The last portion of this book throws the first into stark relief. While I enjoyed the first section, it didn't grab me - it was a calm meandering from hunting meet to hunting meet, from a quiet life to brief flurries of activity on a horse. Nothing really happened, nothing changed.
then, of course, everything did. Life remained prone to brief flurries
of activity, but now they were flurries of activity that could kill you
in a second. There were downtimes, but they were downtimes of trench
foot and anxiety, not leisurely rides and hoping you make a good showing
Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man is the first
in a series of three fictional autobiographies by Siegried Sassoon,
loosely detailing his experiences as a young man, and then later, his
enlistment and deployment to the trenches of the First World War. It was
written years after the war, and has that sense of looking back on his
younger self (here called George Stetson) with both compassion, love,
and a bit of irritation.
George/Siegfried knows now that he was
more careless of those around him than he should have been, from his
aunt (mother), to the housekeeper who attended to his every need, to the
groom who was as much as a father as he ever had, to the farmers over
whose fields he rode with no care for destruction left behind. He
remembers seeing those less fortunate as irritating impediments to the
life he wanted.
It is the latter sections that make this first
bit so poignant. Sassoon captures in such detail both the joys and
casual cruelties of the life he lived before the war, his lack of
direction, his selfish indulgence. But not with regret. These were the
halcyon days, even though he later seems to realize that they were not
without cost for those around him. In the world he chose to spend his
energy, he made good friends and knew who he was and where he belonged.
who he was opened doors when he enlisted, getting him positions and
officer training those who didn't have the sporting connections found
more difficult. He is very clear that many of the officers who were not
gentry were better officers, but that doors were opened to him because
he knew what to wear and how to ride.
The war is not presented
in melodramatic terms. It is straightforward, bare, and all the more
powerful for that. George loses friends, loses men, but no pity is asked
for. He speaks in barest sketches of how he came to question the
justness of the war in which so many were being sacrificed.
book tells the tale of a how a man came to be, and how that was changed
by the war. George wasn't a bad person, just thoughtless and carefree.
By the end of the book, he is not.