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  1. Navigation menu
  2. Ford Madox Ford, music and the First World War
  3. Project MUSE - Modernism, History and the First World War

In Ford's series of modernist novels, Parade's End , the war provided the context for deeper psychological and social reflections. By the late s - a period of strikes, unemployment and social conflict - Sassoon, Robert Graves and Edmund Blunden were speaking for the despair of ex-servicemen. Yet the patriotic verse of Brooke, who found "Nobleness" in the "rich Dead", continued to be enjoyed. Still, Sassoon felt that if Brooke had not died, he would have interpreted the "international slaughterhouse" with the "bitterest satirical verse".

Warriors were undone, as Richard Aldington showed in Death of a Hero , which mocks public school and military culture for the false ideals of Edwardian masculinity. The drive to express and protest was not confined to men. As nurses and volunteer aides, Edwardian middle-class women such as Ellen LaMotte, Mary Borden, Vera Brittain, Enid Bagnold and Irene Rathbone, once naive to men's bodies, now witnessed them reduced to raw, naked pain.

As never before, women found new visual languages to describe the sights and sensations of the suffering that gripped their gazes. Writing atoned for an acute moral dilemma: they healed in order to return men to the front. Rose Macaulay, devastated by Rupert Brooke's death, views the impact of a zeppelin raid in The Shadow: "Are the spilt brains so keen, so fine, crushed limbs so swift, dead dreams so sweet?

In the aftermath of war, women's voices were often forgotten, despite the fact that they conjured up some of its most powerful emblems. Women writers - and their heroines - demolished distinctions between the home front and frontline, and resisted assumptions about femininity, asserting that life was "Not So Quiet" for the "Stepdaughters of war" Helen Zenna Smith's novel about a female ambulance corps, which ricochets from Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet On the Western Front.

Modernism may have been predisposed to traumatic rupture, but the shockwaves of war neither shattered traditions nor limited innovation to modernists. Woolf praised Sassoon's realism, whereas the critic John Middleton Murry reviled its modern "chaotic sensations". Immediate experience, heightened awareness of time, confrontation with the body, and common vernacular are hallmarks of the modern, and yet they merged with Victorian convention in some war poetry.

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The distinction between modernist experiment, realism and tradition was at times difficult to distinguish. Although war art and literature were interpreted as truth-telling, they were artforms - intended to dramatise, heighten, politicise and catapult direct experiences into aesthetic imagination. Eliot's The Waste Land chimed with the mood of postwar chaos and the subsequent nostalgia for a lost world; The Hollow Men spoke for masculinity's "paralysed force": both became symbols of disenchantment. DH Lawrence was harassed and humiliated during the war: accused of being a spy and rejected as medically unfit for service.


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His novels, however, convey the physical sensations of work, lust and gentle touch: it is the war victim's impotence that propels the contravention of class and fidelity in Lady Chatterley's Lover Industrial violence had rendered the body fragile, humbling writers with its intimate sensations: Oliver Mellors recalls "the courage of physical tenderness" in the trenches.

War is more than the "glittering" bayonet or bugle's "call to the sun"; it is "frightful and unnatural weariness, water up to the belly. Mud and dung and infamous filth The Austrian Georg Trakl was traumatised by serving in a medical unit without anaesthetics during the battle of Grodek the title of his masterpiece. His rapid decline ended in suicide, but not before elucidating the nightmares of his suffering:.

Ford Madox Ford, music and the First World War

At evening the woods of autumn are full of the sound Of the weapons of death, golden fields And blue lakes, over which the darkening sun Rolls down; night gathers in Dying warriors, the wild cries Of their shattered mouths Ernst Toller also broke down in the war, but wrote the play Transformation about a soldier who becomes a pacifist. Writers struggled against the silent pain of trauma, even when overwhelmed. Of which, at the instance Of sound, smell, change and stir, New-old shapes for ever Intensely recur.

Blunden conveyed the traumatic condition: painful repetition brought about by memory triggers. Yet his memoir Undertones of War is a pastoral ode to the beauty and destruction of landscape, a theme he reiterated for the Imperial War Graves Commission. The paradox of mourning and recovery lay in the contrast between the "chaos and oblivion" of the front and the "harmonious grace and dignity" of the cemeteries. Alongside the need for healing, violence was both a mode of communication and form of entertainment. RC Sherriff's play, Journey's End , cultivated gritty realism that consoled audiences and instilled pride.

But some critics rebuked its representation of alcoholism, cowardice and shellshock. Like Remarque's All Quiet On the Western Front , it crossed over into film, breaking boundaries between elite and popular culture. Audiences connected with and reacted against their visual narratives. When Canadian war surgeon Sir William Osler, whose son died in the war, saw John Singer Sargent's Gassed - blinded soldiers pathetically parading across a noxious landscape - he shuddered: "It haunts the mind like a nightmare.

Although the war forced artists and writers to confront the carnage, the response of some avant garde artists and ideologues was ambivalent. Marinetti wanted "words to explode like shells, or ache like wounds". With so many artists either killed or injured, heroic fantasies were translated into victimhood.

Yet Breton's Surrealist Manifesto transformed his hospital work analysing soldiers' nightmares into a new consciousness expressed in "automatic writing". Reality had collapsed into dream; the rational and irrational realms were indistinguishable; desire and sexual transgression were to be enacted, not sublimated. Others, however, reinvented familiar aesthetic codes such as classicism.

Just before his death in in the influenza pandemic that cost millions of lives , the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire defined the new spirit of modernism as seeking social harmony, aligning classicism with hopes for a unified society.

Picasso depicted joyous life, tranquil scenes and maternal figures Mother and Child, Across Europe, war had heightened fears of depopulation, and now women appeared as the bearers of the future race. Utopia was an artistic and political dream in the inter-war period; out of catastrophe, civilisation would be reborn.

Project MUSE - Modernism, History and the First World War

Concerned with universal laws and certainties, Wyndham Lewis replaced the jagged dynamism of war and the brutality of mass conflict A Battery Shelled, with a distinctly sombre, classical quality combined with linear figuration Girl Reclining, ; Portrait of Edith Sitwell, In the Seven and Five exhibition at Walker's Gallery, Lewis's group aimed "merely to express what they feel in terms that shall be intelligible, and not to demonstrate a theory nor to attack a tradition".

Depressed by sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska's death in service, Lewis refused to find any redemptive value in war. Constructivists recoiled from the horrors of war. Sculptor Naum Gabo now admired the Winged Victory of Samothrace for its "imaginary forward movement", when earlier the Greek sculpture had incited futurist disdain.

Traditionalists and modernists alike believed culture could generate human unity and contribute to world peace. How could suffering arouse such visions of utopia? Embedded in the search for meaning was a painful tension between mourning and moving on, between remembering and forgetting the horror.

Kipling was a patriot, but one grief-stricken by his son's death. The phrase suggests this haunting, as it beckons society to remember. Henri Barbusse wrote of men as "forgetting machines", since "there's only the names left". In Aftermath, Siegfried Sassoon turned this call into a desperate provocation: "Have you forgotten yet? Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you'll never forget.

This was literary licence. Far from forgotten, the war was continually elaborated upon within the arts. Yet the relation between war and cultural production is never as straightforward as cause and effect. Two decades after the Armistice, loss and grief continued to mix with social rejuvenation and personal re-evaluation. Those writing and painting the war's violence also participated in commemoration, which often sanitised death. Classicism cleansed the reality of blood and mutilation. Traditions persisted in sacred and romantic gestures; modernism became identified with consumption and mass culture; abstract designs - once radical - now permeated magazines and shopfront windows.

For some the war was the substance of their art; yet many other artists left it behind.


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Nevertheless, the first world war's violent nights remain with us as the hallucinations of "cultural memory", and through its narrative spectacles we inscribe our own values on to the visionaries of the past. Topics First world war. Reuse this content. Meanwhile, he suffered from a recurring nightmare of being on a conveyor belt moving relentlessly to a metal compactor.

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And his eyes showed that. The young officer wanted to get out. Guilt is the untold threat to Somers throughout the war, and the displaced content of his trauma, behind a screen of persecution by interfering locals, constables, officers and doctors. If there is outward, circumstantial unreason and fatality, there is inward unreason and inward fate. He would have to dare to follow his inward fate.

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He must remain alone, outside of everything, everything, conscious of what was going on, conscious of what he was doing and not doing. I am degrading myself by feeling guilty, marked-out, and I have convulsions of fear.