Public commentary on familiar themes

Jonathan Atkin

in A War of Individuals

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print September 2002 | ISBN: 9780719060700
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781700105 | DOI:
Public commentary on familiar themes

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  • Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)


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In summing up one of the main themes of humanistic and aesthetic opposition to the Great War – the friction which existed between the structure of the war-state with its resultant ‘herd instinct’ and notions of the sacredness of the individual – there is perhaps no more apposite personal example than that of Gilbert Cannan, an individual who, like Bertrand Russell, specifically projected his concerns into the public sphere. Cannan, a friend of D. H. Lawrence (who, together with his wife, had moved to Buckinghamshire in August 1914 to be near Cannan and his wife Mary), saw himself as a defender of that which he described as ‘a man's most precious possession’: human dignity. Cannan's description of military service as a test of morality was later echoed by the poet and dramatist Robert Nichols, who wrote that the very essence of war was compulsion by violence or threat of violence, and that such compulsion entailed ‘moral suffering’. This chapter examines the views of Arthur Waugh, Lascelles Abercrombie and Paul Nash about the Great War.

Keywords: Great War; human dignity; herd instinct; Gilbert Cannan; military service; morality; Arthur Waugh; Lascelles Abercrombie; Paul Nash

Chapter.  8198 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)

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