Sherston’s Progress

Sherston's Progress Book Cover Sherston's Progress
Siegfried Sassoon
Fiction
Simon Publications
2004-02-01
280

"Third volume of the famous WWI war novel following ""The Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man"" and ""The Memoirs of An Infantly Officer""."

This is the third in a series of books by Siegfried Sassoon. The first is called Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man and is an enchanting description of Edwardian England that is safe and secure in its isolation from world turmoil. The tranquil and genteel country estate life of the gentry that focuses on a young man’s sporting achievements is set against a backdrop of the impending Great War. The chilling unpreparedness for what was to come and the human warmth that pervades the training of a cavalry regiment in the English heartland makes the known murderous events so much more poignant. The second book Memoirs of an Infantry Officer retains the gentleness of the preceding book but has the sharp and jagged edges of trench warfare protruding from its pages in a way you could imagine it happening in the trenches. Simple descriptions of horror juxtaposed against the memories of home and a better life tumble into serious questioning of the morality of war and the repulsive indifference of the aristocracy to suffering of ordinary soldiers. Ben Elton wrote a book, The First Casualty that seems to draw inspiration from Sassoon. It is easy to see how the writing of Sassoon and Wilfred Owen has coloured our understanding of the Great War. The final book, Sherston’s Progress, takes us into a world that does not understand what is happening in the trenches, sees the casualties and deaths as something that is “the Kaiser’s fault” rather than the result of outdated aristocracy that has not kept up with the changes of the past 30 years. 30 years when there was more technological advance than in the previous millennium. Changes in the way that ethnic groupings saw themselves as having no allegiance to Emperors, Sultans, Kings or any other imperial powers imposed upon them by force. Changes in the way that middle classes wanted political power to go with their increasing economic power. Changes that were modern rather than mediaeval. The final book was written when the Nazi rise to power was under way. Discussions of the intense conflict between a pacifist sentiment that you do not like killing a kindred spirit (possibly even a cousin) and a sense of duty to defend a beloved way of life that meant so much in your youth. The tension between duty and harsh reality. Loss of faith in the fundamentals of your own culture. A yearning to express the horror and yet uncanny beauty of the extremes generated by mechanised war. All through the prism of time. Written in the third person, this is extremely auto-biographical. How else could one write of such experiences? CEW Bean experienced trench warfare first hand and wrote about it from the perspective of others. Very few could write personally until their latter years. I recognise the language used from my grandparents and great aunts and uncles. An unsufferable loss of a generation of young men … then another in the subsequent World War. Is it any wonder that those generations took refuge in post War consumerism and looked to find comfort?

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