How Depiction of Romance in WWI Novels Compared to Letters Written in the Trenches 

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WWI was a terrible and savage experience for everyone who took part in it and even for the people who remained at home because they were in fear of losing their loved ones. It claimed the lifes of over 19 million people and left many wounded and scarred for the rest of their existence. Soldiers died in the trenches, from artillery fire, gas or simply from one of the many different diseases that spread quickly among them. It was a desperate time for many Europeans as most of them knew someone who was involved in the war or they were taking part in it themselves. Erich Maria Remarque chose quite fitting words in his 1928 novel “All Quiet on the Western Front” to describe the situation they found themselves in: “... We had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of their world left. We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through.” The loneliness and constant psychological pressure the soldiers had to endure while living and fighting in the trenches lead to a steady decay of their mental health and many of them ended up taking their own lifes.

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In all this horror and despair, one is left to wonder how the rest of the soldiers did not lose their spirits and their will to live. One thing the men treasured most were letters written from their loved ones at home. These letters contained love confessions, affirmations of faithfulness and even marriage proposals. The letters gave the men new confidence as they knew that someone was waiting for them at home. After I read some of these letters, I was inspired to write my term paper about them as I was curious how they would compare to fictive stories of love during WWI. I was especially interested in the psychological effects love can have on a soldier. Hence, I researched some books set in WWI and soon found “A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway and “Birdssong” by Sebastian Faulks to be the most suitable for this venture because they both feature romantic relationships and battle sequences. For the letters I will use a book which compiles many letters from WWI.

Ernest Hemingway was and will always be one of the most influential writers of our time. His is known for his enormous impact on modern writing and storytelling, coining the term iceberg theory to describe his writing style and for winning the Pulitzer award in 1954 for his novel,,, The Old Man and the Sea’’. Furthermore, he gained international acknowledgment for his novels,, The Sun Also Rises”,,, For Whom the Bell Tolls’’ and,, Islands in the Stream’’.

Before he decided to write novels and short stories, Ernest Hemingway was a reporter. Born in 1899 and raised in Oak Park, Illinois he attended the Oak Park and River High School from 1913 to 1917. After he finished school the age of 18, he started to write for a local newspaper called,, The Kansas City Star’’. At this time WWI was in full effect and Ernest Hemingway enlisted as an ambulance driver for the red cross in Italy. Upon arriving in Italy Hemingway endured the horror of war and was severely injured by mortar shrapnels, which penetrated both of his legs as well as machine gunfire. He had to undergo surgery immediately on the battlefield and was later transferred to a Milanese hospital. It was in this hospital where he met Agnes von Kurowsky, an American nurse, who cared for Hemingway while he was recovering from his injuries. She later became the template for the character of Catherine Barkley in his book “A Farewell to Arms”. Barkley and Hemingway agreed to return back to the United States together and marry after the war had ended but her engagement to an Italian army officer destroyed Hemingway’s hopes. It was the time in Italy that inspired books like,, In Our Time” and,, Death in the Afternoon” but most notably the novel, ”A Farewell to Arms”. Though it is a fictive story Hemingway draws many parallels to the events that took place during his deployment.

“Birdssong” on the other hand is purely a fictional story. Published in 1993 and written by Sebastian Faulks features an episodic structure which covers time before, during and after WWI. Following Stephen Wraysford, an Englishmen in the 1910s and 1920s and his granddaughter Elizabeth in the 1970s the book explores themes of love, trauma and recovering the memory of WWI.

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