All Quiet on the Western Front by Eric Maria Remarque
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I'm planning to start with this one. I have read it before, but in English translation, and since picking up a (very cheaply printed) German first edition at a Berlin flea market, I've been itching (excuse the pun) to read it in German. I hope to be finished with it in a week or so. Has anyone else read it and would like to comment?
In the meantime, here is some information on the book courtesy of Wikipedia - BEWARE OF SPOILERS!
I recently read All Quiet on the Western Front, citizenkelly, but in English. It's odd that it has taken me so long to read it, given my interest in WWI. It is so often said to be the best novel of WWI, that I thought I should read other WWI novels first so as to better compare it with others (after all, if you read the best first, everything else is likely to be a disappointment!)
I was tremendously impressed by this book. The only WWI novel I've read so far that is comparable is The Middle Parts of Fortune by Frederic Manning. Both are terrific.
I'll go look at your Wiki link, citizenkelly.
I have just purchased 2003 edition by Vintage, translated by Brian Murdoch. I shall read this after the holidays as part of my 999 Challenge.
I also have DVD of the 1930 film which I shall watch again after reading the book. I remember feeling very sad about it - the futility of war.
Well, like MaggieO, I was also tremendously impressed by this book - even more so the second time around. It is gory and gruesome and certainly not for the faint-hearted, but it is the most moving and the most human book I've read in a long time. I probably could have picked a better time to reread it than over the Christmas holidays, and even now, as I prepare to ring in the New Year, I don't feel terribly inclined to write in detail about it, but so many thoughts, observations and - above all - questions occurred to me, and I look forward to sharing them with you in the next day or so.
I really, strongly recommend reading this book, if you are not too fazed by graphic descriptions of death and suffering. It isn't easy going on that front, but it is an easy read.
#4, I first read it when I was about 14 and was catatonic for several days afterward, so I'm balking a bit at rereading it now. However, that was a few decades ago so maybe I've toughened up.
Ok, I guess I'd better put it on the back burner for the time being, then.
I was really looking forward to reading it. :-(
*********There may be SPOILERS in what I write below, so perhaps it's better to read what I've written after you've read the book, or if you're not intending to read it at all. I'd really welcome discussion on it, so please join in, even if you don't read the book until next November – it is a year-long project, after all!*********
A general outline of the plot can be found on Wikipedia and elsewhere. The following are some of the themes that occured to me while reading.
The Brutality of War
There's not much to say about this, except that it's the most shocking aspect of the book and the very key to its strong anti-war appeal. I'm sure I've read similarly explicit descriptions of combat and death published since then, but I'm not sure about contemporary accounts. It's such a long time since I read Goodbye to All That and A Farewell to Arms, so it will be interesting to examine those in this light. And of course there are many other accounts from the 1920s in general that don't fall within our remit of 1929 books (although I'm seriously tempted to ignore my own personal rule and include Blunden's Undertones of War which was, after all, published in November 1928, and which I have not yet read...). There are excruciating deaths, painless deaths, deaths in combat, deaths in field hospitals, deaths of horses*, horrible injuries and disfigurations – all of this, set in the the most disgusting and stinking filth imaginable. And all the while, innocence and humanity shine through. How could this not be effective? How could the leaders of the time read this, and not consider the hell through which these soldiers went, yet send them into something similar, just ten years later?
(*As an aside – once again I was horribly shocked by the suffering of the horses, as told explicitly in the novel, but this time it reminded me of a memorial that I saw when whizzing down Park Lane on my bicycle a couple of years ago. At first I didn't take it seriously, but then I had a closer look and got a lump in my throat. Somehow it moved me, as in the book, almost more than the human suffering, which is perverse and wrong, I know. But we've become so numb to human suffering... Official Site)
Technology in the First World War
Much 'new-fangled' war technology is described in the novel, which serves to highlight the fact that this was a war of machinery, dominated not – as expected – by the bayonet, but rather by grenades, trench mortars, long-range heavy artillery, the deadly machine gun, as well as even more shockingly new weapons such as gas, flame-throwers and all-seeing reconaissance aircraft. Set against this, the feebleness of the weapons in the hands of Bäumer and his comrades are demonstrably pitiable, even though hand-to-hand conflict still plays a role (e.g. in the death of the Frenchman, Duval). But for me, the most desolate feeling of all was presented in the constant, unending whizz and bang and whistle of bombs and grenades and bullets, and the sense of arbitrary chance with which one either survived or was hit. There are also many mentions of the enemy's exceedingly better equipment and supplies, which would certainly have been the case after the entry of the U.S. into the war in 1917.
At the same time, the most enduring memory for me in the book is the life in the trenches. Protected by barbed wire and separated by no-man's land, the enemies often faced each other across a short distance. I'm curious to know if any First World War novels before this one described the front experience as clearly as Remarque did, or whether this was the first... With a complete absence of romanticism, we experience the trenches as constantly wet and muddy pits, often horribly cold and always stinking, infested with rats (there is one particularly disturbing scene involving the rats), lice absolutely everywhere (with ingenious tips on how to eliminate them, temporarily at least) and totally inadequate food. And then there was the danger of leaving this horrible hole and going over the top, with its attendant hazards of getting entangled in the barbed wire, bombarded by artillery, or shot by unseen snipers. Simply shocking, made more so by Remarque's matter-of-fact narrative, in which the young protagonists become nothing more than dazed and exhausted atomata.
Home Leave vs. Life at the Front
The main character, Paul Bäumer, receives ten days' leave and returns to his home for that period. Instead of relief and joy, he experiences disappointment at the manner at which he is received (his father doesn't really want to know how life at the front is, yet seems dissatisfied by how little his son tells him), sadness at the serious illness of his mother, confusion at the lack of understanding with which he is met, and annoyance at the older men of the village who criticise the soldiers for their bad manners, bad attitude and lack of commitment. It gets to the stage that he actually welcomes the return to the front, so that he can be with his comrades again. Indeed, much of the book is concerned with the incredibly close relationship between the soldier comrades, many of whom were in the same class together, and their alienation from the people at home, who could not begin to grasp their experiences, only goes to highlight the sense of abandonment and disillusionment of those veterans who had to make a civilian life for themselves after the war.
There are so many other themes: youth, betrayal, future, education, cultural differences… I look forward to investigating further themes, should anyone be interested.
Reception in Germany
This certainly wasn't the first novel in Germany to deal with the First World War – as in most countries involved in the conflict, books started appearing as early as 1915, and were mostly glorifications of the soldier's life at that early stage. After the war, it's clear that two opposing attitudes emerged in Germany in writing about the war. On the one hand, there were the pacifist voices, such as that of Remarque. However, apparently more prominent were those conservative nationalists like Ernst Jünger (Storm of Steel, which I have read), who described their war experiences in equally gruesome tones but nevertheless turned their tales into rallying calls for the defence of the Fatherland and the maintenance of a national spirit.
As we've seen elsewhere, All Quiet on the Western Front was one of those rare creatures in those days – an instant international bestseller. Half-a-million copies were sold within the first six months, and it was translated almost immediately into a number of languages. By 1980 the number had apparently reached ten million copies in 45 different languages, and there have been a few million since.
Some early critics on the right were so profoundly affected by the vivid descriptions of conflict that they were disgusted to learn that the work wasn't autobiographical, practically accusing Remarque of not actually being killed during the war! In the year after its release, the book was praised and criticised in equal measure, but this was about to change, in Germany at least.
All Quiet on the Western Front was filmed by Hollywood in 1930, and it was shown in Germany almost immediately, so it's difficult in hindsight to examine the response to the book in isolation from the response to the movie.
Here is an extract from Peter Gay's Weimar Culture (Penguin paperback edition, 1992, p. 144)
In December of 1930, at the movie première of Erich Maria Remarque's Im Westen Nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front) – which as a novel had already aroused the right with its enormous sales, and its demonstration that war was hell and that German soldiers, far from having been stabbed in the back at home, had lost the war at the front – the Nazis, under Goebbels's leadership, led riots against the film, invaded the theatre, throwing stink bombs and letting loose mice, and finally succeeded in having the film banned. In fury and prophetic despair, Carl von Ossietzky (writing in the Weltbühne in 1930 – ck) attacked the republicans for their torpor and cowardice; craven republicans, he wrote, have constructed an 'especially lovely formula'; with a regretful smile, they are saying to one another: 'What is one to do? The film, after all, is so bad!'
Ossietzky objected by saying that aesthetic reasons should not be the point of discussion, but rather whether or not one could openly take a position of pacifism. Increasingly, the answer was no. The fact that the film was banned despite having been approved by the relevant ministers in Braun's social democratic government after a private viewing is an indication of the growing influence of the National Socialist Party at the time. (It should also be mentioned that the version of the film released in Germany was 'milder' than the original American one.) The official reason given was that the film did not portray the First World War, but rather the German defeat in the war and was "therefore distressing and depressing for German viewers", had no uplifting moments, would "corrupt youth" and "damage German prestige" abroad (my translations).
>7 (although I'm seriously tempted to ignore my own personal rule and include Blunden's Undertones of War which was, after all, published in November 1928, and which I have not yet read...).
If you want to follow along in this theme, you might also want to read Generals Die in Bed by Charles Yale Harrison (published in 1930, so it doesn't quite make the cut for this group either).
Thanks, sqdancer. It's sounds interesting, so I'll be noting it for next year's reading (NOT that I'll be doing a Project 1930!!!).
Hoping I may chime in here as I am three chapters into this wonderful book.
Am especially pleased to have found an edition actually published in 1929. It was translated by A W Wheen. This second hand copy has been covered in library type plastic covering which I suspect has been protecting this lovely volume for a long time. On the front inside dust jacket cover is a particularly delightful piece of writing headed in capital letters
The all-talking film version of All Quiet on The Western Front is being made by the Universal Pictures Corporation as their greatest production, at a cost of over a quarter of a million pounds. It will be presented publicly in 1930.'
In fact I have been so enthused by this second hand find that I am placing a picture of it here - without the dust jacket - the texture is evident this way.
Julie, that's so interesting! Just imagine, an "all-talking" film!
For those of you who want more of All Quiet on the Western Front, I highly recommend Robert Graves autobiography Good-bye to All That, which is also from 1929. I had to study both of them for school a few years ago, and they're both the type of book that really sticks with you.
It is just so amazing to have found this - I think I should scan the end papers and then publish them on this thread so that everyone can enjoy them. There are also some reviews from The Times and The Telegraph newspapers of the day as well.
That's marvellous, Julie! Please scan the end papers etc. if you get a chance.
I'm amazed at how similar your edition looks to my first edition (German), with its woven cover... I'll scan mine tomorrow!
So glad you're enthralled by the book itself.
I've pulled some other WWI books off my shelves, and found that the other truly great WWI novel I've read, The Middle Parts of Fortune, was also published in a limited printing in 1929. It was published again the following year in an expurgated version as Her Privates We, but has since been reprinted in its original form. In Lyn Macdonald's intro to the 1986 Hogarth edition, she writes that "even ten years after the war had ended it was considered in all its raw reality to be too much and too crude for the general public to take."
Henri Barbusse's Under Fire was published in 1917. I haven't read this (yet!), but the Wiki entry mentions that, since it was published during the war, it was "criticized for fictionalizing details of the war." It seems that people were not ready to hear realistic accounts of what was going on on the Front.
(I'm off to look for my copy of The Great War and Modern Memory, by Paul Fussell, to see what he says about this. And also to look for a copy of the Barbusse, which I must certainly add to my library!)
citizenkelly - as you were so interested I have scanned the outer dust jackets plus the end papers. I am not sure how easy it will be to read the scanned photos. My dear other half has transcribed them using exactly the same words. This edition was September 1929 published by Unwin Brothers Ltd. London
And here is the print transcribed by my dear other half.
All Quiet on The Western Front
Transcribed sleeve notes
"The English is strong and easy-flowing with almost terrible power. There emerges the ideal soldier — brave, steady, crafty, never excited, but never off his guard."
TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT.
"It has marks of genius which transcend nation¬ality. There are moments when the narrative rises to heights which place it in the company of the great."
"The best war book yet. The story is told with brutal frankness and with flashes of poetic grandeur."
"A vivid ghastly story of awful carnage. It is a nightmare chapter in the lives of millions of men of the nations of Europe."
"Universal in its appeal and application. It supersedes all previous histories and renders all later histories superfluous. The common soldier has found a supreme voice, which tells the tale of the trenches in accents of almost unbearable poignancy and beauty.''
"A ruthless brutal narrative of a ruthless brutal business."
7s. 6d. net
THE all-talking film version of All Quiet on the Western Front is being made by the Universal Pictures Cor¬poration as their greatest production, at a cost of over a quarter of a million pounds. It will be presented publicly early in 1930.
Back end paper inside.
ERICH MARIA REMARQUE
was born thirty-one years ago. He be¬longs to a family of French extraction that emigrated into Germany at the time of the French Revolution and settled in the Rhineland. At the age of eighteen he went straight from school into the army and was sent to the Western Front. During the course of the war his mother died and all his friends were killed. At the end of the war he found himself alone in the world. His subsequent history is typical of the deep unrest that men of his generation experienced as a result of the war. At first he felt the need of rest and quiet, and became a teacher in a small out-of-the-way village on the moors. Then in quick succession he became an organist in an asylum, a music teacher, a manager of a small business motor-car dealer, technical draughtsman, and dramatic critic. Then he lived for a time abroad. Whilst abroad he won a rather large sum at roulette, and with this he travelled. On his return he became foreign correspondent for a large firm, then publicity manager for the same undertaking, and finally editor and motor specialist in Berlin. Last year he wrote down, without taking previous thought, his own and his friends' experiences in the war. His book arose out of the consideration that so many men of his generation, who were yet still young, nevertheless lived a friendless, embittered resigned life, without knowing why. He thought about this circumstance and came to the conclusion that we all to-day still suffer from the consequences of the war. His book sets out to describe three things: the war, the fate of a generation and true comradeship.
Back of dust jacket.
KAISER WILHELM II by EMIL LUDWIG
"The special value of this volume is that, unlike so much after-war literature, it is not a personal apologia or a specious piece of propaganda. It is an amazing story of autocratic arrogance and of Byzantine flattery, of false friendships and bitter hatreds, sometimes of shameless depravity, and almost always of meanness and duplicity."
TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT,
With 21 Illustrations. 8th Impression. Dy.8vo, Cloth. 21s.net
THE ZEPPELINS by ERNST LEHMANN and HAROLD MINGOS
CAPTAIN LEHMANN’S Zeppelins tells the story of the first five Zeppelins that were sent out at the beginning of the war and never came back—the first encounter between an aeroplane and a Zeppelin above the clouds—the first London air raid as seen from the pilot's car of a Zeppelin – besides giving us an excellent account of Count Zeppelin’s development of his airship from the very beginning.
Illustrated. Demy 8vo, Cloth. 18s. net
WAY OF REVELATION A Novel of Five Years 1914-1919
by WILFRID EWART
“It should be turned to whenever the impression of those grievous years seems to grow dim in the memory."
NATION AND ATHENAEUM.
“One would not be surprised if 'Way of Revelation' were reckoned among the most revealing stories of the time, for its sensitive insight, broad humanity, and impregnable sincerity have certainly not been surpassed in any novel that has attempted the herculean task of sifting the good and evil influences of these last seven years of trial and tribulation."
ARTHUR WAUGH IN THE DAILY TELEGRAPH,
Crown 8vo, Cloth. 3s. 6d. net
Wow! Thanks so much for posting the dust jacket (and extra kudos to the other half, who has certainly earned the Project 1929 Distinguished Order of Merit badge for all that transcribing!)
Here's my 1929 copy, along with the advertising brochure that was included inside... I'm a bit stuck for time today, but I'll translate some of it presently. I was particularly interested to see a recommendation from Stefan Zweig.
Thank you, Juliette (and your other half!) for posting the jacket info from AQWF. (I especially like the "all-talking movie" note -- such a different world!)
The bio of Remarque is really interesting, too. For some reason I had the impression that he was already an established writer when this was published. But it looks like AQWF was his first book, which makes it even more impressive.
I also have to look for that book about the zeppelins!
eta: citizenkelly, thanks for adding the German edition. That picture of Remarque makes him look frightening!
Thanks Julie and Carolyn for posting those scanned pictures - they were fascinating. I haven't posted on this thread yet - I read the book about a month ago and found it extremely moving. CK your review was great to read and I saved it till I'd finished it.
I've noted everyone's other recommendations down (Nickelini, I have Goodbye to All That at home) and will try to read them soon. I also loved Regeneration by Pat Barker, and felt that it had similar emotional impact to AQ.
My husband and I visited the British, New Zealand and Canadian memorials in north-eastern France and Belgium a few years ago. It was overwhelming to see where they'd fought and died - even more because it was a miserable December day with really low fog and very few visitors. I'm trying to remember if the memorials also commemorate the German soldiers lost. I have a feeling that the big cemetery at Ypres does, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were ignored when the memorials were built.
I had two uncles (at least) who fought in the Western Front battles for New Zealand. One came home with shell shock and never worked again. He lived to be over 90, and I remember childhood visits to his sister's, with him sitting in a chair. The other died before I was born, but apparently fought bravely at Passchendaele and dragged some of his unit off the battlefield. (I'm being incoherent because I haven't had lunch!). Such a colossal waste of life.
Petermc, on his 75 Book Challenge thread, loved The Night in Lisbon by Remarque. It's set in WW2.
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