Wilfred Owen and the Great War Centenary
This article sets out to examine and summarise Wilfred Owen’s rise from relative obscurity in the 1920s to the immense popularity and critical acclaim that he enjoys today. The first section focuses on the first editions of Owen’s poetry arranged in the 20s and 30s by his earliest champions: Siegfried Sassoon, Edith Sitwell and Edmund Blunden, as well as on W.B. Yeats’s notorious exclusion of Owen from his influential Oxford Book of Modern Verse in 1936. Section two describes the various factors that contributed to the major boost in popularity that Owen’s output experienced in the 1960s. Around that time appeared the first full-blown critical studies of his poetry together with first biographies, which raised questions about Owen’s sexuality. The next part assesses Owen’s status in contemporary criticism, providing examples of the poet’s noted advocates and detractors; also, it attempts to account for his popularity with the current British readership. The final section relates the ongoing debate on Owen’s place in the canon, which was ignited by David Cameron’s Education Secretary’s highly publicised remarks about the skewed perception of Britain’s role in the Great War and by a series of centenary publications about Owen and the First World War. The article concludes with an attempt to predict the ways in which the centenary is likely to affect Owen’s critical status in the future.