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IN PARENTHESIS AMONG THE WAR BOOKS WILLIAM BUSSE'IT 'I did not intend this as a 'War Book" - it happens to be concerned with war. I should prefer it to be about a good sort of peace....' In spite of this disclaimer, In Parenthesis by the bias of its material substance is a war book, whatever the author's expressed intention. 'Here is a book about the experiences of One soldier in the War of 1914-18. It is also a book about War,' writes T.S. Eliot in his introduction, though he adds immediately, 'and about many other things also, such as Roman Britain, the Arthurian Legend, and divers matters which are given association by the mind of the writer." In the last analysis perhaps it belongs with the Iliad, the Chanson de Roland, the Morte Darthur, Henry V , and St John Perse's Anabase, but at first sorting it belongs with the books of the Great War and, within that category, to the fictional and autobiographical recollections of life on the Western Front rather than to the poems written under fire or to the books in which the War is only an episode. In order to examine In Parenthesis from this angle, I have read a good number of war books up to 1937 available in English to the interested reader.' I have learned that David Jones rather tended to steer clear of them during the writing of his book (in the late 1920s and early 1930s) and that his reading did not go much beyond Sassoon, Owen, Graves, Blunden, and Ernst Junger at the time, with the addition, much later, of Aubrey Wade's The War of the Guns (1936) and The War the Infantry Knew (1938), a circumstantial account compiled by an anonymous medical officer of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, his own regiment. My interest throughout has been in analogues, not influences: indeed, I have found no evidence to indicate that In Parenthesis was influenced by any other war book, either in conception or in detail. In its driest outline the shape of the experience of the Great War is defined by all or most of these events in roughly this order: the outbreak of war, enlistment, training, embarkation, the base, marching to the line, the sound of bombardment, the first shell, the line, digging in, under fire, the first death, relief, leave, return, on patrol, in combat, the suffering of hardships or wounds or sickness, the end. Many books adhere closely to this pattern, an early one being J.B. Morton's simple patriotic account of The Barber of Putney, but the one that calls most insistently for COmUTQ , Volume XLll, Number 3, Spring 1973 In Parenthesis AMONG THE WAR BOOKS 259 parison with In Parenthesis is Henry Williamson's The Patriot's Progress. The ironic allusion to Bunyan in its title gives in some small measure the sort of context David Jones provides so fully in his literary and liturgical allusions; the solidly English, specifically London, private soldiers whose experiences are related are named John Bullock (presumably, young John Bull) and John Ban (presumably an allusion to the visionary leader of the peasants, who first asked 'When Adam delved and Eva span / Who was then the gentleman?'). William Kermode made a number of strong, simple Iinocuts for Williamson; David Jones had intended to engrave some illustrations (xiii) but was prevented - though he gives a frontispiece and an endpiece, both marvellous, and a map. The action of the two books follows the same stations, though one is exceptionally and deliberately thin, the other dense to a degree unapproached by any other war book: Williamson presents brute event and the sensations of a simple organism, Jones the world and imagination of one who is, under khaki, a secret prince.S This general outline applies as much to German as to English books, though German war books feature hunger, English discomfort and boredom ; the Germans romp, the English are humorous; German books typically end in the ashes of defeat, English ones end before the ashes of victory - in the fire. Marked in many of these books is a sense of earliness or lateness in the war,' and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 258-288
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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