Garcia Alvarez de Perea.


Ana García Álvarez de Perea Aesthetics and World War I June 2002

This paper is the result of the reflections, researches and work on the first world war aesthetics which comprehends all of the forms of art we have been discussing throughout the course; most of them with a backwards perception, that is, most of the works we have seen, have been created after the war was finished, therefore they are not contemporary pieces of work. This fact gives us a wider scope of what the First World War, or the Great War, as it was called at the time meant not only then, but also its meaning nowadays through all our continent. During the course we have been discussing several types of art, even those who may not be perceived as such at first sight ; one of those is the documentary. We have also treated what is called the most perfect way of representing art, the cinema. To end up with, we have dealt war from the traditional perspective of writers, both novelists and poets – contemporary or not. “The Western Front” is a series of documentaries that Professor Richard Holmes, a well-known and prestigious military historian directed and presented for the BBC. In this series in which the audience sees the advances and retreats in the fighting line, Holmes makes a complete

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development of the events of the war in a very peculiar way. His rhetoric is one of a military person, and this is seen trough the analysis of his style in the narration of the events. Holmes´ especial rhetoric brings

forward all the past events, this is part of the aesthetics of war, past events are within our present and this is a constant in all the works we have seen in the course. The rhetoric that Holmes develops is achieved by a chain of stylistic factors that makes his work very remarkable as his own, all of it has a characteristic military tone which pervades his work even though we may not have his voice. His style is characterised by the use of clear, short and direct objective statements, he states realities in a way that does not allow any other possibility in history, that is, his truth, the way he sees things is the way things are, he tries to present the series as if he was in no band of the war but this is a difficult task. Nevertheless he always tries to give different points of view and this implies seeing the war from very different angles ; the eyes of the British, the eyes of the Germans, the eyes of the Allies, the eyes of the high command, the eyes of the infantry, the eyes of the civilians... this is well done by Holmes through the presentation of different documents and testimonies as will be shown under. With the aid of all his historical baggage, he achieves a good rhythm by stating the plans and then, as if in a tennis match, reversing them by narrating what actually happened instead. His style produces a

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break of the temporal distances, not only by the use of quotes of people and regulations of the time that pulls the audience into the ambience of the time, but also thanks to the little, tiny details that only a great historian as himself could have discovered, details that do not only belong to the battlefield, but to other more personal fields too. One of his major recourses to create the rhythm he achieves is the use of contraposition, this is also a consequence of the different points of view that he shows. The use of plain metaphors helps the audience to be closer to that dreadful reality of the. In order to convey a serious tone corresponding both to the theme and to his personality, Holmes does not make contractions throughout the series and uses quite a formal language. Holmes uses all of this stylistic recourses in order to represent reality as closely and really as possible, but he always tries to be objective so as to detach himself and also the audience to the fact that the First World War was a human drama, because as he says the achievements were counted not in miles won but in enemies´ casualties. We must also bear in mind that this is a documentary and not a simple television programme in which the aim is to gain audience,

Holmes tries to inform about the history of their country. His objective and clear statements, the contraposition of plans or intentions and real facts makes it an easy task for the audience to follow the events even in depth. Also the fact that he gives first hand information – with the

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testimonies and the quotes – brings the audience closer to the facts that actually took place in those days in Europe. One of the best achievements of Holmes in this documentary is the visual contextualization, that is, the effects he uses to put us in the middle of the war and right into the trenches in a metaphorical and in a real way. The Front Line is followed in this documentary as it is

nowadays and it may struck the audience all the reminiscences it still has in those lands of Northern Europe. This is one of his best goals, the audiences goes along the front line together with Holmes as if it were a guided visit and he himself the guide. There are not many picture maps, but we are always located on the real ground. Holmes even shows the audience plenty of objects of the time which are - as long as the audience is aware of- real ones and not reproductions. These objects are most of them guns and other elements of war that include not only weapons but also masks, uniforms ... The narrator, as I said above,

makes us participants on a guided walk, but this one is especial because he is in part the guide and in part the soldier, the general, the civilian for as he tells the normal acts in the battlefield, he represents them, that is, he marches when he talks about the soldier’s marches, runs or even shots a gun so as to let us know how things worked. All of this adds up to his top work which is to pull the audience into war time, in this line he juxtaposes images of the old veterans giving their testimony with the photograph of the young soldier he used to be at that time.

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Holmes makes a very good piece of work and achieves, in my opinion, his main goals, even though he seems a bit comical at some points and that may diminish his credibility (when he is lying on the floor to explain some event, for example, it is not usual to see a University Professor in that way). The next art that shows us how war was and is or was understood by artists and, therefore, by normal people is that of cinema. Cinema is one of the most completed arts because it may include other arts within itself. The text of the script, the music, the photograph, all of these

elements and others present a much more complete view to the receptor. In this course, we have analysed two great war films, La

Grande Illusion and Regeneration, and I qualify them of great war films because they show wider aspects of what a war is than just the battlefield and the action, which is the easy way to make a war film. In La Grande Illusion which is a French film, as its name lets us see directed by Jean Renoir and released in 1938, we have one of the most contemporary documents we have about the war. It was produced between the two wars and also the filming techniques were not quite developed because film art was very young. One of the most interesting sequences is that in minute 45, this is the scene in which a German officer announces the French group to pick up their things because they are going to leave for another camp on the same day that they had the mind to escape from the camp through the tunnel they had been digging

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through all their stay at the camp and which almost cost some of them their lives. This is one of the few moments in which the happy ambience disappears, in which the audience is aware that this is a war film and not a summer camp film, which is the tone of most of the film. This happens very few moments in the film, because, as the title says, they are living an illusion, the audience does only get the feeling of watching a war film because of the things that happen but not in the reactions these French men have during the film; in that sense it reminds me of Fellini´s film La Vita è Bella. The scene opens with a conversation of the French troop about the ending of the tunnel and of what they will find at the other end of it, not only in a physical way- what place will they arrive to – but also in a metaphorical way- how would they find their families and homes. During this conversation, the director gives us a long shot so that we can get a general view of the room and what is happening to all of the characters. The characters are moving all the time to show nervousness, this is a rudimentary theatrical device to show this type of emotion, the fact that they are joking all the time gives the audience the hint of their being happy because they are going to run away. The director uses the

technique of panning to give a complete show of what is happening, even though at this moment of film history the technique of tracking was not still developed the panning is a good choice because it gives the

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impression of a more disordered view, of chaos and of a more realistic view. Then, there is a cut which the director uses to make us be aware that there is going to be a complete change of mood, he could have used a fade technique because the next shot is still in the same room, but in this way, we are more aware of the change of mood that the film is going to have. Firstly, we get a closed door in a close up immediately opened by a German officer who gets a zoom out to a medium shot and announces the change of camp. Secondly, we have a zoom out in which the author shows us the faces of the French troop in a long shot. Their faces show incredulity or surprise more than anger or rage which is the proper feeling to have in a situation like this. The use of different shots to show the different events makes a movement from the general of the long shot, then to the particular of the close up and the medium shot, and finally again to the general with the long shot of the end in which the ordering of the officers is strategic so that we can see all of their faces, and this is important because their faces tell us everything of their reactions, we get no comments on the disappointment or anger or any other feeling these men could have felt at this moment. characters was also very important in this film. The director makes a play with the two different doors of the room, the tunnel they have dug and the real door which gets a close up and a clear light. The way out for the French people was the tunnel and even The cast of

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more when it was finished, nevertheless, the real door will not be that one, but the one which receives the light. They try to escape all the time but, the director does not present it as a run-away from the horror of the war-they even get food from home- he rather presents it as a game , who is able to run away. The film is very ironic in the sense that the illusion vanishes in a clear simple way, this scene could also be called sarcastic if the officers had not had the reaction to the news that they have. It is ironic not only because of the fact that they could have escaped, but also because of the fact that they try to tell the new tenants of the camp, the British officers and they can not because they do not understand them. Another very especial moment in the film is on minute 97 more or less in which we get a more elaborated scene in which the German officer makes a ceremonial after the death of the French officer whom he has killed on duty since he was trying to escape. It is a very symbolic scene which the director treats very carefully. The especial relationship between the German officer in command and Boldieu is due to the fact that they are both part of the same social class, that is they are both aristocratic and this class was losing its importance at this time, they are united by this fact and the director makes it clear through the ceremonial act the German general does after Boldieu´s death. The director offers the audience a close up on the pot, the thing he most cares about in all the fortress, all the light focuses on it, and the

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general cuts a flower as a homage to his friend. On the foreground, there is a great window through which we can see that it is raining or snowing which is symbolic also for the tears in the honour of Boldieu. Not only does the German officer have a especial relationship with the French one, but also it marks a turning point in the film. With his death, Boldieu has made the run-away possible and the setting and main characters of the film change. A different kind of war film is presented to us in Regeneration, a film based on the homonymous novel by the American writer Pat Barker. This is also a great thesis film about the war and it was directed by Gillies Mackinnon and released in 1997, six years after the publication of the novel, thanks to a co-production of Scotland and Canada. In the film, we get the passing of some combatants through the regenerative Craiglockhart Hospital in Scotland in which the well-known psychiatrist Dr. Rivers tries to make them available for war again with a curious therapy, that of trying to accept and relive their fears. This film is also a masterpiece because its director takes care of all the little details which may be unnoticeable to the normal spectator but which add up to make this great film; as an example we may take the scene in minute 99 in which Dr. Rivers is in bed, in it we can see the decline of the doctor and how the situation that surrounds him, affects him. This could be interpreted as a minimalist technique of showing the feelings of the doctor, in just a few seconds and with just a few gestures,

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MacKinnon offers us a great amount of information, not only about the doctor himself, but also about what war is and how it affects to people, not only directly, as it does to his patients, but also indirectly, that is, as it does to this man who is trying to cure his patients. MacKinnon achieves this thanks to the creation of a very private ambience, although Rivers lives in the hospital, he has made his room his house because he has lived there for a considerable amount of time, this is shown by the use of some technical devices and of the setting. We find Dr. Rivers in his bedroom and to get into it, the director chose a fade in (as well as to leave it, a fade out), so there are not abrupt cuts that may give the impression of a less homely setting- and it is so intimate that we do not have a complete view of the room, we only get a medium shot in which we see the bed and the bedtable on the The music also fades in

foreground and darkness in the background.

from the previous scene and it is a sober, serious music composed by just a few notes which adds up to the solemnity of the well-known doctor and introduces the tone of intimacy of the scene. Also, the breathing, which we get a clear sound of, is an element of desperation, of

tiredness, the director plays also with the soundtrack to compose this marvellous atmosphere. From the medium shot, we get a close up which makes the ambience even more private, more intimate, and this is reinforced by scene and recreate both an intimate and revealing

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the use of the light, as I said above, there is very few light and half of the view is in darkness, this adds up to the intimate ambience but it is also a hint of Dr. Rivers´ state of mind, his tiredness and his feeling of old, in fact, with so little light the doctor seems older to the spectator. The director presents us with a very revealing bedtable, there is a very interesting contraposition between order and disorder in this shot. The things on the table which are mostly a clock, a book and the figure of a Buddha show the values of Dr. Rivers: the book, for he is a cultured man, he reads before sleeping, the clock, to which he looks showing one of the most important elements of the aesthetics of war, because it seems as time did not pass by, as if the experience of war was so suffocating that it stopped time, but it can also show the insomnia of Dr. Rivers because of his own The Buddha

problems (reflections of the problems of his patients).

shows his religious believes, which in wartime seems also to be of great importance and, in certain cases, necessary, even though the director does not develop this issue in depth. The bedtable reflects order, as corresponds to a doctor of the importance and prestige of Dr. Rivers, but there is not order within his mind, and this is reflected in his head, by his uncombed hair and his wrinkled face. The shot is taken diagonally, and the line of his hand is not parallel to the bed or the bedtable. Another little detail in what

refers to order is that of the gesture the doctor does as if wiping his face,

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this is a very common gesture which could have been done by any of us just before trying to get some sleep, but this little gesture taken in a symbolic way can show not only the physical tiredness of this hardworking doctor, may also reflect his psychological state, and this possibility is increased by the contraposition between light and darkness and its relationship with the dichotomy order and disorder which leads to the great dichotomy in the aesthetics of war, that is: war and peace. This man is in a peaceful place in a way because he is not fighting in the battlefield but he is not peaceful at all; in the same way that in the battlefield Sassoon was looking for peace though in a very peculiar way. Even though normally in war films there is not a clear contrast between public and private, in this scene, the director achieves a very private moment although it reflects other things at a public level, such as the wear the doctor suffers of the war as Sassoon does. With a few brush strokes MacKinnon offers us the information needed to know that may be Dr. Rivers is not so far in thought from Sassoon as they both think are. The director is very good in this and makes several of this “minimalist” portraits during the film, another example is that of Sassoon in front of the medical board, we get a disappointed man on the foreground ( he did not want a medical board but a court martial and he is pushed to the medical board by some people whom he trusted, such as Graves and also Dr. Rivers himself) with a lot of light into his

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face and on his back a lot of disordered chairs which links this character to Dr. Rivers and the dichotomy of order and disorder, peace and war. He is also displaced from the middle of the shot slightly to the right, which may mean in a way that something is not right, that there is a problem. In this type of shots we normally get the character in the middle of the screen, but this is not the case, and this may hint to the possibility that the director thinks that is not the right place for Sassoon to be, that is, that he should have been court martialled as if he were a deserter. As this is a more modern film than La Grande Illusion, the

techniques used are more powerful and the view of the facts is a little more distanced, we are more aware that there was going to be a 2nd World War. In La Grande Illusion, the techniques were more rudimentary but the film is nearer in time and a lot of information and personal details could have been used, the treatment of war was one of escapism, as if it were not as bad, maybe to try to cure the wounds left because of the war. The cinema, as I have said before offers a very complete idea of the aesthetics of war because it may combine different arts,

nevertheless, there are also other kinds of art that offer us a great amount of information about this issue because we should not forget that cinema is limited in time and the narrative or the poetry may offer different perspectives and do not have the pressure of the audience as such a weight as the film directors do.

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I am going to be talking about the two novels of the Regeneration Trilogy written by the English writer Pat Barker and which comprises the novels Regeneration, in which the MacKinnon film was based and follows quite loyally, The Eye in the Door, of which I will talk later on, and the last of the three The Ghost Road, which focuses in the more than interesting character of Dr. Rivers. It is quite striking to have a woman writing a war novel, Pat Barker became interested in the First World War because her grandfather fought there, and in this trilogy, she has left aside the other issues and focused on this manly world quite proficiently. In the first novel of the trilogy, Pat Barker recreates the state of war during all the novel; the feeling the soldiers and combatants had that war was within themselves, and that there was no escape from it, and the feeling of rage and anger to see that the civilians did not feel war the same way they did. This is achieved by the use of syntactic and semantic devices that create the peculiar state of this writer who being a woman, treats this subject in a very well and clear way with a vocabulary and style more proper of a man than of a woman. This only happens in this trilogy because her former novels usually had female themes and characters whereas in these three books, she risks for a manly world with mostly male characters with a very good result. The syntactic devices which she uses give the book a manly and military tone, for example the use of a stout structure of the book in

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what refers to its sequencing. We find that the novel is not only divided in parts but even in chapters and within the chapters in sections, this gives the sense of a good and what is more important hierarchized organisation similar to that of the army, but, as a turning point, the story develops in an asylum for insane people which hints to one of the leit motifs when talking about war, that war pervades everything. Even if the battlefields are far away, the story is about war; the disorder of the patients´ minds reflect war. The use of conversations or dialogues in which the participations are so short, that is, there are short questions and short answers or short statements and short replies or rectifications to those statements give us a sense of reality, of economy of language not to lose energy or time which was vital at this time and, also, to reflect the usual way of speaking of men, who do not usually lose time in adorning their contributions to the conversation. The very few descriptions Parker uses in this novel, makes them really important and they call the attention to the reader who has not been in war settings. The devastating description of the way from the battlefield to the clearing station in page 104 after Prior has been able, under hypnosis, to describe how he took the eye of a mate from the floor is a good example of this: “They marched from stinking mud to dryish duckboards, and the bare landscape he sensed beyond the tangles of rusty wire

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gradually changed to the fields. Clumps of brilliant yellow cabbage weed, whose smell mimics gas so accurately that men tremble, hung over the final trench”. This passage is important in two ways, one of them is how it achieves to show the devastation of nature due to the war, showing that war is not only bad for people but that it also affects our environment ( we still conserve some of the trenches, it has changed part of the landscape of Northern Europe). The use of adjectives is very important, almost any of the nouns are unqualified and all of them add to the feeling of devastation and loss of nature especially those of “dryish” (most of the living things are composed by a high level of water) and that of “rusty”. It should also be pointed out the use of the colours “rusty” and “yellow”, it seems to be a crescendo to a nicer landscape when approaching the clearing station but here we find, and that is the second reason for the importance of this extract, that the “brilliant yellow cabbage weed” which may be a more positive image because of the first adjective is not so because the colour indicates that it is dry and on top of that it smells of gas. This is one of the constant images of war aesthetics, there is nothing completely good, there is always at least a spot that makes it nasty or disagreeable as to show that war is of no good value. There is not much subordination, most of the sentences are juxtaposed so that the text is simpler and more readable, it gives the

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impression that, in wartime, time could not be lost, so everything became simpler. The use of letters and documents pulls the reader into the story from the very beginning, the resigning letter of Sassoon gives us a complete idea of Sassoon´s mind. The use of these recourses makes the reality of the novel more real, more tangible and closer to the reader even though s/he may not know anything about Sassoon, Owen or Dr. Rivers. Besides, it is clear Barker wanted them to be important because she begins the book with a document, Sassoon`s letter and ends it with another, the medical report of Dr. Rivers. All the documents provide the reader with a great amount of information and maybe another purpose may be to make the novel more universal, that is, not only people who are interested in World War One or in wars should read this book, also other people with different interests are going to be able to read the book because it is self-contained as far as war information needed is concerned. The semantic devices used in this book are not really complicated and I think it is because the nature of war is so complex that it would make the novel too complicated and difficult to read as in a way is Adam Thorpe´s 1921. level. The novel is also very well-organised at a semantic

Each section is a unit of meaning, normally each section deals

with only one theme, as an example, we may take the first chapter in which we have a section to introduce Sassoon and another section to

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introduce Dr. Rivers, this is a hint of the prominence these two characters are going to have not only in this novel, but also in the trilogy. We also have another section for the journey Sassoon does in the taxi which is a symbol for the change that Sassoon is experimenting, and recalls all the journeys the soldiers had to make to go to the front. Barker makes use of a third person omniscient narrator throughout the novel but there is also a great amount of information inferred by the interior monologues especially those of Dr. Rivers and also by the conversations between the characters. An important symbol in the book is the MC ribbon awarded to Sassoon because of his important humanitary labour. It is a symbol

because it is supposed to mean one thing and it means something else, Sassoon ought to be proud of the winning of the medal because, after reading the letter at the beginning of the novel, we get the impression that he is a pacifist but, as we go deeper in the story, we finally understand why he threw the medal away as Dr. Rivers does. The story does not end with Dr. Rivers report, as we know, there are other two novels that continue with it and with its characters. The second novel is called The Eye in the Door (which is a very revealing title and even more if the reader has already read the first novel of the trilogy and knows about Prior´s problem with the eye of his man) and it focuses on the relationship of Dr. Rivers with Billy Prior.

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One of the most important aspects of this novel is that of descriptions mainly because the author does not normally use so many

of them as she does in this novel and, also, because the central issue which gives the title to the novel, the eye is depicted several times and in many different ways. But there are also other important descriptions such as those of sex, narrative to go on. I will deal first with those related with sex because the author also starts in that way which is a shocking start for a novel talking about war. In the first chapter, Barker offers a very cold and detailed description of the sexual intercourse between her main character Prior and his just new met partner in the act Charles Manning. The fact that Billy does not know his mate, and the so detailed description of the physical manoeuvres that they do, represents this act as just pure sex with no emotional implications as it can be seen on page 13: “Manning´s cock stirred and rose and Prior took it into his mouth, but even then, for a long time, he simply played, flicking his tongue round and round the glistening dome. Manning´s thighs tautened. After a while his hand came up and caressed Prior´s cropped hair, his thumb massaging the nape of his neck”. This may hint to the lack of a people, places, and situations which help the

possible emotional feeling because his relationship with her girl-friend Sarah is put aside, and later on when she is staying with him their sexual

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relations are not given importance by the author, so as to suggest that this first act is a necessity, as a kind of animal instinct and nothing else. There are few descriptions of landscape, and those are often linked to the battlefield landscapes. The descriptions of places are usually short. There are also descriptions of closed spaces which achieve a great importance they are those of the prison in page 29: “They wore identical grey smocks that covered them from neck to ankle and blended with the iron grey of the landings, so that the women looked like columns of moving metal. Evidently they were not allowed to speak, and for a while there was no sound except for the clatter of their boots on the stairs, and a chorus of coughs”. In this extract, it is important the use of the colour grey and how it seems as if these women were melting with the prison itself, besides, we find the lack of possibility of expressing themselves freely, and this is a common complaint of most of the soldiers and fighters in the war, that is, not only the enemy is forbidden to talk but also the common civilians if they go against what is politically correct at that time, if the person protesting belongs to the army, then the problem becomes more important as happened with Sassoon. Another important point of this description is that it seems familiar to Prior: “Then he remembered. It was like the trenches.” (p.30) It is very clear what the link is between the prison and the battlefield. Prior feels a sense of familiarity which is

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rather strange taking into account that he is going into a prison for the first time. Barker does a great work when depicting the women all the same just after having Prior wondering what type of women would be in those jails. In this way, the author may hint to a criticism on prisons, then she goes from the general to the particular and we find Beattie Roper in a really bad state: “... to see how emaciated she was, how waxy her skin. Her hair which had been brown the last time he saw her, was now almost entirely white. Thin strands escaped from the bun at the back of her head and straggled about her neck.” p.33 The criticism on the prison and also in the reason of Beattie´s detention is clearly condemned on the hand of the author. There are also few descriptions of people who are characterised by Barker more for what they do and say, than for what they look like. However, the description of Sarah when she arrives to the station seen from Prior´s eyes: “... the yellow skin, the dark shadows round her eyes, the fringe of ginger hair which was not her own colour, but some effect of the chemicals she worked with” (p.177) and the fact that Billy sees her “beautiful” gives a hint of how much they were used to the war even though they were not in the battlefield, the depiction of Sarah is that of an ill person, however, Billy thinks she is beautiful that way. As I said before, the eye is depicted and alluded to in several occasions of which I am going to take some examples. The first eye is in

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the first novel of the trilogy and is the reason why Prior loses his voice, then we find a different eye in this novel, it appears for the first time on page 36: “ He found himself looking at an elaborately painted eye. The peephole formed the pupil, but around this someone had taken the time and trouble to paint a veined iris, an eyewhite, eyelashes and a lid. This eye were no eye should have been, was deeply disturbing to Prior.” Prior still lives in his particular battlefield, the eye is disturbing for him in two very different ways, one of them is the memory of his mate, and the other is the fact that he is himself an eye in the door, he is now a spy who has to look inside the people´s minds and houses. The eye, which is a leit motif throughout the novel is Prior´s particular hell as will be seen later on. In page 40, he is very uncomfortable with the eye and wonders how Beattie had been able to stand it for more than a year. It is part of his nightmares, it becomes alive and he suffers, at the beginning of the novel, he is able to control himself, but towards the end it is harder and harder for him because of his fugue state. In page 68, Barker offers us a revealing thought of Prior, he goes to see Beattie again in prison and has another opportunity to look at the eye and his reflection is: “ it was never possible to tell whether a human eye was looking through the painted one or not.” Billy feels

guilty because of his new job and in this passage it can be seen

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metaphorically. This feeling together with the incident in the trenches make his nights horrible and full of hallucinations: “...straight ahead of me was an eyeball. [...] Huge. And alive. And it was directly in front of me and I knew this time it was going to get me. [...] Do whatever it is eyeballs do.” (p.133) Until the end of the book, and due to the mental state in which the protagonist is, the eye disappears, but towards the end it reappears again when he goes to visit Mac in a very simple way as if he was already used to it: “No chair. No glass in the window. [...] And behind him... yes, of course. The eye.” (p. 262). To sum up , the common feature of all these descriptions is that there is always something negative, even if something nice is being depicted and this is all to reinforce the fact that these men could not forget that they were fighting the war still even though they were no more in France or Belgium. Next I will deal with poetry, an art that, as happens with narrative gives a special point of view and especially in wartime because there are emotions that need a direct and immediate way of expression. There were many great poets within the trenches such as Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brook, Robert Graves, Herbert Read and Isaac Rosenberg. I am going to deal with two poems by Wilfred Owen Insensibility and The Send-Off, another by Henry Newbolt The War Films, The Silent

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One by Ivor Gurney and section number nine of Geoffrey Hill´s The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy to end up making a summary of the themes and the mood that these poets used and settled in their poetry. The first poem by Owen is called Insensibility and was written in the winter of 1917-18. This poem is built by fifty-nine lines divided in six stanzas without a very defined rhyming pattern. The title is developed through all the text, Owen treats the lack of sensibility of some of his mates to the reality that surrounded them, there seems to be some kind of forgiveness and comprehension towards those who try to close their eyes and not to feel the horror and rage of the devastation that they were living, which was complete. The soldiers are presented as flowers both because of the huge number of them and because they fade which is a very mild way to talk about death and Owen includes also the constant complaint of those who come back from war and encounter a world of civilians who do not care about what is happening in the trenches: “no one bothers” (l.11) Men are “gaps for filling” (l.9) which unfortunately are not filled because they die. The tone is one of rage, of inability to change the fate of these men. In line 16, there is a personification of “Chance” by use of the

capital letter, there is no difference of class when there is going to be a shell, anyone can be killed.

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In the third section, we find a vivid metaphor of death and how it pervades everything: “Having seen all things red” and it continues until the end of the section, it seems as if Owen wanted his mates to react to the devastation and recalls it at the same time that he reminds that they have no heart for this because they have achieved to froze it and to go past it with no hurt or pain. In the fourth section, we find again the reproach to those who are not there. “happy the soldier home” (l.31), it is so different to be at the front than to be at home , at the front the time is also different and this Owen shows us with two superb lines (38-9): “The long, forlorn, relentless trend from larger day to huger night” The alliteration of the vowel /o/ and of the consonant N, reminds us with the rhythm to a slow drum and then the author completes it with the use of the comparatives. The poet´s task seems to be to look through the soldier´s eyes, but it is difficult because they normally show no feelings and the poet remarks this with a repetition: “nor sad, nor proud nor curious” (lines 467) The difference between the dead soldier and the soldier who is alive is minimal, the line which divides life from death is very thin and the author presents it with a change of only one degree by the contraposition of the two elements and the repetition of the last word : “Alive, he is not vital overmuch;

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Dying, not mortal overmuch;”


The poet scorns those who do not feel but he also justifies them because it is difficult to live surrounded by such a disaster. Owen is renown for a very moving poetry such as the example above, and although his most famous poems are Dulce et Decorum and Anthem for Doomed Youth, most of his poetry is of a great quality and it is a pity that he died so young, only a week before the Armistice at the age of twenty-five, for he would have left us more of his art. Another example of his moving poetry is the poem The Send-Off. In this poem of three stanzas of five lines with ABAAB rhyme and a final stanza of four lines with ABBA rhyme, Owen describes a funeral of some soldiers and how it is done in the middle of the night as if they did not deserve honours. To begin with, the title is misleading, it plays with the reader´s expectations, it could be the send-off to go to the front or the send-off to go back home, but not, this is a final send-off, in this way the reader is more shocked because s/he did not expect this kind of sendoff, and what is more, in the way that it is done, as if they were criminals. Many of the lines are filled by pauses which evokes the crying of a child, the crying that makes people not to be able to breathe properly. The complaint about the treatment of the soldiers is clear: “like wrongs hushed-up” (l.11) The difference in number of syllables and pauses and the repetition of the words “a few” of lines 16 and 17 calls the reader´s

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attention. The first line which is

a call to the reader, is more than a

rhetorical question because the author wants the reader to think about it, and then, the repetition of those wars as the answer of the question strikes the reader for the pessimistic expectations of the author, the number of deaths is increased by the repetition of the quantifier. The author uses few similes and a very direct style as the one we use with children, the tone is one of scorning the civilians for making these soldiers be buried this way or to “creep back” (l.18) to their homes, after a labour they are doing for their country as the author says in his Dulce et Decorum : “pro patria mori”.(last line) There is also a poem by a poet called Ivor Gurney who is not so well-known that deals also with the issue of death and that of obeying orders, the name of the poem is The Silent One and it is a one stanza poem of seventeen lines with no definite rhyming pattern. The poem starts with an anaphor “who... who...” addressing some soldiers and particularly those with a particular accent and it also humanises the soldier because the relative pronoun “who” is only used to refer to people. The reference to accent is quite important in this poem because it draws a line dividing the people working in the same band , that is, the Bucks accent for the infantry and the “finicking” accent (l.9) for the command. Also the metonymy used by the author, in which we only

find the voice which commands, is a way of dehumanising it and give more prominence to the soldier than to the command. The poem is

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built around the contrast between the soldier and his superior;


soldier is treated as a hero “noble fool” (l. 5) and the superior is treated as delicate. The soldier is treated as a person, he is “weak, hungry” (l.6) but he is brave enough to be in the front line and not to be afraid: “kept unshaken” (l.8). The disobedience of the command is shown in this poem in which the soldier is asked in a very polite way to do something and he replies with a negative also very politely which is well stated in the poem. The disobedience is justified in lines 12 and 13 with the use of negative elements: “I´m afraid not, Sir. There is no hole no way to be seen Nothing but chance of death, after tearing of clothes.” Then, the poet recalls music from a negative element that of “bullets whizzing” which is a constant in the representations of World War I, nothing is completely positive nor completely negative. The music also leads him to interior thoughts and he searches within himself, the repetition of the word “deep” makes the two nouns become closer in meaning, that is the heart may depend on the oaths he makes himself. The repetition of the word “polite” may be with an ironic intention, that is, war is polite which is an oxymoron that the poet may be using to ridicule the war in itself. As a prompt, we have a poem of a civilian writer who was an aristocratic and who talks about the new art of the twentieth century,

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that is, cinema and more specifically, he talks about The War Films by Sir Henry Newbolt. This is a three stanza poem with some rhyme but not a clear pattern. At the beginning it seems an Oda because of the And it starts with an

repetition of the “O...” of the two first lines.

antithesis “living pictures of the dead” which should call the reader´s attention. As there was no sound yet in cinema, we only get the images. The author feels several things through these images. In the second stanza, which begins with an anaphor the effort on the part of the

civilians is reflected, the author feels God within the soldiers but it has been difficult for him to find it in himself. The use of hyperbole attracts the attention to the sins and the sorrows which may be a reflection

upon war, it is a sin but it should be forgiven in a way. Christ is among those men is uniform through the metaphor “Brother of men” and the metaphor for the soldiers “the lads go forth in line” . There is a second anaphor in the third stanza as if it were a prayer, “thou knowest” also reinforces the statement, makes it truer. The final statement is quite a shocking one because it is what most of the war poets complain about, the lack of support from the civilians. The final line: “to take their death for mine” gathers a feeling of communion with the pain which is not very common. The last of the poems I am going to comment on is that of Geoffrey Hill who is not a contemporary poet, he was not even born when the first world war finished. This author retakes the story of

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Charles Péguy and composes a long elegiac poem of ten sections. I am going to analyse the ninth; it is composed of nine stanza with blank verse. The first stanza starts with the bucolic description of the

battlefield before the war, the bucolic setting is set by the use of words such as “twigs” or “goldfinches” or “lilac” or “small fish”. The religious topic enters the scene in the second stanza, Christ (“our Saviour”) who is offered the triumphs that the author seems not to appreciate. In the beginning of the third stanza, there is a call to the government and to the military high command in order to calm them. There is a change of the syntactical order to show them that they are not responsible for Charles Peguy´s defeat. The poet offers us a new definition of the war poets: “warrior poets”. In the sixth stanza, a change of mood is beginning, the nature starts to change too and Bismarck is related to this negative ambience. From the eighth to the seventh stanza, there is an enjambment to continue with the negative mood , we get “rain” which is a traditional rhetorical device to connote negativeness, which is reinforced by the “bad memories” and the fact that Hill makes use of a verb with denotative positive meaning “gleam” to express something negative. The heartwoods gleam because of the shells. The use of French words throughout the text makes us become closer to the character and the place. The soldiers are brave and they do not “falter”, but the reality of

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war is difficult to endure and the only reason to move on was to save France which was invaded. In war poetry, it seems as if none of the soldiers were in favour of the war, they all describe the horrors of war as useless, especially because their country Great Britain was not invaded, but the war went on, therefore we should think about whether they were representative of all the community of soldiers or if it was only representative of the community of poets who are supposed to be more sensible people than the rest. As to me, I think that sometimes, the soldiers did what Owen expresses in his poem Insensibility and that is the reason why the war went on, on top of the feeling of waste. In this way, Siegfried Sassoon was one of the poets that more claimed the brutality and uselessness of war, we find this in several of his poems such as Does it Matter? or The Poet as Hero among others. The most important themes treated by these war poets are those that have been treated in these poems and which are common to the aesthetics of war, that is, the devastation of nature, the dichotomies between order and disorder, war and peace, the complaint on their part about civilians and the treatment of their lives and how they risk them for their country. The mood is usually nostalgic, sometimes nostalgic

and sometimes ironic or even sarcastic. To finish, I will be dealing with the last of the three novels of the course which, for me, is the most interesting because it reunites most of

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the features I have been talking about. In this novel by Adam Thorpe 1921, I will focus on characterisation which is achieved not mainly through descriptions but by the use of what they say, what they think or what the omniscient narrator tells us about their past or present. The descriptions of the main characters on which I am going to focus are rather short. The two friends Joseph and Baz are presented at the

beginning and because of the way the narrator presents them, we may have the impression that the protagonist is going to be Baz, and Joseph, the antagonist in the sense that he is opposite Baz in sentences like the following: “His mouth was very fine and firm while Joseph´s was queerly lopsided and mobile.” (p.3). Joseph is always presented in a worse mood. The author also gives misleading characterisations, for example, he gives a long description of Agnes, and she does not almost appear in the novel, in Joseph´s eyes we get the description of her figure, her hands and a complete narration of what her queer theory about sex was about. The author plays with this and this will become evident at the end of the novel as we will see. We also find this with the character of Hubert Rail that even though he is depicted with a different eyes and hair colour from Joseph, they are always mistaken with each other which lets the protagonist become another person. We also get a representative description of whores in pages 136-7 and a little of local flavour in the description of English people:

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“[...] from their accent and build and tin-coloured skin: dark grey, their faces were, eyes rolling about very white. Their booming voices established them in the dynamite line; blowing things up in a place where things had blown up for four years.” (p. 121) In this extract we get the English people seen from the outside which is an easy task for Thorpe because he has lived abroad for a long time, but what interests me most is the subtle protest of the lack of respect of the British civilians to the place where their soldiers had been killed. I will now focus on the different characterisations of the two female protagonists: Tillie and Marda. Joseph meets both of them in a trip to Northern Europe and the descriptions we get are both filtered by Joseph ´s eyes. He first sees Tillie who fascinates him from the very beginning: “She had a very fine, slim figure, really very fine under the creamy dress and airy shawl, almost a dancer´s boyish figure” (p.93), but he is so blocked by this beauty that he is not even able to ask her name, as happens later on with Marda as well. He starts thinking of her as a

Grecian goddess and ends up getting to the conclusion that “she was undeniably pretty.” (p.98) He has fallen in love at first sight it seems. The presentation of Marda is quite different: “She was about thirtyeight, he reckoned, with a face that was thin and rather ineffectual, rather worn out. Very pale, even in the reddish-gold light of a summer evening.” (p.111), he shows much more enthusiasm on Tillie`s

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description, however, he ends up going to bed with this woman of whom he does not know the name and his friend Baz is the one that gets Tillie. To finish this report, I will focus on the last chapter and how the author plays with the reader’s expectations and puts it in his favour to leave an open ended novel in which we do not know who Joseph is going to end up with or if he is going to end up alone. In the middle of the chapter he hopes for Tillie to go back to him so that he could “win her” (p.368), but when the woman appears there are no more names to address her, we are only guided by the description and what they say, or do, or know about Joseph. In favour of the woman being Marda we have two strong reasons, one of them being how he left her at the station, and the other, her reference to the Honeymoon, for Joseph had previously offered her a marriage proposal. But we also have reasons to think it was Tillie, one of them is because of Joseph´s thought “It was her” (p. 370), and the other is the sentence “Oh, a shawl. My grandmother’s” (p. 371) I think that Thorpe does it in a superb way, the ending is open and the reader may not even be aware of this because as the

characterisation is so subtle we may end the reading thinking the woman was Tillie of Marda depending on which of the two characters the reader feels more fit for Joseph. Thorpe is also very good at treating certain themes such as metaliterature (Joseph is a novelist trying to write a novel) or the total feeling of war as something overwhelming as

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can be seen in the following extract: “We’ve still got it in the bone, the war. It went too deep. It’s still in there, inside. Right in the marrow. Even those who are getting born now, it’s in them, too” (p.320). Thorpe retakes in these words all the possible features of the aesthetics of war. War is a total experience and that is how the characters of the novels and the poets and even Richard Holmes feels about it and what they try to communicate the receptor of any of these forms of art. The sense that it is something that can not be left aside, something from which we need to recover, we need a regeneration, even nowadays. That is why in all of the representations that we have studied, we find that even when there is something positive there is a black spot, something negative that we have to take apart and this is a constant in all the works. Also, the protest of the warriors for the lack of support from the civilians; and the dichotomies of order and disorder, positive and negative, war and peace which at this time lost the arrows that linked them and which need a regeneration.

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Works Cited

Barker, Pat The Eye in the Door . London: Penguin 1993 Regeneration 1997.


Thorpe, Adam 1921. London: Jonathan Cape 2001.

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