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British First World War prose, 1914–30
Author: Andrew Frayn

This book argues that disenchantment is not only a response to wartime experience, but a condition of modernity with a language that finds extreme expression in First World War literature. The objects of disenchantment are often the very same as the enchantments of scientific progress: bureaucracy, homogenisation and capitalism. Older beliefs such as religion, courage and honour are kept in view, and endure longer than often is realised. Social critics, theorists and commentators of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries provide a rich and previously unexplored context for wartime and post-war literature. The rise of the disenchanted narrative to its predominance in the War Books Boom of 1928 – 1930 is charted from the turn of the century in texts, archival material, sales and review data. Rarely-studied popular and middlebrow novels are analysed alongside well-known highbrow texts: D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, H. G. Wells and Rebecca West rub shoulders with forgotten figures such as Gilbert Frankau and Ernest Raymond. These sometimes jarring juxtapositions show the strained relationship between enchantment and disenchantment in the war and the post-war decade.

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Andrew Frayn

The introduction sets forth a genealogy of disenchantment, from mid and late nineteenth-century fears of degeneration as a consequence of anthropological work, anxieties about increasing mechanisation and the concomitant growth of mass culture. The ways in which the theories of social reformers such as C. F. G. Masterman and declinists such as Oswald Spengler prefigure and inform First World War literature are outlined. The increasing predominance of mass culture, in line with improvements in literacy, meant that the novel was becoming the form in which matters of note were discussed, and writers’ views on writing are mobilised to support this analysis. Typically British pre-war enchantments are sketched out, and the book is situated within the current field of First World War Studies. A chapter outline is provided.

in Writing disenchantment
Andrew Frayn

Chapter 1 examines wartime dissent from patriotic ideals, and the wars in which that disenchantment was officially and tacitly circumscribed. Propaganda posters and treatises are analysed alongside patriotic militarist fiction to illustrate official discourse. Literary texts are then addressed in two sections. Firstly, popular novels by H. G. Wells and Rebecca West show the rumblings of discontent as the war endured but conclude that fighting must continue until Britain is victorious. Tougher questions are asked by Rose Macaulay in Non-Combatants and Others, whose heroine embraces pacifism but maintains a Christian worldview. The chapter concludes with an analysis of Despised and Rejected by A. T. Fitzroy (Rose Laure Allatini), which was prosecuted for prejudicing recruitment. Her treatment of conscientious objection and homosexuality was beyond the pale in late 1918, and the novel was banned barely a month before the Armistice.

in Writing disenchantment
Andrew Frayn

This chapter demonstrates the dissonances of the immediate response to the war. The positive feeling generated by victory was counterbalanced by continuing industrial unrest and problems of reintegration. Conservative bestsellers by Gilbert Frankau and Ernest Raymond are analysed alongside overtly disenchanted works by Cicely Hamilton and A. P. Herbert, whose The Secret Battle, an account of the execution of a soldier unfairly shot for desertion, grew in popularity throughout the decade and was later endorsed by Winston Churchill. The chapter's focus is on C. E. Montague, whose first response to the war informs the title of this volume. Disenchantment is perhaps the first book to proclaim this mood from its cover inwards. Montague's audience was not vast, but an influential group of decision-makers and opinion-formers; he was admired by many writers discussed in subsequent chapters for his style and viewpoint.

in Writing disenchantment
Andrew Frayn

D. H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf are unlikely subjects for comparision, but both were non-combatant authors profoundly disillusioned by the war. Both are concerned with issues of gender and seek to break from the pre-war hierarchies, although the changes they desire are radically opposed. Lawrence opposes the war from its beginning, and the way it leads to an increasingly authoritarian state, famously fictionalised in Kangaroo. His compelling, dissenting prose expresses revulsion at the impact of mechanisation and mass culture in fictional and non-fictional prose. Those anxieties reach a peak in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, still in 1928 clearly a response to the war. Woolf is equally concerned about mass culture. She rarely focuses on the war, but it is an absent presence in her nineteen twenties work. Mrs Dalloway offers the clearest comment on the iniquities of the war, but Jacob’s Room is a literary cenotaph, the title character out of view at its centre; To the Lighthouse is similarly haunted by parenthetical deaths. Both authors seek to mobilise disenchantment with the war as a catalyst for positive change.

in Writing disenchantment
Andrew Frayn

The novel series of Ford Madox Ford and R. H. Mottram show clearly the development of disenchantment in the latter part of the post-war decade. Both write between the Victorian and the modern, demonstrating a loyalty to the realist form but also engaging with new literary metaphors and techniques. Ford’s Parade’s End (1924-8) and R. H. Mottram’s The Spanish Farm Trilogy (1924-7) both feature a bureaucrat protagonist, the quintessential modern figure emblematising the impact of mechanisation and mass culture on individuals and social structures. Both adapt the family saga form: Ford uses subtle time shifts, while Mottram’s narratives intersect through a single location. Contextual links are made with contemporary philosophies and scientific discoveries about time and space. Both series highlight the intensification of disenchantment, and in particular Ford’s Last Post (1928) is an indictment of post-war decline in Britain.

in Writing disenchantment
The War Books Boom, 1928–1930
Andrew Frayn

This chapter details the rise and fall of the War Books Boom of 1928 - 1930. Erich Maria Remarque's Im Westen Nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front) was first serialised in Germany on the tenth anniversary of the Armistice to widespread controversy. A few months later, R. C. Sherriff's Journey's End became a theatrical success in London's West End. Richard Aldington's Death of a Hero is a focus for the chapter, perhaps the most vitriolic novel of the War Books Boom. The title of Aldington's novel shows clearly that the redemption of previous novels such as Raymond's is now largely gone. The concluding analysis is of women's Western Front nursing narratives, examining in detail War Nurse, an anonymously-published popular romance by Rebecca West. These works are just as shocking as any combatant writing, dealing on a daily basis with bodies and minds broken by mechanical warfare. By 1930 commercial novels seek to capitalise on the language of disenchantment, grown throughout the decade from a marginalised to a dominant position.

in Writing disenchantment
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Andrew Frayn
in Writing disenchantment
C. E. Montague and the First World War
Andrew Frayn

This chapter discusses the importance of silence for the First World War and the Armistice, and argue that in C. E. Montague's post-war writings silence does not offer consolation. Silence and the Armistice are intimately linked: the literal silencing of the artillery and personnel of the Western Front led eventually to peace. Montague believed in the value of physical endeavour and, for the most part, was at odds with the official line of the Manchester Guardian on the First World War. In Disenchantment, Montague describes the initial period after joining up as leisure, almost a return to childhood. Silence during wartime is an uncanny, haunting quality for Montague. Montague's writing about the war gives little sense of the war's end as a victory worthy of celebration; he explicitly links the Armistice with disenchantment.

in The silent morning