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  • Prelude to Epiphany: Fitzgerald in the Trenches January 5, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    For Beachcombing a canonical text on the First World War is chapter thirteen of Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. Here FSF gets as close as anyone ever has to explaining why European civilisation committed suicide in 1915 and 1916. Dick and his party, including the vapid Rosemary have come to visit the First World War trenches mere years after the end of the conflict.

    This western-front business couldn’t be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn’t. They could fight the first Marne again but not this. This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. The Russians and Italians weren’t any good on this front. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancée, and little cafés in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and weddings at the mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather’s whiskers.’

    ‘General Grant invented this kind of battle at Petersburg in sixty- five.’

    ‘No, he didn’t — he just invented mass butchery. This kind of battle was invented by Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne and whoever wrote Undine, and country deacons bowling and marraines in Marseilles and girls seduced in the back lanes of Wurtemburg and Westphalia. Why, this was a love battle — there was a century of middle-class love spent here. This was the last love battle.’

    Suicide then, but suicide with incense burning…

    Beachcombing can’t offer this is as a WIBT moment given that it is fictional. But he will offer it as an introduction to a gift that he intends to give the WWW for epiphany.

    This Christmas there came tumbling into Beachcombing’s hands a book on the First World War from 1915, a book that is both poignant and, bizarrely, hilarious by turns. Beachcombing has spent the last hour typing said book out – it is short, 3000 words – and with greater difficulty has scanned its extraordinary pictures into his dandy computer. The result is Dick’s love battle as Beachcombing never hoped to see it, up close and personal.

    It is also a text that only the British could have written: hints of the Edwardian master race, pontificating about animals rights amidst Armageddon and a deliberately lame if irresistible (at least to Beachcombing) sense of humour.

    Tune in this time tomorrow. Beachcombing promises a walk on the wild side, 1915 style.