the Literary History of the First World War

570_image1Josh Levithan at The Millions:

Up and down Britain in August 1914, thousands upon thousands of literarily inclined young men volunteered, their heads filled with rousing warlike poetry and dreams of leading a heroic charge, only to be mowed down by machine guns, or else survive years hunkered in the mud, shells bursting overhead, to produce the first great anti-war poetry. Or so the traditional narrative, bemoaned by historians but enduringly popular, goes.

Yet the soldiers’ responses to their experiences were diverse, complex, and — for the first time — profusely and skillfully recorded. History is in constant danger of being smothered under its own weight, the known course of future events squeezing the life from earlier moments that had been lived with possibility, the familiar story retold until we only remember the parts that fit its conclusion. But how did those idealistic fools become those bitterly wise poets? And did they all, really? With the centennial of the war almost upon us, wouldn’t it be interesting to re-read the war from the beginning, rather than looking back down upon it from the height of all of our learned interpretations?

What if one were to read heaps of personal histories all together, following perhaps a few dozen of the most rewarding writers from the beginning of the war to the end, at a distance of exactly a century? It could be a chorus of many different voices, a symphonic literary history. This idle thought became a big project,, a blog that will slowly build into a new way of reading — or re-experiencing, in real time — the Great War: every day a piece of writing produced a century ago, or a description of events befalling one of the writers on that day.

more here.