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A War With Meaning,
This review is from: In Parenthesis: (Paperback)
Most writers about the First World War treat it as a war without values or meaning. David Jones - in what holds serious claim to be the literary masterpiece of that war - confounds this image by seeing meaning everywhere. In a richly-figured, highly poetic work (whether it's a novel or a poem is debatable) Jones reinterprets the realities of trench life with images drawn from religion and mythology, so that those fighting on both sides become pitched in refighting an endless war.
The details of the soldier's life are presented unsentimentally, with a more realistic sense of army life arising than one might find in more ostensibly tragic poets such as Owen or Sassoon. At the same time, the brutality of war is brilliantly evoked in the climactic battle scene. The modernist flourishes (much praised by T.S. Eliot) are an important dimension in Jones's craft here, but he taps more explicitly into British legends than Eliot or Pound, and the national element becomes especially important to a work that draws on Shakespeare's "Henry V" as a picture of Britons at war in France.
Seventy years after publication, "In Parenthesis" remains the best known literary work by a poet-painter who has remained little known outside a circle of faithful devotees. It's tempting to think that this is largely due to its emotional core, and the fact that it can still tell us a great deal about a conflict that has become almost exhausted by cliche.