Friday, 25 May 2012


My obituary of Paul Fussell, whose book The Great War And Modern Memory made such a huge impression on me many years ago, is online at and ought to appear in tomorrow's (Friday's) Guardian. You can link to the online version here. It appears pretty much as I wrote it to a very tight deadline, early in the morning in America; there are a few small changes (like calling him a 'US' writer) but basically the only flaw I could see was that I wasn't able to go into certain works in more depth. I also would have liked to pursue the parallels with the Vietnam war which I read into The Great War when it came out--they are parallels easy to extend into our current nightmares in Afghanistan and Iraq, which Fussell himself was quick to do. That his criticism always came from the point of view of a man who had been in combat made it that much more trenchant. Similarly, he viewed much of the 'greatest generation' hype just another glorification of war, and thought things like Saving Private Ryan simply missed the reality of men in combat.

Fussell was a very English kind of American writer: his analyses of American society sometimes seem to be written from a Anglophile, if not Anglo, point of view. His point was that America's class system was just as stratified as the British, if somewhat more flexible. But it is this perspective which helps make The Great War (and indeed Abroad) so effective--they seem almost to be written by a British writer, yet eschew the usually British perspective.

I'm curious now to read Betty Fussell's book; I wonder how important having a wife in the publishing world might have been to his career, and indeed to his children. I was curious about his brother too, after reading Susanna Rustin's excellent profile and interview with Fussell, published in the Guardian in 2004 (you can link to that here).

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