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This review is taken from PN Review 128, Volume 25 Number 6, July - August 1999.

THE LITERATURE OF WAR ARNOLD HARVEY, A Muse of Fire: Literature, Art and War (Hambledon Press) £25.00
TRUDI TATE, Modernism, History and the First World War (Manchester University Press) £40.00 cloth; £11.99 pb.

The notion that war somehow transforms an otherwise ordinary person into a poet or an artist is, of course, absurd. War has never made an artist - though it has certainly ended the lives of many. Without doubt, the conflicts of this century have come to define the age in more than geographical terms. Few would disagree with the idea that the First World War has changed the perception of warfare and how we write about it to this day. Homeric and Arthurian heroes ceased to be suitable models for the literature of a modern war that came complete with muddy rat-infested trenches and modern killing methods. Both Arnold Harvey's A Muse of Fire and Trudi Tate's Modernism, History and the First World War take these widely accepted ideas and combine them with the notion that the Great War was the catalyst that pushed popular literature towards a modernity that had previously only been practised by the avantgarde.

Harvey's choice of the Shakespearean title does serve for dramatic effect but it also conveys an idea that could not be further from the thesis of his book. The title suggests something of the derelict notion that a soldier's existential experiences somehow serve as violent surrogates for a traditionally passive muse. However, so many of the well known war writers of this century (combatants and, as Harvey shows, non-combatants alike) have described the various and gruesome fates of soldiers in modern war that the symbol of a near-divine soldier-hero ...


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