The generation of 1914 holds a special place in memory, affection, and myth. In this irresistible and moving book, Robert Wohl rescues it from the shadows of legend and brings it fully into the realm of understanding. He tells the story of the young men--the middle class elite of five European countries, France, Germany, England, Spain, and Italy, to recreate the generational consciousness that united them as well as the unique national experience that made them different.
These were men born at the end of the nineteenth century when the world of reason was disintegrating into a world of irrationality. They were destined to rule but their lives were interrupted by the greatest of wars, leaving them searching for identity and historical continuity. Wohl recaptures this search through novels, poems, autobiographies, memoirs, sociological treatises, philosophical essays, university lectures, political speeches, conversations when recorded, letters, personal notebooks, and newspaper articles. His book is a brilliant study of European mentalities, both collective and individual.
Probing behind ideas to find the experience that inspired them, Wohl illuminates in unexpected ways the origins of World War I and its impact on its participants. His exploration of the consciousness of generational unity and the power of the generational bond enables him to place in a novel context the spread of pessimism and despair, the waning of liberal and humanitarian values, the rise of Communist and Fascist movements, and the sudden eruption of violence in Europe's progressive countries between the two world wars.
Although so different in subject and approach, the originality and absorbing freshness with which this study is written creates something of the excitement which one felt when one discovered Edmund Wilson's To the Finland Station or J. L. Lowes's The Road to Xanadu. It tells how, 'round about 1880, all over Europe and in Britain, the word 'generation' ceased to mean what it had done for centuries ... and came to mean 'youth' and its special values, energies, repudiations and abilities. According to the myth . . . this 'generation' had no sooner . . . shown itself full of a promise . . . than it got 'lost' in the Flanders mudbath prepared for it by wily old men (and women). Mr. Wohl gives a tart synopsis of this romantic simplification, and provides us with an altogether nobler, often absurd and dangerous, and finally more enthralling scene.
This is a work of broad and impeccable scholarship...Succinct, lucid, and superbly written, it is the best history to deal with the problem of generation...[Wohl's] talent for incisive portraiture is remarkable.
A superb work of cultural history, a study of lives lived and sensibilities formed in the shadow of war and upheaval.
- 324 pages
- 6 x 9 inches
- Harvard University Press
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