Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon

When it comes to fox hunting, the verdict of Oscar Wilde has endured in the popular imagination for humane reasons. “The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable” is succinct, in the way that the poet Sassoon was not. However, this volume of memoir has a deserved reputation as a worthwhile, elegiac, and interesting read.

The novelist Angus Wilson has praised the story as an emotional account of becoming mature. However, the narrative has an underlying social critique which is harsher for being superficially gentle. Nonetheless, its depiction of aristocrats and ex-soldiers who never fought is softened by the class origins and temperament of the author.

The surprise is that the partly fictionalised Sassoon was reluctant to condemn and slow to wake up to the reality of war. It was perhaps his easygoing disposition that made him unable to perceive what was happening earlier. One of his friends was killed and he still had not really questioned the logic of what they were doing. Of course, in later volumes of his trilogy he did condemn the war in the strongest terms. Nonetheless, the specific text in question is a cautionary warning about the need for political vigilance.

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