Paul Fussell, Literary Scholar and Critic, Is Dead at 88
Paul Fussell, the wide-ranging, stingingly opinionated literary scholar and cultural critic whose admiration for Samuel Johnson, Kingsley Amis and the Boy Scout Handbook and his withering scorn for the romanticization of war, the predominance of television and much of American society were dispensed in more than 20 books, died on Wednesday in Medford, Ore. He was 88.
From the 1950s into 1970s, Mr. Fussell followed a conventional academic path, teaching and writing on literary topics, specializing in 18th-century British poetry and prose. But his career changed in 1975, when he published ‘The Great War and Modern Memory,’ a monumental study of World War I and how its horrors fostered a disillusioned modernist sensibility.
‘The Great War,’ a work that drew on Mr. Fussell’s own bloody experience as an infantryman during World War II, won both the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism and the National Book Award for Arts and Letters.
‘It is difficult to underestimate Fussell’s influence,’ Vincent B. Sherry wrote in ‘The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of the First World War.’ ‘The book’s ambition and popularity move interpretation of the war from a relatively minor literary and historical specialization to a much more widespread cultural concern. His claims for the meaning of the war are profound and far-reaching; indeed, some have found them hyperbolic. Yet, whether in spite of or because of the enormity of his assertions, Fussell has set the agenda for most of the criticism that has followed him.’
The Great War and Modern Memory is still one of my favourite books. RIP, Paul Fussell.