Wilfred Owen


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Guy Cuthbertson

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One of Britain’s best-known and most loved poets, Wilfred Owen (1893–1918) was killed at age 25 on one of the last days of the First World War, having acted heroically as soldier and officer despite his famous misgivings about the war's rationale and conduct. He left behind a body of poetry that sensitively captured the pity, rage, valor, and futility of the conflict.

In this new biography Guy Cuthbertson provides a fresh account of Owen's life and formative influences: the lower-middle-class childhood that he tried to escape; the places he lived in, from Birkenhead to Bordeaux; his class anxieties and his religious doubts; his sexuality and friendships; his close relationship with his mother and his childlike personality.  Cuthbertson chronicles a great poet's growth to poetic maturity, illuminates the social strata of the extraordinary Edwardian era, and adds rich context to how Owen's enduring verse can be understood.

Guy Cuthbertson is senior lecturer in English literature at Liverpool Hope University and an expert on the First World War poets.
'For me, Wilfred Owen is the greatest of all the war poets ... the author of some of the most stunning poetry of the 20th century – and the voice of a generation ... The paradox of Owen – that he had become a first-rate warrior while abominating war – is what gives his poems their unique strength. ... Owen's poetry, like his life, scorns easy attitudinising ... But it is Owen's intense respect for the soldier that makes his poetry so powerful. Those who did not return have their meticulously maintained stone memorials on the fields of Flanders. But their memorial in our minds is largely built by Wilfred Owen.' - Jeremy Paxman
“[A] vigorous, well-documented narrative, with fresh light to cast on some central themes. It is excellent on the Shropshire background, on Owen’s educational career…and on the curious life he led as an émigré in France. It offers too some intelligent analysis of Owen’s growing technical accomplishment as a poet.”—Rowan Williams, New Statesman

“This impressive biography shows us both aspects of the man and it sheds new light on important aspects of Owen’s literary career.”—The Sunday Herald

“[H]ere is an elegantly written, penetrating and stirring biography.”—John Preston, The Daily Mail

“Cuthbertson’s biography is admirably thorough in its unpacking of Owens’s poetic imagery. There is no reference that is unexplored.”—Daisy Goodwin, The Sunday Times

“[Cuthbertson] writes with such sincerity, telling the story of Owen’s short life and journey from provincial obscurity to the carnage on the western front and then to posthumous fame as a ‘war’ poet with diligence and empathy.”—Jason Cowley, The Financial Times

“Invaluable insight into a man whose words will be heard often during the upcoming WWI centennial.”—Booklist (starred review)

“Cuthbertson is scrupulous, thoughtful and open-minded. His book is fired with enthusiasm for the poems and respect for the man who created them. The result is a fine biography.”—John Sutherland, The Times

‘Guy Cuthbertson’s book is an amiable and admiring account of Wilfred Owens’s slow and often painful discovery of himself, as he made his way from railwayman’s son to Army officer and – after his death in battle – to famous poet.’—Derwent May, Standpoint Magazine
‘[Cuthbertson] score[s] highly as a sensitive and admiring critic of the poetry. . .attuned to the ironies and contradictions of his subject, whom he (surely correctly) portrays as an eternal child and swirling mass of contradictions.’—Nigel Jones, The Sunday Telegraph
‘It is more than ten years since the last [biography] and there is much to recommend in Cuthbertson’s addition to the vast fund of Owen material. More than anything, this is an attempt to breathe life and colour into the famous sepia images of the unsmiling soldier poet.’—Mike Sansbury, Ilkley Gazette
‘Rarely has a poet been better served than by Guy Cuthbertson’s sensitive and beautifully-written account of a young life which ended so brutally with a sniper’s bullet in the head on November 4 1918, just a week before the Armistice. . .Should you purchase this truly lovely and deeply humane book, I guarantee you will read and re-read it – maybe for the rest of your life.’—Richard Edmonds, Birmingham Post

‘For a long time Owen has been set in stone, his poetry ossifying into anti-war cliché. Cuthbertson has made him live again.’—Gary Day, THES

‘This textured and engaging biography is a fine addition to the body of work about the remarkable Wilfred Owen.’—Christine Kendell, Friends of the Dymock Poets Newsletter

‘Cuthbertson’s new biography is lively, frequently witty, and extensively researched (including material from the recently opened Dennis Welland archive). Cuthbertson unearths some fascinating details (for example the discovery of an unmistakeable trigger for Owen’s poem ‘The Send-Off’’ in a 1918 article in The Times).’—Paul Norgate, Use of English.

“In this compassionate and moving biography, Cuthbertson lifts the lid on Owen’s early years and their impact on his work… While his boyishness nurtured his verse, his writing was mature and sophisticated, and Cuthbertson scrutinises this relationship wonderfully.—Julia Richardson, Daily Mail

“Cuthbertson is an acute and perceptive critic of the poetry that made Owen so posthumously celebrated. This book is a valuable addition to the huge library devoted to the war’s remarkable literary legacy.”—Nigel Jones, BBC History, 
ISBN: 9780300216158
Publication Date: February 9, 2016
352 pages, 5 x 7 3/4
37 b/w illus.
Peace at Last

A Portrait of Armistice Day, 11 November 1918

Guy Cuthbertson

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