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In the summer of 1914, with the war in Europe just two weeks old, Henry James knew that something had been lost forever.Many survivors wondered how the world had been caught up in a war fought for no identifiable cause, which no one knew how to stop.Prolonged conflicts destroy the worlds that make them, and few did so as thoroughly and as terribly as World War I, which began 100 years ago on July 28 . Among writers, World War I changed both the stories they told and how they told them. World War I was unique for the art it inspired – artists on winning and losing sides alike despaired.In an essay written for "From the Western Front and Beyond: The Writings of World War One," an ongoing exhibition at the New York Society Library, literary critic Adam Kirsch notes that, since ancient Greece, poetry had treated war as a tragic but essential rite of passage and proving ground. World War I broke that spell.World War I was the last major conflict to begin with even the pretense of old-fashioned rules of battle.Severing history and violating logic, World War I justified Modernist – which questioned whether a book needed a beginning, middle and end, whether a song needed a melody, whether a picture needed a subject faithfully reproduce, indeed a subject at all.
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