Erich Maria Remarque

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Introduction

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Erich Maria Remarque 1898–1970

(Born Erich Paul Remark) German-born novelist, playwright, journalist, poet, and essayist.

Remarque is considered one of the most important war novelists in contemporary literature. At one time he wrote articles on sports, travel, and the "good life" for various magazines. Critics dismissed Remarque because of the frivolous nature of many of these pieces. He also wrote two early novels and a collection of poems and essays which were virtually ignored by critics and readers before the publication of his highly-acclaimed war novel All Quiet on the Western Front. In this novel and the ones that followed, however, Remarque seems to disregard technique in his concern with illustrating the physical and spiritual doom of the First World War generation in Germany. Remarque's strengths as a writer are cited as the simple, direct language of the war novels—in contrast to the often violent subject matter—and his ability to create moving, realistic characters and situations, but some critics feel that his writing occasionally suffers from an emphasis on content.

Remarque is best remembered for All Quiet on the Western Front. Although an introductory paragraph states that the novel is supposed to represent the feelings of a whole generation, it actually deals only with those soldiers who learn to hate the futility and destruction of war. Initially All Quiet was enthusiastically received by critics for its realistic presentation of the war and what it meant to the average soldier. Eventually, however, the book was attacked by certain political factions in Europe for its pacifist denunciation of the war. All Quiet was one of the books publicly burned by the Nazi regime in 1933. Generally, though, Remarque's illustration of the inhumanity of war through the words and reactions of a common foot soldier is highly praised.

Because of political conflicts, Remarque moved to Switzerland in 1938, renouncing his German citizenship, and later became an American citizen. He continued to write about the war, particularly its aftereffects, but none of his later books received the critical acclaim of All Quiet. The Road Back, a sequel to All Quiet, recounts the collapse of the German army and the efforts of returning soldiers to adjust to civilian life. Arch of Triumph, the story of World War II refugees struggling to survive in Paris, is generally viewed as Remarque's only important novel after All Quiet. A Spark of Life, set in a concentration camp, is noted for its grim, moving depiction of one man's attempt to measure the amount of pain one can tolerate.

Critics often deny that Remarque's works have literary merit, citing the author's uneven writing style and frequent use of sensationalism. Nevertheless, Remarque's novels are still extremely popular with readers. Most importantly, however, Remarque will be remembered as a humanitarian decrying the brutality of war. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)

Richard Church

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Surely everyone, again and again, has asked himself with misgiving and horror what is this conspiracy of silence maintained by the men who returned from the War? For it is true that, in spite of the many professional books written, no convincing revelation has been made of the heroism, the treachery, the foul intimacies, the brutality and coarseness, the gradual moral, social, and emotional decay, which made up, with a myriad other happier factors, the story of the soldier's life in the trenches. One timidly and somewhat shamefacedly asks questions of the individuals who were there, and the courteous and interested replies are always evasive and hopeless. It is as though the men despair of making one see the first elements of that world; as though they are trying to make one understand a race, a scenery, even a law of gravitation, peculiar to another planet, and so incapable of explanation in terrestrial terms to terrestrial senses.

One, therefore, comes upon [All Quiet on the Western Front ] and trembles. This is no literary...

(The entire section is 15,148 words.)