Siegfried Sassoon, Autofiction and Style: Retelling the Experience of War

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In his own words, the First World War solider and poet Siegfried Sassoon found it difficult to resist his ‘queer craving to revisit the past and give the modern world the slip’ (Sassoon 1938: 140). In fact, significant amounts of his six prose autobiographical novels written and published between 1928 and 1945 are based on material from his war diaries, letters and poems that detailed his experiences at the Front. There exist, therefore, multiple retellings of the same events in Sassoon’s literary and non-literary output.

This chapter explores Sassoon’s retelling of his 1917 poem ‘Lamentations’ (Sassoon 1918) in his second ‘Sherston’ novel Memoirs of An Infantry Officer (Sassoon 1930). I compare the poem and its subsequent revision by examining Memoirs as autofiction (Doubrovsky 1977) or autonarration (Gibbons 2018), a genre where the transparent conflation of author and main protagonist-as-narrator gives rise to a series of ontolological distortions, combining the recounting of real events, places and characters with various degrees of fictionality. I subsequently argue that Memoirs, rather than being a sanitized, detached representation of the experiences detailed in Sassoon’s poems and diaries (see for example Thorpe 1966; Campbell 1999), actually offers a more complex treatment of those events, viewed from a distinctive post-war vantage point. This chapter therefore aims to provide a stylistic analysis of Sassoon’s language across the two versions integrated with a consideration of the affordances and role of autofiction in the reframing of traumatic events.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNarrative Retellings: Stylistic Approaches
EditorsMarina Lambrou
ISBN (Electronic)9781350120037
ISBN (Print)9781350120020
Publication statusPublished - 24 Dec 2020

Publication series

NameAdvances in Stylistics


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