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Modern Nostalgia

Siegfried Sassoon, Trauma and the Second World War

Robert Hemmings

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This book explores Siegfried Sassoon's writing of the twenties, thirties and forties, demonstrating the connections between trauma and nostalgia in a culture saturated with the anxieties of war.

Informed by the texts of Freud, W.H.R. Rivers and other psychological writers of the early twentieth century, as well as contemporary theorists of nostalgia and trauma, this book examines the pathology of nostalgia conveyed in Sassoon's unpublished poems, letters and journals, together with his published work. It situates his ongoing anxiety about 'Englishness', modernity, and his relation to modernist aesthetics, within the context of other literary responses to the legacy of war, and the threat of war's return, by writers including Edmund Blunden, Robert Graves and T. E. Lawrence.

Key Features

  • Provides the most thorough, eloquently crafted and focused revisionist study of Siegfried Sassoon to date
  • Sets Sassoon's work in new contexts and offers Sassoon as a case study for new ways of remembering war
  • Taps into current theories of trauma, nostalgia and memory
  • Establishes continuities between the literary culture of the First and Second World Wars


Introduction: Literary Nostalgias
Nostalgia: Pathos and Pathology
Modernist Nostalgia
Georgian Nostalgia
Chapter 1: The Space Between the Wars: Rural Revival and the Georgian legacy
The Autobiographical Turnl
Chapter 2: Rivers, Myers and the Culture of War Neuroses
Traumatic Neuroses and Modern War
Charles Myers and 'Shell Shock'
Rivers, Maghull and the English Psychoanalytic Approach
Uncanny Doublings
Trauma: the Historical Return
Visions of War's Return
Chapter 3: Witnessing and Survival: The challenge of 'autognosis' in the interwar years: The Return of the War: key poems of the 1920s
Prose Autognosis
Uncanny returns: Poetry of war and dreams in the 1930s
Looking Back: Sassoon's Aesthetics
Chapter 4: Wartime Revisited: Ghosts and Spirits in Sassoon's Patriotic Verse of the Second World War: Awake to the Nightmare: 3 September 1939
The limits of Reclusion: Patriotism and the revival of the pre-protest war poet
Civilian War Poet I: The War Poems
Chapter 5: Look Back to 'Gladness': Nostalgia and Sassoon's Personal Poems, 1940-5: Rhymed Ruminations (1940)
Civilian War Poet II: Wartime sanctuary and the limited consolation of the English countryside

The Encroaching War: Trauma and detachment
Chapter 6: Narcissism and Autognosis: Sassoon, 1936-42: Narcissism and Autobiography
Narcissus and The Old Century

Nostalgia: disease and antidote
Chapter 7: Liminal Moments, Uncanny Spaces:
Sassoon's Autobiography and the Modern Subject: The Threshold
Atop the Stairs
Constructing the Mature 'Sassoon'
Ghosts of Selves Past
Conclusion: Modern Nostalgia, Absence and Loss


Modern Nostalgia is a fascinating inquiry into the relation between nostalgia and trauma...In its range and precision, in its imagination and suggestiveness, Hemmings's outstanding book is a tour de force.
- Paul Stevens, Professor and Canada Research Chair in English Literature, University of Toronto
In examining the ways in which Sassoon adopted and adapted Rivers's theories, Hemmings places Sassoon's turn inwards in a variety of contexts: literary, historical, and as part of the history of attempts to understand and cure war trauma. As a result this fascinating study deserves close attention from literary scholars of the inter-war period, while the connections it explores between nostalgia and war trauma also lend it an interest that transcends disciplinary boundaries. Modern Nostalgia sheds light both on a neglected and maligned part of Sassoon's oeuvre and on a fascinating strand of medical history.
- Modern Language Review