A War of Individuals: Bloomsbury Attitudes to the Great War

By Jonathan Atkin | Go to book overview
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In addition to a dawning comprehension of what had occurred, the chief legacy of the Great War was change. On 2 September 1914 The Times printed for the first time Rudyard Kipling's poem 'For All We Have and Are' in which the nation's poet lamented that, 'Our world has passed away/In wantonness o'erthrown', the only solid things remaining being 'steel and fire and stone'. If the realities of war focused attention on the basic elements of existence and survival, the well-spring of grief and self-examination that characterised the post-war world did not allow this attention to lapse.

Throughout this book we have encountered opposition to the Great War which emanated from individuals who, motivated by aesthetic, humanistic and moral concerns, reacted against this reduction of life to its basic and, they felt, baserconstituents. This cultural abrasion was comprehended by some during the period of reflection following the war. The social analyst Caroline Playne in her Society at War (1931) stated that:

Thoughtful people, people of artistic temperament, felt the war years to be a long- protracted, acute form of nightmare. They felt themselves held up from constructive tasks; and, at the same time, falling apart from civilised standards, divided, estranged from their own ideals. The goodness they might have pursued evaded them, whilst regard for beauty vanished, as it seemed for ever. The faith that might have upheld them, being constantly trampled in the mud, ceased to function. Instead of help when they cried aloud, they must endure the perpetual trumpeting of falsities the war for freedom and justice, the war to end war.

Playne concluded and we have observed that the experience of thinkers and artists who had languished under the conflict was just as real as that of the shattered soldiers:

Just as the nerves, the minds of the strongest soldiers broke down under their endurance of the continuous noises, vibrations, shocks of intensified bombardments, so whole-hearted followers of mercy and truth broke down under the prolonged moral shock and disappointment. 1

Bloomsbury, perhaps typically, reacted to the Great War on an individual basis. Other people also based their objection to the conflict on aesthetic or

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A War of Individuals: Bloomsbury Attitudes to the Great War


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