Europe in World War I (Location Key)


As Gavin Stevens says in The Mansion, the 'Great War' - as World War I was called before the second World War - "killed eight million human beings and ruined a forty-mile wide strip down the middle of western Europe" (178). According to "Knight's Gambit," Gavin served for "three years as a stretcher-bearer in the French army" (154), and in that story gives his nephew a pretty grim description of what the war was like for both the soldiers in the trenches ("the groundling") and "the airman" who fought in the skies above them: "a four-year tunnel of blood and excrement and fear" (242-43). World War I is regularly cited as the defining historical event for many writers of Faulkner's generation, and although he himself never got closer to the Western Front than a training base in Canada, his imagination returned to the war throughout his career. Although A Fable - his 1954 novel set inside the war - isn't part of the story of Yokanapatawpha, two early stories featuring the Sartoris twins ("Ad Astra" and "All the Dead Pilots") take place in war-time France; the 14 locations described in these texts have their own entries in the index. The war, and especially the combat death of his twin brother Johnny, is the particular past that haunts Bayard Sartoris in Flags in the Dust. Bayard describes that death, and the revenge he takes on the German pilot who shot Johnny town, for two different audiences; Narcissa Benbow, in the second such moment, is horrified by his account (43, 257-59). But otherwise that novel represents the war in very stylized terms: "Man became amphibious and lived in mud and filth" (71); "a meteoric violence . . . beyond heaven or hell and partaking of both" (123); "an imminent but incomprehensible nightmare" (341). "Were you in the war?" one of the children who follow the barnstormers in "Death Drag" asks more than once (188, 189). One of them was, as was a local man - each carries wounds from their experience of "the front in '17" (193). Altogether this war is mentioned in 12 Yoknapatawpha texts, twice as often as World War II. Interestingly, both Flags and the much later Mansion include characters who are clearly lying about their war-time experiences.

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Europe in World War I
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Europe in World War I