Thomas Hardy, “And There Was a Great Calm”

I was asked to add my own final reading, so here it is.

Alex’s Reading Questions for March 31

Chapter XI marks a distinct shift in the novel.  Suddenly, without warning, we find ourselves in the trenches.  This is the first actual description of the war that we’ve seen in the novel, and it takes place over halfway through it.  I find this to be a really interesting choice that Daly is making, and I have a few questions about it.  Why does Daly choose to begin his descriptions of combat so abruptly–do you feel like he’s making a greater commentary about war itself, or is it simply a narrative tactic?  How is the war functioning differently in this novel than in the previous novels we’ve read?  What insights about the war do we gain by spending so much of the novel physically separate from it?

Daly’s novel is described as having two major conflicts: the tangible, corporeal combat of the war, and the mental/emotional combat of racism.  By the end of the novel, do you feel like these two conflicts are equal in their magnitude, or does one feel more significant?  Are the scars of one more painful than the other?  What seems more impactful to Montie?

When Casper is injured and Montie begins to help him, he states that “war isn’t the only hell that [he’s] been through lately” (69).  How do you read this?  What is the “other hell” that Casper is referencing?

The last few lines of the novel were some of the most impactful to me.  In the final scene, we are presented with Casper and Montie, “two bodies slumped as one,” entangled and side by side in their death.  How do you read this?  What are the implications of this ending, and what do they tell us about the relationship between war and race?  Does race really matter in no-man’s land?  

Kimber’s Reading Questions for March 29th

  1. Daly’s foreword to this story recalls for the reader William Sherman’s labeling of war as hell, and posits that there is a second hell, a less physical hell, and this completes the title in a sense – “Not Only War is Hell.” Daly does not explicitly define this second hell, saying only that it is “a purgatory for the mind, for the spirit, for the soul of men.” Based on what we’ve read thus far, expand on what Daly indicated was a second hell.
  2. The text has used terms like “battle” and “fight” when describing civil rights related events and issues. How do you read this? How does Daly compare our standard idea of war to this second war back home? And as a follow-up that may be more apt to address after we’ve finished the novel – does he assign more gravity to one war than the other?
  3. With my last question I want to borrow one Professor Scanlon asked of us. When we read A Farewell to Arms, we were asked if we thought it was a war story or a love story. I was initially tempted to ask the same question of this novel upon Miriam’s introduction, but I think there is a far more relevant classification to be made here. Is Not Only War a novel about war or a novel about race? With the main storyline seeming to center on two men about to go to war but the actual text littered not only with indirect references to, but direct focus on the “damned race prejudice”, “race question”, and “race problem” from nearly every character we’ve met thus far, it is impossible to not recognize those as the points the novel considers with most sincerity. And as I’ve borrowed a question, I will also borrow a disclaimer: “Note: of course all definitions and categories are by nature exclusionary, and so of course this is a perverse writing prompt. Acknowledged, okay?”

Jane Hill’s Reading Question for March 24

  • The poem “1914” by Rupert Brooke (Pages 104-106) is unusually optimistic or positive about the war, describing it in religious tones that one would more likely find in pre-WWI descriptions of ‘good and moral wars’. Is there any value to be found in this perspective about the war, and if so, what?
  • Isaac Rosenberg was born in 1890 to a poor Lithuanian, Jewish family that had to flee due to the harsh Russian occupation. Rosenberg then was raised in England and became a noted poet and artist before the war began. He was a strong pacifist and lacked any feelings of patriotism, and he faced a great deal of anti-semitism in the Allied army. In Rosenberg’s poem “Break of Day in the Trenches” (pages 137-138) the focus is on a rat with “cosmopolitan sympathies” as it rushes back and forth between the British and German trenches. What does the rat mean in the context of this poem, and how does Rosenberg’s unique background seem to shape this perspective? What are your responses to the ideas and views presented?
  • The poem “1914” by Rupert Brooke and the poem “1916 seen from 1921” by Edmund Blunden stand in sharp contrast to each other in terms of tone and feelings about both the Great War and war in general. “1914” is overall more optimistic, viewing war as a holy and righteous cause worthy of the pursuit of all who are virtuous, while “1916 seen from 1921” talks about the war as a tragic obligation that has destroyed a great deal. Brooke died in 1917, while Blunden lived until the 70s. How is it that the same historical situation produced such different views in different men in the same situations? Are both of these poems valid in their points, or is one or the other more or less valid than the other. Is there something to gain by reading these two works together, and if so what?
  • In the excerpt from “In Parenthesis” by David Jones, a consistent pattern of repeated sounds and phrases is used, such as “the rat of no-man’s-land” going “scrut,scrut,sscrut” or the repetition of the word “nor” in the final section. What emotion does this consistent style evoke in the reader, and are there other stylistic techniques used by Jones that you’d want to comment on?

Miranda’s Reading Questions for March 24th

  • “Break of Day in the Trenches” is essentially about a soldier in the trenches that comes across a rat. The soldier seems to resent the rat as the poem continues. In Rosenberg’s, “Break of Day in the Trenches”, what does the rat represent? Why does the narrator seem jealous of it? 
  • “Louse Hunting” is a poem that describes a battle fought on the soldier’s bodies rather than the battlefield. In this poem how are lice significant? How do they represent the war’s effect on the soldier’s psyches?  
  •  Blunden’s, “1916 Seen from 1921” is about the effects war has on soldiers’ lives. What are the narrator’s views on life after the war for soldiers? Are they accurate to this day? 

Amanda Schooley’s Review of Wings (1929)

“To those young warriors of the sky, whose wings are folded about them forever, this picture is reverently dedicated.” – Last line of the opening prelude to “Wings

Filmed in the span of just nine months, Wings is a 1927 American film (although it wasn’t actually released in the U.S. until 1929), directed by former WWI aviator, William A. Wellman, and starring Richard Arlen (also a former aviator in the War), Charles Rogers, and Clara Bow—Paramount’s bona fide ‘IT Girl’ and star with a big, glittery capital ‘S’.  

The film is a romantic war drama, telling the story of two men: Jack Powell (Rogers) and David Armstrong (Arlen). Both men are from notably different walks of life: Jack is a middle class idealist with a dream of flying, while David is the son of the richest family in town and seems far more down to earth—really, the only thing the boys have in common outside of their decision to enlist in the War is their rivalry for the affections of the beautiful city girl, Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston). Meanwhile, Jack is painfully oblivious to the affections thrown his way by his friend and literal girl next door, spunky and doe-eyed Mary Preston (Bow). As 1917 closes in, both Jack and David enlist in the army to become aviator pilots and are billeted together and, following the sudden death of their tentmate and having undergone intense military training together, the two’s rivalry fizzles out into the gritty but affectionate friendship that sometimes borders on intimate as the war drags on, a relationship which feels all too familiar and tragic in this class. Meanwhile, Mary decides to enlist in the Women’s Motor Corps of America as an ambulance driver—and well…fate finds a way. 

Jack (Rogers), Mary (Bow), and David (Arlen)

This film initially caught my attention on two factors: 1) it was just barely before All Quiet at the Western Front in the US (and completed two years prior), and I was curious on its portrayal of the War—would it condemn it or glamorize it, in its retrospective approach?; and 2) as a silent film (sans the music cues and SEX added in the 2012 restoration by Paramount), it mostly relies pretty much solely the expressions and body language of the actors alongside the cinematography to tell its story, as you can’t just type out every little line of the script on title cards and call it a day. Considering how much we have read in class from the POVs of characters who have mostly internalized everything to the point of coming off as notably detached, could the exaggerated and expressive style that is practically necessary for silent films work in a film about the Great War? Thankfully, both of these questions were answered in a way that I felt was satisfying. 

Right off the bat, the cinematography is nothing to scoff at: even a shot as simple as David and Sylvie lazily swinging in a hammock together is poignant as the camera literally swings along with them, back and forth, before the sudden arrival of an excited Jack literally jolts their idyllic scene to an abrupt halt. Likewise, there’s an equally stunning dolly zoom later on in the film in which we glide past all the gleeful patrons of a French nightclub drinking and petting before we land on a happy and shamelessly intoxicated Jack. However, the moments that will surely stand out—even in the somewhat drag of a first act—are the aviation and dogfighting scenes, among the first of their kind, and just as enthralling today as they were almost a hundred years ago. Additionally, there are little animations added here and there such as the bubbles that occupy Jack’s hazy mind during his drunk stint on leave in Paris halfway through the film, as well as in the title cards, that are a nice touch. 

Many of the texts we’ve read have emphasized the dangers of individuality and how people were stripped of it during the War—here, we have a clearly defined protagonist in the primary POV character, naive Jack Powell. Moreover, the film early on, almost takes on the jovial, patriotic tone that one would more likely see on propaganda posters than on the actual Front; much lime we have a clearly defined “hero”, we have our established villain: German ace pilot Count von Kellermann and his dreaded “Flying Circus” who, among ominous closes ups of the Iron Crosses on their black planes and shots of the pilots giggling and twirling their mustaches as they bomb compounds with glee, are accompanied by a score that seems more suitable for a Star Wars villain. Likewise, the emphasis on comradery amongst the Allied forces is paramount—the British soldiers gleefully rescue Jack went he’s down and cornered by German gunfire, eagerly ushering him into their trench with wide smiles on their faces—”chivalry of the knights of air”, the movie calls it. There’s even a comic relief character, a Dutchman named Herman Schwimpf, whose entire schtick is that he is blissfully and shamelessly patriotic to the point of getting an American flag tattooed on his bicep to wave as his superiors continuously try and fail to literally knock sense into him.

Gary Cooper, in his film debut, as “Cadet White”

Yet, despite the somewhat light tone starting out, there are notable undercurrents of things not being so great about the Great War: kicking off with the almost immediate and senseless death of Jack and David’s would-be tentmate, Cadet White, before we even have the chance to get attached. Likewise, a fairly comedic scene of Jack’s fun drunk antics in Paris and Mary’s attempts to get him to leave with her to get him back to his post (and away from the French girl he’s been cozy with) is under the threat of him being court martialed, and ends with the painful double whammy of Mary both realizing Jack is in love with Sylvia and then being fired from her job when military police catch her undressing from a gown she used to infiltrate the nightclub, and assume the worst.

“Here, for men fresh from the front, whose minds carried the image of unutterable horrors—here was forgetfulness…”

It all goes downhill following her abrupt exit, as we are thrown headfirst into the War again with scenes that are, while not very explicitly bloody, are just as intense—from a random soldier getting struck down with shrapnel from a bombing in the Front, to another soldier being crushed by a falling tank, its made abundantly clear that this film, while a romance, is anything but romantic down to its roots. When Jack and David’s relationship gets tested following a misunderstanding, and David is later shot down by the enemy in the following dogfight, Jack makes it a point to brand himself the hero and avenge his fallen friend by taking down as many Germans as he can. Little does he know, David is still alive in German territory, and manages to escape by stealing a German plane. Oh, oh no… 

The film was also one of the first to show a same-sex kiss onscreen

Jack’s stint at heroism ends with a sharp role reversal as he is given tube villainous music cues as he tries to chase and strike down David, believing he’s “only another foe to be slaughtered without mercy”. When he eventually succeeds, he’s finally broken when he realizes his fatal mistake, much like Paul and the French soldier, only this time, he has a grieving family he has to go back to. Rogers and Arlen’s acting in this scene is excellent, and we even cross that blurred line of the friend, brother, and the lover so common in the bonds between soldiers at the time, leading up to arguably the most famed scene of the film nowadays: Jack passionately kissing David on the lips as the latter dies in his arms. And although Jack goes home a celebrated “hero” (to the point of literally having his name and face plastered on newspapers that laud him as such) and is publically showered with adoration and flowery parade rides through town, there’s a distinct emptiness as he looks at the little bear charm David left behind—the one Jack promised to return to his mother. Furthermore, the ending scene between Jack and David’s mother makes the message obvious: “I—I wanted to hate you, John, but I can’t. It wasn’t your fault. It was—war!”

Overall, I really enjoyed this film despite its slow start, and would recommend it even if you don’t like silent films. The acting and the action is excellent, and it really feels like gradually watching characters like Paul get to the point of where they were in their story fresh from their idealistic beginnings—under a less overly violent, nihilistic lens. I can see why this won the Academy Award for Best Picture. My only real complaint is that Mary did NOT deserve Jack—at all.