Complete Memoirs of George Sherston by Siegfried Sassoon (1936)

1 March 2012

Only sheer bloody-mindedness made me finish Siegfried Sassoon’s 650-page ‘Complete Memoirs of George Sherston’, being the omnibus edition of his three fictionalised memoirs – ‘Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man’, ‘Memoirs of an Infantry Officer’, and ‘Sherston’s Progress’.

A monument to nincompoopish solipsism. A prime product of the public schools of his time, never having done a day’s work in his life, philistine and unintellectual, addicted to field sports, volunteering as the Great War begins and expecting it to be a jolly wheeze, Sassoon is bally confused when it turns out not to be a pleasant canter through the Kent countryside.

There follow 400 pages of self-centred and fruitless bewilderment which feature all the events of his actual life, but annoyingly portrayed as the experiences of the fictional ‘Sherston’, stripping the text of immediacy and swamping it in querulous obtuseness. He leaves out arguably the most interesting element which is his own literary growth and development. His war poems are important if not first rate, because of the example they set. In all 650 pages there isn’t a mention of them, because Sassoon has taken the idiotic decision to eliminate that part of his personality and life from the fictional twit he has created.

There was some consolation for persisting, though, because the last 40 pages quote directly from his diary about his final tour of Palestine and then back to France, and this is full of beautiful, immediate detail. You could just read these last pages.

It’s staggering and a terrible indictment of the English literary scene of the 20s and 30s that these prolix vapourings became ‘instant classics’.

‘The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston’ on Amazon

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