Edmund Blunden (1896-1974) ranks among the most prodigious literary talents of Britain in the twentieth century. As a poet, he was best known for Undertones of War, a moving account of the First World War by one of its youngest soldier poets. But he was also a biographer, an edition, a scholar, teacher, and professor in Hong Kong, Japan, and Oxford. This book—the first biography of Blunden and written with the cooperation of his family—captures the man, his full career, and the literary environment in which he lived.
Drawing from many thousands of Blunden's letters, diaries, and other personal papers round the world, as well as from interviews with friends and colleagues, Barry Webb traces the writer's boyhood in Kent, his two years in the trenches of the Somme and Passchendaele, and the career that extended from journalism in postwar London to the chair of poetry at Oxford in 1966.
Blunden was the author of over a thousand poems, more than three thousand articles and reviews, and biographies of Shelley and Leigh Hunt, and he was the first major editor of John Clare and Wilfred Owen. Webb describes this active literary life and provides an account of Blunden's many influential friendships (with Siegfried Sassoon, for example), of his three marriages and seven children, and of the intriguing relationship with his Japanese secretary. He reveals Blunden to be a man of many contradictions: usually pictured as most at home on an English village green, he spent half his working life in the Far East; essentially a pacifist, he was the proud owner of the Military Cross; known for his generous mildness, he was accused of Nazi sympathies in 1939; at heart a private man, he was constantly in demand as a leader. Webb sees these tensions as providing the stimulus for the work and writing of a highly respected figure in twentieth-century literature, a man who had a profound effect on contemporaries in both the East and the West.