Tuesday, March 01, 2011
Siegfried Sassoon - Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man
So Siegfried Sassoon's fictionalised biography of his early life in the countryside should not really have much in it for me. Its a detailed account of his time learning to ride, to enjoy the company of other riders and ultimately to take part in long fox hunts and country races. But I found myself enjoying every page, even the ones with the complex discussions about horses.
Sassoon's brilliant writing is the first pleasure. He's not above the odd joke at his own expense, but his descriptions and his passion shine through. He manages to capture a society on the wane - rural communities that were remote enough to be effectively independent from the rest of the world. The rich of course make the occasional trips to the capital or other places (mostly to take part in hunts) but most people never leave their place of birth. You get a sense of this when Sassoon talks about the distances travelled during some hunts - 15 miles was considered a long long way.
But of course the reader in one sense, knows what happens. For Sassoon the coming war is barely noticeable. He lives a life of leisure - his income of £600 a year is enough for a gentleman's life, though he needs more to full enjoy his hobbies. Few of his friends seem to work. Certainly there doesn't seem to be much debate and discussion about the war clouds that gather. Then Sassoon simply joins up, apparently on a whim, but you get a sense of his boredom and desire for excitement. Eventually he's at the Western Front, though his fox-hunting career and his prowess with a horse ensure that he's welcomed by the right people all along the way.
You start to get a sense at the end of this volume of the coming horror. He loses friends early in the war and the growing clash of the classes behind the lines is very apparent. Sassoon is on the wrong side of this (who on earth brings smoked salmon back from home leave), though to his credit, he seems to know it. Volume two of this book deals with later stages of the war, but the scene is set for a major crisis in Sassoon's thoughts. In a very real way, he reflects the major shocks that the entire political and social system would start to feel as the war went on.
Sassoon - Memoirs of an Infantry Officer