UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Social criticism in the English novel of the Great War Jordan, Morton Phillip


There is a marked difference of purpose discernible in representative European, American and English novels of the Great War. The European war novel depicts the brutality and the horror of war; the American novel deals with the soldier's rejection of war; the English novel investigates the society from which the British soldier emerges. This thesis examines certain of the English war novels with a view to proving that they are effective social commentaries. The novels examined are Ford Madox Ford's Some Do Not ..., No More Parades. A Man Could Stand Up and The Last Post, all of which are published as the tetralogy Parade's End, Henry Major Tomlinson's All Our Yesterdays, Charles Edward Montague's Rough Justice and Richard Aldington's Death of a Hero. In Rough Justice and in Death of a Hero the English public school is discovered to be incapable of producing thoughtful, imaginative leaders. The Great War reveals the serious intellectual shortcomings of teacher and student alike, each of whom is a victim of a traditional insistence upon scholastic and recreational standardization. The Great War also reveals that the marriage institution in England is weak and decaying. Death of a Hero tells of the marriages in three generations of the same family and shows that neither the Victorian marriage tradition nor the reaction which grew up against it and took the form of free-love relationships is valuable. In Parade's End three marriages representing three social levels are shown to be insufficiently strong to withstand modern social pressures. A further instance of low standards revealed by wartime behaviour in England is revealed in the degree to which sexual immorality motivates certain people. The ugliness of sexuality appears clearly in such figures as George Winterbourne's mother and her paramour Sam Browne in Aldington's Death of a Hero. It also appears in Sylvia Tietjens, young Brownlie and General Campion, in Ford's Parade’s End. Further examples of moral ugliness come to light in the actions of Mrs. Macmaster in Parade's End and of Sir George Roads in Rough Justice. Each is ambitious; each is ruthlessly determined to succeed financially and socially. Materialism on the grand scale is depicted in Tomlinson’s All Our Yesterdays with the story of Jim Maynard's trip into Africa and of the intense jealousy shown by vested interests over useless jungle territory. Selfishness of massive proportions appears in the war novels in the form of imperialism. Kipling's influence on the growth of imperialistic attitudes is noted. Aldington hates imperialism with a bitter hatred but finds it not surprising considering that public school graduates have the responsibility of formulating British policy. Tomlinson is less bitter but equally devastating in his examination of imperialism. He feels that war results from imperialistic policies. Tomlinson shows how wide the gulf is, in wartime, between the soldier and his government and his society. Tomlinson, Aldington and Ford are all particularly bitter over the inept leadership provided by British officials. Each author attacks with determination the interference by government official and civilian in military affairs during critical times. Self interest is again examined, this time as it manifests itself in class hatred and intolerance, particularly in Rough Justice. All Our Yesterdays expresses extreme disillusionment with the irreligious attitudes held by lay people and even by certain clergymen. Parade's End discovers society to be so thoroughly disenchanting that life in the trenches is preferred by at least one soldier to life with civilians. The criticism of society launched by the veteran writer is, in general, valid. Evidence of social historians and of educationists supports the criticism of the school system. Statistics show a heavy increase in divorces. Investigating bodies agree that new attitudes to the marriage conventions are setting in. Sexuality, personal ambition, materialism and other attributes of people cannot be verified factually but the criticism of them which is found in the war novels is assumed to be valid in the absence of any disproving factors. Imperialism is shown by historians to have existed as a well defined nation policy at the turn of the century, one which enjoyed great public support. The general tenor of the soldier writers' criticisms of society is accurate and often provable and the novels are proven to be significant social commentaries.

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