(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/21.)
Robert Graves considered Charles Hamilton Sorley, along with Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg, “one of the three poets of importance killed during the first world war”. Neil McPherson has now taken this somewhat forgotten figure and, drawing on his life, letters and poetry, created a magnificent tribute to a fiery spirit extinguished in battle at the age of 20.
What emerges clearly is Sorley’s zest for life and independence of outlook. Educated at Marlborough, he questions the public-school ethos, dreams of devoting himself to social work and spends a formative year in Germany, where he falls in love with the country, its culture and the wife of one of his hosts. When war is declared, Sorley is torn between his moral duty and his belief that Germany is “the most enterprising nation in the world”.