Critical Evaluation

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

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.

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...

(The entire section is 544 words.)