on 18 September 2002
For many years, the authoritative text on Owen’s life and deeds has been Jon Stallworthy’s 1974 biography, but Hibberd's not only compliments but surpasses its predecessor in every way; never before has Wilfred been so candidly, definitively and charmingly sculpted than in this ‘New Biography’.
For too long, Wilfred has been seen only as a ‘trench poet’, his work admired, but his life known in scant detail beyond his acquaintance with Siegfried Sassoon in Craiglockhart and his tragic death just one week before the armistice (anyone who protests that I've just 'spoiled the ending' will be emphatically ignored). As Stallworthy before him, Hibberd has endeavoured to present Wilfred not as a deified myth but as a person, and succeeds spectacularly - gone are Stallworthy’s tentative brushings at ‘adolescent infatuations’, replaced by frank, open discussion of the greatest poet of his century’s sexual orientation, his tendencies towards hypochondria and hero-worship, his self-doubt...all his idiosyncrasies and foibles.
With comprehensive details of his horrific life in the ‘seventh hell’ of the trenches as well as his life before becoming a soldier, as a teacher, a vicar’s assistant and a devoted son, every facet of Wilfred’s life that he has left in human memories or in the letters not censored by his brother, Harold, is touched upon. I applaud Hibberd’s accessible style, his objective unwillingness to pass moral judgement, his astounding level of research and his utter dedication. Even for we to whom Owen is a great passion will find much that is new here - yet I would recommend the book to anyone with an appreciation for poetry, braveness or simply the beautiful life of an ordinary man who happened to be the greatest poet of his age.
There is very little to fault. Occasional points could have been clarified with detail found in the letters, and it was occasionally frustrating to find a point of interest with no source, but I cannot help but feel entirely assured that Hibberd, the new authority, knows exactly what he's talking about...
on 19 July 2008
I would definitely recommend this book, both for people wishing to learn more about the life of Wilfred Owen, the well-known World War One poet, and for people like myself who wanted to use the book for academic purposes. I did not think that a biography of a man who lived for such a short amount of time could be so detailed.
When I received this book last Christmas I was slightly shocked at how many pages there appeared to be. I admit that I knew very little about Wilfred Owen apart from the fact that he wrote poetry during World War 1 and he died very young(25 years of age). I immediately thought that there was no way that his life story could fill almost 500 pages but I was wrong. This is surely the definitive biography about him and a brilliant job is done by Dominic Hibberd.
Pretty much the first half of the book is about his pre-war years and the times that Owen spent at school, as a teacher, a vicar's assistant and the time he lived in France for a while. At times I did feel a little impatient as I really wanted to know what occured during his wartime experiences. I must admit though that Hibberd has done a staggering amount of research including trying hard to disect Owen's brother Harold's at times brutal censorship of the letters written by Wilfred. It was interesting to learn about Wilfred's weaknesses such as being a Mother's boy, a hypochondriac and the slow realisation that he was gay. As you read this book you do become aware that it all leads up to the horrors of war and the author takes you there slowly but very surely. When we finally arrive at 1917 and the true reality of what Owen and many thousands more went through it is chilling and makes for a rivetting read.
The true strength of this book is without a doubt the descriptions of the fighting, killing and pure fear of what so many men went through as they battled against the odds. At one time Owen's CO accused him of cowardice as he cracked under the strain of constant shelling and spending the night next to a colleague that had been blown to pieces. The fact that he was eventually awarded the Military Cross showed how ridiculous the accusation was but it was something that haunted him as he took several months to recover. This excellent book makes you wonder just how you would react in dreadful situations that so many brave men had to encounter. I won't go into all the detail about Wilfred's war experiences but suffice to say he did have a torrid time and it is because of this that he left us with his beautifully written poetry about war.
This is a superbly written book. Yes, I did wish there was more of Wilfred Owen's poetry and at times I did have a chuckle at the apparant pomposity of the circle of poets that shared a part of his life like Sassoon, Graves and Monro. The story of Owen's life is varied, interesting and ultimately very moving especially as he writes to his Mother about his hopes for the future. His future was to be cut tragically short but he left a legacy with his poetry that will last a lifetime and is still very relevant today.
on 11 June 2013
Whether you enjoy the poems of Wilfred Owen or not, his short but eventful life is symbolic testimony to one of the most tragic periods in British history. It is ironic that his experience of war was to bring out the best in his work, and the fact he was to die only a few days before it ended is a terrible loss. For me Wilfred Owen always felt like an enigmatic character of war that, apart from his poetry, no one really knew anything about, but this book really brings him to life. It is extremely well researched and thoughtfully written, and when I'd finished it almost felt like I'd actually experienced a little of his life. A great read!