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This review is taken from PN Review 83, Volume 18 Number 3, January - February 1992.

NEW LITERARY HISTORIES Elizabeth A. Marsland, The Nation's Cause: French, English and Gennan Poetry of the First World War (Routledge), £35.00
Adrian Caesar, Dividing Lines: poetry, class and ideology in the 1930s (Manchester University Press), £29.95, £8.95 pb

To challenge accepted versions of literary history is always stimulating. Elizabeth Marsland's book takes issue with a view still widespread in English criticism: that First World War poetry is characterized by a mood of initial idealism and enthusiasm, epitomized by Brooke's 'The Soldier', which gives way, under the impact of a new kind of war, to a poetry of angry protest, in Owen and Sassoon. Adrian Caesar sets out to demolish the construction of the thirties as the 'Auden decade'. Both authors do not avoid questions of evaluation, and point to work of merit that has been relatively neglected; but they suggest that considerations of literary value have led to a distorted idea of literary production in their respective periods, and they are concerned, not to propose alternative canons, but to relocate the canonical texts in a wider cultural and social context.

Marsland sees the First World War poetry of France, England and Germany as profoundly shaped by modern nationalism. Drawing on Ernest Gellner's Nations and Nationalism (1983) and Culture, Identity and Politics (1987), she argues that the developing industrial society of the 19th century had to achieve general literacy in order to try to produce a mobile and versatile workforce and a shared code of communication. A state education system developed - rather more haphazardly in England than in France and Germany - that was based on a single 'high' culture and a standard form of language. The shapings of individual, cultural and national identity were ...

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