Read for the War Challenge with a Twist 2014 at War Through the Generations
World War I and The American Novel – Stanley Cooperman, 1970
The 20th century began in the US and Europe with an optimistic view of material progress and peace. These bright hopes were shattered by World War I. Death and injury and disfigurement, industrialized warfare, the complicity of the clergy and bombastic jingoes, and the political lying and betrayal of Wilson all contributed to the cyncial feeling that the war was futile and the war aims hypocritical.
This aim of this book is to describe the war and the subsequent disillusionment as they were perceived by American writers. This book will call to mind Paul Fussell’s seminal The Great War and Modern Memory (1976), as it is largely literary criticism and cultural history. Also like Fussell’s book, it is highly readable, because it was written before the grating jargon of Theory became the norm in English departments.
Cooperman discusses novelists of the 1920s such as Hemingway, Faulkner, Cummings, Cather, and many others who have been forgotten. His examination of Dos Passos’ Three Soldiers is sympathetic, insightful, and critical. I think people who have already read the major primary sources (One of Ours, The Enormous Room, Soldier’s Pay, A Farewell to Arms) would get much out of this literate and interesting examination of the impact of WWI on American life and thought.