ADVANTAGES

The War had really ended for Sassoon when he left France in July 1918, though technically he remained in the army on indefinite sick-leave until 11 March 1919, when the London Gazette announced his retirement. He later objected to being known mainly as a war-poet, but he was endlessly to recycle the material which had initially made his name. Less than a decade after the publication of Counter-Attack he would return to the War for a prose trilogy which was to consolidate his fame: Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man (1928), Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930) and Sherston’s Progress (1936). And when that was completed he returned to the same material for the third time in his three-volume autobiography, The Old Century (1938), The Weald of Youth (1942) and Siegfried’s Journey (1945). Significantly, a fourth volume, not based on his War experiences, was left unfinished. As though caught in a time warp, Sassoon seems to have had a compulsive need to re-live that particular part of his life in his work.
It might be argued that the War both made and unmade Sassoon. As a young man determined to be a poet but with no clear sense of direction, it had given him a subject as well as the experience and passion to turn that subject into memorable verse. And as a mature writer who appeared again to have lost a sense of direction, the War provided the way forward in his fictional and autobiographical prose trilogies. When that material was finally exhausted, however, so too was Sassoon’s creative impulse. A failed marriage and increasing loneliness, exacerbated by the departure of his only child, George, for school and university, led him eventually to the Roman Catholic Church. There, in his last decade, he found a new subject for his poetry and a tranquil end to his turbulent life.

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