From the Art Collection of SUNY Adirondack

This whimsical colored-pencil drawing has been hanging in Dearlove Hall for several years.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

World War I: What Are You Reading?

Tomorrow I'll be posting my entry about Private Peaceful, which is only half done at the moment. It won't be finished tonight, so I'll post it tomorrow, which is the due date for Caroline's Literature and War Readalong. Please refer to the blog "Beauty is a Sleeping Cat" in the "Blogs of Substance" list to the right.

So World War I Reading: Have you read or are you planning to read the books I hope to read?
1. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain.
2. Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger   (Do you know of anyone who is reading or who has read this German World War I Classic?)
I have the Penguin classic Storm of Steel from the library. Unfortunately the library system's only copy is in a dreadful state. I'm contemplating ordering a copy. What were your views of this book?

In January 1972 I purchased a wonderful volume of Wilfred Owen's poems, which I still proudly own. I was so hungry for it, as a 19-year-old living during the Vietnam War era. Owen wrote so courageously about living amidst constant death and annihilation, which made my 19-year-old self sit up and take notice. He was my favorite WWI writer of that time. Poetry about suffering spoke to me strongly. Have you read Wilfred Owen?

I read Sassoon at that time, e.e. cummings, Robert Graves, and many, many more, all because I took a 4-week winter intensive course in World War I literature at my college of the moment--this was my first year of college, the year before I attended the college that let me be me, the college that made all the difference. Unfortunately, in 1972, at the first college, the young professor believed he held the #1 cornerstone on suffering, so he lectured to us for 3 hours a day, five days a week, without ever letting a single one of us students say a single word. The hubris of it, really. And, if you can imagine, a bit later, he slept with my roommate in the dorm. Enough said about literary authority.

Because I came from a top-notch high school and had been enthusiastically encouraged to speak my mind, I rebelled by knitting a vest throughout these 3-hour monologues in the winter World War I Lit course. Professor was not too pleased, but he did not tell me to stop knitting. It was a pass/fail course, so I did not worry.

I learned nothing from this professor, but I gained a tremendous amount  of knowledge from the readings. I felt a unique kinship with Owen and the pain he painted so vividly in his poetry.

To this day, I continue to identify strongly with the suffering of soldiers. I feel I understand everything they say, and experience a strange kinship, though I've never been on an actual battlefield. How about you?




9 comments:

  1. Storm of Steel. As a 76 year old with three uncles who served in WWI, I found Junger's book, although important, to be a glorification of that horrible mess. An Italian book I read on the Italian WWI experience has been translated recently into English. Emilio Lussu, "A Soldier on the Southern Front." I recommend it highly.

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    1. Thank you so much for your thoughts and your suggestion of Lussu's book. I will search for it--I'm particularly interested because it has been translated into English recently. So interesting.
      Judith

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  2. If you can find the book, I'd also recommend Jean Giono's To the Slaughterhouse.

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    1. I'm thrilled to have the recommendation of another translated? title.
      Thank you immensely for responding.
      Judith

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  3. I have been interested in WW1 since schooldays and have read the same authors. I did manage to visit part of the Somme battlefield and lots of the surrounding cemeteries. The whole of Normandy/Picardy is one big battlefield and just a few weeks ago some farm workers were killed whilst ploughing a field. They dig up shells constantly and they are still dangerous after being buried all these years.

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    1. Katrina,
      My gosh! Did the news report indicate that it was a World War I shell that killed some farm workers? How awful--to think after nearly 100 years! It boggles and devastates the mind.
      If I may ask, what were your impressions upon viewing/walking on the battlefields?


      Thanks,
      Judith

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  4. Judith, you can still see where the trenches were and some of them have been preserved so you can walk in them. You can see exactly where we were here.http://www.ww1battlefields.co.uk/somme/newfoundland.html. That whole part of France is dotted with huge cemeteries and memorials. It's all very moving. We stayed in that area for a week and it rained a lot, the mud at the Somme is very red, I suppose it's natural iron in the soil but it's very unnerving. My grandfather was there and survived it so for me it wasn't depressing, it was very interesting and the young Canadian students showing us around were great. The cemeteries are desperately sad though. Yes it was a WW1 shell, it happens all the time in France and Belgium, they can't help ploughing them up and they often go off.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2584568/First-World-War-bomb-kills-two-construction-site-workers-100-years-fired-Belgian-battlefield.html

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/britain-at-war/10172232/Lethal-relics-from-WW1-are-still-emerging.html

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    1. Katrina,
      Thank you so much for all the links and the information! It's so tragic that people are still dying 100 years later. It boggles the mind. I'd very much like to tour the area for myself.
      Maybe someday?
      Judith

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  5. Jünger is of course a controversial author. He was a central figure of National Bolshevism in Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s, but always kept its distance from the Nazis. As for Storm of Steel, it was called by Andre Gide - not exactly a Germanophile or sympathisant of right-wing extremism - "unquestionably the most beautiful book of war that I've read; in good faith, of a perfect honesty and veracity." In my opinion it is much much better than Remarque's war novel, and at least in the final version (Jünger revised the book seven times during his almost 103 years' life), it is far from being a glorification of war. (I am not sure if this is also true for the early versions)

    I am reading right now Jünger's correspondence with Albert Hofmann, LSD, and his book on his life-long drug experiments Annäherungen. Drogen und Rausch. Probably I will write about it soon on my blog.

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