Fussell, Paul 1924-
FUSSELL, Paul 1924-
PERSONAL: Surname rhymes with "Russell"; born March 22, 1924, in Pasadena, CA; son of Paul (an attorney) and Wilhma (Sill) Fussell; married Betty Ellen Harper (a journalist), June 17, 1949 (divorced 1987); married Harriette Behringer, April 11, 1987; children: Rosalind, Sam. . Education: Pomona College, B.A., 1947; Harvard University, M.A., 1949, Ph.D., 1952.
ADDRESSES: Home—2020 Walnut St., Apt. 4-H, Philadelphia, PA 19103. Offıce—Department of English, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6273.
CAREER: Connecticut College, New London, instructor in English, 1951-54; Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, assistant professor, 1955-59, associate professor, 1959-64, professor of English, 1964-76, John DeWitt Professor of English Literature, 1976-83; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Donald T. Regan Professor of English Literature, 1983-93, Donald T. Regan Professor Emeritus of English Literature, 1994—. Fulbright lecturer, University of Heidelberg, 1957-58. Regional chairman, Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, 1962-64. Consulting editor, Random House, Inc., 1964-65. Lecturer, American University, 1965—. Visiting professor, King's College, London, 1990-92. Military service: U.S. Army, Infantry, 1943-47; became first lieutenant; received Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.
MEMBER: Modern Language Association of America, Academy of Literary Studies, Society of American historians; English Institute (secretary, 1964-70), Royal Society of Literature (fellow).
AWARDS, HONORS: James D. Phelan Award, 1965, for nonfiction; Lindback Foundation Award, 1971; National Endowment for the Humanities senior fellowship, 1973-74; National Book Critics Circle Award and National Book Award, both 1976, both for The Great War and Modern Memory; Ralph Waldo Emerson Award, Phi Beta Kappa, 1976; Guggenheim fellow, 1977-78; American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters award, 1980, for excellence in literature; Abroad: British Literary Traveling between the Wars was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, 1980; Litt.D., Pomona College, 1981; M.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1983; Litt.D., Monmouth College, 1985; Rockefeller fellow, 1983-84.
Theory of Prosody in Eighteenth-Century England, Connecticut College (New London, CT), 1954.
The Rhetorical World of Augustan Humanism: Ethics and Imagery from Swift to Burke, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1965.
Poetic Meter and Poetic Form, Random House (New York, NY), 1965, revised edition, 1979.
(Coeditor) Eighteenth-Century English Literature, Harcourt, Brace & World (New York, NY), 1969.
Samuel Johnson and the Life of Writing, Harcourt, Brace & World (New York, NY), 1971, reprinted, 1986.
(Editor) English Augustan Poetry, Anchor Books (Garden City, NY), 1972.
The Great War and Modern Memory, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1975. (Editor) The Ordeal of Alfred M. Hale, Leo Cooper (London, England), 1975.
Abroad: British Literary Traveling between the Wars, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1980.
The Boy Scout Handbook and Other Observations, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1982.
(Editor) Siegfried Sassoon's Long Journey: Selections from the Sherston Memoirs, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1983.
Class: A Guide through the American Status System, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1983, published as Class, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1984 (published in England as Caste Marks: Style and Status in the USA, Heinemann (London, England), 1984).
(Contributor) Bon Voyage: Designs for Travel, Cooper-Hewitt Museum, Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Design (New York, NY), 1986.
(Editor) The Norton Book of Travel, Norton, 1987.
Thank God for the Atom Bomb and Other Essays, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1988.
Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1989.
(Introduction) The Middle Parts of Fortune: Somme And Ancre, 1916, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1990.
(Editor) The Norton Book of Modern War, Norton (New York, NY), 1991.
BAD, or, The Dumbing of America, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1991.
(Editor) The Bloody Game: An Anthology of Modern War, Scribners (New York, NY), 1992.
The Anti-Egotist: Kingsley Amis, Man of Letters, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1994.
Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996.
Uniforms: Why We Are What We Wear, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.
The Boys' Crusade: The American Infantry in Northwestern Europe, 1944-1945, Modern Library (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor of reviews and essays to Saturday Review, Encounter, Virginia Quarterly Review, Partisan Review, and other publications. Contributing editor to Harper's, 1979-83, and New Republic, 1979-85.
SIDELIGHTS: It was not until Paul Fussell "got tired of writing" what he was "supposed to write," he told Robert Dahlin of Publishers Weekly, that he became a successful author. For twenty years, Fussell wrote critical works on poetic theory and eighteenth-century English literature, none of which sold more than 8,000 copies. But with The Great War and Modern Memory, a study of the cultural impact of the First World War, came the realization that he could reach a general audience. The Great War and Modern Memory has sold over 50,000 copies and won Fussell the 1976 National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. "It was the perfect moment in a writer's life," he told Dahlin, "the right subject, the right time. It was an accidental masterpiece." Since his successful break with academic writing, Fussell has continued to write nonfiction for a general audience.
As Fussell explains in the preface, The Great War and Modern Memory is about "the British experience of the Western Front from 1914 to 1918 and some of the literary means by which it has been remembered, conventionalized and mythologized." Fussell argues that the modernist sensibility—what Robert Hughes of Time defined as "the sense of absurdity, disjuncture and polarization, the loathing of duly constituted authorities, the despair and the irony"—derives from the horrors of the First World War.
By comparing the art and literature dealing with earlier wars to that about the First World War, Fussell traces the differences between prewar and postwar culture. The war is likened by Hughes to "a fault line [that] had opened in history, and all that had been taken as normal vanished into its rumbling cleft." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Frank Kermode stated that "the national imagination, even the texture of our culture, have been permanently qualified by those years, and by men's understanding of what happened in them."
The dominant change brought about by the war, Fussell states, is the irony common to modernist culture. This irony was inspired by the overwhelming destruction of the First World War—a conflict few people initially thought would last more than a few weeks. Casualties soon reached levels never seen in previous wars—at Vimy Ridge, 160,000 men were lost; 60,000 died at the Somme; and more than 350,000 died at Passchendaele. War in the trenches was bloody, filthy, cold, and seemingly endless. Traditional romantic forms of art and literature—depicting war as glamorous and heroic—proved inadequate to express the realities of mass suffering. The flamboyant patriotic appeals of government propaganda were countered with understated and ironic language from the soldiers in the trenches. The war forever changed the common speech, the arts, literature, and journalism of Western society. "With invention and wit, Fussell [explores] the most significant themes, myths, and literary resources that are created or called upon by the situation of warfare—more precisely, trench warfare," William H. Pritchard wrote in the Saturday Review.
The winner of the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Great War and Modern Memory also received praise from the critics. Hughes called the book "a scrupulously argued and profoundly affecting account of what the Great War changed," while a New Yorker critic found it "a learned and well-balanced book that is also bright and sensitive." Although having doubts about some of Fussell's conclusions, Kermode felt that "one's sense of the whole book is that on the major issues it is right, skillful and compassionate. . . . This book is an important contribution to our understanding of how we came to make [the First World War] part of our minds."
In Abroad: British Literary Traveling between the Wars, Fussell examines the literary record left by the postwar generation of travelers, drawing a clear distinction between the traditional traveler of that time and the modern tourist. Richard Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Times Book Review found that Fussell is "concerned with British travelers and travel writing in the years between the wars. The '20's and '30's were, argues Fussell, the great years of modern travel. After wartime gray, cold, deprivation and confinement, 'imaginative and sensitive' Englishmen sought release in travel to the glittering regions of the sun: the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America." Writing in the Washington Post Book World, Peter Stansky observed that the "heyday of travel began in the aftermath of the First World War, about which [Fussell] wrote with so much originality and force in The Great War and Modern Memory. The present book, which might serve as a coda to its distinguished predecessor, looks back again and again to the first war to explain the peculiarities and excitements of the postwar reaction, not least among them the phenomena of travel and travel writing." Dahlin believed that in both books, Fussell "peels away layers of history and experience to uncover English literary observations underlying them."
Fussell maintains that the period between the world wars was the last great age of travel, now replaced by mere tourism. When travelers wrote books about their experiences, they created what Fussell believes is a distinct literary form. Stansky noted that "it is hard to imagine the case for travel writing, a genre worthy of a place alongside poetry and the novel, being made more impressively." Fussell devotes chapters to the travel writing of D. H. Lawrence, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, and other British literary figures. He also resurrects Robert Byron's The Road to Oxiana as a masterpiece of the genre. Jonathan Raban of the New York Times Book Review called Abroad: British Literary Traveling between the Wars "an exemplary piece of criticism. It is immensely readable. It bristles with ideas. It disinters a real lost masterpiece from the library stacks. It admits a whole area of writing—at last!—to its proper place in literary history."
When asked why travel writing does not enjoy more critical attention, Fussell once commented: "I think it is because of our superstition about fiction: in general, we assume fiction is good artistically and nonfiction is bad. But that is based upon the naive assumption that nonfiction is nonfiction. Actually, everything is fiction that's uttered in a shape which is not a natural shape, by which I mean sentences and paragraphs. Travel writing is really a form of fiction validated by appeals to actual experience." But Michael Ratcliffe of the London Times considered Fussell's proposal incorrect. He believes that everything Fussell says on behalf of travel writing as a separate genre "argues its diversity and binds it more tightly to other forms and to the central intellectual crisis of the age."
In The Boy Scout Handbook and Other Observations Fussell returns to some of the concerns with war found in The Great War and Modern Memory. A collection of reviews and essays on a variety of literary topics, the book is "actually the elaborate, multifaceted working out of traumas suffered during World War II, when Fussell was plunged from boyhood into manhood by his experiences as a line officer in Europe," maintained Joseph McLellan in the Washington Post. Peter Ackroyd of the London Times believed that "some of the most powerful writing in the book comes from [Fussell's] account of his own experiences as an infantryman in France during the Second World War."
Fussell believes that his own war experiences altered his later life. The war, Ackroyd explained, "left him with a profound irony, a certain detachment, and a scepticism about human motives which runs through this book as its unacknowledged theme." D. Keith Mano expressed a similar assessment in a People article, noting that "when you read Fussell, you can hear a disgruntled giant talking underneath his elegant and explosive prose style." Mano quoted Fussell as explaining: "I'm proud of that. I've created a character out of myself." Ronald B. Shwartz of the American Spectator described Fussell's character as "a kind of thinking man's John Wayne, wielding prose with a certain fetching swagger and acid humor, and blaming it all on nothing less than his stint as a combat platoon leader in WWII."
This brash personal approach leads Fussell to explore literary byways often overlooked by more conventional academic writers. The title of his book, for example, is taken from one piece in which he reviews the latest edition of The Boy Scout Handbook. Fussell defends the book because the motive behind it "is goodness, and the happiness which is associated with virtue," Judith Chettle noted in the Christian Science Monitor. Fussell ends by calling the book "among the very few remaining repositories of something like classical ethics." In other pieces he questions the value of Graham Greene's prose, discusses censorship in South Africa, and draws a comparison between newspaper personal ads and the irate letters authors write to protest bad reviews. "He is a bull in the china shop of American letters," Shwartz maintained.
With the publication of Class: A Guide through the American Status System, Fussell turned his attention to a topic touched upon briefly in The Boy Scout Handbook: the nature of class distinctions in the United States. He finds these distinctions to be primarily in matters of taste. Fussell claims that our choice of clothes, houses, cars, books, and other items, as well as our language, reveal our class origins. "Of the many guides to social travel that have appeared recently, Mr. Fussell's is surely the most comprehensive, as well as one of the wittiest," Alison Lurie wrote in the New York Times Book Review. In his examination of class differences, Fussell explains why owning a Mercedes-Benz automobile is hopelessly upper middle class; why red geraniums are gauche; and how a threadbare Oriental rug on your floor can move you into a higher class. Fussell finds American class distinctions so pervasive that he includes a do-it-yourself living room rating test for determining which social class you occupy. Points are awarded for items of furniture, number of books displayed, artwork on the walls, and for other contents. "Most of the author's judgments," Cleveland Amory commented in the Chicago Tribune Book World, "are extremely accurate and most of his examples unfailingly interesting."
Although Fussell divides American society into nine classes, "his primary interest is in the upper middle, the middle and the various levels of what he chooses to call the proletarians, or 'proles,'" Jonathan Yardley commented in the Washington Post Book World. "Toward the upper middle he displays the ambiguity to be expected of one who is almost certainly a member of it; toward the 'proles' he affects a good-natured egalitarianism that soon enough slides into patronizing. But there is no equivocation or uncertainty in Fussell's attitude toward the middle classes: it is one of unrestrained loathing, utterly unameliorated by sympathy or empathy." Fussell's aim, R. Z. Sheppard wrote in Time, "is to offend, mainly the middle class, and to decry the decline of culture and taste. He succeeds, with considerable wit and a fine malice." For those who wish to live outside the class system, Fussell offers an "X" group who are unhindered by class limitations and are able to enjoy true liberty. These X's avoid the pretensions of the upper classes and the insecurities of the proles while commenting ironically on the rest of society. "X's always dress down a peg. . . . They drink cheap but 'excellent' wine; they seldom eat out . . . they favor ironic lawn furniture, if any. In short, they are academics, manfully keeping up with last year's unconventions," as Wilfrid Sheed wrote in the Atlantic. "'X people' are just wonderful," Yardley stated, "and all the rules for living the X life can be found in [the book]; there seem to be at least as many of them as there are for living middle-class life, and they are every bit as rigid." Similarly, Mary R. Lefkowitz of the Times Literary Supplement wondered if the X's, "so long as they feel constrained to comment on the rest of us by their eccentric behavior, can ever truly manage to be free." "Fussell may inspire some of his readers to become X-people," Lurie observed. "Most people, however, will simply enjoy the book as a shrewd and entertaining commentary on American mores today."
Speaking to Elizabeth Mehren of the Los Angeles Times, Fussell explained that writing Class: A Guide through the American Status System allowed him "to be irresponsible, which I love being," and offered him a chance to write about "the most interesting subject there is, because it's about everybody." Fussell's enthusiasm was shared by the Toronto Globe and Mail reviewer, who called the book an "engaging attempt to chart the American status system. . . . Read and chuckle. And wince. There's no stop to the fun." In an interview with Shelton Hackney for Humanities, Fussell explained that he wrote the book because "Most Americans, in their sweet innocence, think that class has to do with money. But a glance at Donald Trump and Leona Helmsley will indicate that it has very little to do with money. It has to do with taste and style, and it has to do with the development of those features by acts of character. That was one of my points: to try to separate class from mercantilism or commercialism."
Returning to a more disturbing subject, Fussell gained more critical attention with Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War. Though spoken of as a "good" war because it put an end to Hitler's holocaust, the war, like any war, was abominable, Fussell maintains. This controversial opinion, supported by numerous examples of needless slaughter, has been hailed by some readers as a long-overdue account of the actual horrors of the war as they experienced it. Others have denounced the book, claiming that Fussell's criticisms stem from sympathy with Nazi Germany. "The reaction to this book . . . shows how precious the second [world] war was to the self-esteem of Americans," Fussell told Richard Bernstein of the New York Times. Not claiming, as some have said, that the war should not have been fought, Fussell explained, "the war was both necessary and awful. The war was necessary and just and it caused a mess of intellectual and moral ruin." The ground warfare, he claims, demoralized soldiers who then had a hard time reconciling the brutality of combat experience with their reception as heroes when they came home. Washington Post Book World editor Nina King explained, "the war as it was known by the men in the infantry combat units [was] a war of bodies hideously dismembered or blown into a thousand pieces, of grinding, humiliating fear that caused many men to lose control of their bowels and some to go mad. . . . But if the myth of the 'good war' persists 50 years later, it is because many of the survivors who knew the reality accept the myth, either because it is easier to live with, or because the idealistic, 'highminded' side of the war was also part of their understanding."
Thank God for the Atom Bomb and Other Essays declares that the use of nuclear weapons such as the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima is preferable to the carnage Fussell witnessed in Europe and the Pacific. Critics of the decision to use the bomb can easily forget that the minimization of casualties was a factor in reaching that decision, Fussell points out. He addresses this issue—and other war-related topics—to answer the facile comments of critics whose opinions are not informed by experience. Fussell told John Blades of the Chicago Tribune that future books will look at other topics. "I finished what I like to think is my last book on the subject [of war], 'The Norton Book of Modern War,' an anthology of war writings from the First War through Vietnam, with my commentary and interpretation. I found it so depressing, really, that I'd like to write a cheerful book, about the circus or the theater or something a little elevating. I'm tired of writing about mass murder and its meaning. After a while, you're persuaded that it doesn't have any meaning."
In BAD, or, The Dumbing of America, Fussell finds a source of humor in the banal idiosyncrasies of American culture and habit. In this alphabetically arranged compendium of scorn, he defines BAD, in all capital letters, as "something phony, clumsy, witless, untalented, vacant, or boring that many Americans can be persuaded is genuine, graceful, bright or fascinating." Joseph Epstein observed in the Times Literary Supplement, "In Fussell's view, boring is BAD, pretentious is BAD, euphemistic is BAD, not appreciating irony is BAD, unearned informality is BAD, and BAD, too, is much else in America, from public signs to television to U.S. Naval missile firing." Though commended for instances of incisive satire, Fussell received criticism for evincing pretentious and meanspirited derision toward his fellow citizens, particularly the middle and lower classes. However, Gertrude Himmelfarb wrote in The New Republic, "As a checklist of Socially Correct opinion, and as a cross-reference of the Socially Correct and the Politically Correct, this book is invaluable." Christopher Buckley concluded in the New York Times Book Review, "[Fussell] has seen the future and it is broken. 'The new Goddess of Dullness is in the saddle, attended by her outriders Greed, Ignorance, and Publicity.'"
Fussel produced Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic in 1996, recounting his early experiences in Pasadena, student life at Pomona College and Harvard, his horrific and disillusioning service in World War II, and long career as a professor, historian, literary critic, and relentless commentator on the mediocrity and pernicious distortions of American society. According to Michael Coleman in a Library Journal review, Fussell's description of combat experience "is one of the most sordid and compelling war memoirs in recent years." A Kirkus Reviews critic similarly noted Fussell's "forthright portrayal of war's horrors and lasting ill effects." Richard Bernstein wrote in the New York Times that Fussell's memoir "is elegant, witty, caustic, and moving, a frank and at the same time discreet summing up of a well-lived life." Bernstein added that after exposing the realities of war, Doing Battle becomes "a memoir of embattled intellectual life."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 74, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1993.
Fussell, Paul, The Great War and Modern Memory, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1975.
American Historical Review, June, 1991, p. 843.
American Scholar, spring, 1992, p. 303.
American Spectator, July, 1983; April, 1984.
Atlantic, October, 1983, Wilfred Sheed, review of Class: A Guide through the American Status System.
Chicago Tribune, October 1, 1980; November 23, 1989.
Chicago Tribune Book World, November 13, 1983.
Christian Science Monitor, September 10, 1982, Judith Chettle, review of The Boy Scout Handbook and Other Observations.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 24, 1985; September 23, 1989; March 2, 1991.
Harper's, September, 1995, p. 66.
Humanities, November/December 1996, Shelton Hackney, "The Initial Shock . . . A Conversation with Paul Fussell."
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1996, review of Doing Battle: The Making of a Skeptic, p. 1023.
Library Journal, August, 1996, Michael Coleman, review of Doing Battle, p. 82.
Los Angeles Times, November 23, 1980; December 26, 1983; June 23, 1988; December 25, 1989.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 6, 1983, Joseph Rodriguez, review of Abroad: British Literary Traveling between the Wars.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, May, 1992, p. 55.
New Republic, October 28, 1991, Gertrude Himmelfarb, review of BAD, or, The Dumbing of America, p. 27.
New Yorker, October 20, 1975, review of The Great War and Modern Memory.
New York Review of Books, October 16, 1975.
New York Times, September 1, 1980; November 2, 1980; December 16, 1980; October 8, 1982; November 18, 1983; August 17, 1989; October 11, 1989, Richard Bernstein, review of Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, section C, p. 15; October 9, 1996, Richard Bernstein, review of Doing Battle, section C, p. 18.
New York Times Book Review, August 31, 1975; August 31, 1980, Jonathan Raban, review of Abroad: British Literary Traveling between the Wars, p. 1; August 29, 1982, Noel Perin, review of The Boy Scout Handbook, p. 6; November 13, 1983, Alison Lurie, Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, p. 7; August 7, 1988, Arnie Weinstein, review of Thank God for the Atom Bomb: And Other Essays, p. 21; September 3, 1989, Simon Schama, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, p. 1.; October 13, 1991, Christopher Buckley, BAD: Or, the Dumbing of America, p. 9; September 11, 1994, Terry Teachout, The Anti-Egotist: Kingsley Amis, Man of Letters, p. 12.
People Weekly, February 7, 1983, D. Keith Mano,Paul Fussell: From His Bunker in Princeton, N.J., a Wounded Literary Guerrilla Shoots Back at the 20th Century, p. 60.
Philadelphia, December, 1991, p. 63.
Publishers Weekly, October 3, 1980, Robert Dahlin, "Paul Fussell," p. 8; June 23, 1989, Chris Goodrich, "Books from Oxford and Algonquin Question Idea of 'Good' War," p, 31; September 13, 1991, review of BAD, or, The Dumbing of Amreica, p. 69; July 18, 1994. review of The Anti-Egotist: Kingsley Amis, Man of Letters,, p. 231.
Saturday Review, February 21, 1976, William H. Pritchard, review of The Great War and Modern Memory.
Time, October 20, 1975, Robert Hughes, review of The Great War and Modern Memory; October 31, 1983, R. Z. Sheppard, review of Class: A Guide through the American Status System.
Times (London, England), March 19, 1981; January 27, 1983.
Times Literary Supplement, March 20, 1981; February 11, 1983; July 6, 1984; September 22, 1989; December 20, 1991, p. 9.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), July 27, 1988; August 13, 1989.
Voice Literary Supplement, November, 1983.
Washington Post, September 6, 1982; September 28, 1982, Curt Suplee, "A Class Critic Takes Aim at America: The Slings and Arrows of Paul Fussell," section B, p. 1; July 4, 1988.
Washington Post Book World, September 21, 1980; June 27, 1982; November 6, 1983; August 13, 1989.*