Fictionalized Reality, Essayized Autobiography


Frontispiece in a volume of notes and drafts relating to The Old Century. From MS Add. 9852.

I am a little shy of trespassing on Sherston’s territory. I should not like to feel that I had in any way impaired his reality…

The Weald of Youth

Between 1928 and 1945 Sassoon produced two prose trilogies: first the lightly-fictionalized ‘memoirs’ of George Sherston, a fox-hunting, steeple-chasing young man who goes to war as an infantry officer with the ‘Royal Flintshire Fusiliers’; and then three volumes of ‘real autobiography’, focussing on Sassoon’s inward and literary existence rather than his ‘outdoor’ life of horses and soldiering.

Questions of the nature of literary characterization and the truth-status of figures in autobiographical writing surround the prose trilogies. The relationship between George Sherston and Siegfried Sassoon was handled playfully by the writer himself: when, in the second trilogy, he touched on his horse-racing exploits, Sassoon simply invited his readers to imagine that ‘George has been somehow mysteriously embodied in his author’. But the inclusion of transcripts from his diaries in the Sherston books undermined their claim to be read as novels, while the downplaying of family tensions and the omission of any mention of Sassoon’s romantic life lent a fictional quality even to the autobiographies.

A draft of the opening chapter of The Weald of Youth

A draft of the opening chapter of The Weald of Youth. From MS Add. 9852.


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