A brilliant and poignant history of the friendship between two great war poets, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, alongside a narrative investigation of the origins of PTSD and the literary response to World War I
From the moment war broke out across Europe in 1914, the world entered a new, unparalleled era of modern warfare. Soldiers faced relentless machine gun shelling, incredible artillery power, flame throwers, and gas attacks. Within the first four months of the war, the British Army recorded the nervous collapse of ten percent of its officers; the loss of such manpower to mental illness – not to mention death and physical wounds – left the army unable to fill its ranks. Second Lieutenant Wilfred Owen was twenty-four years old when he was admitted to the newly established Craiglockhart War Hospital for treatment of shell shock. A bourgeoning poet, trying to make sense of the terror he had witnessed, he read a collection of poems from a fellow officer, Siegfried Sassoon, and was impressed by his portrayal of the soldier’s plight. One month later, Sassoon himself arrived at Craiglockhart, having refused to return to the front after being wounded during battle.
Though Owen and Sassoon differed in age, class, education, and interests, both were outsiders – as soldiers unfit to fight, as gay men in a homophobic country, and as Britons unwilling to support a war likely to wipe out an entire generation of young men. But more than anything else, they shared a love of the English language, and its highest expression of poetry. As their friendship evolved over their months as patients at Craiglockhart, each encouraged the other in their work, in their personal reckonings with the morality of war, as well as in their treatment. Therapy provided Owen, Sassoon, and fellow patients with insights that allowed them express themselves better, and for the 28 months that Craiglockhart was in operation, it notably incubated the era’s most significant developments in both psychiatry and poetry.
Drawing on rich source materials, as well as Glass’s own deep understanding of trauma and war, Soldiers Don't Go Mad tells for the first time the story of the soldiers and doctors who struggled with the effects of industrial warfare on the human psyche. Writing beyond the battlefields, to the psychiatric couch of Craiglockhart but also the literary salons, halls of power, and country houses, Glass charts the experiences of Owen and Sassoon, and of their fellow soldier-poets, alongside the greater literary response to modern warfare. As he investigates the roots of what we now know as post-traumatic stress disorder, Glass brings historical bearing to how we must consider war’s ravaging effects on mental health, and the ways in which creative work helps us come to terms with even the darkest of times.
About the Author
Charles Glass was the Chief Middle East Correspondent for ABC News from 1983 to 1993 and has covered wars in the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He is the author of Tribes with Flags, The Tribes Triumphant, Money for Old Rope, The Northern Front, Americans in Paris, The Deserters, and They Fought Alone.
“Thoroughly researched and lucidly written, this is an immersive look at the healing power of art and a forceful indictment of the inhumanity of war.” —Publishers Weekly
“In Soldiers Don’t Go Mad, Charles Glass has created a remarkable chronicle of the timeless interplay between war's destructive but also creative forces. This is a story of friendship and of art, of war and of madness, and the way the former might save us from the latter.” —Elliot Ackerman, author of The Fifth Act: America’s End in Afghanistan
“Novels and films have been devoted to Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, but Charles Glass’s elegant non-fiction account has an indelible poetry of its own. Surprise and suspense, character and conviction, horror and heroism are seamlessly woven together in a fast-moving narrative. The contrasting settings—an idyllic retreat in Scotland for officers suffering from ‘shell shock’ versus the hell of trench warfare ‘where youth and laughter go’—will break your heart.” —Christopher Benfey, author of If: The Untold Story of Kipling’s American Years
“A riveting history of Scotland’s Craiglockhart War Hospital, a progressive and peculiar oasis for British officers at a time when mental illness among soldiers was all too often dismissed as cowardice. Charles Glass chronicles the lives of the shell-shocked, from the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen to uncelebrated men whose stories demand our attention, and devotes the same nuance and grace to their deeply compassionate physicians. Soldiers Don’t Go Mad is a timely, essential reminder that wars carry on well beyond the truces and treaties that formally end them.” —Elizabeth D. Samet, author of Looking for the Good War: American Amnesia and the Violent Pursuit of Happiness
“Not only a beautifully written book, but an extremely important one. While writing a poignant chronicle of the patients and doctors who sought to overcome battlefield ‘shell-shock’ at the Craiglockhart War Hospital in World War I, Glass has also penned a profound testimonial on the resilience of the human spirit, of the bonds forged between those caught in the maws of war, and those who would help them. A splendid and haunting achievement.” —Scott Anderson, author of Lawrence in Arabia and The Quiet Americans “A lucid, comprehensive and highly engaging account of a watershed in British medical and literary history.” —Sebastian Faulks, author of Birdsong, Charlotte Gray, and Snow Country