Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 544

This novel—the second of a series which also includes MEMOIRS OF A FOX-HUNTING MAN and SHERSTON’S PROGRESS—is almost a caricature of what many people regard as typical English behavior. The war is a very casual, very personal thing, almost devoid of import and strategy. The officers who meet Sherston briefly are men who exhibit just the right amount of detachment and regard for good form. Underneath the well-bred tolerance for the real discomfort and danger of trench warfare there is a thread of revolt, which culminates in Sherston’s letter informing his colonel that the war is needlessly being prolonged. Even the authorities, however, are too well-bred to take the letter seriously, and Sherston falls back into nonchalance. The book is quiet but effective satire on upper-class English life.

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The irony occasionally employed by Siegfried Sassoon in his previous volume, MEMOIRS OF A FOX-HUNTING MAN, gains in both frequency and power in this second book. An unmistakable authenticity gives an added power and poignancy to Sassoon’s understated descriptions of the front lines during World War I. His simple yet detailed narrative of what actually happened in the trenches is accomplished with a mastery that recalls the descriptive prose of early Hemingway. George Sherston is no more impressed by the tunes of glory than Frederic Henry. Both of them soon believe that the war is little more than a bad, not very funny, joke; the difference is that Sherston, because of upper-class British conditioning, feels that he has no choice but to carry on to the unknown end. He would not consider deserting.

Sherston feels safer, somehow, carrying Thomas Hardy’s Wessex novels in his haversack, as he prepares for the Big Push. Hardy’s England symbolizes to Sherston everything that he is fighting for—even as he becomes aware of the incompetence among those running the war. At times, the narrative seems almost to be a series of snapshots, quick impressions randomly collected and hastily sketched; but the book’s sequences fall into a...

(The entire section contains 544 words.)

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