|World War I: Life in the trenches.|
Her Privates We (1930)
by Frederic Manning
Yet another book in the 1001 Books project focusing on the experience of soldiers on the front lines of World War I. I've now read novels about World War I written by English, Australians, Americans, French, Germans and Czech. If I had to summarize the themes of the literature of World War I based on these books, I would say the following:
The experience of German soldiers in the West was bad, the experience of English/French/American soldiers wasn't great but wasn't as bad as people seem to think it was, the Western front was much worse than fighting in the East and South, the soldiers were pretty much willing participants whose initial enthusiasm was dampened by the unexpectedly harsh conditions. Even soldiers who were not injured or killed suffered mental/psychic injuries that society was ill equipped to treat. People who experienced the war were generally more cynical than they were prior to the war.
Mannen occupies the niche of "semi-scandalous thinly veiled account of a gentleman who enlisted with the regular army." In the English language World War I literature, the perspective is overwhelmingly that of the educated officer. Thus, Her Privates We was originally published anonymously, under a different title. To a modern reader, there is nothing scandalous beyond what you would see in an episode of M*A*S*H on television, but I can see where it would have stood out as being an especially bawdy description of the fighting experience.
There isn't much action in Her Privates We, but the idea of this book as a "war novel about nothing, where nothing much happens" is very much part of the enduring appeal- it's more of a general war novel than other books written about World War I.