While there are plenty of novels written about wars, sometimes the absence, aftermath, or anticipation of a war can define a literary work just as much. No one need doubt how World War I affected Frederic Henry in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. In fact, no one who’s read any Hemingway can doubt how WWI affected Hemingway itself. The war and its aftermath define his fiction. Conversely, Anyone who reads about Virginia Woolf’s London can’t help but think of the bombings her beloved city will suffer not long after novels like Mrs. Dalloway and Between the Acts takes place.
Similarly the East and West Eggs of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby don’t seem to have much to do with the Great War that has recently concluded. Gatsby’s life is, on the surface at least, all about parties, swimming pools, and “beautiful shirts.” As the story progresses, the reader does learn about the real tragedy of Gatsby’s life, but even that isn’t World War I; it’s his unrequited love for the spoiled, shallow Daisy Buchanan. Life in the 1920s may have been difficult for a lot of Americans, but not the ones in this novel. Their troubles are all of their own making: affairs, dishonesty, driving the wrong cars.
Stronger even than Septimus Smith’s inability to live his normal life after experiencing something incredibly intense is Kurz’s apparent inability to even survive it. Though Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is not actually a war story, it feels like one. The men in this story are far from home and doing things they probably never imagined they would. Kurz takes ill, presumably with some dangerous African disease, but when he utters his famous final words -“The horror! The horror!” - Marlow (the story’s narrator) believes he’s actually referring to the terrible things that he has done in the name of ivory.