Sassoon - The Making of a War Poet
Biography Volume I: 1886-1918 by Jean Moorcroft
by Linda Dangoor-Khalaschi
years have elapsed since the end of the First World War and
thirty years since the death of Siegfried Sassoon, and yet,
only now has a comprehensive biography been written about
this most famous English War Poet. The author, Jean Moorcroft
Wilson, attributes the reason for the delay to Sassoon's complicated
background and to his secretive "double" personal life. A
not altogether convincing argument because his extraordinary
war career has been the stuff of plays and novels and also
inspiring material for his own autobiographical boos and poems,
the most famous being memoirs of a fox-hunting man.
So, the mystery remains unresolved. Perhaps one should look
to Siegfried Sassoon himself for clues. In several of his
autobiographical volumes written between 1928 and 1945, he
never seemed to go beyond 1920, as if as a person he had ceased
to exist after the war, limiting the rest of his life only
to the "ploughing and re-ploughing" of his past. Not much
is known of his life between 1920 and 1967 and this is the
subject of volume 2 of his biography where the author tries
to shed light on Sassoon's complicated post-war years.
complicated and contradictory he certainly was. He was the
quintessential Englishman who stemmed from an exotic Middle-Eastern
background, he was the sporting squire and gentleman writer
who became the courageous war hero decorated for his bravery,
he was the Patriot and defender of the crown who denounced
those who prolonged the war for their own glory, he was the
homosexual who married and had a child, he was the Anglican/Jew
who became a catholic.
Sassoon's personality was double, perhaps because he came
from two very different cultures which seemed to pull him
in opposite directions throughout his life and perhaps also
because he was the product of a broken home (his father left
the family when Sassoon was 5 years of age). Seigfried's mother
was Theresa Thornycroft of solid Yoeman stock. She came from
a comfortably established family of farmers who had a deep
love of the countryside around them and whose dedication to
art spanned three generations.
His father, Alfred Sassoon, came from a wealthy Jewish Merchant
family, often referred to as the Rothschilds of the East.
Originally from Baghdad, the family moved to India and china
and then to England. Their outlook, manners and dress were
completely oriental until the arrival of Siegfried's grandfather
Sassoon David Sassoon, in England in 1858, when a rapid acclimatisation
to the Western way of life took place within only one generation.
book recounts in detail his English Anglican upbringing, his
schooldays, his short stay at Cambridge, his initial attempts
at writing and his involvement in the war. A war which came
at an opportune time for Sassoon because his life, of a gentleman
writer and social butterfly, was going nowhere. The war gave
this shy and sensitive, if somewhat melancholy man, a sense
of purpose, and he put all his energies, both creative and
physical, into it, proving to himself and to all that he was
an extraordinarily courageous soldier. For his war efforts
he was awarded the M.C.
generosity was legendary. He liked to help many of his poet
friends and gave presents befitting his oriental background.
For Robert Graves' s 23rd birthday, Siegfried Sassoon sends
him 23 guineas. A very elegant gesture. However, the note
which accompanied the handsome sum made reference to the "Semitic
sovereigns none of which I have the least right to call my
only was he becoming increasingly conscious of his Jewish
blood, but having adopted his countrymen's prejudices and
anti-Semitic attitudes, he became more and more uncomfortable
and tormented, even apologetic, about his roots on his father's
side, wanting to be more English than the English.
It is well-known that Edward VII became friends with some
of the richer Sassoons as well as other wealthy Jewish families
such as the Rothschilds and this helped a little to overcome
the rife anti-Semitism of much English society of the time.
But, and I quote the author "Jewishness is deemed to pass
through the female line" so, technically Siegfried Sassoon
was not Jewish. But a Jew will always be regarded by others
as a Jew even if he renounces his faith or is brought up as
a Christian or any other faith. As long as one can trace a
Jewish father, aunt, grandfather, great uncle etc., in his
family tree, a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. And will always be regarded
And this leads me to the heart of the matter. Apart from all
else, this book is also about IDENTITY and belonging which
Siegfried Sassoon sought throughout his life and never found
that he fitted entirely in any one camp.
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