First World War: suggested reading

I have put together a reading list of literature of all kinds about the First World War, together with a few comments, to help anyone who wants to read about it. There is a growing body of literature of all genres about the First World War, written at the time and over the years since then. It’s not meant to be an exhaustive list, but is reasonably comprehensive, I hope. If you come across anything interesting that I haven’t included, I’d be glad to hear of it. Dates in brackets are first publication.

Novels

 Henri Barbusse Under Fire [1915]

From the French point of view and ordinary soldiers’ perspective. Astonishing that it was published in 1915.

 Pat Barker Regeneration [1991]

First volume of her trilogy from the 1990s, about the psychological effects of war on men, and how it was/ wasn’t treated. Also imagined the meeting of Sassoon and Owen and the former’s literary influence on the latter. The characters’ lives (and deaths) are followed up in the next two books in the trilogy.

 Pat Barker The Eye in the Door [1993]

 Pat Barker The Ghost Road [1995]

 EE Cummings The Enormous Room[1922]

The American poet volunteered as an ambulance driver in the FWW and ended up as a prisoner of the French.

 Sebastian Faulks Birdsong [1994]

Possibly the most well-known of the recent novels about the war, as it was recently serialised for television. Faulks pulls no punches in his graphic descriptions in this well-researched novel, which also deals with memory and forgetting in the context of the war.

 Jaroslav Hasek The Good Soldier Svejk [1923]

An East European perspective in this lengthy, hilarious and unfinished satire.

 Susan Hill Strange Meeting [1971]

From the 1970s, a story of a friendship which develops between two officers who initially seem very different from each other. Low-key, and strangely moving. Named after Owen’s poem.

 Frederic Manning The Middle Parts of Fortune [1929]

About a private who thinks, is a bit of a loner, and his relationships with other men. Originally published in a heavily censored version Her Privates We. I think this may have influences Susan Hill’s Strange Meeting. (Available as a free e-book from Project Gutenberg.)

 Erich Maria Remarque All Quiet on the Western Front [1929]

From the German perspective, although apart from the characters’ names, one wouldn’t know. Again, from the perspective or ordinary soldiers; perhaps the most famous of the novels to come out of the war. One of the first books Hitler banned when he came to power.

 Erich Maria Remarque The Way Back [1931]

The follow-up, if you like, and even grimmer, as this is about the survivors and their attempts and failures to return home and build a ‘normal’ life after their experiences in the front line. Out of print, but second-hand copies can be found.

 Siegfried Sassoon Sherston’s Progress [1936]

 Helen Zinna Smith Not So Quiet [1930]

Astonishing, because from the female perspective – ambulance drivers just behind the front line. Apparently written in six weeks, commissioned by the editor of the News of the World, who had read All Quiet on the Western Front.

 

 Plays

 O What A Lovely War [1965]

Original West End play, satire on war, generals and everything. Also filmed, and due to be revived as part of the centenary commemorations.

 The Accrington Pals [1981]

Often, large numbers of men who knew each other and worked in the same factory would join up en masse together.  This is the story of one such group.

 Hamp [1966]

Story of a man tried for desertion and sentenced to execution for cowardice. It is possible that he has mental difficulties, and doesn’t fully understand what is happening. The padre, and his superior officers do, however, and have to cope.  Filmed as For King and Country.

 Journey’s End [1929]

A small group of officers, in the days immediately before the final German offensive of spring 1918 – the stresses and tensions of their lives cooped up together.

 Memoirs

 Interesting that a number of men who had been officers (captains, lieutenants) wrote their memoirs of life in the front line. They didn’t appear until ten or so years after the war. Blunden’s is the most interesting and readable, for my money.

 Siegfried Sassoon Memoirs of an Infantry Officer [1930]

 Robert Graves Goodbye to all That [1929]

 Edmund Blunden Undertones of War [1928]

 

 Poetry

 There’s an enormous amount of poetry written throughout the war, from a whole range of different perspectives. People were patriotic at the start, disillusioned as time went on, appalled at the waste and pointlessness of it all as it neared its end. Women wrote about a range of aspect too, especially loss.

 ed Parsons 1965 Men Who March Away: a decent selection from the time

 ed Stallworthy 1984 Penguin Book of War Poetry: probably the best range, in a section from a very comprehensive collection; includes poems written after the war

 ed Reilly 1981 Scars Upon My Heart: poetry by women about the war

 ed Gardner 1986 Up the Line to Death: another general section from the time

 ed Stephen 1993 Poems of the FWW: another general selection, but well-annotated and with good biographies of the poets.

 ed Blunden 1963 Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen

 General

 ed D Roberts Men At War [1996]

A wonderful book which combines poetry, history, drawings, cartoons and contemporary documents, taking you through the whole war

 ed T Cross The Lost Voices of WW1 [1988]

A very interesting collection which looks beyond the immediate confines of Britain: literature from many countries collected in this anthology.

 History &c

 Paul Fussell The Great War & Modern Memory [1975]

A fascinating historical and sociological survey of the war and its effect on language and culture

 Hugh Strachan The First World War [2003]

 Films & TV

 Blackadder

 All Quiet on the Western Front watch the 1930s black and white version in preference to the Hollywood re-make.

 O What A Lovely War

A very good version of the stage play

 Regeneration

A decent version of the novel, though can be hard to track down on DVD.

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