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16 - Poets and Novelists: Writing the Memory of War

from Part III - War, Culture and Memory

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2022

Alan Forrest
Affiliation:
University of York
Peter Hicks
Affiliation:
Fondation Napoléon, Paris
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Summary

On Waterloo Day, 18 June 1875, the poet and novelist Thomas Hardy visited Chelsea Hospital to speak with the survivors of a battle that predated his birth by a quarter of a century. As the author’s second wife Florence Emily Hardy records, the veterans’ recollections of the conflict were captured in striking, imagistic fragments, reminiscent of the ‘sensory, perceptual and emotional components’ associated with traumatic memory:1 the sight of ‘bayonets, helmets and swords’ glinting through ‘the haze of smoke’; a sense impression of lying uncovered on ‘the wet eve of battle’, as if the man were ‘speaking on the actual day’.2 While for Hardy, Waterloo represented the climax of a ‘Great Historical Calamity’,3 far removed from the relative peace and security of his own times, for these war-torn veterans the battle was an all-too-present event that refused to lend itself fully to narrative coherence.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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