In this masterly, highly original narrative history, Peter Englund takes a revelatory new approach to the history of World War I, magnifying its least examined, most stirring component: the experiences of the average man and woman-not only the tragedy and horror but also the absurdity and even, at times, the beauty. The twenty people from whose journals and letters Englund draws are from Belgium, Denmark, and France; Great Britain, Germany, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire; Italy, Australia, and New Zealand; Russia, Venezuela, and the United States. There is a young man in the British army infantry who had been considering emigrating until the war offered him its "grand promise of change" and a middle-aged French civil servant, a socialist and writer whose "faith simply crumbled" at the outbreak of war. There is a twelve-year-old German girl thrilled with the news of the army's victories because it means that she and her classmates are allowed to shout and scream at school. There is an American woman married to a Polish aristocrat, living a life of quiet luxury when the war begins but who will be moved, ultimately, to declare: Looking Death in the eyes, one loses the fear of Him. From field surgeon to nurse to fighter pilot, some are on the Western Front, others in the Balkans, East Africa, Mesopotamia. Two will die, one will never hear a shot fired; some will become prisoners of war, others will be celebrated as heroes. But despite their various war-time occupations and fates, genders and nationalities, they will be united by their involvement-witting or otherwise-in The Great, and terrible, War. A brilliant mosaic of perspectives that moves between the home front and the front lines, The Beauty and the Sorrow reconstructs the feelings, impressions, experiences, and shifting spirits of these twenty particular people, allowing them to speak not only for themselves but also for all those who were in some way shaped by the war, but whose voices have been forgotten, rejected, or simply remained unheard.
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November 08, 2011
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Excerpt from The Beauty and the Sorrow by Peter Englund
Go to war not for the sake of goods and gold, not for your homeland or for honour, nor to seek the death of your enemies, but to strengthen your character, to strengthen it in power and will, in habits, custom and earnestness. That is why I want to go to war.
28 June Murder of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo.
23 July Austria-Hungary delivers an ultimatum to Serbia.
28 July Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia.
29 July Russia mobilises against Austria-Hungary in support of Serbia.
31 July Germany demands that Russia cease mobilisation but Russia continues.
1 August Germany mobilises, as does Russia's ally, France.
2 August German troops enter France and Luxembourg; Russians enter East Prussia.
3 August Germany demands passage for German troops through Belgium. The demand is refused.
4 August Germany invades Belgium. Great Britain declares war on Germany.
6 August French troops enter the German colony of Togoland.
7 August Russia invades German East Prussia.
13 August Austria-Hungary invades Serbia. The campaign is ultimately unsuccessful.
14 August French troops enter German Lothringen (Lorraine) but are pushed back.
18 August Russia invades the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia.
20 August Brussels falls. German armies sweep south towards Paris.
24 August The Allied invasion of the German colony of the Cameroons begins.
26 August The Battle of Tannenberg begins. The Russian invasion of East Prussia is pushed back.
1 September The Battle of Lemberg begins. It turns into a major defeat for Austria-Hungary.
6 September Start of the Franco-British counter-offensive on the Marne. The German march on Paris is checked.
7 September The second Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia begins.
11 September Start of the so-called Race to the Sea in the west.
23 September Japan declares war on Germany.
12 October The first of a series of battles in Flanders begins.
29 October The Ottoman Empire enters the war on the German side.
3 November Russia invades the Ottoman province of Armenia.
7 November The German colony of Tsingtao in China is conquered by Japanese and British troops.
8 November The third Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia begins.
18 November The start of an Ottoman offensive in the Caucasus.
21 November British troops occupy Basra in Mesopotamia.
7 December The second battle for Warsaw begins.
Sunday, 2 August 1914
Laura de Turczynowicz is woken early one morning in August�w
What is the worst thing she can imagine? That her husband is ill, injured or even dead? That he has been unfaithful?
It has been a perfect summer. Not only has the weather been perfect- hot, sunny, wonderful sunsets-but they have also moved into a newly built summer villa, tucked away by the lakes in the beautiful August�w Forest. The children have played for days on end. She and her husband have often rowed out on the lake during the short, white nights of June to greet the rising sun. "All was peace and beauty...a quiet life full of simple pleasure."
It has to be said that the simplicity of her life is relative. The large villa is superbly furnished. She is surrounded the whole time by servants and domestics, who live in a special annexe. (Each of the five-year-old boys has a nanny and the six-year-old girl has her own governess. The children are taken round in a special pony-trap.) They move in the society of the best noble families in the region. They have spent the winter on the French Riviera. (The journey home was fast and simple: European borders are easy to cross and there is still no need for passports.) They have a number of residences: as well as the summer villa and the big house in Suwalki, they have an apartment in Warsaw. Laura de Turczynowicz, n�e Blackwell, has a sheltered, comfortable existence. She screams at the sight of a mouse. She is frightened of thunder. She is modest and rather shy. She scarcely knows how to cook.
In a photograph taken a summer or so earlier we can see a happy, proud and contented woman, dark blonde, wearing a wide skirt, a white blouse and a large summer hat. We see someone used to a privileged and tranquil life, and a life that gets steadily better. She is by no means alone in that. Though there have been rumours of unrest and distant misdeeds, she has chosen to ignore them. And she is not alone in that, either.
So it really has been a perfect summer and it is still far from over. This evening they are supposed to be holding a lavish dinner party. But where is her husband? He has been working in Suwalki for several days and should have been back yesterday, in time for the party. They held back dinner for him but he did not arrive. This is not like him at all and she is growing more and more concerned. Where can he be? She waits, watches. Still no sign. She has not been this worried for a long time. What can have happened? She does not fall asleep until it is almost morning.