Spring 2019 Reading Group Announced

The Spring 2019 Washington University Prison Education Project Reading Group will explore literature of World War One in order to recognize and remember the recent one-hundred year anniversary of the end of that conflict.  We will begin with Regeneration, a modern novel set in a hospital in England that treats shell-shocked soldiers and end with short stories and poetry written by soldiers and other participants in the war.

Led by WashU faculty, the Prison Education Project Reading Group (est. 2014) convenes each semester in the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center to consider a series of texts. Designed to sharpen participants’ reading and critical thinking skills, increase expose to significant and interesting texts, and to promote an intellectual environment within MECC, the Reading Group also builds up the skills needed for participants to become successful applicants to the Prison Education Project. 

The Spring 2019 Reading Group is convened by Dr. Barbara Baumgartner with Halley Parry.

Image: Käthe Kollwitz, The Volunteers, Plate 2, War, 1921/22, woodcut, Kn 173 © Käthe Kollwitz Museum Köln

Reading Group Schedule

Image and description from Penguin Books.

Regeneration, Pat Barker

February 1, 2019

1:00 – 3:00 p.m. MECC Campus


Regeneration by Pat Barker is a classic exploration of how the traumas of war brutalised a generation of young.

‘I just don’t think our war aims – whatever they may be – and we don’t know – justify this level of slaughter.’

The poets and soldiers Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen are dispatched to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Scotland in 1917. There, army psychiatrist William Rivers is treating brutalised, shell-shocked men. It is Rivers’ job to fix these men and make them ready to fight again. As a witness to the traumas they have endured, can he in all conscience send them back to the horrors of the trenches?

Image and description from Penguin Books.

All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque

March 1, 2019

1:00 – 3:00 p.m. MECC Campus

Considered by many the greatest war novel of all time, All Quiet on the Western Front is Erich Maria Remarque’s masterpiece of the German experience during World War I.

I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. . . .

This is the testament of Paul Bäumer, who enlists with his classmates in the German army during World War I. They become soldiers with youthful enthusiasm. But the world of duty, culture, and progress they had been taught breaks in pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches.

Through years of vivid horror, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principle of hate that meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against one another . . .  if only he can come out of the war alive.

Image and description from Penguin Books.

The Return of the Soldier, Rebecca West

April 12, 2019

1:00 – 3:00 p.m. MECC Campus

Set during World War I on an isolated country estate just outside London, Rebecca West’s haunting novel The Return of the Soldier follows Chris Baldry, a shell-shocked captain suffering from amnesia, as he makes a bittersweet homecoming to the three women who have helped shape his life. Will the devoted wife he can no longer recollect, the favorite cousin he remembers only as a childhood friend, and the poor innkeeper’s daughter he once courted leave Chris to languish in a safe, dreamy past—or will they help him recover his memory so that he can return to the front? The answer is revealed through a heartwrenching, unexpected sacrifice.

Selected Poetry and Short Stories

April 26, 2019

1:00 – 3:00 p.m. MECC Campus

This session will focus on a selection of poetry and short stories from authors responding to the traumas of World War I.  

Manuscript from The First World War Poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford; © The British Library / The Wilfred Owen Literary Estate

Dulce Decorem Est

Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

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