The second decade is inevitably dominated by the First World War, but I have chosen four books, whose setting occurs before it all began. The first two are from a pristine North America, the third is a lost rural idyll of France, and the fourth is a scene of the English countryside.
The four books about the war tell sparingly of its horrors. Solzhenitsyn explains the opening moves from a Russian perspective, with a fascinating collage of social and military issues. Graves and Tennant describe the war in the trenches, and Hasek illuminates the absurdities of war, through his marvellous comic creation, Schweik, a reluctant soldier of the Central Powers of Austria and Germany.
1 My First Summer in the Sierra…..John Muir…………………….1911
2 Le Grand Meaulnes …………………Alain-Fournier……….…….…1912
3 Reynard the Fox …………………….John Masefield ……………..1919
4. Riders of the Purple Sage…………Zane Grey……………………..1912
5. August 1914…………………………Alexander.Solzhenitsyn……1972
6. Golden Book…………………………various………………….1911-1920
7 Goodbye to All That ……………….Robert Graves ……………….1929
8 The Good Soldier Schweik……….Jaroslav Hasek……………….1930
1 My First Summer in the Sierra…..John Muir…………………….1911
The name of John Muir is well-known in the USA, as indicated by the John Muir in Plate 1, and yet barely known in Britain, the country of his birth. He was a Scotsman, born in the small seaport of Dunbar, about 26 miles (42 Km) east of Edinburgh. The basis of his fame is that he gave impetus to the National Parks movement in the USA.
Muir was born in 1838, and eleven years later the whole family migrated to the USA where his father bought a farm near Portage, Wisconsin and John helped on the land and in caring for stock.
John Muir spent two years at the state university (1860-62) studying biology and chemistry, but never graduated. In April 1861 President Lincoln called for volunteers to the Union armies, in the American Civil War. Eventually, men were compelled to join, (the draft). The Muir brothers, Dan and John left the USA for Canada to avoid the draft. They lived and worked around Lake Huron, before returning to the USA in 1866.
Muir’s experiences in the Lake Huron region, (3) gave him a taste for wilderness country and in 1867 he made a 1, 000 mile (1, 600 Km) walk from Indiana to the Florida coast. He turned his experiences into a book. In 1868 he first arrived in California and made a week’s walking tour in the Yosemite Valley, (yo sem it ee) which he had already read about. It exceeded all his expectations and he was enormously excited by the beauty of the western country.
“He was overwhelmed by the landscape, scrambling down steep cliff faces to get a closer look at the waterfalls, whooping and howling at the vistas”. (From “A Mountain Calling” by A L Marquis)
In 1869, Muir took a job assisting a shepherd, driving a large flock of sheep along the Merced River, (4) of California up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the high pastures. He later climbed several mountains, notably Cathedral Peak and Mount Dana, (5). These activities are described in his book, “My First Summer in the Sierra. However, the book was published some 42 years later in 1911, three years before his death. They are essentially the reminiscences of an old man of 73 looking back on the travel diaries of his youth.
John Muir wrote, “In the great Central Valley of California there are only two seasons—spring and summer. The spring begins with the first rain-storm, which usually falls in November. In a few months the wonderful flowery vegetation is in full bloom and by the end of May it is dead and dry and crisp, as if every plant had been roasted in an oven.
Then the lolling, panting flocks and herds are driven to the high, cool, green pastures of the Sierra. I was longing for the mountains, but money was scarce and I couldn’t see how a bread supply was to be kept up. While I was brooding on this, Mr Delaney, a sheep-owner, for whom I had worked a few weeks, offered me to go with his shepherd and flock to the headwaters of the Merced and Tuolumne rivers—the very region I had most in mind.”
“Through a meadow opening in the pine woods I see snowy peaks about the headwaters of the Merced above Yosemite. How near they seem and how clear their outlines on the blue air, or rather in the blue air; for they seem to be saturated with it. How consuming strong the invitation they extend! Shall I be allowed to go to them?”
Muir’s five years in Yosemite became the formative influence on the rest of his life.
Although Muir has been lionised as the founder of the National Parks movement, it is not entirely fair to earlier activists in the USA. Muir was pushing at an already half-open door.
The phrase, “national park”, used to describe beautiful natural wildernesses owned nationally, for public access, was probably first used by the painter, George Catlin in the 1830s. He was suggesting that the Native American peoples might be preserved “in a magnificent park…a nation’s park containing man and beast in all the wild and freshness their nature’s beauty.”
It was the government of the USA which first set up a proto-national park at Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1832. President Lincoln set up the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Sequoia (see kwoy ar) Reservations in 1864, which later became National Parks. The Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872.
Following his time in Yosemite, Muir produced a series of lectures and articles on the need to legally preserve natural wildernesses, not only in California, but also Washington State, Oregon and Alaska. He fronted a campaign to create National Parks in the face of determined opposition from big business.
He was ultimately successful, and by 1890 the General Grant, Sequoia, and Yosemite National Parks were securely established. Further progress was made in the creation of national forest parks throughout the states.
The concept of National Parks began to spread around the world. The first European National Park was created in 1909 in Sweden.
Though the UK has 15 preserved areas, they are not National Parks according to internationally accepted standards.
In Britain, they are areas of relatively undeveloped and scenic landscape that are designated under a Parliamentary Act of 1949. Despite their similar name, British national parks are quite different from those in many other countries, which are usually owned, managed, and protected by the Government as a community resource, and which do not usually include permanent human communities. In Britain the national parks may include large towns and farming activity, which are often integral parts of the landscape, and land ownership remains largely in private hands.
2 Le Grand Meaulnes ……………………………….Alain-Fournier………1912
The title of this book, (phonetically ler gron moan) is usually left in French, as it does not easily translate accurately into English. Meaulnes is a schoolfriend of the teller of the story. He is an older and a bigger boy, hence his nickname, “big Meaulnes”. However, the title carries more meaning than this. The erstwhile French President, Charles de Gaulle was nicknamed “Le Grand Charles” for his lordly manners and style. Hence we might call our hero “The Great Meaulnes”, or “Grand Meaulnes” using the English meaning of the word “grand”.
As the Penguin book cover (9) suggests, the story is about a rural idyll, and is told from the viewpoint of a young schoolboy, whose father is head of a small country school. He is the observer of a series of fascinating events, concerning his friend, Meaulnes.
The primary scene occurs when Meaulnes attends a “fete galante”, a large party in the grounds of a local stately home, and becomes obsessed with a beautiful young girl that he meets there.
The concept of a “fete galante” is a very French one, which is why the phrase is usually left untranslated. It conveys the idea of very wealthy and fashionable people, dancing in the open air and pretending to be simple peasants. This was a popular subject for the painter Watteau, (10), two hundred years before our novel was published.
Meaulnes’ quest for the mysterious country house and the girl, along with the unfolding events provide the narrator with a lifetime of recollections. The whole atmosphere of a lost rural idyll and lost innocence is in tune with the period prior to the world war.
The author, (11) wrote under a pseudonym, a hyphenated surname only, as “Alain-Fournier”.
There were autobiographical elements in Alain-Fournier’s novel.
He was the son of a schoolteacher.
One day in 1905, at the age of nineteen, he was walking the banks of the River Seine, when he met and spoke to a young woman, with the splendid name, Yvonne Marie Elise Toussaint de Quievrecourt. She was polite but quite uninterested in him, while he had fallen deeply in love with her. She became the girl, Yvonne de Galais, in his novel, and the subject of the quest by Meaulnes. He met the real Yvonne again in 1913 when she was married with two children.
The novel begins, “We lived on the premises of the secondary school at Sainte Agathe. My father, whom I called Monsieur Seurel just like the other boys, was in charge. It was a long red building standing on the edge of the village. It was draped in Virginia-creeper, and had five door-windows opening on a very large courtyard.
A huge gateway gave direct access to the village. A smaller gate on the north side of the courtyard opened on the road to the railway station three kilometres distant. To the south, gardens, fields, and meadows stretched away to the boundaries of the commune. This was the setting in which the most troubled and most precious days of my life were lived: an abode from which our adventurings flowed out, to flow back again like waves breaking on a lonely headland.”
His friend, Meaulnes, who was a boarder, absconds one night, borrowing a horse and small carriage. He returns three days later, after some unstated adventure.
It seems to have involved a mysterious domain or estate, (13) and Meaulnes tries hard to discover it again.
“THE MYSTERIOUS DOMAIN*
“At daybreak Meaulnes set out again. But his knee had swollen and was hurting him. So sharp indeed was the pain that he was forced to stop and rest every few minutes.” The translator of the Penguin edition provides a detailed footnote on the word, ‘domaine’.
* Domaine is another portmanteau word for which it is hard to find an English equivalent. ‘country estate’ has inappropriate connotations. ‘Demesne’ fits, but is a word not in common use. To the characters in the story domaine would be an everyday word suggesting a fairly important private property attached to a manor house or chateau; it could have the broader, vaguer meaning associated with our use of the word ‘domain’. The author uses it repeatedly with this less precise, more poetical meaning. With these qualifications a literal, translation seems the best solution. (Translator, Frank Davison).
“Alain-Fournier” was working on another novel, “Colombe Blanchet”, which remained unfinished, because when the war broke out in August 1914, he joined the French army as a Lieutenant, (14). He was killed in action, one month later, on 22 September. His body remained unidentified for seventy-seven years until 1991. It was re-interred in the cemetery of St-Remy-la-Calonne. Almost all of his literary output, “Miracles” (a volume of poems and essays), letters to friends or family, and notes for “Colombe Blanchet”, were published after his death.
3 Reynard the Fox …………………….John Masefield ……………..1919
John Masefield was a novelist as well as a poet, and he created an imaginary landscape with named topographical features, towns and villages. This landscape occurs in his novels (“The Midnight Folk”, “The Box of Delights”) as well as in his poems like “Reynard the Fox”. The location of this landscape has been discussed in more detail in my essay on “The Box of Delights” also published by deskarati. [“THE BOX OF DELIGHTS” BY JOHN MASEFIELD AN APPRECIATION FOR TOM” under FAVOURITES, ALAN MASON]
The book was published as a small, smart hard-cover edition (15) in 1919, and rapidly went through several editions, suggesting that it was a most popular work.
The poem looks at fox-hunting from the point of view of the fox, and in the end, Reynard safely escapes. This work is more about the English landscape and a host of characters who spend their lives within that countryside.
“The meet was at “The Cock and Pye
By Charles and Martha Enderby,”
The grey, three-hundred-year-old inn
A trough, where horses’ muzzles dip,
Stands opposite the tavern front.”
Then Thomas Copp, of Cowfoot’s Wynd,
Drove up; and stopped to take a glass.
“I hope they’ll gallop on my grass,”
He said; “my little girl does sing
To see the red coats galloping.
It’s good for grass, too, to be trodden
Except they poach it, where it’s sodden.”
A pony like a feather bed
On four short sticks, took place aside.
The little girl who rode astride
Watched everything with eyes that glowed
With glory in the horse she rode.
The clergyman from Condicote.
His face was scarlet from his trot,
His white hair bobbed about his head
As halos do round clergy dead.
Miss Hattie Dyce from Baydon Dean,
A big young fair one, chiselled clean
Brow, chin and nose, with great blue eyes
All innocence and sweet surprise,
And golden hair piled coil on coil,
Too beautiful for time to spoil.
Old Steven from Scratch Steven Place
(A white beard and a rosy face)
We old have better things to do
Than breaking all our necks for fun.”
He shone on people like the sun,
And on himself for shining so.
Old Farmer Bennett followed these
Upon his big-boned savage black,
Old Bennett sat him like a leech,
The grim old rider seemed to be
As hard about the mouth as he.
Charles Copse, of Copse Hold Manor, in face and limb
The beauty and the grace of him
Were like the Golden Age returned.
His grave eyes steadily discerned
The good in men and what was wise.
He had deep blue, mild-coloured eyes
An old bear in a scarlet pelt
Came next, old Squire Harridew,
His eyebrows gave a man the grue,
So bushy and so fierce they were
He had a bitter tongue to swear.
A fierce, hot, hard, old, stupid squire,
With all his liver made of fire,
Small brain, great courage, mulish will.
His daughters, Carrie, Jane and Lou,
Rode with him, Carrie at his side.
His son, the ne’er-do-weel, had died
In Arizona long before.
The Squire set the greatest store
By Carrie, youngest of the three,
And lovely to the blood was she;
Blonde, with a face of blush and cream,
And eyes deep violet in their gleam,
Bright blue when quiet in repose.
She was a very golden rose.
4. Riders of the Purple Sage…………Zane Grey……………………..1912
While John Muir was writing and lecturing about preserving the real beauty of the American West, Zane Grey was preserving a fictional view of the West in the many novels he wrote. In his day, Zane Grey’s books were seen as trivial and ephemeral, by the critical and literary world, simple reading matter for the barely literate. That same literary world would have been amazed to learn that Zane Grey’s work was now being taken seriously as literature.
The author’s full name was Pearl Zane Gray, and he was born in Zanesville, Ohio, in 1872. His unfortunate first name was dropped, and shortly after his birth, the family changed the spelling of their surname to “Grey”. Zane was his mother’s maiden name and her grandfather, Ebenezer Zane, had originally founded Zanesville.
Zane Grey’s father, Lewis, was a dentist, and his son decided to follow the same profession. Lewis was hot-tempered and thrashed his son frequently. The boy formed an attachment with an old man, “Muddy Miser” who treated him kindly and encouraged his interest in fishing and writing. It is no exaggeration to say that the old man was a major formative influence on his life.
Zane was an avid sportsman, and entered the University of Pennsylvania on a baseball scholarship. He was a poor student academically, but eventually graduated in dentistry in 1896.
He was a teetotaller and it is claimed that his social skills were weak, and that he was shy. However, this did not prevent him being cited in a paternity case, while still an undergraduate.
As his wife, Dolly, was to discover after their marriage, he was a serial adulterer with a string of mistresses. Apparently, he had warned her, “I love to be free. I cannot change my spots. I shall always be interested in other women.” (23) He married in 1905, and they had three children.
He went to New York, to be near the big book publishers, to start a dental practice, and to begin writing in earnest. Early attempts were rejected by publishers, probably because of his poor grasp of grammar, and choice of weak subjects. It was his wife, Dolly, who took charge of his writing career, by proof-reading and correcting his drafts.
She had good business skills, and handled all his correspondence and negotiations with editors, agents, and later the movie studios. His first magazine article was published in 1902, but his first novel was rejected in 1903, and he despaired of success.
The event which changed his writing career for ever, was a lecture, given in New York, in 1909, by Charles “Buffalo” Jones, a hunter and guide from the Western states. Animated by the lecture, Grey arranged a hunting trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. (24)
He took a camera, and made detailed notes, not only on the scenery, but also local accent and dialogue. After several such trips, Grey commented, “Surely, of all the gifts that have come to me from contact with the West, this one of sheer love of wildness, beauty, colour, grandeur, has been the greatest, the most significant for my work.” (25)
He turned these feelings into a new novel, “The Last of the Plainsmen” in 1909 which was promptly rejected by the publishers.
He then wrote, “The Heritage of the Desert” over four months in 1910, and it was published, becoming an instant best seller. He continued to visit the West on a regular basis.
Two years later, he wrote, “Riders of the Purple Sage” which was his most popular book, and one of the most successful Western novels of all time.
Now, Zane Grey was on his way, writing more Westerns, and all were successful. He was doing so well, that in 1918 he moved to California, finally settling his family in Altadena in 1920.
The film industry began in the early 20 C in the guaranteed California sunshine. From short film comedies and knockabout farce they branched out into cowboy Westerns, (26) and Zane Grey’s plots were ready to hand.
“Riders of the Purple Sage”, is set, not in California, but Utah, and the principal character is a woman rancher, who finds herself confronted by a group of aggressive Mormon men under their leader Tull.
“Once more Jane Withersteen’s strained gaze sought the sage-slopes. She loved that wild and purple wilderness. In times of sorrow it had been her strength, in happiness its beauty was her continual delight.
In her extremity she found herself murmuring, “Whence cometh my help!” It was a prayer, as if forth from those lonely purple reaches and walls of red and clefts of blue might ride a fearless man.
“Look!” said one of Tull’s men, pointing to the west, “A rider!”
Jane Withersteen saw a horseman, silhouetted against the western sky, riding out of the sage. He had ridden down from the left, in the golden glare of the sun, and had been unobserved till close at hand. An answer to her prayer)
“That’s a fine hoss,” said one. “He wears black leather,” added another.
The rider reined in his mount, and with a lithe forward-slipping action appeared to reach the ground in one long step. It was a peculiar movement in its quickness and while performing it the rider did not swerve
in the slightest from a square front to the group before him.
“Look! He packs two black-butted guns—low down—they’re hard to see—black agin them black chaps.”
“A gun-man” whispered another.
The stranger’s slow approach might have been a mere leisurely manner of gait or the cramped short steps of a rider unused to walking; yet, as well, it could have been the guarded advance of one who took no chances with men.
“Hello, stranger!” called Tull. No welcome was in this greeting, only a gruff curiosity. The rider responded with a curt nod.
The wide brim of a black sombrero cast a dark shade over his face. For a moment he closely regarded Tull and his comrades, and then, halting in his slow walk, he seemed to relax.
“Evenin’, ma’am,” he said to Jane, and removed his sombrero with quaint grace.”
As Zane Grey grew in popularity as an author, he became the subjected of considerable criticism in the literary world. When his editor, Ripley Hitchcock rejected his fourth novel, “The Last of the Plainsmen” in 1909, he said, “I do not see anything in this to convince me that you can write either narrative or fiction.” (It was published later by a magazine, and was successful.)
Grey was criticized for romanticizing the old West, by portraying it as more violent than it actually was, and for mis-representing the moral and social attitudes of those times. He got into trouble with religious groups when he said, “I have studied the Navaho Indians (31) for twelve years. I know their wrongs. The missionaries sent out there are almost everyone mean, vicious, weak, immoral useless men.” His wife, Dolly, persuaded him not to become embroiled in the public debate. The reader is invited to read the long Wikipedia article on Zane Grey, which gives a full account of his life, all of his publications, and the controversies surrounding his writings.
5. August 1914…………………………Alexander.Solzhenitsyn……1972
In a brief review like this, there is no place for an analysis of the causes and progress of the First World War. However, I do want to look at the way the war is seen in the present times. It has become a popular topic for study in British secondary school, History and English classes. This has been a mixed blessing, because these studies have become a vehicle for partisan social and political propaganda. They have been used to promote pacifism and the denigration of military and political leaders generally, in the name of sympathy for the sufferings of the common soldier. (32)
By contrast, the Second World War has been neglected, because the moral and military imperatives were much more clear-cut, and do not lend themselves to simplistic pacifist and anti-militarist sentiment. WW2 produced as many poets as WW2 and they are usually discounted as inferior, but the real reason is that these men were fighting in a cause that they knew was just, and their lives were not carelessly thrown away, (33).
I have chosen four books about the war, but none of them dwell on the horrors. The first is “August 1914” which deals purely with the outbreak of the war, mainly from the Russian point of view, and on the Eastern Front rather than the Western Front. It was written in 1972, nearly sixty years after the events, by the distinguished Russian novelist, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. (1918-?)
I have chosen this book because it is a fascinating blend of several quite distinct elements. There is the story of the ordinary Russian middle-class Tomchak family; the top level conduct of the war; the progress of a young Russian army officer; and finally, a selection of newspaper cuttings and social memorabilia;
“They left on a clear morning at dawn. In the early sunlight the whole of the Caucasus range, each single indentation, could be seen, brilliantly
white with deep blue hollows, apparently so close that a stranger might have thought it a short drive away. It towered vast above petty human creation, so elemental in a man-made world, there never was a mountain ridge as fantastic as the Caucasus.”
“Irina Ilinichna wished her mother-in-law, Evdokia,
good morning, bent down and kissed her. After fifty years Evdokia’s face was a picture of calm as if there had been no sadness in her past. Yet there had been one week when she had lost six children all at once from scarlet fever. Xenia, the youngest, was the only one they had snatched from death, as from a fire. Whenever Irina had occasion to resent her mother-in-law, she remembered that week.
Evdokia llinichna was the daughter of a simple village blacksmith, and for years she had been unable to get used to the idea of sitting down at table like a lady, waiting to be served. Some days she would push aside the cooks and make a Ukrainian borsch in a huge saucepan. Her children, ashamed at this behaviour in front of the servants, would try to stop her.”
The Conduct of the War
“In his long years of steady, uneventful military service, General-of-Cavalry Samsonov (37) treated work with sensible moderation. He impressed upon his subordinates that, like our Creator; we can do all we have to do in six days and sleep soundly for six nights, and rest on the seventh day.
Three weeks ago, by order of His Imperial Majesty, Samsonov
had been recalled from his comfortable post in furthest Asia and transferred to the front line at the start of a European war.
Once he had served as, Chief of Staff of the Warsaw Military District; it was on the strength of this long-ago job that he had now been posted here. It was an honour that His Majesty should place such confidence in him, but he was badly out of practice,- he had not been in an operational post for seven years, had not even commanded a corps in action, and now he was suddenly entrusted with an entire army.”
No one had .acquainted him with the war plans for East Prussia, nor told him how those plans had been drawn up and then changed.
Now he was under orders to execute in haste a plan that was not only not of his own devising, but one that he had not even had time to study, Whereby two Russian armies, one advancing westward from the River Niemen, the other northward from the Narev, were to attack Prussia with the object of encircling and destroying all enemy forces in that area.”
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For Russia, August 1914, is represented by a major military defeat at the Battle of Tannenberg, (Aug 23-30) during which 78, 000 Russians were killed or wounded and 92, 000 were taken prisoner. (39) The Germans had only 12, 000 casualties, by contrast. Tragically, General Samsonov shot himself as a result of the defeat.
This campaign crippled Russia for the rest of the war, but it took another three years for them to accept their defeat by the Germans.
For readers who are interested in the details of the Battle of Tannenberg, there is an excellent wikipedia article. The author, Alexander.Solzhenitsyn, is a controversial figure, and I have avoided including any biographical detail here, so again the reader is directed to a long wikipedia article which examines many of the issues.
6. Golden Book…………………………various………………….1911-1920
The full title of this book is, “The Golden Book of Modern English Poetry” edited by Thomas Caldwell and first published in 1912; my copy was reprinted in 1946. It was a book I used as a schoolboy, and the title is now ironic as much of the “modern poetry” is over a hundred years old. I have included only three poems from the book. The first is by Thomas Hardy, on the continuing war.
IN TIME OF “THE BREAKING OF NATIONS”
Only a man harrowing clods (41)
In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they stalk,
Only thin smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onward the same
Though Dynasties pass.
Yonder a maid and her wight
Come whispering by:
War’s annals will cloud into night
Ere their story die.
The second poem is by one of the less-well-known of the “war-poets”, Edward Wyndham Tennant. It is poignant because it tells of the longing of the soldiers for world of nature back home in England. Laventie (la von tee) is a small town 12 miles (19 Km) west of Lille in the area of the Pas de Calais.
HOME THOUGHTS IN LAVENTIE
Green gardens in Laventie !
Soldiers only know the street
Where the mud is churned and splashed about
By battle-wending feet; (42)
And yet beside one stricken house there is
a glimpse of grass.
Look for it when you pass.
The grass was never trodden on,
The little path of gravel
Was overgrown with celandine, (43)
No other folk did travel
Along its weedy surface, but the nimble-footed mouse
Running from house to house.
So all among the vivid blades
Of soft and tender grass
We lay, nor heard the limber wheels
That pass and ever pass,
In noisy continuity until their stony rattle
Seems in itself a battle.
The fairest and most fragrant
Of the many sweets we found,
Was a little bush of Daphne flower (44)
Upon a grassy mound,
And so thick were the blossoms set, and so divine the scent
That we were well content.
Hungry for Spring I bent my head,
The perfume fanned my face,
And all my soul was dancing
In that little lovely place,
Dancing with a measured step from wrecked and shattered towns
Away. . . upon the Downs. (45)
I saw green banks of daffodil,
Slim poplars in the breeze,
Great tan-brown hares in gusty March
A-courting on the leas;
And meadows with their glittering streams, and silver
Home–what a perfect place !
The author of the poem, Edward Wyndham Tennant (46) came of a patrician family. He was the son of Edward Tennant, Lord Glenconner, and the writer, Pamela Wyndham. Born in 1897, he left his school, Winchester College, at the age of seventeen, when the war began, and joined the Grenadier Guards. Two years later, he and most of the young men who had joined the army in response to the call for volunteers, took part in the Battle of the Somme.
The French and British commanding generals, respectively, Joseph Joffre (64) and Douglas Haig (55) had decided on a British offensive against the Germans in the region of the River Somme.
“This was a strange choice. There was no great prize to be gained, no vital centre to be threatened. The Germans if pressed could fall back, to their own advantage.
Joffre did not care; the great thing was to draw the British into heavy fighting.” (From the historian, A J P Taylor, “The First World War”) A heavy artillery bombardment was to shatter the German trenches so there would be no resistance as the British troops advanced. The results were unexpected. Sixty thousand men were killed or wounded on the first day alone, and the killing continued. The battle began on the 1 July; Edward Tennant’s nineteenth birthday. He was killed on the 22 September, and is buried in the Guillemont War Cemetery.
7 Goodbye to All That ……………….Robert Graves ……………….1929
Graves wrote his book ten years after the war had ended so he had time for sober reflection and he did not rush into print to “cash in on his experiences”, and also, after the war, deleted his war poems from his poetry collections, on the grounds that they were too obviously “part of the war poetry boom”.
His perspective was broader than most ex-soldiers because he had German (Runcke) relatives, and his fellow officers in the Royal Welch Fusiliers affectionately called him “von Runicke”.
There is much humour and keen observation of the social mores of the army, and the relations between fellow officers, and the working-class men in the ranks. Graves was not the stereotypical milksop poet but the champion boxer of his school, and a man of action. It has to be explained that there is only a little in the way of violent action or blood and thunder. Graves saw action and was wounded but he tends not to dwell on this.
He relates an incident where a wounded soldier of the Middlesex regiment lay close to the German wire.
Lance Corporal Baxter jumped up on to the parapet, and “strolled across No Man’s Land waving a handkerchief” and when he got to the wounded man “pointed at him to show the Germans what he was at.” He dressed the man’s wounds, gave him food and water, and promised to return for him at nightfall. During this time the German troops held their fire.
Baxter went back at night, with a stretcher party, and rescued the wounded man who subsequently recovered. “I (Graves) recommended Baxter for the Victoria Cross, being the only officer who witnessed the action, but the authorities thought it worth no more than a Distinguished Conduct Medal.”
“One night at Cuinchy we had orders from divisional HQ to shout across No Man’s Land and make the enemy take part in a conversation. The object was to find out how strongly the German trenches were manned after dark.
‘Wie geht’s Ihnen, Kamaraden?’ (“Who is over there, comrades?”)
Someone shouted back in delight, ‘Ach Tommee, hast du den deutsch gelernt?’ (“Oh, Tommy, have you learned some German then?”)
After more conversation, ending with enquiries about the health of the Kaiser and the Crown Prince, “they all began singing, ‘Die Wacht am Rhein’,
(“The Watch on the Rhine” a popular patriotic song). That trench was evidently very well held indeed.”
He was badly wounded by a shell fragment which pierced his lung in 1916, at the Battle of the Somme. This effectively ended his war as he was invalided home to England, and never returned to the front.
In 1919 he renewed his studies in Classics and English Literature at Oxford University. He was already married by that time, with small children. He made a living as a writer, producing historical novels, as well as poetry. His novel on the Roman Emperor, “I, Claudius”, was published in 1934 and was followed by “Claudius the God”.
These were adapted for TV in 1976, with Derek Jacobi in the role of the stammering Claudius (50).
He adapted other classical writers in his novel, “Count Belisarius”, (1938) a General, of the Byzantine court.
He translated the classical text of, “The Golden Ass” by Apuleius, for modern readers. His work on the use of modern anthropology to the mythology of Ancient Greece was fascinating but controversial.
It was published as a reference work, “The Greek Myths” in 1955, and led to continuing research on the anthropological basis of mythology.
Robert Graves was married twice and had four children by each of his wives. Much of his later life was spent in Deia, Majorca, (49) and he was buried there, following his death in 1985, at the age of ninety.
8 The Good Soldier Schweik……….Jaroslav Hasek……………….1930
“Schweik” is hilarious. It is impossible to work out whether he is completely stupid, or extremely cunning and resourceful. It is the story of Schweik being recruited into the Army of the old Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy at the outbreak of the First World War.
Schweik is a Czech, one of the despised minority races of the German-speaking Austrian Empire and ripe for insubordination of all kinds. The author Jaroslav Hasek was also a subversive Czech and his book, published after the war, was enormously popular with his fellow countrymen.
The Czechs were now living independently in a new nation, Czechoslovakia, after the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The book does not deal with the horrors of the war. It is more about the absurdity of the military machine and its officers. There is a fascinating parade of Central European characters and an insight into the manners and mores of the time and the place, illustrated by Joseph Lada, (51).
From time to time the book has been adapted as a play or a film. The Czechs, as one might expect, remain true to the spirit of the original novel. The poster for the film/video (52) “Pošlusně hlásím” shows the chubby, grinning, good-natured face of our hero, Josef Schweik, but is he a congenital idiot as some of his examining doctors suppose, or is he a very cunning man?
The Czech title of the film, “Pošlusně hlásím” is from Schweik’s favourite expression, in English translation, “Beg to report, sir.” This is used by a private soldier when speaking to a commissioned officer or some superior. It means, “I beg your pardon, for speaking, without permission, but I have something important to report to you.” It is a very humble way of speaking.
The BBC produced an abysmal two-part radio version in early 2009. For example, it took a plotline where Schweik is an apparently well-meaning but unwitting cause of an organisational disaster, which is unravelled by a very serious but unpopular Cadet Officer Biegler. In the BBC version the disaster has no cause, and it is Schweik who unravels the solution. The cadet is simply a conceited boy.
This cameo illustrates how totally the BBC adaptation failed to grasp the nature of the book. It is actually Schweik who causes the mess, but none of us can work out whether it was a well meaning error, or a very clever piece of insubordination.
Similarly, all the senior officers fail to understand the error because they are careless about maintaining their professional standards. It is Cadet Biegler, held in contempt by the others, not even a proper officer yet, who takes his calling seriously, and reads the standard works on cryptography so that he quickly sees the solution which is hidden from his superiors. (53)
At another stage in the BBC adaptation there are narrative passages on the horrific effects of the war. Returning to the original I found none of this in the book. Hasek is very laconic about the war’s horrors. He did not need to tell his countrymen what they already knew only too well.
Hasek was conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian army in 1914 but was captured by the Russians in 1915. He volunteered for a Russian-backed Czech brigade fighting against Austria-Hungary. By October 1918 he had joined the Red Army (54).
I am afraid the BBC adaptation was typical of today. That is, a group of twenty first century London trendies grafting their own attitudes and prejudices on to a work from the Central Europe of ninety years ago.
At one stage, Schweik is made batman (officer’s servant) to a Regimental Chaplain, Captain Otto Katz.
“Katz sat glumly over a circular he had just brought from the barracks. It contained secret instructions from the War Ministry. Next day he must go to the army hospital at Charles Square to
administer extreme unction to the seriously wounded.
‘Listen, Schweik,’ the chaplain called out, ‘Isn’t this a bloody nuisance? Just as if I was the only chaplain in the whole of Prague!
‘I’ve already forgotten how to do it.’
‘Then we’ll buy a catechism, sir. It’ll be there,’ said Schweik. ‘It’s a kind of Baedeker (tourist guide) for spiritual pastors.’
When Schweik brought the catechism, which he had purchased, the chaplain said: ‘Look, extreme unction can only be administered by a priest and then only with oil which has been consecrated by a bishop. And so we need oil consecrated by a bishop. Here’s ten crowns. Go and buy a bottle.’
Schweik set out on his journey in search of oil which had been consecrated by a bishop. He went into various chemists and as soon as he said: ‘Please, I want a bottle of oil consecrated by a bishop’, they either burst out
laughing or hid in a panic under the counter. All this time Schweik’s countenance was unusually solemn.
Poliks Ltd was a very efficient firm. They never let a customer go without making a sale. When Schweik came in and asked for ten crowns’ worth of oil consecrated by a bishop, the manager said to the assistant: ‘Pour him out a gill of hempseed oil number three, Mr Tauchen.’
And the assistant, wrapping the bottle up in paper, said to Schweik in a completely business-like way: ‘It’s of the finest quality. If you would like a paint-brush, lacquer or varnish, don’t hesitate to apply to us. We shall serve you reliably.’
The nonsense goes on, as Katz uses his batman, Schweik, as a stake in a card game and loses him to a fellow-officer, Lieutenant Lukash. (56) The unfortunate Lieutenant later asks Schweik to get him a dog. When out walking his new dog, Lukash is challenged by an enraged man, the dog’s original owner. The dog was stolen by Schweik, and the owner just happens to be the commanding officer of Lieutenant Lukash.
The book is liberally illustrated with excellent cartoons of Schweik and most of the other characters, by Joseph Lada. Typically, Hasek failed to finish the book and it ends on a falling cadence as Schweik is taken prisoner.
(I have followed the spelling of Schweik used in the 1951 Penguin edition, translated by Paul Selver. For convenience, because the format is larger, the illustrations and textual quotations are taken from the 1973 Heinemann edition, translated by Cecil Parrot, where the hero’s name is spelled “Svejk”. The former spelling seems easier for those of us unfamiliar with the Czech language.)
REFERENCES AND ILLUSTRATIONS
I have, of course, personal copies of all the books described, and the introductions often provided me with an interesting background to the authors. For example, Chris Brasher, sportsman, journalist and broadcaster, wrote a strongly appreciative introduction to John Muir’s book. I discovered from the flyleaf, that my copy was bought in Dunbar, Muir’s home town.
As the issues are rarely controversial, the wikipedia articles on the authors are usually excellent, and highly informative. The 26 pages on John Muir examine the controversies around his “early green” movement.
1. The John Muir Trail (google image)
2. The Port of Dunbar, Scotland and the ruins of its ancient Castle (google image)
3. Lake Huron, Ontario, Canada (google image)
4. View of the western Rocket Plateau, seen from the Merced River in the Yosemite National Park (google image)
5. Cathedral Peak, top, and Mount Dana, below (google image)
6. John Muir (1838-1914) at the age of 34 (google image)
7. Half Dome Mountain from the Merced River, Yosemite Park (google image)
8. John Muir in old age riding through the Yosemite Valley (google image)
9. The Penguin Book Cover. (Penguin Books, 1976)
10. “Les Plaisirs du Bal” a painting by Jean-Antoine Watteau c. 1714 (“The World’s Greatest Art”, editor Robert Belton, Star Fire, 2006)
11. “Alain-Fournier” the pen-name of Henri Albain-Fournier (1886-1914) seen as a young man (google image)
12. “Lise with a Parasol” portrait by Auguste Renoir”, (“Renoir” by Trewin Coppleston, Regency House, 1998)
13. “The Muses in the Sacred Wood” (“Symbolism” by Michael Gibson, Taschen, 1999)
14. Henri Albain-Fournier at the age of 28, as an Officer in the French army (google image)
15. Hardcover Edition of “Reynard the Fox”. (Heinemann, 1929)
16. The Master, Hunt Servants, Hounds and Followers (google image)
17. The Village Green and the Inn (a painting of Kersey, Suffolk, by Brian Cook) (“Brian Cook’s Landscapes of Britain” Batsford, 2012)
18. Ruardean, Gloucestershire, a painting by Brian Cook (Cook, op.cit)
19. A Ploughman in the 1930s, a painting by Brian Cook (Cook, op.cit)
20. The Working Countryside, 1935, a painting by Brian Cook (Cook, op.cit)
21. A Summer Meadow (“English Country Lanes” edited Elisabeth Chidsey, Smith Settle Ltd, 2002)
22. The Penguin Cover of a Zane Grey novel (Penguin, 1990)
23. Zane Grey 1872-1939 (google image)
24. Zane Grey on a Wilderness Trip (google image)
25. “California Mountains” a painting by Madeleine Prochazka (google image)
26. Monument Valley, Utah, a popular setting for Westerns (google image)
27. Monument Valley, Utah (google image)
28. Salvia, the Purple Sage (google image)
29. The Real Thing – the two gunmen Frank and Jesse James (“The Penguin Book of the American West” by David Lavender, Penguin, 1969)
30. Southern California in Bloom (google image)
31. A Navaho Indian warrior of the 1860s (“Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown, 1970)
32. “The Poppy Field at Argenteuil” a painting by Claude Monet (“French Impressionism” by Felicitas Tobien, Berghaus Verlag, 1990)
33. The British Eighth Army in World War Two (“Alamein and the Desert War” edited by Derek Jewell, Times Newspapers, 1967)
34. “The Minusinsk Steppe” a watercolour by Vasily Surikov, 1873 (“Vasily Surikov” by Vladimir Kemenov, Parkstone, 1997)
35. The Peaks of the Caucasus (google image)
36. “Irina Ilinichna Tomchaka” from “Portrait of an unknown woman” by Vasily Surikov, 1911 (Kemenov, op.cit)
37. General Alexander Samsonov (google image)
38. Tsar Nicholas II at the time of WW1 (google image)
39. The Battle of Tannenberg, 1914 (google image)
40. Alexander.Solzhenitsyn (google image)
41. A Ploughman by Moorey (“The Favourite Wonder Book”, Odhams Press, 1946)
42. British Troops moving up to the Front (“World War I” by David Shermer, Octopus, 1973)
43. Celandine and Buttercup (“The Concise British Flora in Colour” by W Keble Martin, Ebury Press, 1969)
44. Daphne Laurel (“Trees” by Allen J Coombes, Dorling Kindersley, 1992)
45. The Weald and Downs, a painting by Robin Cook (“Brian Cook’s Landscapes of Britain” Batsford, 2012)
46. Edward Tennant, poet, 1897-1916 (google image)
47. Robert Graves, a portrait by Eric Kennington (“Goodbye to All That” by Robert Graves, Penguin, 1957)
48. Officer with his men in a trench before an attack (Graves, op. cit)
49. Robert Graves and his home in Deia, Majorca (google image)
50. Derek Jacobi as the Roman Emperor, Claudius (google image)
51. The Good Soldier Schweik (google image)
52. “Pošlusně hlásím” “Beg to report, sir.” (google image)
53. Cadet Biegler explains to Captain Sagner how the mistake has come about (“The Good Soldier Svejk”, translated by Cecil Parrot, Heinemann, 1973)
54. Jaroslav Hasek in the uniform of the Red Army, c. 1918 (google image)
55. Schweik presides over a theological debate between a pious chaplain and Otto Katz (Parrot, op. cit)
56. Chaplain Katz explains that he has gambled Schweik in a card game and lost him to a Lieutenant Lukash. (Parrot, op. cit)
57. Lieutenant Lukash meets his new dog (Parrot, op. cit)