cover image Siegfried Sassoon: The Making of a War Poet, a Biography (1886-1918)

Siegfried Sassoon: The Making of a War Poet, a Biography (1886-1918)

Jean Moorcroft Wilson, Wilson. Routledge, $95 (608pp) ISBN 978-0-415-92325-5

Reintroduced to contemporary readers by Pat Barker's acclaimed Regeneration trilogy, in which he figures as a major character, Sassoon was the first English soldier-poet to achieve notoriety as an opponent of WWI. A literary dilettante before his experience in the trenches, Sassoon was both made and unmade by the war: the Armistice of 1918 ended his effectiveness as a poet at age 32. Wilson (who has written lives of war poets Charles Hamilton Sorley and Isaac Rosenberg) also ends this biography in 1918, although Sassoon lived on until 1967. Sassoon was remembered primarily for his bitter verse satires about the war, although he ""revisited"" the conflict with ""nostalgic regret"" in fictional, then autobiographical, trilogies. His changing attitude hints at a second personal drama running parallel to the war. Like many of the friends to whom he was drawn, the war plunged Captain Sassoon into a male setting that intensified a homosexual longing that found physical expression only after 1918. Paradoxically, he realized, the war, which he excoriated in vivid and often brutal images, also left him ""glad to be there,"" feeling ""intensely alive"" and a ""living antithesis"" to his own protests against its wastefulness. These contradictions landed him in a mental hospital. Drawing on his diaries and other writings, this first full-scale biography of Sassoon evokes the writer in such overwhelming detail that his personality sometimes seems buried under it. Nonetheless, it is valuable for its depth of documentation and as a resource for the growing number of Pat Barker fans on these shores. 53 b&w illustrations. (Mar.)