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Kate Kennedy, Hermione Lee


27 November 18


Kate Kennedy


Wilfred Owen and Beyond, 26-28 October 2018

Keynote: Kate Kennedy, 'The Spaces Between: Wilfred Owen and Britten’s War Requiem' (chair Hermione Lee)

Britten’s War Requiem, written in 1961-2, combines the Latin mass with a selection of Owen’s
poems. The War Requiem is a piece that is driven by the jarring or meshing of different forces. Its
power is in the charged spaces between them. Through an exploration of the theme of these spaces,
between buildings, texts and orchestral forces, this paper examines the complexity of the work as a
pacifist statement, the dialogues and disjunctions that structure and drive it, with Owen’s words at
its heart. It traces the decisions Britten made about Owen’s poetry through his manuscript notes,
and asks how the reception of Owen since the early 1960s might have been influenced as a result of
this hugely powerful work.


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?