A War of Individuals: Bloomsbury Attitudes to the Great War

By Jonathan Atkin | Go to book overview

7

Obscurer individuals and their themes of response

The destruction of nature as reality and metaphor

This chapter casts the net wider. Following the responses of the small but influential Bloomsbury circle, the earlier chapters have encompassed the experiences of other celebrated thinkers and writers (especially Bertrand Russell), some of whom donned uniform, and also certain women, well-known and otherwise, some of whom travelled to the war-zone as nurses or observers. It has became clear that similar aesthetic—humanistic responses occurred outside the confines of Bloomsbury and aesthetic viewpoints manifested themselves within particular themes of response, such as the blunting of individual personality and stifling of creative efforts. The further we get from the creative nexus of Bloomsbury, will the same hold true? In other words, will the anti-war reactions of further obscurer individuals still be linked by the familiar and recurring themes experienced among the more celebrated?

A particular expression of personal disquiet with the war 'in its operation' and involving a contrasted appreciation of nature and landscape was exhibited by one of the first individuals included in critic Laurence Housman's edited collection of war letters, which appeared in 1930 and contained a significant amount of anti-war material. 1 Captain Arthur Innes Adams of the Cambridgeshire Regiment, writing to his sister in July 1916, contrasted the freedom of his Sunday walk behind the lines near Boulogne with the usual 'ridiculous military precision' and the 'appalling … deadening nature of the instruction' inherent in army life. Adams resented the intrusion of the hand of the military Englishman with its usual 'vulgar effect' into this peaceful landscape of corn and poppies and wished for the end of the war when, 'the true business of life will begin — to teach men the beauty of the hill-sides'. For the present, however, his love of nature and the contrast it forced upon him, 'gives me a fierce feeling of hatred of the present bondage that is hardly to be borne — and there are times on parade when it seems impossible to do what one is told'. 2

Reporter W. Beach Thomas echoed Adams's horror of the ugliness of the war in a diary entry, written after five months of fighting on the Somme in 1916. 'The power of ugliness could no further go', Beach Thomas observed,

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A War of Individuals: Bloomsbury Attitudes to the Great War
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • A War of Individuals - Bloomsbury Attitudes to the Great War *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgements and Abbreviations *
  • Introduction *
  • 1 - `Recognised' Forms of Opposition *
  • 2 - Bloomsbury *
  • 3 - Academics at War — Bertrand Russell and Cambridge *
  • 4 - Writers at War *
  • 5 - Writers in Uniform *
  • 6 - Women and the War *
  • 7 - Obscurer Individuals and Their Themes of Response *
  • 8 - Three Individuals *
  • 9 - Public Commentary on Familiar Themes *
  • Conclusion *
  • Bibliography *
  • Secondary Sources 242
  • Index *
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