Birdsong is a novel written about WWI by Sebastien Faulks. It follows the life of Stephen Wraysford, in pre-war times as well as during the war. The novel also talks about his granddaughter’s life, Elizabeth and how she looks back at her Grandfathers experiences. Through the novel we see Stephen fall in love, have this love and his heart destroyed and then have his life further destroyed by the chaos and destruction of war.
At the start of the novel Faulks’ language and imagery echoes much of the works from the likes of Keats and Blake as In this part of the novel we see Romanticism to be a rather dominant factor overall. Faulks is very expressive as he uses a rather large amount of words that have sexual connotations, such as: ‘thrust’ and ‘plunge’. These connotations are put in place to remind the reader of the essence of life which is where the irony comes into play, as the novel is about the WWI, a war full of death and sadness of a whole new magnitude.
Romanticism is stressed even further by the imagery and language of nature. The very first paragraph in the novel is a very illustrious description of the gardens near Boulevard Du Cange, ‘Patches of grass and wild flowers lay beneath the branches of overhanging trees’. Faulks’ description of the Somme is almost like he’s describing one of Monet paintings and seems to set the scene for a romantic and loving period that will be shared between Isabelle and Stephen. However we know that War will have a disastrous effect on this stunning landscape when it begins. These very gardens and the river that runs through it will become change from a place which is full of life, old and new, to a place of despair that will see many young men perish very quickly.
The novel takes a shift from Romanticism to Gothic horror in the second part of the novel as Faulks language changes from the very illustrious and beautiful gardens to the very gruesome and gore that war has residing with it and the very reality of war that many people at home never witnessed and could not even imagine.
War has a dehumanising effect on soldiers and Faulks shows how this effect causes a heap of problems for the young soldiers during the war. Faulks gives each soldier their own backgrounds, families, wives and girlfriends so when these men who we seem to get attached to, do die, we feel remorse. Faulks, using letters home, increases the sadness of war to an even further extent, as many soldier’s letters were the only things left of them after they were torn apart from bullets. These men would have been all sorts of relations from fiancée to Dad, best friend to Uncle fighting for our country without really knowing why they were there let alone how they were going to survive, and this is a message that Faulks seems to want to drill in to the reader.
The character of Stephen Wraysford is that of a rather unusual one as many claim that the war had a substantial effect on Stephen which in turn damaged him mentally, yet by looking deeper into Stephens character we can see that he was an orphan, and therefore felt that he would never be loved, this is further intensified through his relationship with Isabella which ends in despair and thus seems to highlight that he was already a susceptible character before the war. Despite all of this Stephen is still a captain in the armed forces, which opens the question to, whether Faulks maybe underlining the misconception that the men fighting in the war were of those that were ‘strong and tough’ whereas in actual truth these men were just young and feeble. Stephen is an example of this as he shared the very characteristics that the other soldiers had while fighting in the Great War.
With the first part being about the lovely, elegant land and the idea of love blooming changing very quickly as we enter part 2 which shows the grotesque and gruesome reality of war we see Faulks show us the very effect of war and how love and loyalty become all but privileges when war occurs. By part 3 we meet Elizabeth who seemingly there to show the long term effects of the war as the scars left do not usually heal.
Elizabeth seeks out to find the other soldiers who fought alongside her grandfather Stephen and By doing this Faulks is able to highlight some of the long term effects of this war. Her escapade ends up with her finding out that Stephen, ‘spoke little’. She then meets with Brennan, one of Stephen’s comrades who know suffers from a condition then known as ‘Shell Shock’. Brennan can only seem to remember the odd moment of the war which aren’t very intelligible. Tom Brennan, a man who only a few pages back was alongside fighting within the trenches has now been reduced to a frail old man. By showing Brannan in this state only a few pages after, Faulks give emphasis on how some soldiers were able to come home after living the tale and yet not being able to tell the very tale as they did not want to relive, let alone dwell on these memories. These few years in which these men had gone to war had very well scarred them and caused a rather substantial amount that many men whatever age could never really recover from, as many of the men suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome.