Wartime proseProse, particularly in the form of novels and memoirs, is often a vehicle for sustained reflection on an event long after it has taken place. Many accounts of the First World War, however, were written during the conflict. Nothing of Importance was penned shortly after the events it describes, long before the war reached its conclusion. Sometimes diaries, in their raw, unmediated form found an audience. Arthur Graeme West’s record of his service as an officer on the Western Front was published posthumously as The Diary of a Dead Officer in 1918. Despite his voluntary enlistment, the diary records West’s growing contempt for army life and his conversion to pacifism.
Men, Women, and Guns
But if these authors dealt their characters clubs and diamonds, the French author Henri Barbusse dealt his characters spades and hearts. In his novel Le Feu (Under Fire), published in French in 1916, translated into English in 1917), Barbusse provided a vehement denunciation of militarism. Known for his brutal realism, Barbusse captured in stark, graphic language the appalling horror of mechanical warfare. In this account, soldiers are not ‘adventurers or warriors’; rather they are ‘civilians uprooted’, who ‘await the signal for death or murder’.
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