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During the past fifteen years, important studies of Great War writing have appeared, including Paul Fussell's Great War and Modern Memory (1977) and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's No Man's Land, Volume 1: The War of the Words (1988). Jane Marcus continues to provoke debate with revisionist essays on overlooked women's war narratives, some of which have recently appeared, with afterwords by Marcus, in editions from The Feminist Press. In The Road to Armageddon, Cecil Eby returns to the forty-year period before the Great War to examine the roots of "the martial spirit" in English popular literature from 1870 to 1914. The authors Eby selects for discussion include the famous: H. G. Wells, J. M. Barrie, G. A. Henty, Robert Baden-Powell, Thomas Hughes, Rudyard Kipling, Conan Doyle, Henry Newbolt, and Rupert Brooke. Also treated are some lesser-known but influential writers of invasion stories and patriotic poetry, William Le Queux and G. E. Hornung. Eby's book documents the late Victorian and Edwardian hunger for invasion stories, public-school novels, and adventure and detective stories—narratives that challenged long-held notions of British moral and military superiority and aroused British distrust of all nonislanders.
The thesis Eby sustains in his informative and well-written study is that in English popular literature of this period the late Victorian dread of armed conflict coexisted with a fascination for war as a noble test of national character and with a longing for chivalrous adventure and high-spirited fun. The book's eleven chapters first tell the forgotten story of the "paper invasions" of the 1880s and '90s and summarize Wells's remarkably accurate prophecies of the technological changes in future wars in his 1901 book, Anticipations. Then follow the most rewarding parts of the study, five chapters in which Eby discusses, in a lively and succinct manner, the martial spirit in the literary productions of Baden-Powell, Barrie, Kipling, Conan Doyle, and Brooke.
As Eby shows, British xenophobia was first directed against Germany during the 1870s as a result of the German blitzkrieg in the Franco-Prussian War. Between 1882 and 1904 feeling ran against France for "imperial collisions that brushed dangerously close to war"; but, from about 1904 up to 1914, "all English invasion [End Page 267] narratives dealt with attacks from Germany." The many invasion stories titillated the public, but Barrie's enormously successful 1904 play, Peter Pan, with its portrait of a Kaiser-like invader, Captain Hook, fed the distrust and fear of Germany. With his triumphalist verse and his public persona, Kipling epitomized the attitude that not only welcomed war but also mythologized its excitement and drama for many English readers.
Eby illuminates the contributions of Baden-Powell, Hughes, and Newbolt to the elaboration of the powerful British public school mythology of manhood, in which the quest of chivalric romance and the spirit of sporting play were converted into the patriotic duty of going to war. With the refrain of Newbolt's enormously popular 1892 poem, "Vitai Lampada," or "Torch of Life," echoing in their ears, British schoolboys-in-uniform repeatedly and tragically tried to "Play up! play up! and play the game!" Eby also provides a fine reading of Rupert Brooke's 1914 poem, "The Soldier," commenting that "in its attempt to make death attractive, this poem is the crowning achievement of Brooke's long love affair with death."
Readers of A Farewell to Arms recall Hemingway's descriptions of the Italian army's retreat from Caporetto and the shooting of deserters who threw down their arms rather than mount the doomed offensive now known as the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo. In a useful study of the states of mind that led to this military disaster and many others throughout Europe, Alfredo Bonadeo's Mark of the Beast shows how modern mechanized war's conditions of extreme...