Joseph Wittlin Arthur Prudden Coleman - Essay

Arthur Prudden Coleman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Wittlin has often been called the Polish Andreev, and it is of Andreev one is reminded at once by the title of [Wittlin's planned trilogy, "Saga of the Patient Footsoldier"]; one thinks instinctively of Andreev's "Confessions of a Little Man during Great Days" and reflects that it is justifiable to link the Pole with the Russian, since Wittlin's work, if not the "Confessions of a Little Man," is unquestionably that "Little Man's" odyssey. Wittlin's hero, Peter, moreover, is certainly the very archtype of those masses of marching men in Andreev's Red Laugh who "did not know where they were going," nor "what the sun was for," who, in fact, "did not know anything."

Again, they call Wittlin the Polish Barbusse, and in a sense he is, for his Peter is the very flesh and blood and heart and soul of what Barbusse's poilu-hero would be if he were a Polish-Ukrainian Austrian like Peter. For Peter is a single individual who stands for all the individuals who, drawn from the "emptied towns and ruined villages" constitute the "material of war" crowded by Barbusse into Le Feu.

Some call Wittlin the Polish Remarque, and again with a certain amount of justification. Wittlin's saga, like Remarque's familiar "All Quiet on the Western Front," is conceived in pity and elaborated with fine-edged irony….

But Wittlin differs from his Russian and French and German contemporaries despite the common denominator of background, which is the First World War, and of hero, which is the ordinary individual. Andreev surveyed the common scene and found the poor creatures who marched blindly down the sunbaked roads all mad. Barbusse saw the same men in the filthy trenches of France as instruments, some consciously but the majority...

(The entire section is 727 words.)