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Date: Jan. 1999
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Document Type: Book review
Length: 1,236 words

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POSTCARDS FROM THE TRENCHES: NEGOTIATING THE SPACE BETWEEN MODERNISM AND THE FIRST WORLD WAR. By Allyson Booth. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Pp. xii+ 186; 13 illustrations. $35.

When W. B. Yeats dramatically expelled the trench poets from his 1936 The Oxford Book of Modern Verse on the ground that the passive suffering of soldiers has no place in art, he was announcing an aesthetic war between Modernism and World War I as a historical and material phenomenon. Modernism as inspired by the "spiritual" devastations of World War I was one thing, apparently; modern art inspired by 10 million corpses produced by fighting retrospectively acknowledged as futile, stupid, ugly, and unheroic was, patently, another. A mythologized history led into New Criticism's dehistoricized fascination with Modernism's formal experiments and innovations that remained virtually undisrupted until Paul Fussell's ground-breaking 1975 The Great War and Modern Memory. Fussell restored trench poetry to the canon and inaugurated a second, more complex look at the combat experience of World War I and the expressive forms it engendered. Now, in the last decade of the century, Fussell's restoration has been followed by a number of excellent books on modern culture and World War I that include, among others, Modris Ekstein's 1989 Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age, Samuel Hynes's 1990 A War Imagined: The First World War and English Culture, Evelyn Cobley's 1993 Representing War: Form and Ideology in First World War Narratives, and now Allyson Booth's Postcards from the Trenches: Negotiating the Space between Modernism and the First World War. Like several of these earlier books, Booth's elegant study displays an impressive interdisciplinary range and a sophisticated, if largely implicit, theoretical inflection. But her unique contribution is announced in her subtitle, "negotiating the space between Modernism and the First World War." Using "space" as a prime...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A54433000