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A Myth Imagined

How quickly living tradition turns into history. The Great War of 1914-18.has almost entirely receded from memory. Very few of that generation are alive to tell their stories, and as for their children, they have their own war, the Second World War, to occupy and puzzle their memories. In the minds of the young people of our own day the two wars merge into one vaguely apprehended rumor of violence.

No doubt this is why, about twenty years ago, the First World War began to be a subject for historians and critics. The battlefields of the Western Front proved to be rich fields for scholarship. As a result, there is no shortage of information, opinion, and interpretation of that war, but it is almost entirely book-derived. The complexities of experienced memory have given place to the rather simple conventions of the researcher and writer.

Samuel Hynes' A War Imagined is a cultural history of England during the war of 1914-18 and the years immediately after it. The focus is chiefly upon literature, with some attention to painting, drawing, sculpture, and cinema, and even a little to music. The range of material covered is wide. For instance, comment upon the popular writers John Buchan, Dornford Yates, "Sapper," and Warwick Deeping provides a surprising context for a reference to Lady Chatterley's Lover, followed in turn by a discussion of-the state of women's rights after the war. A...

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