Balance, malleability and anthropology: historical contexts
Expedition to the Torres Strait; he later did ethnographic work in India and the Solomon Islands.
It is as psychiatrist to First World War poet SiegfriedSassoon that Rivers is best known, and Rivers's evidence to the War Office Committee of Enquiry into ‘Shell-Shock’ shows how his work is explicitly concerned with adaptation, specifically with the effects of being unable to adapt to circumstances. He argues that ‘Every animal has a natural reaction to danger … and man's is manipulation of such a kind as to get him out