Edmund Blunden


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A Biography

Barry Webb

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Edmund Blunden (1896-1974) ranks among the most prodigious literary talents of Britain in the twentieth century. As a poet, he was best known for Undertones of War, a moving account of the First World War by one of its youngest soldier poets. But he was also a biographer, an edition, a scholar, teacher, and professor in Hong Kong, Japan, and Oxford. This book—the first biography of Blunden and written with the cooperation of his family—captures the man, his full career, and the literary environment in which he lived.
Drawing from many thousands of Blunden's letters, diaries, and other personal papers round the world, as well as from interviews with friends and colleagues, Barry Webb traces the writer's boyhood in Kent, his two years in the trenches of the Somme and Passchendaele, and the career that extended from journalism in postwar London to the chair of poetry at Oxford in 1966.
Blunden was the author of over a thousand poems, more than three thousand articles and reviews, and biographies of Shelley and Leigh Hunt, and he was the first major editor of John Clare and Wilfred Owen. Webb describes this active literary life and provides an account of Blunden's many influential friendships (with Siegfried Sassoon, for example), of his three marriages and seven children, and of the intriguing relationship with his Japanese secretary. He reveals Blunden to be a man of many contradictions: usually pictured as most at home on an English village green, he spent half his working life in the Far East; essentially a pacifist, he was the proud owner of the Military Cross; known for his generous mildness, he was accused of Nazi sympathies in 1939; at heart a private man, he was constantly in demand as a leader. Webb sees these tensions as providing the stimulus for the work and writing of a highly respected figure in twentieth-century literature, a man who had a profound effect on contemporaries in both the East and the West.

"[An] absorbing and very sympathetic account."—Library Journal

"Barry Webb has drawn an engaging and often amusing portrait of his hero. . . . This book is not only the study of an individual poet but the picture of his literary age."—Peter Quennell, Country Life

"Mr. Webb’s book is long, thorough, and well-researched."—The Economist

"Judicious and carefully researched. . . . Sheds a flood of light on a period in our literary culture that seems as remote now as that of the Elizabethans."—Anthony Curtis, Financial Times

"Barry Webb, who knew Blunden in old age, has produced a lively, accurate, sympathetic, and well-written life."—Jeffrey Meyers, The New Criterion

"Webb seems Blunden’s perfect biographer, for he shares Blunden’s pleasure in country things and in evocative language. His book is nicely, sometimes beautifully, written, and at the end the reader is sorry there’s no more."—Paul Fussell, The Sunday Times

"A beautifully written, well-researched biography which exhibits a proper respect for Blunden’s humanity and plain decency. . . . Edmund Blunden is distinguished by a subtle delicacy of style which is finely attuned to the personality of its subject."—Mark Bostridge, Times Higher Education Supplement

"Absorbing to the end."—Michael Meyer, London Magazine

"Barry Webb’s shrewd treatment brings out very well the sad contradiction that Blunden’s immense and deserved popularity as a lecturer and literary figure has failed to stand the always hard-faced test of time."—John Bayley, London Review of Books

"Blunden was an important [poet], whose life and prolific writings closely intertwined with modern British literature for many years. This biography, therefore, is also a history of the British literary world of the 1920s to the 1930s. Blunden himself has been treated fairly in this well-written and closely documented work, which is also the only complete biography of Blunden available. It is well indexed. Recommended for all academic literary collections."—Choice

"Handsomely produced, usefully illustrated, and with over three hundred pages of main text, the book is a labor of love."—Philip Gardner, Dalhousie Review

"A full and balanced account of the man who `touched the hearts of the Japanese in an extraordinary way’. . . . An absorbing portrait of an important figure in twentieth-century literature."—Leonard P. Sanders, Japan Times

"A most revealing portrait of a sensitive poet and an endearing human being."—K.C. Leung, World Literature Today

"A well-written, intelligent account. . . . fascinating."—Peter Stansky, American Historical Review

ISBN: 9780300046342
Publication Date: December 26, 1990
352 pages, x