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Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

--Wilfred Owen

 

Introduction

Many novels have been set during the Great War, but none have the visceral impact of those that have their basis in the author's experiences in the war.  Most have an anti-war slant, and some were subject to censorship when first published.  These voices speak a truth not always found in history books.

 

Books

Aldington, Richard.  Death of a Hero.  1929.

Barbusse, Henri. Under Fire: the story of a squad. 1916. Realistic  novel based on  Barbusse's experiences in the trenches.

Cobb, Humphrey.  Paths of Glory.  1935.

Giono, Jean.  To the Slaughter House.  1931.  Depicts the effects of the war on a small town in Provence.

Harrison, Charles Yale.  Generals Die in Bed. 1930. Anti-war novella from a Canadian's point of view.

Hasek, Jaroslav. The Good Soldier Svejk.  1923.

      Subversive, darkly humorous novel about the adventures of a Czech in the Austro-Hungarian army.  Svejk turns passive resistance into an art.

Hemingway, Ernest.  A Farewell to Arms. 1929

      Based on Hemingway's experiences during the Italian campaign.

Herbert, A.P.  The Secret Battle. 1919  Follows a soldier from Gallipoli to the Somme. It touchs on the mental effects of  the war.

Manning, Frederic,  Her Privates We. 1930.  This was originally published anonymously as The Middle Parts of Fortune: Somme & Ancre, 1916.

Price, Evadne. Not So Quiet: stepdaughters of war.  1930.  Semi-autobiographical account of a female ambulence driver.

Rathbone, Irene.  We That Were Young.  1932

Remarque, Erich Maria.  All Quiet on the Western Front.  1929

Essential anti-war novel.

Sassoon, Siegfried.  Memoirs of an Infantry Officer.  1930  

      A fictionalized account of the author's experiences in the trenches at Morlancourt and the Somme.

Wittlin, Jozef.  Salt of the Earth: a novel.  An illiterate Polish peasant's journey into the Austro-Hungarian Army. Not as well known as other titles, but worth reading.

 
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