Most Helpful First | Newest First
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly brilliant book.,
By A Customer
This review is from: DEATH OF A HERO (Paperback)
One of the most powerful, moving books I have ever read. The book tells the story of George Winterbourne, and his experiences in the battlefields of World War I. The gradual but irreversible state of George's mental state is a remarkable tale, as the book is used as a vehicle for harsh criticism of the ignorance, incompetence and lack of consideration of front line troops among the British elite at the time.
George's death at the end is the final statement of rejection - he would rather die amongst people he has only spent a relatively short time with, than return to his former life and live with what he has seen. I would recommend this to anyone.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vitriolic, but Powerful,
Surely this is a book about the Victorian Age and W.W.I that won't be forgotten. There's too much in it. I should say that it's about how the Victorian Age ended: with a bang, not a whimper. The story of Aldington's Hero (which is in part an autobiographical narrative) tells you how Victorian culture and mentality did not prepare young middle-class Brits to cope with the changes that are symbolized by the Great War. The protagonist of the novel, a young wannabe writer, makes a mess of his private life and then joins the Army for the wrong reason. Only the last part of the book (about 1/3 of Aldington's novel) deals with the war; the rest of it talks about why young British officers were so badly prepared to it, both psychologically and culturally; and why it was such a devastating collective shock. The book also includes venomous portraits of such modernist writers as T.S. Eliot and F.M. Ford, plus lenghty discussions of the Victorian approach to sexuality (including some moderately funny scenes). All in all, a little masterpiece of early 20th-century British fiction that deserves more attention...
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Me name it is Sam Hall, and I hates yer one and all,
Now that the current trend in popular academic history is for neo-whiggish exploration of such topics as racism, feminism, and the irresistible rise of everyman, I sometimes feel that fiction offers a more humane impression of the 'wie es eigentlich war' - at least to those who prefer a humanist style of historical writing. Such fiction sometimes concentrates the general experience of a period through the lens of a single gifted witness who serves to present the reader with a brilliant spectrum of ideas. So it is with 'The Death of a Hero', Richard Aldington's mordant analysis of the generation that came of age in time to live through the First World War.
For all that, it cannot be denied that'The Death of a Hero' is a bit of a mess aesthetically: this doesn't appear to have troubled its author who described it in the introduction as a 'jazz novel'and 'not the work of a professional novelist.' For Aldington, 'the excuse for a novel is that one can do any d... thing one pleases' without being governed by 'method' or 'convention'.
The book is based closely on Aldington's own childhood, boyhood and youth, but was written about 10 years after the last of the events which it describes. The author is therefore in a position to write about his younger, semi-fictional self through the person of an older narrator, who appears to know far more than even the most intrusive of narrators could possibly have discovered about his subject, but whose presence allows Aldington to deliver himself of an incisive commentary and a set secular sermons which his characters are too narrowly drawn to present convincingly for themselves. Aldington is, in any case, more interested in general social and cultural ideas than in the detailed creation and interraction of his characters and the world they inhabit, and there are very few novels that survive the dismissal of that particular 'convention', however 'jazzy' they may be.
All the same, The 'Death of a Hero' is a fascinating and rewarding read. Often described as a 'war novel', the book is actually concerned with much wider issues. It is divided into three parts of more or less equal length and it is only the third of theses that deals directly with the War. On the other hand, that War, and the attitudes taken to it both at home, and on the front-line, are fully intended to be interpreted in the light of the analyses in the preceding two parts.
The first part presents the reader with specimens of the victorian middle-class generation born in the late 1860s or early 1870s - a pre-modern, narrow, materialist, and philistine petty-bourgeois society of which Aldington writes with withering contempt, seeing it as the social incarnation of cant, cowardice, and cruelty. The second part is set in the bohemia of pre-war London, and explores the social, sexual, and cultural experiments of the war generation - or at least, a tiny and priveleged part of it. The tone adopted here is equally excoriating, but the essence of the complaint has less to do with the social and cultural trappings so violently ripped apart in the preceding section, but more to do with the fact that Aldington finds the underlying human realities no more attractive than what previously concealed them. There is, instead, a seething, misanthropic - not to mention misogynistic - hatred, and a priveleging of the psycho-sexual ego that is highly reminiscent of D.H.Lawrence - a writer whom Aldington much admired - and about whom he wrote a biography amusinglyly entiled 'The Portrait of a Genius, But...'. The third part of the book, which is set chiefly in France between 1916 and 1918, is much the most powerful part of the book. Aldington's powers of description, and the terse drive of his prose are highly impressive, and his portrayal of an individual gradually being eroded by the unremitting strain of modern warfare against a background of complacent incomprehension and inconsequentiality at home is brilliantly done, and carries utter conviction.
What strikes one again and again about this book is how contemporary it is in feel. The author's anger, his impatience, and his curious vulnerability are peculiarly reminiscent of D.H.Lawrence. But, though less gifted than Lawrence as a writer, Aldington is completely without Lawrence's absurd psycho-sexual mysticism and occasional bouts of sentimentality - the characteristic vice of the misanthrope, usually expended harmlessly on domestic animals.
Some of Aldington's observations and judgments are accute - as, for instance, where he writes (in 1929) that 'marriage is a primitive institution bound to succumb before the joint attack of contraceptives and the economic independence of women.' The analysis of feminism presented in the book suggests that Aldington thought that whereas victorian women had been complicit in their own subjection, the 'new women' of his own generation were simply driven by instinct towards more self-gratifying forms of possessiveness without any higher or broader aim - an interesting view, which will no doubt cause some feminists to reply 'and why on earth not'.
But it is interesting to reflect that Aldington, whose own intimate experience was complex and varied, should have seen men as the victims of women, and women as the victims of themselves.
In the conflicts between a hard-headed materialism and depth of aesthetic feeling; in his hatred for religion, for the nation, for the empire, for the old school, and for all elites, whether political, social or literary; in his contempt for cant; in his loathing for the middle-class; in his war-engendered respect for excusively male, and unintellectual comradeship, and in his bitter misanthropy which frankly confesses to a contempt for a very large number of his fellow men and an inability to see any real point in their existence at all, one sees in Aldington the set of attitudes which made fascism a serious intellectual option for those who went through, and survived the blast-furnace of the Great War.
5.0 out of 5 stars An English "All Quiet on the Western Front",
This review is from: Death of a Hero (Kindle Edition)
Published a few months after the Erich Maria Remarque's 'All Quiet on the Western Front' came out in 1929, this book appears to pay homage to the German book, referring a couple of times to its title. (Aldington writes at one stage: "There was, of course, nothing to report on the Western front.") The two books share many ideas - young men sent out to be corrupted and to die by their own callous leadership, fighting other young men whom they admired rather than hated, becoming more alienated from the women in their lives and knowing that their lives were ruined, even if they survived. And both are also funny, despite it all. 'Death of a Hero' starts with George's death, shot down in the last few days of the war in 1918. His mother is shown 'grieving' - requiring her young lover to take her to bed to sooth her sadness. I had never heard of an anti-female feeling which developed in World War I among some soldiers - but it is a big theme of this book (and a minor theme of 'All Quiet'). George starts off as an artist who can be rather irritating at times - but he does become a hero (of the modest, uncomplaining, decent kind) in the trenches. Like Paul in 'All Quiet', George sinks down into exhaustion and disillusionment. For instance: "He had wanted to go on living, because he had always unconsciously believed that life was good. Now something within him was beginning to give way...". The two books, even though they treat of mass killing, wounding and death, are full of life and will make many modern readers want to live their lives as best they can, partly in recognition of young soldiers like these.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Neglected classic,
By A Customer
Death of a Hero is one of the best novels on WWI. In this book Aldington sets off not only to record the massacre and brutal conditions of the Great War but also to vindicate the slaughter on both sides of a whole generation of young men. Here is a writer determined to shock and to spell out the lie of war. Aldington does not write as an eye witness but creates instead a character that will enable him to dissect pre-war England and get to the roots of the War. George Winterbourne is the sympathetic mock hero of the novel whose progress the reader follows from his birth in the Victorian England of the 1890s to his death at Maison Blanche in 1918. Aldington's familiarity with Victorian England and his spite for it, his own traumatic war experiences and his need to write about them, come to the reader with an absolute lack of detachment, powerful language, and descriptions that will stick in your mind long after reading this book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb 'forgotten' war novel, and more.,
Richard Aldington, friend of luminaries such as Ezra Pound, DH Lawrence and TS Eliot, but not quite of their stature, was an irascible writer of numerous novels, biographies, classic translations, and poetry. They are seldom read now and none appear to be in print, although `Death of a Hero' is to be reprinted by Penguin in 2013. It is generally regarded as his finest work, and a great war novel, although the book concerns other important issues. It is actually difficult to classify it as a novel. In his own words: "The excuse for a novel is that one can do any dammed thing one pleases, without being governed by method or convention."
It is story of the life of George Winterbourne, as told by an army friend after George is killed in WWI, but is interlaced with the trenchant personal views of the narrator, who is of course the voice of Aldington himself. The book is divided into three parts, formally labeled Part 1, 2 and 3, and of roughly equal length. But before these is a Prologue, where the narrator tells how he came to meet George and later to write the memoir of him, and the reaction to his death of people who knew him. The hard-hitting, critical style is a foretaste of the style of the rest of the book.
Part 1 describes the life of George's parents, and George's own life as a young man in a series of small English towns, again semi-autobiographical. The withering language leaves the reader in no doubt of Aldington's contempt for middle-class Victorian English society, which he regards as materialist, philistine, sanctimonious and cruel. Every few pages there is a forthright view expressed in a powerful sentence that made me stop reading and spend some time thinking. The whole adds up to Aldington's explanation of why young British soldiers were so badly prepared, both psychologically and culturally, for the shock of WWI.
In the second part, George, now a would-be artist and hack writer for small-circulation literary magazines, meets Elizabeth, also dabbling as an artist. Aldington scathingly describes the pretentious bohemian world they inhabit, where new art movements (`isms') are continually being invented and dropped. He also explores in detail the sexual experiments of this small selfish section of society through the lives of George, Elizabeth, and their friends, and exposes the shallowness of their beliefs. Thus George and Elizabeth are initially in favour of open marriage, or `wise promiscuity' as the author describes it, but hastily marry when Elizabeth (mistakenly) believes she is pregnant.
In the third part of the book, George joins the army as a private, and the action is mainly set in France between 1916 and 1918. This part is the most powerful of the book and is to be seen in the context of the preceding two parts, with harsh criticism of the British leadership for their ignorance, incompetence and lack of consideration of front line troops. Aldington charts George's day-to-day experiences at the front in language that is powerful and at times very moving. He describes how George's initial strength and enthusiasm inexorably disintegrates under the non-stop strain of warfare, against a background of almost disinterestedness at home. It is superbly done and totally convincing, as good as any description of war I have read. George's final moments are movingly told. Whether he intentionally committed suicide, or was killed like countless thousands of others, is irrelevant. His death was inevitable. He could no longer return to his former life having experienced what he has; he would rather die amongst his fellow soldiers.
The book is a superb indictment of the British society and political leadership that led the country to WWI and destroyed the hopes and expectations of so many of that period. It is written in a style unlike any I have read before, and continually makes you think about your own prejudices and actions.
5.0 out of 5 stars Broader perspective than most war accounts,
This review is from: Death of a Hero (Kindle Edition)
Known as a classic, this felt a very real account of the experiences of a front line soldier in WW1. Although it seemed in some ways distracting, the first two-thirds of the book set the scene of the main protagonist in his pre-military life which made the dreadfulness of the trenches more apparent.
4.0 out of 5 stars Edwardian and Great War novel,
The fictional biography of George Winterbourne, from his birth in 1890, to his death in the trenches during the very last days of The Great War.
Many readers will wonder whether this is semi-autobiographical. Without doubt the strongest section of the book is the final one covering George's wartime experiences. This section stands comparison with anything written by Edmund Blunden and Ford Madox Ford. George lives the 'triple strain' of 'his personal life, exasperation with army routine and that of battle'. The cumulative effect of war is expertly told and I read this section in one sitting.
The first third of the novel is a savage attack on the end of Victorian/Edwardian Establishment or 'the swine' as Aldington calls them. George is portrayed as 'a keeper of the flame' against the 'Aunt Sallies' and 'grotesques' of British society. The ferocity of the attack and it's bitterness took me by surprise. The trial and sentencing of Oscar Wilde is portrayed as the fissure in society creating a cultural 'us and them'.
For whatever reason, the middle third of the book does not reach the same heights. At times it reads as little more than an argument in favour of open marriage or 'wise promiscuity' as the author describes it. I'm sure it was very avant garde in it's day, now it's just old hat but this is the backdrop to the only meaningful relationships with women that George experiences. There also seems to be an endless stream of bohemian gatherings full of people showing off in a 'chaos of witticisms'. However, still a recommended read.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
Death of a Hero by Richard Aldington