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The Price of Pity: v. 1 Hardcover – 14 Jul 1994

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program) 3.0 out of 5 stars 2 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars BEYOND OWEN AND SASSOON 30 Mar. 2015
By moose/squirrel - Published on
Format: Hardcover
A very well written, sometimes idiosyncratic, but always clear and informative examination of all degrees of British poetry of the First World War, from the acknowledged greats - (Owen, Sassoon, and Rosenberg), to the obscure (Mackintosh, Powell, Day, and others) who still produced human documents of interest and, sometimes, insight.

Stephen's intention is to debunk some of the most pervasive sentimental myths of the war, all of which have already been debunked by historians over the past thirty years, even if many teachers and literary critics, still largely in thrall to Fussell's "The Great War and Modern Memory" (1975) have yet to get the word. Stephen considers Fussell's book to be "a masterpiece" but nevertheless wrongheaded and sometimes plain wrong. No serious student of WW1 literature can afford to overlook either book, though I found Stephen's to be frequently more cogent. Stephen is especially good in rehabilitating of the pre-war Georgian poets, whom Fussell derides but who helped inspire Owen and Edward Thomas. On the other hand, Stephen's taste runs occasionally toward the maudlin - the overwrought (if truthfully human) "To a Bulldog," by J.C. Squire, for example.

Stephen's book is less pretentious and, in my opinion as one who has studied and taught the subject for nearly twenty years, quite as valuable. Chapter 2, on military history, bolsters many of Stephen's positions, but may easily br skipped. Close-minded readers whose view of the war ultimately derives from Blackadder and (more forgivably) Robert Graves and (less forgivably) Alan Clark and Leon Wolff will be put off by Stephen's conservatism. But that is a minor complaint. (I'm not a "conservative.") "The Price of Pity" is a first-rate introduction to its subject, by an author who knows how to interpret what he reads.
3 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Pity Stephen's myth 29 Nov. 2003
By Stalingrad - Published on
Format: Hardcover
On page 78, Stephen quotes another author as saying, "In the Great War eight million people were destroyed because two persons, the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his consort, had been shot." Stephen's response is: "Historically, this is hogwash. Eight million people died because Germany was a lethal combination of militarism and expansionism, without the saving virtues of wisdom or humility. Eight million people died because Germany quite calmly decided to invade two countries against whom it had no specific quarrel..."

This off-topic digression dooms him. His decision to digress, and the substance of that digression, forces one to ask how we can trust the rest of his writing, in this book and others. How dare he make such a statement when not 15 years earlier, Britain invented concentration camps to imprison and starve South African civilians. What about English behavior in India not only before the Great War, but after? When was England itself ever not militaristic or expansionist in its European or colonial relations? (Having colonies sort of qualifies a nation as militaristic and expansionist in the first place, yes?) And when was England ever wise or humble? (The Irish, the Scots, and the Welsh can answer this.) The sun didn't set on the British flag for centuries - not because England was peace-loving, but because she was everything Stephen decries about Germany, and for far, far longer. The revered Alfred Thayer Mahan makes this Stephen really disputing him? I submit, therefore, that England is equally, if not more, to blame for the deaths of eight million people.

His lunacy aside, the title is itself a myth. The book is about British Great War literature, not Great War literature. No French, German, Russian, Italian, or American literature is handled. Thus, the reader is tricked into buying the book, and then quietly manipulated with the tired theme of British innocence. Maturity of perspective does not leaven Stephen's depth of research - and such writing is, among scholars, known as "amateur".

Buyer beware of the very limited scope, and certainly of the very Allied, very British, very passe, bias. To the publisher, Leo Cooper - you can do better.
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