Not So Hidden Agendas, Wilfred Owen And His Early Editors

1621 words - 6 pages

Wilfred Owen is considered by many to be perhaps the best war poet in English, if not world, literature. Yet, at the time of his death on November 4, 1918, only five of his poems had been published. Thus, due to his premature death, it is clear that Wilfred Owen was not responsible for the development of his own reputation. Instead, it was through the efforts of his editors that Wilfred Owen and his poetry were not forgotten on the bloody fields of France. Indeed, I would argue that the three earliest editions of Owen's poems (Siegfried Sassoon and Edith Sitwell, 1920; Edmund Blunden, 1931; and C. Day Lewis, 1963) were responsible for establishing Owen's reputation and that reputation was reaffirmed by subsequent editions. This means that in order to understand Wilfred Owen's position in English literature, one must examine the different editions of Owen=s poems and the agendas of each editor.The first edition of his poems, co-edited by Sassoon and Sitwell, created problems immediately, as Sitwell and Sassoon argued over control of the project. After the war, Edith Sitwell had begun to prepare the poems for publication; she had even published seven of the poems in Wheels, the magazine she edited, and was preparing to publish more. It was then that Sassoon became involved. Sitwell, in a letter dated 3 October 1919, wrote to Susan Owen (Wilfred's mother) and told her,I wrote to Captain Sassoon, to ask him if he couldhelp me about them. He came to see me; and told meit would have been your son's wish that (Sassoon)should see to the publication of the poems, becausethey were such friends. In the circumstances I could donothing but offer to hand them over to him (Sitwell:20).Then in a letter from late January 1920, Sitwell tellsSusan Owen that Sassoonhas suddenly gone off to America, leaving all you (sic)son's manuscripts with me to get ready for the printersby February 1st. Captain Sassoon has done nothing inthe way of preparing them. All he has done in thematter is to arrange with Chatto and Windus to publishthem (23).Despite Sassoon's apparent lack of work, he still received the credit as editor. To understand fully Sassoon's actions, it is necessary to discuss his motives for wanting the poems published.Sassoon realised that Owen's work faced the possibility of being forgotten by the larger reading audience because of Owen's untimely death. This meant that an edition of Owen's poems had to be published very quickly. Sassoon also recognised that he, as a former soldier and Owen's friend, could not objectively consider Owen's poetry, so he left all critical investigation for future critics. He makes this clear in his introduction to the edition:The discussion of his experiments in assonance anddissonance...may be left to the professionalcritics...The importance of his contribution to theliterature of the War cannot be decided by those who,like myself, both admired him as a poet and valued himas a friend. His conclusions about War are so entirelyin...

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