19 January 2017

Review: Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the Poets Knew

Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the Poets Knew Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the Poets Knew by Max Egremont
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a good book, but not a great one. Much of that goodness, moreover, comes from the poets whose work is the heart of this volume.

Max Egremont has divided his chapters -- one for each year of the war and one for the aftermath -- into two parts. In the first he provides information on the experiences of each poet that year; in the second he lets the poets speak for themselves, with a selection of poems from the same year. Egremont does not stint on the poetry, with over 100 pages of poetry in 294 pages of text. This arrangement has the virtue of allowing the reader to see the changing attitudes of the poets as the war ground on.

And that's a good idea and quite interesting as far as it goes, but it seems that Egremont might have written a far better book if he had done more than simply provide information that supplied a narrative framework for the poetry. There is very little critical analysis or vision of any kind, and the two halves of each chapter, which in reality are linked by threads of experience, passion, and reflection, are little more than adjacent. Which is especially disappointing given the richness of the material and the possibilities it affords, as Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory shows. This book regrettably does not rise so high.

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