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Mark of the Beast: Death and Degradation in the Literature of the Great War

by Alfredo Bonadeo

Availableweb pdf$35.00x 978-0-8131-5648-4
Availablecloth$35.00x 978-0-8131-1680-8
184 pages  Pubdate: 10/17/2014   x   

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The First World War is a watershed in the intellectual and spiritual history of the modern world. On the one hand, it brought an end to a sense of optimism and decency bred by the prosperity of nineteenth-century Europe. On the other, it brought forth a sense of futility and alienation that has since pervaded European thought. That cataclysmic experience is richly reflected in the work of writers and artists from both sides of the conflict, and this study provides a detailed analysis of two basic themes—death and degradation—that mark the literature about the war.

From their accounts most men entered the war lightheartedly, filled with ideals of patriotism and glory, but these generous feelings were soon quelled as the war settled into a stalemate, its operations reduced to simply grinding away the opposing forces. In these operations, Alfredo Bonadeo shows, men became mere aggregations thrown against one another, wasted with no appreciable effects or gains, save carnage itself.

This cheapening and disregard for human life and being Bonadeo finds rooted not only in the conditions of war but, significantly, in a contempt for the common man prevailing in European political and intellectual circles. This attitude is revealed most plainly in his analysis of the Italian literature, which hitherto has received little note. Italian leaders saw the war as an opportunity to expiate a sense of national guilt, and here the inconclusive campaigns made their futility all the greater.

Out of the torn fields of the First World War grew the seeds of a second, greater conflict, but, Professor Bonadeo concludes, the flowering of the seeds was aided by the degradation of man's spirit on those fields. The grim focus of this book, the dead voices it evokes, leads to a new appreciation of the meaning of the Great War.

Alfredo Bonadeo is professor of Italian at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Specialists in modern English studies and in comparative literature will welcome this book as will any reader whose interests include the Great War’s place in modern literature and culture. -- Modern Fiction Studies