Jul
22

Reading Between the Lines: How I Approach Royal Flying Corps Literature as Social Commentary

Before I made a post about the individual sources I consulted in my research so far, I though it would be best to outline how I approach the different types of Royal Flying Corps primary literature. This primary literature is composed of two major genres: memoirs and fiction.

Memoirs

Although many of the memoirs in my collection may seem short, their length can be deceiving. Unlike fiction, the factual nature of memoirs requires another level of focus and analysis. This factual nature forces the reader to consider how the author’s background influences the portrayal of their Royal Flying Corps experience and how this can be perceived as a respective period social commentary. In a future post, I will provide a summary of each of the memoirs I read and break down the observed patterns and interesting factors of each.

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Three of the memoirs I have worked through so far, all of which are considered to be Royal Flying Corps “classics”.

 

Questions for individual memoirs

  1. Who is the memoir written by? (Name, age, rank, combat record)
  2. What biases may the author have contributing to a certain portrayal of war/the Royal Flying Corps?
  3. When does the memoir take place? What can this respective time period signify relating to squadron composition, combat experience, etc.?
  4. When was the memoir written? If there is a delay between the time period and time written, what can this gap signify and how can it effect the effectiveness of the respective portrayal of combat experience? 
  5. How is the memoir structured? Does it follow a dramatic arc (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution) or is presented in separate experiences? 
  6. Writing style: Is the author’s style straightforward or do they rely on flowery, description-heavy illustrations? What may this choice suggest about their background, their reaction to war, and how they intended to illustrate their experience?
  7. Who was the editor? Is there context for why the piece was written? Is there a manuscript that shows differences between the original piece and the finished product?
  8. Does the author state why he wrote the piece?
  9. Questions of perception

       – Perception of their position in the war

       – Perception of other people in the squadron

       – Perception of members of the other armed forces branches (RNAS, Army, Navy, etc.)

       – Perception of place in society and how they are perceived by non-combatants and other armed forces branches (Language, descriptions, portrayals, reporting, etc.)

 

Questions to consider after reading memoirs

  1. What factors aided in the selection of memoirs?
  2. Is there a pattern in who writes memoirs (social class, age, rank, etc.)
  3. Were there any outliers you weren’t expecting? 
  4. Are there any common themes/styles/illustrations suggestions a “typical” Royal Flying Corps experience? 

 

 

Fiction

Fictional pieces require a different approach and analysis than memoirs. Although lacking the explicitly factual base, fictional pieces are nevertheless important. Regardless of the time period they were published, fictional pieces provide insight into how the Royal Flying Corps was perceived and translated into experiences that were appealing to a broader audience. Although also read by a general audience, many memoirs were initially published for a more niche audience, such as family members, former RFC/RAF veterans, etc. However, as they were well-received by critics, the memoirs broadened in scope and target audience. With fiction, however, the audience was always targeted at a general audience. As I will go more in depth in later posts, this audience primarily consisted of young males, ideally an audience that could be future recruits after the end of the First World War and the creation fo the Royal Air Force. This especially became apparent in the 1930s, as the fear of another world war grew and developments in aviation (both civil and military) occurred. In a future post, I will provide a summary of each of the fictional pieces I read and break down the observed patterns and interesting factors of each.

I apologize for the bad quality of the photos, but these are two of the novels I am currently working through at the University of Virginia. Intended for young boys, these novels focus on the adventure-filled lives of two RFC pilots.

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I apologize for the bad quality of the photos, but these are two of the novels I am currently working through at the University of Virginia. Intended for young boys, these novels focus on the adventure-filled lives of two RFC pilots.

 

Questions for approaching fiction

  1. Who was the author and what biases may they have had?
  2. When was it published?
  3. What is the author’s writing style?
  4. What was the intended audience? How can you tell?
  5. Was this an individual piece or part of a serial, series, etc.?
  6. What is the structure of the piece?
  7. Why may these pieces have been so popular?
  8. Are there any themes, tropes, common characterizations, etc. that appear in similar formats in other pieces/throughout the pieces you read? What might this indicate? 
  9. What do these common portrayals indicate about the Royal Flying Corps and its perception in culture/popular culture? How was the Royal Flying Corps perceived by and translated for the consumption, understanding, and analysis by the general public? 

 

As tedious as it is to read through each of these sources critically, I thoroughly enjoy the material I am reading. Similar to how I am writing blog posts about my research to a general audience, these sources, both memoir and fiction, were meant to present information about a particular experience or time period to a general audience. Even though I am only a few pieces end, I find it interesting how each author translated experiences, both fictional or real, into a writing style that would appeal to audiences despite language barriers, borders, or even decades.