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 Featured Title
The Great War of Words
British, American and Canadian Propaganda and Fiction, 1914-1933
Peter Buitenhuis  

218 Pages

North American rights only This title is out of print.


About the Book

'I wouldn't have had one of you stay at home though I had a dozen sons. That is, if it is the noble war they all say it is. . . Surely they wouldn't deceive mothers.'
-- J.M. Barrie

In September 1914, twenty-five of Britain's most distinguished authors met under the chairmanship of C.F.G. Masterman, head of the war propaganda bureau, to discuss how they could assist the Allied effort. They included such prominent figures as H.G. Wells, Arnold Bennett, John Galsworthy, John Masefield, John Buchan, Edith Wharton and Henry James. In The Great War of Words Peter Buitenhuis tells the hitherto unknown story of the secret collaboration between leading writers and the government. He examines the propaganda books and articles they wrote -- and also the work of those opposed to the war, such as G.B. Shaw and Bertrand Russell.

The official line was the the 'urbane' French and the 'decent' British had to defend civilization against the savagery of the invading 'Huns'. However, after the war, many writers became deeply embittered about the Allied propaganda machine and their role in it. There was a growing conviction that too many lies had been told and that in propagating Allied myths, they had sacrificed the all-important detachment of the writer.

Buitenhuis chronicles both the disillusionment of the former propagandists and the reaction against their elders by younger writers, many of whom had served in the trenches. The consequences for post-war literature were profound: the prestige and power of authorship dwindled significantly, while the old rhetoric based on a widely held consensus collapsed and was replaced by lean, ironic and often understated modes of writing.

About the Author(s)

Peter Buitenhuis is a Professor in the English department at Simon Fraser University.

Table of Contents



1. Signs and Portents of War
2. The Reasons Why: Setting Up the Propaganda Machine
3. The Pamphlet War
4. Masterman's Motley Army -- and Two Outsiders
5. Propaganda in America
6. Propaganda from America
7. Over There: Drawing the Paper Curtain
8. Fiction as Propaganda: War Stories
9. Home Fires Burning Low: Fiction as an Escape from Propaganda
10. New Brooms of Propaganda
11. Lost Opportunities
12. Disillusionment and Reconstruction: Writers Reflect on the War

Epilogue: Consequences

Bibliographical Note


Buitenhuis's book shows us how even writers can deceive themselves not only into celebrating but also into advertising and even lying about war.

- John Ferns, Canadian Literature

A useful overview of an important, and strangely neglected, chapter in the history of modern literature.

- The Journal of Modern Literature

The Great War of Words is a fascinating account of how a war is fought as much in the mind as on the battlefield, and by fiction writers as much as by generals and soldiers... the book serves as a useful reminder of the power of words, and dangers in a democracy of those words being used to serve an end other than the truth.

- Douglas Francis, Canadian Ethnic Studies

Sample Chapter

A sample chapter of this title is not available at this time. For further information, please email

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