War in Literature

Since ancient times war has been present in world literature. There are thousands of books describing wars that unfortunately mark the entire history of humanity. Some of the authors were direct participants in the wars, while others wrote their works on the basis of war files. Homer (8th century BCE), the author of Iliad and Odyssey, described the Trojan War, probably the most famous ancient war. In Greek mythology the Achaean's (Greeks) started the war against the city of Troy after Paris of Troy took Helen from her husband Menelaus. Iliad tells events of the last year of the siege of Troy before the city was defeated and put on fire.

Remarkable pieces of war literature were created in the 19th and the 20th century. A well-known piece of fiction is the epic novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). It is a multi-layered novel, describing the life of Russian aristocrats, their relationships and the situation in Russia. The novel leads up to Napoleon's invasion into the country in 1812 and the defeat of his army. War and Peace was first published in 1869.

The American Civil War (1861-1865) has inspired great literary works. Margaret Mitchell's (1900-1949) Gone with the Wind is a romantic novel that tells the story of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler against the background of the war between the Confederacy and the Union and the Reconstruction Era. The novel was first published in May 1936. Mitchell was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Gone with the Wind in 1937. In the 1980s, John Jakes (b.1932) wrote the trilogy of novels North and South, which tells the story of the friendship between Orry Main from South Carolina and George Hazard of Pennsylvania. Main and Hazard become best friends at the United States Military Academy of West Point. However, later they find themselves on the opposite sides in the war.

World War I (1914-1918) is present in the works of many authors. In his semi-autobiographical novel A Farewell to Arms, first published in 1929, Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) tells the story of the American Frederic Henry who serves in the ambulance corps of the Italian Army. Hemingway bases the book on his own experience as he was a volunteer in the service in Italy. In the novel, Hemingway puts the personal drama of Henry's romance against the impersonal destruction caused by the war. Erich Maria Remarque (1898-1970), a German author and veteran of World War I, wrote the novel All Quiet on the Western Front. The book tells about the life of German soldiers during the war who is subject to physical and mental stress. It also examines the feelings of the soldiers on their return home from the front. The novel was first published in November 1928 in a German newspaper and as a book in January 1929.

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was a major conflict which started after a group of generals declared themselves to be against the government of the Second Spanish Republic. The rebels, calling themselves Nationalists, were led by General Franco. During the war thousands of people were killed on both sides. The battle ended with the overthrowing of the Republican Government and the exile of thousands of Spanish republicans. Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) is a novel based on the author's personal experience as a correspondent in Spain at the time. The book tells the story of the young American Robert Jordan who travels to Spain to fight against the forces of General Franco.

World War II (1939-1945) is present in many books. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1923-1999) is a novel about American servicemen in the war stationed on an island off the coast of Italy. The novel follows a bombardier named Yossarian who is determined to survive at any cost. However, the unwritten Catch-22 rule blocks him. The phrase Catch-22 is now commonly used to describe a no-win situation. The novel was published in 1961. Irwin Shaw's (1913-1984) The Young Lions describes how the lives of two American soldiers and a German one crossed paths during the war. The story ends at a freed Nazi death camp in 1945. The Vietnam War (1954-1975) led to a number of authors publishing some widely acclaimed work, including A Band of Brothers: Stories from Vietnam written by Walter McDonald. This collection of short stories was published in 1989.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Understanding the Literature of World War II: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents
James H. Meredith.
Greenwood Press, 1999
The Imagined Civil War: Popular Literature of the North & South, 1861-1865
Alice Fahs.
University of North Carolina Press, 2001
Women's Writing on the First World War
Agnès Cardinal; Dorothy Goldman; Judith Hattaway.
Oxford University Press, 1999
Visions of War: World War II in Popular Literature and Culture
M. Paul Holsinger; Mary Anne Schofield.
Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1992
Carrying the Darkness: The Poetry of the Vietnam War
W. D. Ehrhart.
Texas Tech University Press, 1989
Warring Fictions: American Literary Culture and the Vietnam War Narrative
Jim Neilson.
University Press of Mississippi, 1998
Restrained Response: American Novels of the Cold War and Korea, 1945-1962
Arne Axelsson.
Greenwood Press, 1990
The Spanish Civil War in Literature
Janet Pérez; Wendell Aycock.
Texas Tech University Press, 1990
Rereading the Revolution: The Turn-Of-The-Century American Revolutionary War Novel
Benjamin S. Lawson.
Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 2000
The English Civil Wars in the Literary Imagination
Claude J. Summers; Ted-Larry Pebworth.
University of Missouri Press, 1999
The Second World War in Contemporary British Fiction: Secret Histories
Victoria Stewart.
Edinburgh University Press, 2011
The Literatures of the U.S.-Mexican War: Narrative, Time, and Identity
Jaime Javier RodrÍguez.
University of Texas Press, 2010
Bloody Constraint: War and Chivalry in Shakespeare
Theodor Meron.
Oxford University Press, 1998
The First World War in Irish Poetry
Jim Haughey.
Bucknell University Press, 2002
The Peculiar Sanity of War: Hysteria in the Literature of World War I
Celia Malone Kingsbury.
Texas Tech University Press, 2002
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