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Literary Festival 2014: War and Memory


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Speaker(s): Richard Ormond, Rachel Wagstaff

Recorded on 26 February 2014 in Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building.

The First World War is arguably the first major conflict to have been waged after the advent of mass levels of literacy with the Education Act of 1870. While literature produced by combatants in the Napoleonic, Crimean and Boer wars is relatively modest in volume, there is a veritable plethora, especially of poetry, from 1914-1918. By contrast dramatic and prose responses to the Great War largely came somewhat later, and, with the exception of Ford’s Parade’s End (1922-1927), were most commonly in the form of non-fictional memoirs, such as those of Graves and Sassoon. The image created through words also forms an instructive contrast with the work of leading visual artists of the day, perhaps most notably Sargent’s iconic Gassed, and Nash’s scenes of the trenches. More recently still, there has been a major resurgence of literary interest in the First World War, now benefiting from hindsight, and revealing aspects of the fighting which went undepicted during the lifetime of the survivors.

This panel will discuss the differing imperatives of the historian and the creative artist in response to the First World War.

Richard Ormond is an art historian, co-author of the John Singer Sargent Catalogue Raisonné, and former director of the National Maritime Museum.

Rachel Wagstaff is author of the play The Soldier, and adapter of Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong for the West End stage.

This event forms part of LSE Space for Thought Literary Festival 2014, taking place from Monday 24 February - Saturday 1 March 2014, with the theme 'Reflections'.

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