WW1 Literature Recommendations
The First World War was a turning point in world history. It claimed the lives of millions of people across the globe and impacted the lives of many more. This month marks 100 years since Britain went to war in 1914. I am currently writing this article by candlelight, having turned the lights in the house off to commemorate the lives of those who fought, those who lived and those who died in the Great War. Thousands of television programmes, blockbuster films and novels have been released in the century following. Here are some pieces of World War One literature that I think are worth a look:
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
In 1918 Ernest Hemingway went to war. In this book he recreates the immense fear, the friendship and the courage that he and his fellow soldiers felt. The narrator channels Hemingway’s own thoughts and creates a story of love and sanity in an environment of hatred and madness. He depicts the true brutality of war perfectly and the look to escape by the protagonist is one that I’m sure was shared by the real soldiers of the war and Hemingway himself.
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
This novel spans three generations, showing how the war truly affected not only the soldiers but their families too. The story follows a young Englishman called Stephen who becomes embroiled in a love affair. The love story is strong and emotive and the black humour in some ways covers the horror and reality of war while still exploring the sheer futility of it. The vivid descriptions of the trenches are not for the faint hearted but allow you to fully immerse yourself in the true brutality of battle.
All Quiet on the Western Front by Enrich Maria Remarque
It is obvious in this book that the author had first-hand experience of the details he writes about and could not possibly be completely fiction. All Quiet on the Western Front is a relatively short book and is the story of a young German named Paul Baümer. This book is told from an alternate perspective, that of a young German teenager and also explores the concept of shell shock, showing how alienated the men felt upon returning home. The book demonstrates plainly how scarred these young boys are after emerging from the trenches because like one of Paul’s classmates says “Two years of rifle fire and hand-grenades – you can’t just take it all off like a pair of socks afterwards.” This book is one of my favourite classics and definitely worth a read.
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
This is a different kind of novel to the ones I have mentioned above. At first glance it could be mistaken as not being a book about war at all, with the book being set post-war with the female protagonist planning a party. Yet delve a bit deeper and you’ll see that the book explores the effects of a post-war Britain and studies the psychology of a man suffering from post traumatic stress. The book is not plot driven but it does include a wave of human characters, each with their own flaws and weaknesses. This compels you to read right to the very end to discover their fate. A great story with a feminist twist. At under 200 pages, it is definitely one to be checked out!
I can’t talk about World War One literature and not refer to the likes of Wilfred Owen and Seigfried Sassoon. While most have probably read at least one of their poems, there are masses of war poetry available for free on the internet, so it’s a must if you haven’t already. While there is both anti-war and pro-war poetry available, I find it really interesting to hear from the men with first hand experiences. The men who went to battle and did have to witness death. The ideas portrayed by the poets such as images of men like cattle falling in the mud is a very strong and powerful image and is the reason they are still read a hundred years on. Just a few favourites are:
- Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen
- Anthem for the Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen
- Strange Meeting by Wilfred Owen
- How to Die by Seigfried Sassoon
- In Flanders Fields by John McCrae
- For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon
What war books have you read and enjoyed? Have you read any of my recommendations? Let me know!