Blog: First World War perspectives - fiction vs non-fiction

Blog: First World War perspectives - fiction vs non-fiction

Friday, 11 July 2014

How is the public's view of World War One influenced by literature? By Stacey Permaul. 

When I received an invite from the Guardian to a panel discussion they were holding in association with the Folio Society, I couldn’t resist. 

The Folio Society is one of my favourite groups, championing the art and beauty of literature by designing and binding books in such a delicious way that would make any bookshelf reminiscent of an art gallery.

I decided to take my new poet friend, Jacqui Rowe, and enjoy an evening of intellectual discussion, yummy canapés and a chance to snoop around the Guardian offices… Even better, the subject matter helped elucidate many of the themes in our upcoming Touring Consortium production of Regeneration.

Hosted by literary editor Claire Armistead, the question posed was: has the British public’s conceptions and image of World War One been shaped or altered by creative writing or history? Discuss.

Joining Claire were two expert speakers ready to fight their corners – in the red, novelist Helen Dunmore (right). In the blue, historian and poo-pooer of war poets, David Reynolds (below). What resulted can only be described as an intellectual dish of quotes, anecdotes, and a big side of historical astonishments.Helen Dunmore

The invited guests were treated to a rollercoaster ride of opinions. Helen Dunmore defended the worksof acclaimed war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, but also praised the works of modernist poet and Cubist artist Apollinaire. They all, she said, provided insights into how the Great War affected the ordinary soldier, both in terms of battlefield horrors, but also in the beauty that many men found in camaraderie in the trenches and behind the front line.

As we avid listeners were swept away by poetic portrayals of Passchendaele, historian David Reynolds sharply reminded us that censorship, public education and propaganda had all played their part in shaping a biased view of the war. 'Anthem for Doomed Youth’ may be a staple diet for schools, but, he asserted, historical evidence such as letters, government documents and reports show many soldiers had positive attitudes and experiences of war – indeed many men viewed the Great War as a Great Holiday, shells excepted.

David ReynoldsBoth speakers argued so deftly and persuasively that I hardly knew what to think by the end. One of the most sobering moments was learning that, by refusing to fight, conscientious objectors were denied the right to vote as they were seen as withholding their country a service. How human rights activists would jump on that if the same rules applied today.

Find out more information on the Folio Society, here

 

 
 

Stacey Permaul, a regular contributor to Theatre Cloud, is the venue liaison officer for The Touring Consortium Theatre Company. 

Regeneration opens at Royal & Derngate, Northampton, where it runs from 29 August to 20 September 2014. It then tours to York, Edinburgh, Bradford, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Richmond, Wolverhampton, Darlington and Blackpool where it concludes on 29 November.

Regeneration premiered on 2 September 2014 (previews from 29 August) at Royal & Derngate, Northampton, where it continues until 20 September 2014. It then tours to York, Edinburgh, Bradford, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Richmond, Wolverhampton, Darlington and Blackpool where it concludes on 29 November.