WWI Fiction – Readers have their say

In preparation for a panel on WWI fiction, I conducted a brief reader survey a few months ago and thought I’d share the results.

It’s encouraging to see so many people reading novels set during WWI. Combining the first two responses gives us 91% indicating they’ve read some or many novels from this era. Women and men responded much the same.

With so many female participants, this result isn’t surprising. Men and women have different profiles – see the split below.

Next question – note than some of the response option text is cut short. You can see the full text in the male/female comparison which is also included.

In the ‘other’ category, we have a wide range of responses. Additionally, men and women have quite different points of view (see below).

What appeals to you about the WWI timeframe? Since this was a write-in question, answers were individually read and categorized.

It’s intriguing to see so many people refer to ‘changes that followed’. Many used the word pivotal in describing the changes that occurred. They said this in many ways, referring to social, technological, military, political, gender, and class changes, as well as the loss of innocence and the emergence of new values and mores. As for male/female, the only significant difference is an interest in the soldiers’ experience.

What do you think we can learn that’s relevant to today from novels set in and around WWI? This too was a write-in question; answers were individually read and categorized as shown below.

Note: ‘Individuals responses’ refers to readers’ interest in how individual men and women responded to the war itself – bravery, cowardice, camaraderie, willingness to serve, sacrifice and so on. Men are more likely to cite causes of war and politics of war. They are more likely to say ‘history repeats itself’ and less likely to think that we can learn from history.

One further question asked participants to mention favourite WWI fiction. I have yet to tabulate those results but will get back to you when I do!

Participants’ reading profile: 30% of participants said that ‘more than 75% of my reading is historical fiction’; another 29% read historical fiction more than 50% of the time; a further 27% read historical fiction more than 25% of the time.

As someone who loves WWI fiction and has written three novels set in this time period, I’m delighted to see the wide interest and relevance. I hope you all find the results of interest as well.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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18 Responses

  1. Thank you for these insights. I’m working on a WWI novel and I wondered what was the level of interest. I find the period fascinating, but I often find people don’t know a lot about it. There’s much more emphasis on WW2, and even with the centenary of the US entering the war, there hasn’t been much discussion of the Great War here in the States.

      1. I have heard several theories which may help to explain it. First, there are no living veterans to help us remember. Second, WWII’s events eclipsed those of the Great War in the American memory. The US entered the First World War very late, and the loss of American lives was smaller. WWII marked the first attack on US soil (even though the attack was far from the continental US). The Great War was more devestating to Europe, wiping out almost an entire generation of young men.

  2. Thanks for sharing your research, Mary! Very interesting and brings me back to my days of doing social and cognitive psychology studies. I wish I could put my finger on the appeal of WWI novels for me–what separates them from other war-era stories–but it is indefinable. Especially now, after a century, it stands out as a watershed. Of course, people recognized its impact almost right away but time has confirmed and sharpened the many shifts it marks. I guess I’d say that the WWI era is remote enough to fascinate but still close enough to permit the reader a sense of intimacy and recognition.

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