Literature and place

I find it fascinating that we are able after all this time to reconstruct with almost perfect precision journeys taken by literary figures such as J.R.R. Tolkien and Edmund Blunden. in the vicinity of La Boiselle and Ovillers, divided by Mash Valley, it is possible from vantages at either end of the valley to trace the route Tolkien took into the lines in July 1916. He crossed the Albert-Baupame Road in a communication trench west of La Boiselle, descending into Mash Valley, which was dominated by the fortified village of Ovillers opposite. His description of passing along this valley, just above the marshy ground and broken trees on its floor is fraught with dark anxiety and it clearly presages certain passages from his later works. In Blunden’s case, it is possible using Undertones of War to follow his journey from Auchonvillers to the juncture of Second Avenue and Trench 88, where he reported to his OC, step by step. Starting in the center of the village then taking the old Beaumont road as it winds its sunken way down into the valley below Hawthorn ridge. I’m not sure why this seems so remarkable, or even why it’s important, except that it seems to shrink the distance between their lives and ours, between the countryside as it was then and as it is now.

About cahagerman

Dad, husband, writer, historian, recovering academic, and the Consulting Professor.
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