Since the Seventies the debate on war literature and English Modernism has become more complex. Especially Paul Fussell’s thesis, contradicting the mainly demythologizing role of the war literature, took the debate in new direction and focused on the role of a certain art of “fiction” in it, reassessing also the relationship between soldiers and civilians. Carl Krockel’s new book – War Trauma and English Modernism: T. S. Eliot and D. H. Lawrence, Hampshire, UK, 2011 – attempts to carry on this perspective and questions how WWI shaped English Modernism, focusing on S. Eliot and D. H. Lawrence. In many respects opposed figures of Modernism, neither of them saw active service, both of them testimony yet in their work the trauma of WWI, being threatened by a society fixated upon war (and we may find here some suggestion to think about what “global war” means).
Krockel compares Eliot and Lawrence to other war writers (among them, Owen and Sasson as prototype of the soldier-poet) in order to prove that both authors – despite not participating in war events and being so unable to represent the conflict realistically because they had not witnessed it – they opposed to realism, appearing it even inadequate for representing the war horrors, a new aesthetic technique. According to Krockel, literary innovation of Modernism represents so for both Eliot and Lawrence a new strategy to resist at the impact of war upon their lives.
We suggest this book not primarily for the debate on literary criticism, which seems to be sometimes too detailed for not insiders, but for the “multilevel reading” of this study. Referring to D. H. Lawrence’s and T. S. Eliot’s biographical and psychological attitude toward WWI and their indirect, yet painful experience of it, the book offers an interesting analysis of the relationship between soldier and civilian, physical and psychological traumatism of WWI on English society and depicts so how the legacy of the conflict goes beyond the trenches and spreads violence in the everyday life of veterans and civilians. Above all we recommend this study for the investigation of Lawrence’s (for instance, in The Rainbow and Women in Love) and Eliot’s (among all, The Waste Land or The Hollow Men, but also Ash Wednesday) works. It may be a good incentive to read once again their masterpieces and try to feel – not just understand – what WWI really meant. It may be a good incentive to listen once again to Eliot’s voice telling us: “[…] Son of man, / You cannot say, or guess, for you know only / A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, / And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, / And the dry stone no sound of water. Only / There is shadow under this red rock, / (Come in under the shadow of this red rock), / And I will show you something different from either / Your shadow at morning striding behind you / Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; / I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”