Mr. Fussell, a wide-ranging author, may be best remembered for
"The Great War and Modern Memory," his study of World War I and the
influence of its horrors on art and literature. He died on Wednesday
Paul Fussell, the wide-ranging, stingingly opinionated literary
scholar and cultural critic whose admiration for Samuel Johnson,
Kingsley Amis and the Boy Scout Handbook and whose withering scorn
for the romanticization of war, the predominance of television and
much of American society were dispensed in more than 20 books, died
on Wednesday in Medford, Oregon. He was 88.
He died of natural causes in the care facility where he had spent
the past two years, his stepson Cole Behringer said.
From the 1950s into 1970s, Mr. Fussell taught and wrote on
literary topics, specializing in 18th-century British poetry and
prose. But his career changed in 1975, when he published "The Great
War and Modern Memory," a monumental study of World War I and how
its horrors fostered a disillusioned modernist sensibility. The
book, which drew on Mr. Fussell's experience as an infantryman
during World War II -- he received the Bronze Star and two Purple
Hearts -- won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism
and the National Book Award for Arts and Letters.
"It is difficult to underestimate Fussell's influence," Vincent
B. Sherry wrote in "The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of the
First World War." "The book's ambition and popularity move
interpretation of the war from a relatively minor literary and
historical specialization to a much more widespread cultural
The book's lavish praise and commercial success transformed Mr.
Fussell into a public intellectual, or perhaps more accurately a
public curmudgeon; he crabbed, for instance, about Graham Greene's
"English syntax." Mr. Fussell brought an erudition, a gift for
readable prose, a willingness to offend and a whiff of snobbery to
subjects like class, clothing, the dumbing down of American culture
and the literature of travel.
"Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars" (1980)
examined a tradition in writing rarely examined by scholars, and it
was hailed for its critical acumen, though it also includes a rant
against tourists and tourism, which he decries as the antithesis of
ennobling travel and the bane of real travelers.
"'Abroad' is an exemplary piece of criticism," Jonathan Raban
wrote on the cover of The New York Times Book Review. "It is
immensely readable. It bristles with ideas. It disinters a real lost
masterpiece from the library stacks. It admits a whole area of
writing -- at last! -- to its proper place in literary history. Its
general thesis is, I think, wrongheaded, even mean, but Mr. Fussell
argues it with such force and clarity that he makes it a pleasure to
quarrel with him."
In "Class: A Guide Through the American Status System" (1983), he
divided American society into nine strata -- from the idle rich
("the top out-of-sight") to the institutionalized and imprisoned
("the bottom out-of-sight") -- and offered a comprehensive and often
witty tour through the observable habits of each.
"Not smoking at all is very upper-class," he wrote, "but in any
way calling attention to one's abstinence drops one to middle-class
In "BAD: Or, the Dumbing of America" (1991), he offered an
alphabetically organized jeremiad against everything "phony, clumsy,
witless, untalented, vacant or boring" in the country "that many
Americans can be persuaded is genuine, graceful, bright or
"Dismal food is bad," he wrote. "Dismal food pretentiously served
in a restaurant associated with the word 'gourmet' is BAD. Being
alert to this distinction is a large part of the fun of being alive
today, in a moment teeming with raucously overvalued emptiness and