Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory is about the British army on the Western Front. It is about what these men read, wrote and suffered. Their boredom and agony at Paschendale, Ypres and the Somme endures in the fault lines of our cultural categories and the sinews of our language. I learned what a truly great work of scholarship can be from this book. Fussell reads the canon of First World War poetry alongside the innumerable letters, memoirs and other unpublished manuscripts of the Imperial War Museum’s collection. The Great War and Modern Memory is more than thorough, it is intellectually and methodologically intrepid: a deft mixture of literary and cultural criticism and historical investigation in the widest sense. Fussell insight is double and archeological: resurrecting the vanished, innocent prewar certainties and finding the trench mud smeared on our modern preoccupations.
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