A Literary War
A Literary War
Irony, Tragedy, and the Return of the Picaresque
This chapter first explores the narrative and representational challenges posed by the First World War and the ways in which soldiers and civilians imaginatively overcame those challenges. To do so, they turned to every mode on the literary spectrum: epic, romance, tragedy, elegy, pastoral, but also, and most importantly, the picaresque. The picaresque is a messy mode for a messy, shifting, chaotic set of realities that were experienced differently by different people at different moments and under different pressures. The chapter next places the picaresque framework developed in the book within a discussion of other scholarly approaches for understanding the literary and cultural production of the First World War. The picaresque framework complements the rich mosaic of literary devices, motifs, and structures explored by literary scholars Paul Fussell, Evelyn Cobley, and Martin Hurcombe and by cultural historians Leonard Smith and Jay Winter. Collectively these scholars’ works make us attentive to the richness of literary and cultural patterns reworked in wartime and postwar writing and offer a robust set of tools for understanding the stakes and strategies of representation during the Great War.
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