Author: Andrew Frayn

Walter Owen’s hallucinatory The Cross of Carl (1931)

The Scottish author and translator Walter Owen was not permitted to join the army during the First World War due to a painful physical illness which he self-medicated with opium. During one of these episodes, Owen had an out-of-body experience which transplanted him into the mind and body of a soldier on the Western Front. The Cross of Carl is his record of what he experienced. It was written in one night in 1917 whilst Owen was hospitalised for his illness. It was accepted for publication but was then refused by censors as anti-war propaganda for its brutal and gruesome depictions of the Western Front. In 1931, as the disenchanted view of the First World War became more and more prevalent among the slew of books that appeared in the War Books Boom, it was finally published. 

The long, descriptive subtitle calls the novel ‘An allegory; The story of one who went down into the depths and was buried; who, doubting much, yet at the last lifted up his eyes unto the hills and rose again and was transfigured.’ The novel uses religious allegories to structure its narrative: the four chapters are titled after the stages of the Passion of Jesus, ‘Gethsemane,’ ‘Golgotha,’ ‘Sepulture’ and Resurrection.’ The nationality of the soldier protagonist is not explicitly stated in the novel, suggesting that all soldiers in the conflict are subject to the same processes, that there is not inherent enmity between the enlisted men on either side. The plot follows this soldier, Carl, as he goes over the top in an attack.  

Carl is injured in the attack; he passes out as a consequence and is mistaken for a corpse. He is then transported to factory where soldiers’ bodies are used as ‘pig-food, fats, glycerin and manure’ (Owen, 1931, p. 11).  This reiterates a notorious example of atrocity propaganda which circulated during the War. Once awake, Carl escapes from the factory but is driven into a psychotic episode, and subsequently digs his own grave and lies in it. He becomes possessed by a prophetic voice. Two generals come upon him and carry him out of his grave, only to then shoot him due to his prophetic ramblings and his denunciation of them as minions of Mammon (Owen, 1931, p. 10, p. 16). This suggests that Carl views the conflict as a war of capital ordered by class structures. 

L.A.G. Strong, reviewing for The Spectator (1931, p. 1022) named Owen’s novel ‘the most appallingly vivid narrative [they] have ever read.’ In the preface, General Sir Ian Hamilton calls it a ‘book of ghouls, ghosts, and nightmares.’ Owen combines the supernatural with a brutally realistic narrative of the war, and it has been categorised both as gothic and science fiction.  

Beth Campbell

(with edits by Andrew Frayn)

 

Bibliography 

Owen, Walter (1931).  The Cross of Carl: an allegory; the story of one who went down into the depths and was buried; who, doubting much, yet at the last lifted up his eyes unto the hills and rose again and was transfigured. London: Grant Richards. 

Strong, L.A.G. (1931). ‘Review of The Phoenix-Kind by Peter Quennell, The Thief by Leonid Leonov, Buttercups and Daisies by Compton Mackenzie, The Cross of Carl by Walter Owen.’  Spectator, vol. 146, iss. 5374 (27 June 1931), 1020-22 <https://www.proquest.com/docview/1295534434> [accessed 4 Nov 2021]. 

 

Note on funding  

This blog is part of a research project on The War Books Boom, 1928-30 led by Andrew Frayn.  This was partly funded by Edinburgh Napier University, and funding for a cognate project came from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland. Beth Campbell’s work on this as an intern was funded by the Centre for Literature and Writing at ENU. 

  

Project twitter account: https://twitter.com/warbooksboom  

Ian Hay and the ‘New Generation’ in Their Name Liveth On

The final chapter of Ian Hay’s Their Name Liveth: The Book of the Scottish National War Memorial (London: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1931) provides a striking insight to interwar Scottish war memory and the War Books Boom. “Ian Hay” was the nom de plume of John Hay Beith, who would become Major-General in the First World War; born in Manchester to parents of Scottish descent and schooled at Fettes College, Edinburgh, his paternal grandfather Alexander Beith was one of the founders of the Free Church of Scotland in 1843.  While Hay does not overtly attack disenchanted war literature, which many perceived as portraying soldiers negatively, he subtly asks his readers to recognise that the blame should lie with the nature of the war itself: ‘the institution and the instrument are equally condemned’ (p. 154).  

Hay, an establishment figure, imagines at length what a member of the New Generation might think about the war, bemoaning that they ‘quote to you various passages from one of the new style War novels’ (Hay, 1931, p. 151). For Hay, in these novels, the soldier is ‘variously depicted as a machine, a slave, or a dupe; frequently as a brute or a coward’ (p. 154). He sees these ‘new style War novels’ as eroding the honour and glory of the collective memory of the war; the rosy view of conditions which formed Hay’s view of his service in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and which he put forth in The First Hundred Thousand (1915) and Carrying On (1916),  now seemed distant. 

A kilted machine-gunner from the Highland Regiment.

John Warwick Brooke, ‘Highland machine-gunner ready with his gun for any emergency’. Official war photograph thanks to National Library of Scotland. https://digital.nls.uk/first-world-war-official-photographs/archive/74547316

Hay is also to some degree sensitive and pragmatic in his understanding of the New Generation’s lack of affection for the heroic warrior figure and dislike for the horrors of modern war. He writes that ‘we can hardly blame the New Generation for not caring. In any case, it behoves us to be very, very tender with the New Generation, for theirs has been a barren inheritance’ (p. 155). Hay demonstrates a consciousness of the inadequacies of the post-war world, the ‘fit country for heroes to live in’ seeming less and less likely to materialise, It also highlights the perception of a gap in understanding between the war and post-war generations (although this was far from the only schism). This is a moment at which the glorious and honourable representation of the World War, still common in the 1920s, no longer seems tenable: society’s ‘blind determination to make a hero out of everybody who had contributed’ has turned back on itself to reflect the country’s growing sense of disillusionment and disenchantment (p. 153). 

Hay’s overall conclusion goes against the many contemporary newspaper articles that suggest that the War Books Boom occurred because people were finally ready to discuss accurate experiences of the war. He insists that:

we are, at present, too close to that world tragedy, the Great War, to be able to judge it in any true perspective. […] Plainly, then, our reactions and emotions upon the subject of recent history are at present too fluid to have any lasting value. We must leave Time to crystallise them. (Hay, 1931, pp. 153-4) 

Hay argues that the books produced during the War Books Boom still do not have the appropriate temporal and emotional distance to be able to represent the Great War accurately. He dismisses the narratives produced during the War Books Boom, asking his readers only to remember those who lost their lives, stating ‘that is all our dead ask of us’ (p. 156).

Beth Campbell

(with edits by Andrew Frayn)

Ten years after Versailles: Germany in the UK War Books Boom

The year 1929 witnessed a worldwide economic devastation which coincided with the tenth anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles. In the year before, the tenth anniversary of the Armistice, a number of non-fiction books were published assessing the treaty and its impact, questioning the outcome of the Great War. Hermann Stegemann openly condemns the treaty in The Mirage of VersaillesIn the wildness of its design and the glaringness of its colours it shows that the World War has not resolved the world crisis, but has ended in blind confusion” (1919, p. 18). 

Questions surrounding not only the treaty itself but the war-guilt clause and accusations of Germany’s sole responsibility for the war also came to a head. The Times reported the discontent felt with the treaty by the states accused. The below extract from The Times is one example of the reaction from both Europe and the US. Whether or not Britons had as strong a reaction towards Germany’s discontentment, there was an undeniable growing interest in the German experience of the war demonstrated by the increasing demand for translated German war books. During that same year, Erich Maria Remarque’s iconic Im Westen Nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front) was released and his portrayal of German soldiers as a ‘miserable, downtrodden pawn’ (Eksteins, 1980, p. 375) was met with a mixture of both sympathy and condemnation by British readers and reviewers.  Assessments veered between seeing it as disreputable and exceptional; similarly, in Germany it was criticised from both political wings,: from the left, for not condemning war enough, and from the right, for criticising the German soldier. 

Times Newspaper article of 29 June 1929 headlined "Austrian Sympathy with Germany"

“Austrian Sympathy with Germany”, The Times, 29 June 1929.

During the anniversary of the treaty and with the increasing popularity of Remarque’s German bestseller, the demand for German translations continued to grow. In the database of works of the War Books Boom that has been compiled for this project (which will be made publicly available via a DOI when a related academic article is published), 1930 sees over 50% of the translated works recorded coming from German originals; there is a steady increase in the number of texts translated from German, peaking, as with the boom itself, in 1930.  

Alongside Remarque’s work, Walter Bloem’s World War I memoir Vormarsch (The Advance from Mons 1914: The Experiences of a German Infantry Officer), which was translated into English in 1930, was successful among British readers. Lieut.-Colonel F. E. Whitton claims it as the ‘most accurate war-book that has come out of Germany’ (Whitton, 1930). Similarly, Edwin Erich Dwinger’s The Army Behind Barbed Wire: A Siberian Diary (1930) was received with success, later praised for its ‘documentary style which embellished its truth value’ (Fritzche, 2012, p.111). It tells of Dwinger’s individual suffering and accusations towards the dehumanising impact of war. He writes about a dead body, stating that this man ‘is no longer a sapper from Hardberg called Meier or Muller, this winter, he is only Typhus Casualty Number 14324’ (Dwinger, 1930, p.121). The tales of the war’s devastation and trauma felt by German soldiers within these translations revealed to British readers the similarities between individual German experiences and their own. 

Beth Campbell

(with edits by Andrew Frayn)

Bibliography 

Dwinger, Erich Erwin (1930). The Army Behind Barbed Wire: A Siberian Diary. London: George Allen & Unwin. 

Eksteins, Modris (1980). “All Quiet on the Western Front and the Fate of a War.” Journal of Contemporary History, 15. 345-66. 

Fritzche, Peter (2012). “Return to Soviet Russia.” In Fascination and Enmity: Russia and Germany as Entangled Histories, 1914–1945, ed. by Michael David-Fox, Peter Holquist, Alexander M. Martin. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press. 109-22 

Whitton, F.E. (1930). “Five Books on the War.” The Bookman, vol.79, iss. 271 (December 1930), p. 223 <https://data.journalarchives.jisc.ac.uk/view?pubId=bp1000302143419301434_19301201_3089261pdf&terms=bloem%20whitton&tab=date> 

Note on funding

This blog is part of a research project on The War Books Boom, 1928-30 led by Andrew Frayn.  This was partly funded by Edinburgh Napier University, and funding for a cognate project came from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland. Beth Campbell’s work on this as an intern was funded by the Centre for Literature and Writing at ENU.

Project twitter account: https://twitter.com/warbooksboom

Early term inspiration

Our incoming students to the English programme were lucky enough on their very first day to have an inspirational talk from Siân Bevan. Siân works for Edinburgh City of Literature, which is just one of the ways she uses her many skills.  She talked to first years on the English and English & Film programmes about starting at university and careers in the Arts.

Siân wrote up her thoughts after the event on her own blog:

https://sianyb.com/2018/09/10/new-chapters-and-old-advice/

There are some useful thoughts here if you’re not a first year, too!

Ford Madox Ford

Ford and Aldington

As you’ll have seen in my previous post, there are a couple of authors with whom I’ve become particularly associated.  Richard Aldington knew Ford Madox Ford well through the London modernist networks of the early years of the twentieth century.  I find Ford a fascinating author.  He loved storytelling, even at the expense of fact, which makes all the more impressive the achievement of Max Saunders in unpicking Ford’s life in his exhaustive, magisterial two-volume biography.

My favourite anecdote brings together the two authors I’ve mentioned; Aldington tells the story in his entertaining and engaging memoir Life for Life’s Sake (1941).  Aldington was dining with his father and invited Ford, who proceeded to regale Aldington senior with stories of his childhood among the Pre-Raphaelites (Ford’s grandfather was indeed the painter Ford Madox Brown, and much of this was true).  However, the mood of the dinner took a turn for the worse when Ford started to talk about how he met Byron, who had died almost fifty years before he was born…

Ford on TV

Christopher (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Sylvia Tietjens (Rebecca Hall) in the BBC/HBO Parade's End (2013).

Christopher (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Sylvia Tietjens (Rebecca Hall) in the BBC/HBO Parade’s End (2013).

You might, perhaps have come across Ford in recent years if you’re a Benedict Cumberbatch fan – the big, shiny BBC/HBO miniseries (2013) of Ford’s great war novel tetralogy Parade’s End (1924-8) was striking and successful, scripted by the eminent playwright Tom Stoppard.  (You can watch it via Box of Broadcasts.)  Stoppard did a good job of adapting 840 pages of four novels into under five hours of prime time TV, although necessarily some liberties were taken.  For example, Ford’s ending looks forward after the Armistice to an uncertain but hopeful future, while Stoppard ends, perhaps too neatly, with the fevered celebrations of Armistice night.

Parade’s End

It was, of course, my interest in the First World War that brought me to Ford and Parade’s End; I’ve a chapter on Ford and War in An Introduction to Ford Madox Ford, and he features in my book, too.  The series tells us the intersecting stories of the protagonist Christopher Tietjens, his wife Sylvia Tietjens, his inamorata Valentine Wannop, and his brother Mark Tietjens.  The characters represent the push and pull in the years between circa 1912 and 1920 between insistent mechanisation and modernisation, and older moral and ethical values that are coming to seem outdated.  Christopher Tietjens insists on doing what he believes the morally right thing, even despite the potential damage to his own reputation and other practical considerations.

The Parade’s End novels use a form somewhat akin to stream of consciousness, although there are multiple consciousnesses represented.  The narrative moves associatively between different protagonists and moments in time; these chronological changes are highlighted clearly in the recent Carcanet critical edition, which makes following the shifts easier than in the longstanding Penguin editions.

Front covers of the Carcanet critical edition of Parade's End.

The Carcanet critical edition of Parade’s End.

Reading (about) Ford

I’m secretary to the Ford Madox Ford Society, which has a (usually) annual conference – I was sad not to be able to go this year, particularly as it was held in Montpellier!  The society also produces a number of publications, including collections of critical essays, and senior members were responsible for the Carcanet Parade’s End and other reprints by that publisher.

Parade’s End is quite difficult as an introduction to Ford.  His other very famous novel is The Good Soldier (1915), but for some alternative choices, why not start with his social commentary about England and the English (1905-7) (vol. 1 and vol. 2 available for free online), or his fascinating psychological novel A Call (1910)?

Let me know if you read any Ford, or would like to write about him!

Richard Aldington

In the course of an academic career, you tend to become associated with particular ideas, topics and authors.  This can often happen in part by chance – being in the right place at the right time.  As many of you will know, my main research interest is in the First World War.  It’s what I wrote my PhD on, and my monograph, along with all sorts of other publications.

In this and a subsequent post, I want to point you to a couple of authors who might not be familiar to you, but who I’m interested in, have worked on quite a bit, and am involved with author societies or other means of promoting their legacy.

Richard Aldington

Richard Aldington

Richard Aldington has become a figure I’ve returned to throughout my academic career, since writing about him for my MA thesis (now longer ago than I would prefer to think about).  He’s probably still best known as one of the original Imagist poets, along with H.D. (who was for a time his wife) and Ezra Pound; much of his poetry is available online for free at archive.org.  I was particularly drawn, though, to his First World War novel Death of a Hero (1929).  Angry, bitter, and sharply critical of the British literary and political establishments, Death of a Hero is a satire so brutal that it is often misunderstood.  Aldington’s position, though, was that the brutality of the war should be matched by the form of writing about it.  For him, to write in a polite and measured way about the conflict was fundamentally to misunderstand and misrepresent the experience of it.  I’ve recently written an overview of his war poetry Images of War (1919) and Death of a Hero for a forthcoming Handbook of British Literature and Culture of the First World War.

Death of a Hero was so confrontational and shocking that it was originally expurgated – Aldington worked with his editor at Chatto & Windus to remove sections that were thought likely to be unacceptable to a contemporary readership.  The removed words, sentences and sections are indicated in the text by asterisks as Aldington wanted the reader to know where emendations were made.  Sadly, the recent Penguin republished the expurgated text, which I thought a missed opportunity to demonstrate the vitality of Aldington’s prose; I’d recommend looking out for the unexpurgated version, which you’ll find in most 1960s paperbacks (published by Four Square and Sphere) and the 1980s Hogarth Press edition.

For information about Richard Aldington, you can look at the New Canterbury Literary Society Newsletter.  Originally founded as a paper newsletter by the late Aldington scholar Norman T. Gates, I’ve recently “rebooted” it as a blog.

Please do let me know if you read any Aldington and want to talk about it some more!

Reading for Pleasure

There will be plenty on this blog about the research that the department is doing – understandably!  But I wanted to share with you a few things that I read (mostly) for pleasure over the summer while on holiday.  For me, it’s important to read widely, and not only in the area that I research.  Reading outside the area you’re most interested in can make you rethink productively things you already (think you) know.  Admittedly, I found reading for pleasure much harder when I was a student (both an undergrad and a research student), but remembering why you enjoy reading can also make studying easier, too.

Having scanned my non-work bookshelves at the beginning of the year, I’ve been reading lots of contemporary women writers in an effort to address an unconscious bias.  Two that I particularly enjoyed were by Irish authors.

Anne Enright’s The Gathering, which won the 2007 Man Booker Prize, deals with the tragically early loss of a sibling.  The narrator, Veronica, endeavours to make sense of Liam’s suicide by engaging with the complex, troubled and troubling history of her family.  Enright movingly depicts the peculiar closenesses and distances that characterise family life, those feelings as true in the same room as when living hundreds or thousands of miles apart.  I particularly enjoyed – if that’s the right word for this moving, tragic novel – the gradual unfolding of the family’s secrets, and the subtle but accessible style.

Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies, which won both the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2016, is an altogether different kettle of fish.  Ryan Cusack is endeavouring to deal with the impact of his mother’s death, and his alcoholic father’s role as a low-level gangland pawn.  None of this is made any easier by an over-attentive older neighbour, a prostitute searching for her disappeared boyfriend, and his own sometime career as a drug dealer.  And none of that is helping his treasured relationship with his girlfriend Karine.  McInerney’s prose is earthily authentic, pulling no punches, and the brisk pace of the novel makes it a good read.

Finally, on a more work-y note, I really enjoyed Richard Burton’s long biography of the late modernist poet Basil Bunting – all 608 engaging pages of it.  Bunting led a remarkable life: a conscientious objector as he turned 18 at the end of the First World War, dissolute in Paris in the mid-1920s, a longstanding friend of Ezra Pound, a senior military diplomat in the middle east in the Second World War, and finally (re)discovered as a poet in the 1960s (and his sixties) thanks to the publication of his masterpiece Briggflatts (1965) and the patronage of the poets of the British Poetry Revival.

These were just the highlights.  I hope you’ve managed to make some time to read for pleasure yourselves, too.

Andrew Frayn