The tragic story of a disabled American veteran's postwar reintegration into family and society
An autobiographical novel of the Great War's aftermath, Plumes is the story of the personal trials of a soldier, returned from the front disabled and disillusioned, and of the wife and child he left behind.
Like his creator, Laurence Stallings, Richard Plume is a U.S. Marine whose combat injuries ultimately cost him a leg and much faith in his government and society. Carefully structured to emphasize the immediacy of problems faced by its players, the novel relegates combat scenes to flashbacks and centers instead on the struggles Richard faces as he tries to carve out a humble but honest existence in postwar Washington, D.C., for his wife, Esme, and son, Dickie. As he struggles to understand the external and internal causes that made him a victim, he turns to his heritage. Patriotic Plumes men fought in every American conflict from Valley Forge onward, and while all returned with wounds and woes, none ever doubted that battlefield glory was worth the price—none until Richard, who yearns to spare Dickie from the fate of his forebears.
Through Richard's tragic experiences, Stallings captures the tenor of the times, the faults and corruption inherent in the administration of veterans' aid, the economic crises faced by returned soldiers, and the personal and social hardships foisted on families in these circumstances. Esme emerges as the novel's heroine, the steadfast wife and mother who must shore up a life shattered by war.
The novel closes on the eve of the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as the Plumes reflect on the significance of a memorial built to house remains so blown apart by modern war machines that they can never be put back together in an identifiable form, an apt metaphor for their fractured lives.
Plumes was first published in 1924 and reprinted nine times by the following year. This edition is augmented with a new introduction by George Garrett assessing Stallings's literary career and critical reception and with a new afterword by Steven Trout contextualizing the medical and political realities of the novel.
A native of Macon, Georgia, and graduate of Wake Forest University, U.S. Marine captain Laurence Stallings (1894–1968) was wounded at Belleau Wood. On returning from duty, he coauthored the acclaimed Broadway play What Price Glory? Stallings later wrote or collaborated on numerous productions for stage and screen and worked as a reporter, writer, and editor for newspapers and magazines.
George Garrett, professor emeritus of creative writing at the University of Virginia, is the author of thirty books and editor of nineteen others, including An Evening Performance, The Finished Man, Death of the Fox, The Succession, and Entered from the Sun.
Steven Trout is a professor of English at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kansas. He is the author of Memorial Fictions: Willa Cather and the First World War and coeditor of The Literature of the Great War Reconsidered: Beyond Modern Memory.
"As fine a novel of the war as has been written."—Time
"An intensely interesting story…. No one, not even the most convinced of patrioteers, could read so straightforward and unvarnished a tale as Plumes without being just a little shaken by the truths which it reveals."—The Nation