They will not be the same: themes of modernity in Britain during World War I

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Virginia Tech

Through the framework of three of John Buchan’s Richard Hannay novels, this study demonstrates some of the social changes which occurred in Britain as the Great War ushered in the modern age. Modern usage of propaganda, the weakening of institutional values, cynicism, and alienation are explored as specific attributes of modernity. Propaganda posters are examined, as are the experiences of British soldiers on the Western Front.

Trench warfare will be analyzed both as a birthplace for alienation and irony, and for its role in producing the Live and Let Live system. When this system was practiced on the Western Front, participating parties rejected nationalism in favor of individualism; they cooperated to save both themselves and the individuals in the trench opposing them. When raids were instituted to destroy Live and Let Live, alienation resulted between the soldiers on the front lines and their High Command.

These concepts, along with the change in social attitudes toward women, are juxtaposed with the concepts which the modern age replaced: the idea that women had no part in a man’s world, that war was glorious, and that practically anything could be made into a game. This last concept will be demonstrated by one aspect of the British response to Bolshevism.

Interwoven throughout this study are both some of the poetry of the Great War and examples from the trilogy of Richard Hannay novels. In this manner it is possible to observe fragments of social change which occurred during World War I; change which led to the modern age.