In her new monthly column Re-Covered, Lucy Scholes exhumes the out-of-print and forgotten books that shouldn’t be.
When it was published in 1929, All Quiet on the Western Front, by the German World War I veteran Erich Maria Remarque, became an international best seller. The blackly brutal account of life in the trenches touched a nerve with readers who were still reeling from the aftershocks of the Great War. Hoping to cash in on some of Remarque’s success, the following year Albert E. Marriott, an enterprising London-based publisher who was new on the scene, approached the children’s writer and journalist Evadne Price and asked whether she’d be willing to write a spoof response about women at war. He had in mind a title—“All Quaint on the Western Front”—and a pen name for her, Erica Remarks. Price had a talent for pastiche—she was the author of a popular series of girls’ stories that mimicked Richmal Crompton’s hugely successful Just William books—but she had no intention of making light of such a serious subject. Instead, she offered to write a realistic account of a woman’s experience in Flanders.
In a bid for verisimilitude, Price relied heavily on the diaries of a woman named Winifred Constance Young, an Englishwoman who had served as an ambulance driver behind the front line. Price, ever the consummate professional, wrote quickly, and the novel was finished in only six weeks. Not So Quiet … Stepdaughters of War (1930) is a shockingly visceral and realistic documentation of the cost of the conflict written as the firsthand account of a woman ambulance driver. It is a world of “wounds and foul smells and smutty stories and smoke and bombs and lice and filth and noise, noise, noise … of cold sick fear, a dirty world of darkness and despair,” and the book is a shattering denunciation of the jingoism that kept the war machine turning. Although last year marked the centenary of the end of World War I, Europe is teetering on the brink of a new era of incendiary nationalistic fervor. As such, a new generation of readers would do well to turn to Price’s novel. It’s as much a warning for our future as it is a reminder of our past. Read More