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Friday, August 01, 2014

All Quiet on the Western Front

A month ago the Rosenblog marked the centennial of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914. This week marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of  World War I itself: on July 28th Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and by August 4 Russia, Germany, and Britain had all entered the fray. Last week's post on Marianne Moore's camera had a WWI angle, as it was a type of camera popular with soldiers; for this week I turn to our copy of the most famous novel about the war: All Quiet on the Western Front.

Erich Marie Remarque wrote All Quiet on the Western Front in six weeks in 1928. The novel was published in serial form in Germany from November through December of that year and then in book form in January 1929.  It was an immediate sensation: 200,000 copies were sold within three weeks, 640,000 copies within three months. An English edition came out in March 1929 and an American edition in May. (See Modris Eksteins, All Quiet on the Western Front and the Fate of a War  for more on the writing/publication). Within a year there were translations into twenty languages and the sales reached into the millions.  An epic Hollywood movie adaptation came out in 1930 and Slate's Vault blog recently showcased a fascinating 1930 Chinese comic book version that was based on the film adaptation.


Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1939. Acosta Collection. Rosenbach Museum & Library.

Our copy of All Quiet  is a 1939 American printing that belonged the playwright, author, and socialite Mercedes de Acosta. In 1939 she and Remarque moved in the same circles and the book is signed and inscribed to her.  You can see his full signature at the left; the inscription on the right is signed with his nickname, "Boni."

Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1939. Acosta Collection. Rosenbach Museum & Library.
Remarque had left Germany for Switzerland when the Nazis came to power (All Quiet would be burned by the Nazis for denigrating the German army) and he moved to California in 1939. Remarque and Acosta shared a similar taste in women: he carried on an affair with Marlene Dietrich from 1937 to 1940 and had a briefer romance with Greta Garbo in 1940. He would later marry another Hollywood star, Paulette Goddard.

Today All Quiet on the Western Front is a staple of high school English classes, which is where I first encountered it. As with many books that I first read as a student, it is well worth re-visiting as an adult. What are your memories of this classic text?




Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog.





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