Novels of the Great War: "Three Soldiers" by John Dos Passos

Three Soldiers is one of two early novels that John Dos Passos (Chicago 1896 - Baltimore, 1970) wrote about his experience in the First World War. Precisely it is the second one, since the first is One Man's Initiation (1917). Three Soldiers was published in 1921 in New York by Doran (below is the cover of the first edition). The book tells the stories of three American soldiers while they train and prepare to travel to one of the main fronts of the "European" War, namely the French one. The three are Fuselli, an Italian American coming from San Francisco, Chrisfield, a farmer from Indiana and the talented Andrews, who studied at Harvard and that can be considered under many aspects as the author's alter ego. The three represent a significant "sampling" of the white America back at the time the country was facing the global conflict originated in the heart of Europe. In Three Soldiers different imaginaries clash in the sprockets of military life, in the bureaucracy, in the boredom and finally in the lies and in the carnage of war. The narrative device of Dos Passos aims to show the dehumanizing effects of war on the fear, on the instinct of rebellion and on the individuality of each of the protagonists, who move in a kind of triangulation and therefore give life to a "triple novel" in one.

Rather than a novel of the Great War, Thee Soldiers can be approached as a novel born within this new warfare, one of the first works of fiction that tries to catch the meeting and clash between America and Europe at a time when an European war turns into a global war. The three protagonists show very distinct psychological characterizations and to give life to one of the first effective portraits of the loneliness of the contemporary man, in that particular moment when two worlds - America and Europe – meet because of the war that starts a new era. It’s particularly interesting, in addition to the above mentioned psychological and linguistic characterizations of the protagonists, to fix what we could call the geography of the novel, as well as the first appearance of a new yet already well-shaped cinematic imagery, almost unique feature of the novel. [You can find the page that Project Gutemberg dedicated to Three Soldiers at this link, while the public domain audiobook is available here.]

Philosophy and the Great War. An interview with professor Pierandrea Amato

The below interview with Pierandrea Amato is dedicated to the Italian book La filosofia e la grande guerra ("Philosophy and the Great War", Mimesis, 2016) he recently edited with contributions of Luigi Alfieri, Alain Brossat, Giulio Maria Chiodi, Sandro Gorgone, Giuliana Gregorio, Gianluca Miglino, Giuseppe Raciti, Caterina Resta, Francesca Rizzo, Luca Salza and Pierandrea Amato himself. After many posts on literature, sociological and historical interpretation of the First World War we wanted today to give evidence to philosophy and its meeting with the global war of 1914-1918.

Q: Can we consider three different "philosophies": before, during and after the Great War? In other words and in order to keep the question simple, is there a philosophy that prepares to war, a philosophy that changes during the war years and a philosophy born in the battlefields?
A:It is certainly possible to establish a relationship between philosophy and the First World War, paying attention at the risk of a too simple determinism. Anyway it is true, as Gianluca Miglino (who teaches German Literature at the University of Messina) clearly demonstrates in his essay, that in Germany the philosophy of Erlebnis contributed – through a particular interpretation of Nietzsche’s thought – to create the cultural conditions for the beginning of the war. In this climate, for example, a philosopher like Troeltsch signed manifests pro-war. On the other hand, it is true (in the volume we remember Heidegger’s name) that the First World War creates a revolution of the philosophical grammar, giving to philosophy the task to elaborate the conjunction between thought and existence.

Q: Which is the main goal of this "composite" book about the philosophy and the Great War that you have curated?
A: First of all, the aim of the book is trying to demonstrate that the cultural problems, raised by the First World War, in occasion of its centenary, are extremely actual. In this sense, we would like to demonstrate that paradoxically nowadays the First World War is not the main object of historical knowledge. In particular, it was our intention to point out that the Great War opens one of cultural fundamental problems of the Twentieth century: how to think the unthinkable, namely the catastrophe.

Q: Could you mention the main philosophers and writers studied in the book and could you summarize their positions in front of the war?
A: It is notpossible for me now to summarize the different positions of philosophers and writers contained into the volume. But I can add that a lot of the authors( Benjamin, Breton, Freud, Thomas Mann, Tzara, Zweig, Heidegger, Croce e Gentile) are discussed starting from a precise point of view: how to tell, represent, think the horror of the end of an era?

Q: Which is according to you and all the contributors of this book the most relevant help that philosophy gives in the understanding of the reasons of the First World War and also in the understanding of what comes after?
A: The First World War is the apex of the triumph of modern industrialization and of State political hegemony. In this perspective, I will say that philosophy let us see that the Great War is, at the same time, the completion and the sunset of modern humanism. This means that it is not a kind of pathology, but the extreme and destructive expression of modern humanism.

Q: Any reading suggestion to go further with this topic of philosophy and the Great War? Thanks.
A: After the publication of the book, our research has expanded to the study of other disciplines (cinema, literature, photography, linguistic, archeology, geography). In purely philosophical field, compared to the authors discussed in the book, I would add only two other names: the 1918 first edition of Ernst Bloch’s Geistder Utopie and Paul Valery's considerations about the First World War (La crise d’esprit, 1919).

"Prophets" of the Great War: the modern warfare according to Jan Gotlib Bloch

The titles says “prophets” but as everybody can easily figure out it doesn't make much sense to use the category of "prophet" to write about the historians, philosophers or writers somehow able to predict what happened in Europe between 1914 and 1918. It’s not a matter of being like the Cumaean Sibyl or Nostradamus but it’s rather the result of a deep analysis made possible by the use of all the tools and the knowledge (and also the creativity of thoughts) that one has. Beside Friedrich Engels, whose predictions about a new annihilating global war are well known, there is also a Polish banker, particularly active in the construction and development of the modern Russian railways, who can be ascribed to the list of “prophets”. His name is Jan Gotlib Bloch (1836 – 1902). Strongly impressed by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 he is the author of La guerre future (Paris, 1898). His contributions to the study of the modern warfare and military thought is relevant in the analysis of what the Great War turned out. We would like to suggest this online resource, namely the book of his renown English book Is War Now Impossible? (London, 1899).

The poets and the world war: "I Have a Rendezvous with Death" by Alan Seeger

Alan Seeger
This American poet, a class mate of  T.S. Eliot, was killed in action in France almost one hundred years ago, precisely on July 4, 1916 in Belloy-en-Santerre. He was 28 (he was born in New York in 1888) and he had started serving in the French Foreign Legion in 1914. The accounts we have say that he was smiling before dying. The splendid and lively literary commonplace of the "appointment with the Death" gives the title of the following poem. "I have a rendezvous with Death" is for sure his most popular poem, appreciated by the president of United States J.F. Kennedy who was used to ask his wife Jaqueline to recite it.
About his experience of war in France we would like to remind you the Letters and Diary of Alan Seeger you can find here in several formats. In one of the latest letters, addressed to a friend and dated June 28, 1916, Alan Seeger wrote: "We go up to the attack tomorrow. This will probably be the biggest thing yet. We are to have the honor of marching in the first wave. No sacks, but two musettes, toile de tente slung over shoulder, plenty of cartridges, grenades, and baïonnette au canon. I will write you soon if I get through all right. If not, my only earthly care is for my poems. Add the ode I sent you and the three sonnets to my last volume and you will have opera omnia quæ existant.  I am glad to be going in first wave. If you are in this thing at all it is best to be in to the limit. And this is the supreme experience."


I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air-
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath-
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Women Writers of World War I. Interview with Margaret R. Higonnet

We are very pleased to host here below an interview with Margaret R. Higonnet, professor of English and Comparative Literature at University of Connecticut, Storrs. Our starting point is Lines of Fire. Women Writers of World War I, a very rich book she published in 1999.

Q: What was your main purpose when you started writing Lines of Fire. Women Writers of World War I?
A (MRH): When I decided to edit a collection of women’s texts about World War I, I was motivated in good part by my desire to write about some of these works and share their power. In order to reach my audience, I needed to make a group of those texts available. While certain major authors such as Virginia Woolf and Vera Brittain in England, or Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and  Katherine Anne Porter in America were readily available, even famous authors such as Colette or Anna Akhmatova were harder for an Anglophone audience to track down. At the time, little work had been done to reprint women’s writings about the Great War. Among feminist critics, Jane Marcus, Claire Tylee, and Nosheen Khan had focused on English and American writers. As a comparatist, I was eager to bring to light those who wrote in other languages. While I wanted to include better known writers, I also was eager to include new names. Luckily, I could use the old card catalogue at Harvard’s Widener library, and call up books from the deposit library that had not been read for decades--not since they were first bought by librarians or donated by Harvard alumni in the years following the war. One of my favorite finds was a small selection of wartime issues from Anna Kuliscioff’s La difesa delle lavoratrici, which was lying on metal shelving in Harvard’s Littauer library. It was the only copy mentioned in the Library of Congress World Cat bibliography. Articles had been snipped out, perhaps even before the paper was acquired by Harvard. There I found the typical mix of material published in a women’s journal: political articles and poems, as well as advertisements.
Part of my interest in the project arose from the question, “What is a war text?” When Jean Norton Cru wrote his famous overview, Témoins (1929), which weighed the veracity of war memoirs and fiction, it never occurred to him that women might have anything to say about the matter. “War” meant “combat.” The underlying issue was whether a civilian population (whether female or male, adult or child) encountering war right on their doorstep might have “authentic” (and significant) experiences to recount. Should the record of a “total” war include the dramatic changes in women’s labor that had been precipitated, whether on farms, in factories, or in medical units on hospital trains? As it happens, the Great War was marked by the institutionalization of women soldiers on the Eastern Front, but their record had been largely forgotten, since the Russian Revolution and postwar political upheavals had refocused attention on other historical events.
At the same time, I belong to a generation of critics for whom the lines between “literary” texts and other kinds of discourse had been redrawn. Autobiographies were being reconsidered from aesthetic rather than historical perspectives. Critics reached back to a broader definition of “literature” that predated Immanuel Kant. Students of oral history had begun to interview women as well as men—and I was able to profit from the generosity of the historian Melvin E. Page, who sent me copies of interviews he had done in Malawi in 1973, but never used. Thus when I cast my net, I found myself reaching into territory that was largely unknown to me. Without the help of scholars like Page or translators like Ellen Elias-Bursac, I could never have put together this anthology. 

Katherine Anne Porter
Q: Could you briefly illustrate the structure of this book?
A (MRH): One historian recommended that I organize the selections by the proximity of their authors to the battlefront, a principle that would have reinforced the conventional focus on combat as the defining feature of war. Instead I followed a map of different kinds of public and private discourse to which women turned, at a time when their voices might have been repressed by traditional attitudes or censorship. My coeditors for Behind the Lines, Sonya Michel and Jane Jensen, urged me to include important political and historical texts. Political examples would be Klara Zetkin’s August 5, 1914, call for a mass protest by German workers against the war; the invitation by Dr. Aletta Jacobs to women to attend the International Congress of Women held at The Hague in April 1915, to urge the warring nations to use continuous negotiation in order to achieve peace; and the testimony of Hélène Brion at her trial for pacifist activities, considered to be treasonous. My first criterion of selection was a combination of historical significance and rhetorical power; I read one hundred pages for each page I included—and my editor at Penguin forced a further reduction, completely eliminating the genre of women’s drama and many of the images. By serendipity, I discovered that my five groupings of political texts, journalism, testimony (including diaries, memoirs, letters and interviews), short fiction, and elegiac poems corresponded roughly to five groups of women’s images, which range from political posters, to children’s literature, photographic documents, artistic lithographs and engravings, and memorial sculpture. 

Amy Lowell
Q: Different types of writing, this is the leitmotiv of your book. So not only poetry, but diaries, medical accounts, journalism etc. Is there a genre where the contribution of women writing is more meaningful according to your standpoint? If so, why?
A (MRH): You are quite right that the volume offers a broad spectrum of texts that address different kinds of audiences, in different voices, often hortatory, and sometimes in favor of war but most often opposed to it. One kind of meaning exposed is the gap between the responses by men and women; thus Zetkinand her female socialist colleagues opposed the war, while the German socialists in the Reichstag voted for the war credits. Another is the significance of the female body in wartime, both as a physical object of rape and as a political symbol. Women’s testimony brings their neglected experiences to the foreground. But from my own standpoint, the texts to which I keep returning are remarkable artistic responses to the impact of war, many of them written by women who had actually served in medical units. Some of my favorites are Mary Borden’s “Moonlight,” which explicitly describes the night-time dynamo of a hospital where sexual identities have been erased by cruel wounds; Hortensia Papadat-Bengescu’s “The Man Whose Heart They Could See,” which confronts a beating heart exposed by the slice of a shell across a man’s chest; or Gertrud Kolmar’s “November 9, ‘Eighteen,” which points toward the nostalgia for war that would erupt in the 1930s. A succinctly intense poetic form distinguishes the brilliance of Anna Akhmatova’s “Prayer” to God, to accept her sacrifice of all she holds dear, in order to halt the war. A two-line imagist description by Amy Lowell of a butterfly on a cannon projects the possibility of a peacefire, foreshadowing the conclusion of the movie, All Quiet on the Western Front. And the Malawi lament sung by Olivia Tambala poses the most important question we can ask: Why? 

Q: Finally, could you kindly share the titles of other studies on the topic? Thank you.
A (MRH): Probably my best known text about World War I is an essay I co-authored with my historian husband, Patrice Higonnet, entitled “The Double Helix,” in Behind the Lines. There we argued that in spite of women’s entry into new economic, social, and even military roles during the war, often replacing men who had previously held those positions, gender hierarchies tend to be reproduced. Recent work includes Margaret Hall’s Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country, 1918 – 1919 (2014), where I juxtapose the verbal narrative of a memoir with a visual narrative. Less familiar studies that I enjoyed writing might include "Civil Wars and Sexual Territory" in Arms and the Woman, edited by Helen Cooper, et al (1989), “The Great War and the Female Elegy,” which appeared in The Global South (2007), and “War Toys: Breaking and Remaking in Great War Narratives,” in The Lion and the Unicorn (2007), as well as “Child Witnesses: The Cases of World War I and Darfur,” in PMLA (2006). Outside the terrain of the war, I’ve enjoyed working on the relationships between words and images, as in a short essay, “Music Albums: A Tiny Gesamtkunstwerk” in Arcadia, ed. Mieke Bal (2003), as well as on the topic of suicide, for example, in “Frames of Female Suicide,” in Studies in the Novel (2000).

"Tracce del secolo breve"/"Traces of the Short Century". The remarkable catalogue of the exhibition curated by Piero Del Giudice

Today we just wanted to mention the precious work of the catalogue related to the exhibition "Tracce del secolo breve" ("Traces of the Short Century") curated by Piero Del Giudice and hosted in two different venues between 2014 and 2015. When an exhibition is over the catalogue remains as a precious tool and documentation of the work the curators have done. The exhibition was hosted in Trieste and Trento (the two cities of Italian irredentism), the first time at Magazzino delle idee between November 2014 and February 2015 and the second at Castello del Buonconsiglio, between April 2015 and September 2015. This huge catalogue (see the picture beside, curated by Piero Del Giudice, 1150 pages, edizioni ‘e’, Trieste, € 35,00) is a collection of essays, an anthology of poems and prose, a selection of letters and diaries, a great gallery of drawings, paintings and etchings. The point of view of the curator and his collaborators is far from the main tone of the Centenary celebrations, since they look deeply inside the movement of protest against the war. The catalogue reflects the structure of the exhibition that was divided into three sections: the first dedicated to the devastation of the soldiers in the trenches, the second to artists and their opposition to the war and the third to religiousness and devotion.

(We really invite you to surf the website here, even if only in Italian. For sure you will get a clear idea of the huge work done. There you will find the email of the main curator, Piero Del Giudice, just in case you want in contact with him.)

Virginia Woolf, Bloomsbury, and the War to End War (Call for papers)

We are pleased to share the following call for papers with Karen L. Levenback as Guest Editor. Karen L. Lavenback is the author of the book Virginia Woolf and the Great War (Syracuse University Press, 1999).

Virginia Woolf, Bloomsbury, and the War to End War for the Virginia Woolf Miscellany, Issue 91, Spring 2017

Special Topic: Virginia Woolf, Bloomsbury, and the War to End War--Virginia Woolf Miscellany, Issue 91, Spring 2017--Guest Editor: Karen Levenback contact email:
The Virginia Woolf Miscellany is an independent publication that has been sponsored by Southern Connecticut University since 2003. The current editor is Vara Neverow Founded in 1973 by J. J. Wilson, the publication was hosted by Sonoma State University for 30 years. The publication has always received financial support from the International Virginia Woolf Society and is available in print and in PDF format online. The Virginia Woolf Miscellany gladly accepts "truly miscellaneous" submissions in addition to the themed topics. To view the issues from Spring 2003 to the present online go to:

This issue commemorates the advent of the Great War and its representation by Virginia Woolf and her friends and colleagues in Bloomsbury and beyond (even H. G. Wells, who wrote a 1914 pamphlet called The War that Will End War)—noncombatants, combatants, and conscientious objectors; writers of prose, poetry, and drama; fiction and memoirs; criticism, reviews, and social commentary; journalists, historians, philosophers, and humanists.

We seek submissions from a range of disciplines exploring the work done during the Great War and work that gauges the war's effect on a wide range of topics and perspectives: cultural, socio-economic, modernist, feminist, to name the most obvious. Articles on other topics (e.g., constructions of self and identity in wartime, and post-war aesthetics) are also welcome.

Virginia Woolf, Bloomsbury, and the War to End War

Articles submitted on this topic will explore it from multinational and multicultural perspectives.
Articles may include the following approaches:

• How did war-consciousness, for example, affect views of mass culture and consumerism?
• How has our vantage for the study of the Great War changed over a hundred years and more?

• How do cultural differences and national boundaries affect our 21st century-understanding of the experiences of war on the front and on the homefront?

• In a 21st-century world where national and cultural boundaries are blurred, what salient lessons can we discover in Woolf's own war-consciousness?

• Do contemporary shifts and developments in the communications paradigm affect our pedagogical methodology in regard to both Woolf and the Great War?

We are also seeking book reviews of scholarly texts that have been published within the past two years (2012 to present). Reviews should be no more than 1,000 words and should conform to the MLA guidelines listed below. Please contact the book review editor, Karen Levenback, at, for more information.


The submission deadline for our Spring 2017 issue will be 1 August 2016.

Please send Inquiries and submissions of not more than 2500 words electronically to

The poets and the world war: "In Memoriam, July 19, 1914" by Anna Akhmatova

Anna Akhmatova, 1889–1966
Both in Anna Akhmatova and in Osip Mandel'štam’s poems dedicated to the Great War we find a kind of an obsession for the “century” and for the “age” they were living in. And this obsession is clearly developed in the famous Akhmatova’s poem proposed today in the translation by Stephen Edgar. In Memoriam, July 19, 1914 is included in the book “White Flock” (Belaya Staya) of 1917 and was written exactly one hundred years ago as a recollection of memories and sensations brought by the beginning of the war in July 1914. It is therefore a poem of memories, of "recollection", two years after the war outbreak. It is one of the great poems in the heritage of First World War literature: it's about time, compression of time, psychological percetion of time, duration, war, God and the role of the poet. "A book of portents terrible to read" is at the end the heritage of the World War I itself. One of the reasons why we consider comparation (and comparative literature as well?) useful is the huge difference from this recollected memories of the beginning of war and, for example, the way other poets welcomed the war in other countries. The feeling of acceleration, that was one of the distinctive marks of the Twentieth century lies there, in the first two verses of this poem composed one hundred years ago.


We aged a hundred years and this descended
In just one hour, as at a stroke.
The summer had been brief and now was ended;
The body of the ploughed plains lay in smoke.

The hushed road burst in colors then, a soaring
Lament rose, ringing silver like a bell.
And so I covered up my face, imploring
God to destroy me before battle fell.

And from my memory the shadows vanished
Of songs and passions—burdens I'd not need.
The Almighty bade it be—with all else banished—
A book of portents terrible to read.

(Translation by Stephen Edgar)


Мы на сто лет состарились, и это
Тогда случилось в час один:
Короткое уже кончалось лето,
Дымилось тело вспаханных равнин.

Вдруг запестрела тихая дорога,
Плач полетел, серебряно звеня.
Закрыв лицо, я умоляла Бога
До первой битвы умертвить меня.

Из памяти, как груз отныне лишний,
Исчезли тени песен и страстей.
Ей – опустевшей – приказал Всевышний
Стать страшной книгой грозовых вестей.