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Mark of the Beast

Mark of the Beast: Death and Degradation in the Literature of the Great War

Copyright Date: 1989
Pages: 184
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    Mark of the Beast
    Book Description:

    The First World War is a watershed in the intellectual and spiritual history of the modern world. On the one hand, it brought an end to a sense of optimism and decency bred by the prosperity of nineteenth-century Europe. On the other, it brought forth a sense of futility and alienation that has since pervaded European thought. That cataclysmic experience is richly reflected in the work of writers and artists from both sides of the conflict, and this study provides a detailed analysis of two basic themes -- death and degradation -- that mark the literature about the war.

    From their accounts most men entered the war lightheartedly, filled with ideals of patriotism and glory, but these generous feelings were soon quelled as the war settled into a stalemate, its operations reduced to simply grinding away the opposing forces. In these operations, Alfredo Bonadeo shows, men became mere aggregations thrown against one another, wasted with no appreciable effects or gains, save carnage itself.

    This cheapening and disregard for human life and being Bonadeo finds rooted not only in the conditions of war but, significantly, in a contempt for the common man prevailing in European political and intellectual circles. This attitude is revealed most plainly in his analysis of the Italian literature, which hitherto has received little note. Italian leaders saw the war as an opportunity to expiate a sense of national guilt, and here the inconclusive campaigns made their futility all the greater.

    Out of the torn fields of the First World War grew the seeds of a second, greater conflict, but, Professor Bonadeo concludes, the flowering of the seeds was aided by the degradation of man's spirit on those fields. The grim focus of this book, the dead voices it evokes, leads to a new appreciation of the meaning of the Great War.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5648-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1. The Animal Within
    (pp. 1-49)

    War has often required the performance of extraordinary deeds and has often exacted incredible sacrifices from the combatant, but the European war of 1914-18 demanded more than previous conflicts. Six hundred thousand Italian soldiers were killed, and about one million were wounded; France lost almost one and a half million men, and its wounded totaled four million. Germany fared worse than France: almost two million killed and four million wounded. Yet, no matter how impressive, these statistics do not convey the drama of the men who returned outwardly unharmed after years of assaults and shellings during what Lewis Mumford has...

  5. 2. A Bath of Black Blood
    (pp. 50-94)

    A subtle and cultivated malaise, a kind of degradation wholly different from the savagery that seizes man on the battlefield, appeared in Europe before World War I. Degradation on the battlefield, we have seen, destroys man’s spirit but enhances his fighting ability, thereby giving the combatant an advantage. The sense of decay that characterized some European countries before the war offered one political advantage: it bent people to the will of their leaders and to the requirements of war. Three members of the generation of 1914—two real and one fictional—show how the malaise drew men and nations into...

  6. 3. A Loss beyond Life
    (pp. 95-149)

    Even after Italy had been at war for more than a year, and its army had been bleeding and dying in futile attempts to break through the Austrian defenses, Benedetto Croce extolled with philosophical imperturbability the nobility of war and death. Only national crisis, only war, he wrote in August 1916, brings to the fore the good men, the men who act and who love without making a show, the men who stand apart from the rabble, full of vices and deceit. “War, and even more Death, bring [the good men] out of the shadow and into the open, make...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 150-151)

    In some primitive societies, it has been said, battle, maiming, and killing come as less of a shock than in more advanced cultures.¹ Primitive man, von Clausewitz noted early in the nineteenth century, is naturally endowed with a “certain strength of body and soul” that makes him indifferent to “exertion and suffering,” makes him brave and fit for war and victory.² Anthropologists have confirmed von Clausewitz’s view, and have recognized that primitive man is callous to human suffering and to “the enormity of the crime of destroying human life.”³ It is this very callousness that helps produce an efficient warrior....

  8. Notes
    (pp. 152-168)
  9. Index
    (pp. 169-174)