Journey's End

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A: R. C. Sherriff Pf: 1928, London Pb: 1929 G: Drama in 3 acts S: British dugout before Saint-Quentin, France, May 1918 C: 11mLieutenant Osborne, an elderly former schoolmaster, welcomes young Second Lieutenant James Raleigh to their company, deployed in the trenches in the First World War. However, Osborne warns him that the company commander Captain Stanhope, whom Raleigh had hero-worshipped at school, is a changed man after three years at the front. Stanhope has been able to survive the horrors of war only by drinking heavily. Now Stanhope is angry that Raleigh has joined his company, not least because he fears that Raleigh will write to his sister, Stanhope's fiancée, and reveal that Stanhope ‘reek[s] of whisky all day’. Amidst the soldiers' banter and awareness of the futility of the war, orders come that Osborne, Raleigh, and ten men are to be sent on a mission to capture a German soldier for interrogation. Raleigh succeeds in bringing in a prisoner, but it has cost the lives of Osborne and six men. While the other officers celebrate the success of the mission, Raleigh mourns the death of Osborne. Aware of his implied reproach, Stanhope insists that this is the only way hardened soldiers can cope. The next dawn, Raleigh is shot in a German attack. He dies in Stanhope's arms, and Stanhope, reconciled to his old schoolfriend, goes out to face the enemy.

A: R. C. Sherriff Pf: 1928, London Pb: 1929 G: Drama in 3 acts S: British dugout before Saint-Quentin, France, May 1918 C: 11m

This was the most important British drama to emerge from the First World War. By contrast with the American What Price Glory?, Sherriff's play appears class-ridden and somewhat dated. Anderson and Stalling's brash rough soldiers consoling themselves with sex are here replaced with mainly public-school products surviving on whisky and champagne, all the action occurring in the officers' dugout with ordinary soldiers kept to the background. Nevertheless, the play succeeds well in communicating the tensions and horrors of life in the trenches, and was successfully revived in the West End in 2003.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights) — Literary Studies (20th Century onwards).

Reference entries

R. C. Sherriff (1896—1975) playwright and scriptwriter

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