Paul Fussell: Literary scholar whose work was influenced by his wartime service
Thursday 31 May 2012
Paul Fussell, who died on 23 May aged 88, was an acclaimed literary scholar who won a National Book Award in 1976 for The Great War and Modern Memory. Over a 50-year career he wrote memoir, literary criticism and social commentary. He made his greatest mark writing about war, a subject he knew well, and his disdain for its romanticisation.
Born and raised in Pasadena, a lawyer's son, Fussell enlisted in the US Army during the Second World War, winning a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. "At first it was fun," he recalled, "and then all of a sudden one realised what the infantry was for. It was for killing the maximum number of young men."
"Samuel Johnson was his great hero," said John Scanlan, a professor of 18th century British literature and a close friend of Fussell, and in his early career, Fussell wrote Poetic Meter and Poetic Form, a well-regarded textbook for understanding poetry, and an analysis of Johnson's writings. His own writings were forever influenced by the horrors he witnessed. The Great War and Modern Memory used the work of English poets and authors to demonstrate how war is romanticised and idealised, turned into moral and religious parable, and what happens when the reality of war overwhelms the dream of it.
In Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars he traced British culture and the impact of the First World War through the works of Graham Greene, DH Lawrence and others. Fussell regarded the 1920s and '30s as a lost time when travelling had yet to become "tourism", when "seeing and learning" was the object of visiting other countries, and not "consuming".
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