Books for Boys – Exhibition at Durham University Library

A selection of editions from Helen’s comprehensive collection of Prussian cadet-school literature are to be displayed in a forthcoming exhibition at Durham University’s Palace Green Library, entitled ‘Books for Boys: Heroism, Adventure and Empire at the Dawn of the First World War’. The exhibition is the first in a series of exhibitions linked to the national centenary commemoration of the First World War.

The exhibition, which runs from 27th September 2014 to 18th January 2015, explores boyhood during the earliest years of the twentieth century, and the cultural environment that shaped a generation, celebrating a golden age of books for children. In a world where patriotism and duty were often seen as the defining qualities of a manly character, thrilling tales of adventure, real-life heroes, spies and imaginary worlds were written to inspire those boys who would go on to fight in the First World War.

In order to illuminate the workings of these bellicose stories on both sides of the Channel, ‘Books for Boys’ will compare literature from England and Germany in comparative perspective. From this point of view, the lionisation of life in the Royal Prussian Cadet Corps peddled by authors such as Johannes van Dewall, Paul von Szczepanski and Ernst von Wildenbruch can provide an instructive parallel to English school- and adventure stories of the same period.

The book collection from which these volumes are drawn, entitled ‘Forgotten Cadets’, was shortlisted for Cambridge University Library’s Rose Book-Collecting Prize in 2012, where it received the distinction of being “highly commended” by the adjudicators for its value as an exemplary collection.