Sassoon, Siegfried Lorraine

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SASSOON, SIEGFRIED LORRAINE (1886–1967), English poet and novelist. The son of Alfred Ezra Sassoon, of the famous *Sassoon family, and his wife, the daughter of Thomas Thorneycroft, a prominent gentile sculptor, Siegfried Sassoon was educated at Marlborough and Cambridge. He published some poetry for private circulation in 1906–12. He served as an infantry officer throughout World War i, was awarded the Military Cross, and was twice wounded. It was in the hospital in 1917 that he first met the poet Wilfred Owen, an aspect of whose style he helped to revolutionize in the last phase of the younger man's life. After Owen's tragic death at the very end of World War i, Sassoon did much to popularize his work. Sassoon's own book of antiwar poems, The Old Huntsman, appeared in 1917. Others followed in quick succession: Counter-Attack in 1918 and War Poems and Picture Show in 1919. His attitude to World War ii was to be a less pacifist one. After World War i he flirted with socialism, becoming literary editor of the Labour Daily Herald for a brief period in 1919. Sassoon's two most important prose works were the semi-autobiographical novels, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man (1928) and Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930). These, which form part of the trilogy, The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston (1936), are written in a more urbane and reflective vein than his poetry. Though it uses approximately traditional forms, Sassoon's verse is filled with a direct, idiomatic language brutally descriptive of the horrors of war and the complacency of civilians. His other writings include Siegfried's Journey (191620) (1945), a biography, Meredith (1948), and Collected Poems (1961).

In The Old Huntsman Sassoon had written: "Religion beats me. I'm amazed at folk/Drinking the gospels in and never scratching/Their heads for questions…." His ties with Judaism were certainly negligible; raised as an Anglican, he became a convert to Roman Catholicism in 1957. Sassoon's Diaries, edited by Rupert Hart-Davis, were published in three volumes in 1983–85.


G. Keynes, Bibliography of Siegfried Sassoon (1962); M. Thorpe, Siegfried Sassoon, a Critical Study (1966). add. bibliography: odnb online.

[Jon Silkin]