Ernest Hemingway and Other Novelists on Their World War I Experiences


This year marks both the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War and the 115th birthday of Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway eschewed college to drive an ambulance for the Red Cross on the Italian Front, and his experiences would go on to influence his work, most notably his 1929 novel A Farewell to Arms. Seeing as today is Hemingway’s birthday, and we’re a week away from the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, here’s a look at how he and other authors involved in the fighting saw The Great War and its aftermath.

Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway said the war was, “the most colossal, murderous, mismanaged butchery that has ever taken place on earth. Any writer who said otherwise lied, So the writers either wrote propaganda, shut up, or fought.”

Robert Graves

Although better known as a war poet, Graves would go on to write the iconic war book Good-Bye to All That: “England looked strange to us returned soldiers. We could not understand the war madness that ran about everywhere, looking for a pseudo-military outlet. The civilians talked a foreign language; and it was newspaper language.”

Henri Barbusse

The French author enlisted for the French army at the age of 41. He wrote of the destruction war caused in his famous war novel, Under Fire: “The emptied towns and the villages destroyed, they are a wilderness of our making. Yes, war is all of us, and all of us together.”

Siegfried Sassoon

Before he went go on to write his largely autobiographical George Sherston trilogy of novels, the writer — most famous for his poetry — quit the army in a letter where he stated, “that the war upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest.”

Gabriel Chevallier

“In short, the war got off to a pretty good start, with the help of chaos.” The French author’s novel Fear was recently put back into publication by NYRB Classics.

Richard Aldington

In Death of a Hero, this British novelist — who was wounded on the Western Front — wrote in one of his stories that, “All nations teach their children to be ‘patriotic’, and abuse the other nations for fostering nationalism.”

Arnold Zweig

The German author’s experiences in the First World War shook him so much that he became an anti-war activist after the fighting ceased. His 1927 novel, The Case of Sergeant Grischa, isn’t too easy to find in America, but it really should be. Hopefully some enterprising publisher will remedy that situation.