Fighting the last war : Britain, the lost generation and the Second World War
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Concerted efforts to debunk popular myths about the Great War have resulted in cant attention being paid to the purpose and value of the lost generation myth within British society, particularly during times of further conflict such as the Second World War. This thesis reveals the benefits of reflecting on the previous conflict in ways connected with the concept of a lost generation during the years 1939-45. These benefits boiled down to the fact that myths exist for their utility as means of comprehending both past and present. This applied to the myth in its strictest sense as an explanatory narrative used to interpret demographic issues as well as psychological, spiritual and material ones. Notions of a missing generation and visions of the living lost are therefore used to demonstrate how the concept of a lost generation was used to make sense of the world. Also examined are the myth’s wider discursive effects. Other handy devices used to understand the past and to approach the present were powerful symbols and commemorative narratives closely connected to visions of a lost generation. Analysis of the myth-making power of major poets demonstrates how engagement with the iconic status and visions of Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sasoon was used to outline contemporary concerns. A detailed examination of the language surrounding the British Legion’s Poppy Appeal and the observance of Armistice Day also shows how these rituals were used not only to frame loss but also to understand and explain the renewal of international conflict. By exposing the utility of these related discourses and practices, as well as of the myth in its own right, this thesis ultimately illuminates a crucial phase in the myth’s endurance as a popular definition of what happened between 1914 and 1918.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2020-05-29
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 29th May 2020
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