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Stand in the Trench, Achilles: Classical Receptions in British Poetry of the Great War (Classical Presences) [Paperback]

Elizabeth Vandiver

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Book Description

15 July 2013 Classical Presences
Elizabeth Vandiver examines the ways in which British poets of the First World War used classical literature, culture, and history as a source of images, ideas, and even phrases for their own poetry. Vandiver argues that classics was a crucial source for writers from a wide variety of backgrounds, from working-class poets to those educated in public schools, and for a wide variety of political positions and viewpoints. Poets used references to classics both to support and to oppose the war from its beginning all the way to the Armistice and after. By exploring the importance of classics in the poetry of the First World War, Vandiver offers a new perspective on that poetry and on the history of classics in British culture.


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Vandiver ranges from the history of classics teaching in schools at the end of the nineteenth century to detailed consideration of the history and usage of particular motifs suct famously reworked by Wilfred Owen. As well as public schools such as Eton and Marlborough, she scrutinizes the curricula of grammar schools and the ways in which classical texts were encountered both in the original and in translation. Hers is an inclusive study of poets and poems from across social classes and military ranks, devoting detailed attention to familiar figures such as Rudyard Kipling, Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, and Isaac Rosenberg, as well as less well-known writers, such as J.L. Crommelin Brown and Joseph Streets. (Matthew Creasy, Years Work in English Studies)

The book is abrim with research ... it is enthrallingly written and on the sly it provides a fascinating socio-historical account of the making of the officer classes (Tim Kendall, War Poetry Blog)

The wealth of Vandiver's material is admirable. The study includes numerous relatively unknown poets and makes available hitherto unpublished material. (Claudia Olk, Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik)

About the Author

Elizabeth Vandiver is the Clement Biddle Penrose Associate Professor of Latin and Classics at Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Take off your shirt and wallow in the luscious footnotes 18 Dec 2010
By kalanamak - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The night I heard about this book, I could barely sleep. I love the War Poets of WWI, I love the Greeks, and I love the lectures of Prof. Vandiver (her lectures are available from The Teaching Company). Talk about an intersection of delights! Would it live up to my desires?

Having read several books on the British literature of WWI (starting with The Great War and Modern Memory when I was in college), this was the most enlightening so far. Full of fascinating tidbits to support her conclusions, well edited, a lovely long read, and did I mention the great footnotes. (I'm a softie for good footnotes, and they were such a nice icing on a well-frosted cake.) It is a serious book, one that rewards a careful reader, but not full of specialized nomenclature known only to grad students. Give us more, Lizzie!

(And if you've heard her lectures, you can hear her mellow Floridian accent run through the whole thing.)
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly Work 9 Aug 2012
By Page Hudson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The writer is a noted classical scholar and "scholarly" is indeed the term I would choose for this work. It is for the enthusiast or professional, in no way an 'introduction to the War Poets'. While no single volume could be comprehensive, Professor Vandiver stuffs her book with as much information as possible. She (fortunately) does not stick to her stated plan, which is to concentrate on three poets nor to her threatened polemic (that scholars misinterpret the evolution of WW1 poetry---it is not toward greater pity, pacifism or insight, but remains often patriotic, etc). She ranges over many poets with some great insights and nice analysis. Although she correctly shows that poetry could continue a patriotic or jingoistic voice, I think she herself found that the best poets did move away from these sentiments and celebrating heroism is not the same as jingoism. And while, yes, she concentrates on 3 poets, she continually diverges into other poet's works and the entire history of classical influence on England, its public and private schools, university students and the general public.
Her scholarship, use of manuscripts and close study of her chosen poets' correspondence, libraries and every possible source of information is remarkable. I think she worries about small issues too much at times (eg: not having proof Wilfred Owen knew the Iliad or Aeneid since we can't find them in his letters or library), but overall the range of her subject and the detail is superb. Although I disagree occasionally with some of her interpretations or think she is too selective about some poets (leaving out some works that might weaken a point of argument), I think there are no comparable sources to Classical influence on the War Poets and indeed, England in the early 20th Century. Her classical knowledge is smooth and serene and this book appears about as complete as a one-volume work can be.
I might add that Prof Vandiver writes prose very well, much better than in most academic works falling my way---this tome is a real pleasure. This is a niche book, but would suit anyone who wishes to know more about the British WW1 poets, classical influence in Western Lit or to study a unique stance in the psychology of England heading into and through the Great War.
I add that it is well referenced, a fine take-off point for further detailed study.
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