1916, Flanders, London, Dublin:
‘Everything Has Gone Well’
Human character may have changed, as Virginia Woolf claimed, ‘on or about December 1910’ (Woolf 1986–94: 3: 421). But it changed more radically at 7.30am on Saturday, 1 July 1916, with the beginning of the offensive on the Somme – a battle which eventually wiped out more than a million human characters, around half of them British. Fundamental changes in human communication, too, were in evidence over that weekend. The language and even the page-layout of The Times on Monday 3 July – when the battle was first reported in the London daily press – indicate areas involved. Other events and publications in 1916 further highlight new influences on the age and its writing: 1916 offers both a half-way stage and a defining moment in the emergence of modernist literature between 1900 and 1930.
Pages in The Times, first of all, confront readers with some odd contrasts between columns, and between war and non-military life. Headed ‘Roll of Honour’, page 12 is devoted almost entirely to an immense list of military casualties – more than 1,500 names – yet contains in the middle a brief ‘Oxford Honours List’, naming recent graduates alongside the recently dead or wounded. In this brief column, the name ‘A. L. Huxley’ appears in ‘Class I’ of English Language and Literature graduates – the novelist Aldous Huxley, whose first book, a collection of poems, was published two months later. A still stranger contrast appears on page 10 (Fig. 3.1). In a column on the left, fighting on the Somme is described as ‘of the most desperate character … fierce beyond description … a sight of pure horror’. Four inches to the right, a Kodak advertisement invites readers to turn ‘this year’s holiday’ into a ‘picture-story of every sunny hour’. Though seldom so bizarre, juxtapositions of this kind were becoming almost familiar in the modern age. Less than 2 per cent of the population read newspapers in 1850, but the introduction of faster, cheaper rotary presses helped raise this figure to 20 per cent even by the end of the century. Wider circulation was further encouraged by replacement of old-fashioned, print-saturated pages with more reader-friendly, headlinebased layouts – often including graphic advertising, capitalising on expanding readerships.
Reshaped encounters with newsprint had resonances in modernist fiction, figuring in both the subject and style of its outstanding achievement, James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). When work as an advertising man takes Bloom to the newspaper office in the ‘Aeolus’ chapter (7), the text itself reproduces the kind of headlines beginning to dominate contemporary journalism. It also describes Bloom watching the printing presses and worrying that ‘machines. Smash a man to atoms’ and may ‘Rule the world one day’ (Joyce 1992: 150). Similar fears of ‘flesh turned to atoms’ (1973: 150), in a new machine age, figure in Virginia Woolf ‘s references to the war in To the Lighthouse (1927). But Ulysses principally reflects another atomisation: the print media’s new powers in fragmenting the