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Jane Potter


26 November 18


Kate Kennedy


Wilfred Owen and Beyond, 26-28 October 2018

Keynote: Jane Potter, ‘"They are my only diary": Owen’s Letters—Autobiography and Afterlife'

Celebrated as one of the greatest poets of the First World War, Wilfred Owen is less
recognised as an accomplished prose writer. Yet as Dominic Hibberd has argued, ‘[E]ven if
he had written no poems he would deserve to be remembered as one of the finest letters
writers of his century’ (Wilfred Owen: a New Biography, xxii) This paper will consider the
ways in which Owen's letters not only provide the raw material for his poetry, but are
intrinsic to a rounded view of the man and the poet.

Drawing on extensive research at the Harry Ransom Centre, Austin, Texas and the Weston
Library, Oxford this paper will look afresh at the letters—Owen’s autobiography—and their
key role in his carefully constructed— and sometimes highly contested—afterlife.


Any study of Owen's life is by definition overshadowed by his death and the bitter irony of its timing, at the very end of the war. Unlike some of his lesser discussed contemporaries, such as Ivor Gurney and Isaac Rosenberg, Owen’s poetry has been appreciated and analysed by many scholars in previous decades. It remains enduringly popular, and has lost little of its capacity to move and shock its readers. It is taught across the country as part of the National Curriculum, and has become the lens through which we view what, with Owen’s help, has been dubbed the most literary war in history.

This conference is concerned with Owen’s afterlife. How has his work been received, and how has it changed our view of the war? What effect has his verse had on writers, composers and other intellectuals, and how has Owen himself been portrayed, appropriated and discussed posthumously?