Under Fire

Subverting Misconceptions about the Great War: Henri Barbusse's "Under Fire" and Erich Maria Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front"

Writing towards the end of the twentieth century, German literary scholar Hans Wagener reflects on the deep resonance of war literature, stating: “When we think about certain periods of history, epoch-making books come to mind that capture the spirit of those times most vividly”. Indeed, literary expressions of the Great War have performed a crucial role in shaping our perceptions of modern warfare, as evidenced by the wide acclaim of Henri Barbusse’s Under Fire (1917) and Erich Maria Remarque’s retrospective novel, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), two episodic accounts that claim to present the reality of combat from either side of the conflict of 1914-18. Both writers seamlessly interweave fiction and autobiography in order to dismantle romanticised ideals of patriotic glory and adventure, with their narratives veering from the grindingly monotonous to the gruesomely horrific aspects of trench life. Moreover, their position as spokesmen - for soldiers either unwilling or unable to speak for themselves - has led to both writers additionally gaining the status of “moral witness”, suggesting that their work may have been driven by an unrelenting sense of loyalty and duty towards the soldiers besides whom they fought....

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