Cover image for Mark of the beast : death and degradation in the literature of the Great War
Mark of the beast : death and degradation in the literature of the Great War
Bonadeo, Alfredo.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Lexington, Ky. : University Press of Kentucky, [1989]

Physical Description:
viii, 172 pages ; 23 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN771 .B66 1989 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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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.

Author Notes

Alfredo Bonadeo is professor of Italian at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Bonadeo's study of the European literature emerging from WW I is particularly useful because of its emphasis on the Italian writing that the Great War produced. His reflections on Remarque, Barbusse, Drieu la Rochelle, and Junger are routine, but he ties Italian literature to the mainstream European themes in a very informative way. We tend to forget the extraordinary bloodbath that took place in the Appenines north of Venice, where the Italian, German, and Austrian armies destroyed each other. Bonadeo (University of California, Santa Barbara) points out the themes that help establish the Italian literary contribution to the horrible imagery of this first great technological war. The general theme is that WW I produced in literature nothing of a positive nature, and focused a generation of writers only on the destruction of the human spirit. Bonadeo is relentlessly grim in his analysis, as he prepares his readers for the next and inevitable carnage, WW II. The analysis is not profound, but this is a very readable account of the literary message of war at its worst. There is no redemption: only slaughter. This an easy book to read, particularly useful in a general-education context. -S. Gittleman, Tufts University