The Burning of the World
I wonder when this memoir of the opening stages of the First World War in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire (on the Galician front) was written. There’s no reference to the date of its writing in the introduction, and the only clue we get is in the brief note on the author’s life that says the memoir was “probably” written sometime after the Second World War, perhaps as much as forty years after the events it describes.
The reason this is important has less to do with problems of memory than it does with the massive literature that, by the time these memoirs were being composed, had already done so much to standardize the genre. Memoir had been overtaken by cultural memory, and not just of the Great War. The indifference of nature to man’s suffering, for example, might have been drawn from The Red Badge of Courage.
As with any memoir of the First World War the contrast between life before and after is the dominant theme. 1914 is when so much came to an end. The Burning of the World gives us another perspective on this, as well as a reminder of the sheer physical unpleasantnes of war, which can have less to do with its violence and destruction than the endurance of endless cold and exhaustion, and the “sullen struggle” for survivial in wartime which takes place both at the front and at home.