Read More: Novels of the First World War

  • by Antony Ramm, Information and Research, Central Library

This is an entry in our Read More series. These are ‘long-form’ articles, where staff offer a curated and detailed look at areas of our book collections, usually based around a specific theme or subject. These posts aim to guide the interested reader through to those books that offer a more in-depth look at a topic, or which are classics in their field.

This week on the Secret Library we wanted to highlight some novels set during the First World War, all of which were written in the years immediately following the end of that conflict; these are all available to loan from our Local and Family History library (speak to staff in your local library to arrange a reservation of these titles). If you are looking for other novels set in the First World War please check our catalogue.

A. P. Herbert – The Secret Battle

The earliest novel listed here (1919), Herbert’s story of Henry Penrose was largely autobiographical and tells the story of a man for whom war causes as much damage mentally as  it does physically. Herbert was one of the first writers to challenge the Army policy of executing deserters.  Our edition includes an introduction by Winston Churchill.

The Secret Battle
The Secret Battle

Jaroslav Hasek – The Good Soldier Svejk

First published in 1923, following its author’s death, this seminal Czech novel interprets the First World War as a series of absurdly comic episodes, designed to highlight the futility and pointlessness of all conflicts.

The Good Soldier Svejk
The Good Soldier Svejk

R.H. Mottram – The Spanish Farm

Originally published in 1924, The Spanish Farm was the first entry in a loosely-connected trilogy and tells the story of British experiences with the local populace in Flanders. Based on Mottram’s own experiences during the War and featuring a preface by his friend John Galsworthy.

The Spanish Farm
The Spanish Farm

Richard Aldington – Death of a Hero

Death of a Hero by Richard Aldington was first published, heavily censored, in 1929. It is the story of a young artist, George Winterbourne, who enlists in the Army during the outbreak of World War I.  Our copy is the unexpurgated text, published by The Hogarth Press in 1984.

Death of a Hero
Death of a Hero

Frederic Manning – Her Privates We

Originally published in 1929, in an anonymous and limited-numbered edition entitled Her Middle Fortunes, this novel is a vernacular account of the war from the viewpoint of ‘ordinary’ soldiers. Much admired by, among others, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, EM Forster, Arnold Bennett and TE Lawrence.

Her Privates We
Her Privates We

Henry Williamson – The Patriot’s Progress

Another novel showing the First World War from the viewpoint of an ‘ordinary’ soldier, Patriot’s Progress was published in 1930 and written by the author of the later Tarka the Otter. Williamson based the novel on his own experiences.

The Patriot's Progress
The Patriot’s Progress

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