Mad Jack

Siegfried Sassoon at War & at Peace

In her perceptive, exhaustively researched biography of Siegfried Sassoon, Jean Moorcroft Wilson posits that “a study of his life is a study of his age” (Siegfried Sassoon: Soldier, Poet, Lover, Friend, Overlook Duckworth, $40, 629 pp.). In fact Sassoon’s life spanned several ages. When he was born in 1886, Victoria was Queen and William Gladstone had just introduced the first Irish Home Rule Bill. Gilbert and Sullivan ruled the London stage. Across the English Channel, Otto Von Bismarck, chancellor of a Germany that was largely his creation, had helped bring about a balance of power designed to secure a continent-wide peace.

When Sassoon died in 1967, the British Empire was a memory. After two devastating wars, Europe was divided between East and West. The threat of mutually assured destruction maintained a fragile peace between the United States and the Soviet Union. In England, the Beatles released the psychedelic genie with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The sexual revolution was in full swing. Parliament decriminalized homosexuality.

Sassoon was indeed, as Wilson accurately sums him up, “Soldier, Poet, Lover, Friend.” But, like Walt Whitman, a poet he was greatly influenced by, Sassoon was a man...

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About the Author

Peter Quinn is the author of three novels, including The Man Who Never Returned (Overlook).