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Birdsong Sebastian Faulks. 1953 -

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Presentation on theme: "Birdsong Sebastian Faulks. 1953 -"— Presentation transcript:

1 Birdsong Sebastian Faulks

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3 ‘By the spring of 1992 I had most of the pieces in place, while the major theme of the novel had emerged naturally from what I had read. It was this: how far can you go? What are the limits of humanity? I had always been intrigued by the fact that at no point during the needless extermination of 10 million men did one of them say: enough, we cannot go on and still call ourselves human. In fact, the French army mutinied in 1917, but although the problem was widespread, it amounted to no more than a refusal to attack; some German machine gunners on July 1, 1916, did desist, appalled by what they did. But the big thematic question remained, and the answer seemed to be that there were no limits to which men could not be driven’, introduction p.xii

4 ‘I sat despondently, with half a dozen trippers, on a sort of punt, wondering if I would ever manage to write this book. Then I saw a rat on the canal bank, which was held up with wooden boards or ‘revetting’ as the trenchbuilders called it. Along the edge was decomposing vegetation – and I was there, a hot afternoon in 1910, the pressure of a woman’s leg against her lover’s in the boat, the war foreshadowed in the humid, rotting waterways’. Introduction, xiii

5 ‘Stephen felt hot and thickheaded from the wine. He was repelled by the water-gardens: their hectic abundance seemed to him close to the vegetable fertility of death. The brown waters were murky and shot through with the scurrying of rats from the banks where the earth had been dug out of trenches and held back by elaborate wooden boarding. Heavy flies hung over the water, beneath the tress, dipping into the rotting tops of cabbages, asparagus and artichokes that had been left unpicked in their reckless prodigality. What was held to be a place of natural beauty was a stagnation of living tissue which could not be saved from decay’. P 44

6 ‘The chilly hostile building offered little comfort; it was a memento mori on an institutional scale. Its limited success was in giving dignity through stone and lapidary inscription to the trite occurrence of death. The pretence was made through memorial that the blink of light between two eternities of darkness could be saved and held out of time, though in the bowed heads of the people who prayed there was only submission. So many dead, he thought, only waiting for another eyelid’s flicker before this generation joins them. The difference between living and dying was not one of quality, only of time... →→→

7 He sat down on a chair and held his face in his hands. He saw a picture in his mind of a terrible piling up of the dead. It came from his contemplation of the church, but it had its own clarity: the row on row, the deep rotting earth hollowed out to hold them, while the efforts of the living, with all their works and wars and great buildings, were no more than the beat of a wing against the weight of time’. pp71-72

8 ‘“All right”, Jack said, “Get me off this thing”. Evans pulled the wooden support away and helped roll Jack over. They crawled back until they saw lamplight. Weir was half-standing in the low tunnel. He clutched his ear, then gestured to them to lean against the side walls. He began to mouth an explanation but before he could finish there was a roar in the tunnel and a huge ball of earth and rock blew past them. It took four men with it, their heads and limbs blown away and mixed with the rushing soil. Jack, Weir and Evans were flattened against the side wall by the blast and escaped the path of the debris... →→→

9 Jack saw part of Turner’s face and hair still attached to a piece of skull rolling to a halt where the tunnel narrowed into the section he had been digging. There was an arm with a corporal’s stripes on it near his feet, but most of the men’s bodies had been blown into the moist earth. Weir said, “Get out before another one goes”. Back towards the trench someone had already got a fresh lamp down into the darkness. Jack took Evan’s shoulder. “Come on, boy. Come on now”. p124

10 ‘”All right. I’ll tell you something.” Stephen belw out a trail of cigarette smoke. “I’m curiosu to see what’s going to happen. There are your sewer rats in their holes three feet wide crawling underground. There are my men going mad under shells. We hear nothing from our commanding officer. I sit here, I talk to the men, I go on patrol and lie in the mud with machine guns grazing my neck. No one in England knows what this is like. If they could see the way these men live they would not believe their eyes. This is not a war, this is an exploration of how far men can be degraded. I am deeply curious to see how much further it can be taken; I want to know. I believe that it has barely started. I believe that far worse things than we have seen will be authorized and will be carried out by millions of boys and men like my Tipper and your Firebrace. →→→

11 There is no depth to which they can’t be driven. You see their faces when they go into rest and you think they will take no more, that something in them will say, enough, no one can do this. But one day’s sleep, hot food and wine in their bellies and they will do more. I think they will do ten times more before it’s finished and I’m eager to know how much. If I didn’t have that curiosity I would walk into enemy lines and let myself be killed. I would blow my own head off with one of these grenades”. “You’re mad”, said Weir, “Don’t you just want it to be over?” “Yes of course I do. But now that we have come this far I want to know what it means.”’ pp

12 ‘At first he thought the war could be fought and concluded swiftly in a traditional way. Then he watched the machine gunners pouring bullets into the lines of advancing German infantry as though there was no longer any value accorded to a mere human life. He saw half his platoon die under the shells of the enemy’s opening bombardment. He grew used to the sight and smell of torn human flesh. He watched the men harden to the mechanical slaughter. There seemed to him a great breach of nature which no one had the power to stop. →→→

13 He could protest or he could go with it. He tuned himself to killing. He tried to be fearless in the hope that it would comfort the other men, whose dazed and uncomprehending faces he saw through the blood and the noise. If this was to be permitted, reported glossed over, then at what level of activity, he wondered, could they stop? He came to believe that much worse was to come; that there would be annihilation on a scale the men themselves had not yet dreamed of.’ p162

14 ‘Price began to speed the process. He hurried from one unanswered name to the next. Byrne, Hunt, Jones, Tipper, Wood, Leslie, Barnes, Studd, Richardson, Savile, Thompson, Hodgson, Birkenshaw, Llewellyn, Francis, Arkwright, Duncan, Shea, Simons, Anderson, Blum, Fairbrother. Names came pattering into the dusk, bodying out the places of their forebears, the villages and towns where the telegrams would be delivered, the houses where the blinds would be drawn, where low moans would come in the afternoon behind closed doors; →→→

15 and the places that had borne them, which would be like nunneries, like dead towns, without their life or purpose, without the sound of fathers and their children, without young men at the factories or in the fields, with no husbands for the women, no deep sound of voices in the inns, with the children who would have been born, who would have grown and worked or painted, even governed, left ungenerated in their fathers’ shattered flesh that lay in stinking shell holes in the beet-crop soil, leaving their homes to put up only granite slabs in place of living flesh, on whose inhuman surface the moss and lichen would cast their crawling green indifference. Of 800 men in the battalion who had gone over the parapet, 155 answered their names.’ p236

16 ‘Elizabeth walked up the steps that led to it. A man in a blue jacket was sweeping in the large space enclosed by the pillars. As she came up to the arch Elizabeth saw with a start that it was written on. She went closer. She peered at the stone. There were names on it. Every grain of the surface had been carved with British names; their chiselled capitals rose from the level of her ankles to the height of the great arch itself; on every surface of every column as far as her eye could see there were names teeming, reeling, over surfaces of yards, of hundreds of yards, over furlongs of stone... →→→

17 “Who are these, these...?” She gestured with her hand. “These?” the man with the brush sounded surprised. “The lost”. “Men who died in this battle?” “No. The lost, the ones they did not find. The others are in the cemeteries.” She looked at the vault above her head and then around in panic at the endless writing, as though the surface of the sky had been papered in footnotes. When she could speak again, she said, “From the whole war?” The man shook his head. “Just these fields.”... “Nobody told me.” She ran her fingers with their red=painted nails back through her thick dark hair.”My god, nobody told me”. p264

18 ‘Gray stood up and came round the desk. "Think of the words on that memorial, Wraysford. Think of those stinking towns and foul bloody villages whose names will be turned into some bogus glory by fat-arsed historians who have sat in London. We were there. As our punishment for God knows what, we were there, and our men died in each of those disgusting places. I hate their names. I hate the sound of them and the thought of them, which is why I will not bring myself to remind you. But listen." →→→

19 He put his face close to Stephen's. "There are four words they will chisel beneath them at the bottom. Four words that people will look at one day. When they read the other words they will want to be sick. When they read these, they will bow their heads, just a little. 'Final advance and pursuit.' Don't tell me you don't want to put your name to those words.” p427

20 ‘Stephen felt his mind become extraordinarily clear. It was filled with pictures of the normal world, the world inhabited by women, where people moved in peace and made love and drank, and there were children and commerce and laughter... The hideous, cramped world of earth and sweat and death was not the only reality; it was a confining illusion, a thin prison from which he would burst forth at any moment... His thirst and fatigue were forgotten; he was alive with a passion for the world, for the stars and trees, and the people who moved and lived in it’ p 481

21 “He threw up the conkers into the air in his great happiness. In the tree above him they disturbed a roosting crow, which erupted from the branches with an explosive bang of its wings, then rose up above him towards the sky, its harsh, ambiguous call coming back in long, grating waves towards the earth, to be heard by those still living.’ p503


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