War And Stuff - An alternative approach to war literature

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War And Stuff – Robert Cowlin

An alternative approach to war literature


This mini-guide thing has one purpose: to help you pass the demonic war synoptic paper in June. It doesn’t give promised A grades and it is by no means entirely accurate – nor is it likely to be as good as any teacher authored handouts, but it should prove useful, especially in helping with the historical context of war literature. I’m no literature aficionado, and I do often denounce this ridiculous concept of ‘reading around your subject’, but I decided to make this guide while collecting my own materials for this rather daunting paper. I must, however, make the disclaimer that I am in no respect an expert of anything, so don’t take my word as gospel, but use these pages in any way you wish – even if they are burned for energy when the sun goes out… I digress, now for the serious stuff.

The aim for this exam

Straight from the horse’s (AQA’s) mouth, their specification anyway is the important notice that this exam centres on WW1, and literature in the 1900s based on this conflict. In this 3-hour paper there will be unseen (unless your ridiculously prepared) literature, in the form of poetry, monologues, non-fiction and fiction alike. The exam will test your ability to interpret these texts without the assistance of revision guides or the safety of pre-annotated books.

How to start

I suppose the best advice is to start by reading through what I’ve written in this guide and then approaching your preparation in a way you are comfortable with, even if that’s doing nothing until next year (some people work better under pressure). I’m certainly unlikely to dash down to the Chelmsford library and leaf through every piece of war literature ever written. It’s probably best to be selective in your reading, as you don’t want to spend forever on one exam and you are more likely to have success with selected pieces rather than an information overload.

Suggested reading

It’s difficult to suggest texts to you, since I am not an incredibly wide reader. However, from my own research, I believe I have made a suitable list of poems, plays and texts from which you can make a start. Below is a selection of titles and authors I would recommend for relevance in this unit:

Apologia pro Poemate Me, Anthem for Doomed Youth, Dulce et Decorum est, The Dead-Beat – All poems by Wilfred Owen.

How to Die, Glory of Women, Suicide in the Trenches – All poems by Siegfried Sassoon.

Who’s for the Game?, The Call – Poems by Jesse Pope.

Birdsong – A novel by Sebastian Faulks.

All quiet on the Western Front – A novel by Erich Maria Remarque.

Regeneration – A trilogy (based on real-life) by Pat Barker.

Journey’s End – A drama by R.C Sheriff.

Henry V – A drama by Shakespeare

Advice on finding materials

AQA’s examiners’ report indicates several key themes, which help the choosing of literature in preparation. It is advisable that you collect at least 6 pieces of literature and are comfortable with being able to discuss them in some respect. AQA advises students to review a drama piece (such as Journey’s End), as well as a fictional novel (eg – Birdsong). Also, students should review poetry, being sure to include at least one female poet (such as Jesse Pope) in their reading, and a non-combatant. It is also wise to gain contrast in pro-war and anti-war texts in this reading.

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How to use wider reading

To make your reading and efforts worthwhile, be sure to understand it well, and to review it frequently – especially shorter texts, such as poetry. By annotating your own readings, it will brush-up on your use of language when discussing verse and other text. It is a good idea to be able to quote from a few of your texts, but this is not essential, as there is plenty of opportunity to quote from texts provided in the exam. Due to the nature of the unit being synoptic, however, examiners are likely to be ...

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