Where the 19th Century Died

It’s always been said that the 19th century died on the Western Front; the writer Gene Smith said so, in his brief and lyrical account of a winding south-to-north trip, fifty years later. “…Verdun, … the disappearance forever of all represented by France’s glorious uniform of red pantaloons, and Germany’s wonderfully martial spiked helmets. Madelon and Germania flocked to the stations to kiss the warriors— “À Berlin!” “Nach Paris!” — and in the end the trains stopped at Verdun. After terrible Verdun, after the mules drowning in this shell hole here, after the disemboweled boys screaming in this fallen-in dug-out, the nineteenth century was over and history was back on the track for what the twentieth was meant to be.”

Read more

A Summer Day in Bosnia-Herzegovina 100 Years Ago

This weekend marks the hundredth anniversary of the incident which was the spark that set off the cataclysm of the First World War. Which wasn’t, strictly speaking, the first world-wide war; it could be argued that the Napoleonic Wars were, and the interminable European war between France and England which spilled over into those colonies in the North American continent could also be considered a world war.

Read more

Turning Point

My daughter and I are watching and very much enjoying the period splendors of Downton Abbey, showing on the local PBS channel here over the last couple of weeks – just as much as my parents and I enjoyed Upstairs, Downstairs – the original version, yea these decades ago. Of course, the thrust of this season is the effects of WWI on the grand edifice of Edwardian society in general. The changes were shattering … they seemed so at the time, and even more in retrospect, to people who lived through the early 20th century in Western Europe, in Russia, the US and Canada. In reading 20th century genre novels, I noted once that one really didn’t see much changing in book set before and after WWII, save for the occasional mention of a war having been fought: people went to the movies, listened to the radio, drove cars, wore pretty much the same style of clothes … but in novels set before and after WWI, the small changes in details were legion.

Read more