FROM SECOND BATTLEFIELD TO THE FRONT LINES: THE RELEVANCE AND VALUE OF WORLD WAR I FEMALE WRITING
By KARIANNE C. HAVLICEK
A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate Studies Division of Ohio Dominican University Columbus, Ohio
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of
MASTER OF ARTS IN LIBERAL STUDIES AUGUST 2015
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Foremost, I would like to thank my husband, Bobby, my children, Xavier and Margaret, and my family and friends for all of their prayers and encouragement. Without their support, completing this degree would not have been possible. I would also like to thank each of my professors who introduced me to new authors and literature I had never known existed. Their choices for reading materials, assignments, and discussions allowed me to explore new ideas and develop my own thoughts. I would like to especially thank Professor Glazier who has supported me throughout this thesis project with his critical insights and constructive feedback.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Certification of Approval
Chapter 1: Establishing Relevance
Chapter 2: Seeking Value
Chapter 3: Becoming Valuable
Conclusion: Gaining Familiarity
Introduction If the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been. —Leo Tolstoy
As a result of an ongoing absence of attention to female war-writers, the canon of World War I literature continues to lack an array of voices and perspectives. For too long, the female voice has existed on what one writer—Mary Borden—describes as the “second battlefield.” Although women never fought on the front lines, their participation in and observations of the First World War provide readers and scholars with a different viewpoint of the war. However, the introduction and inclusion of women war-writers into the canon of World War I literature has been a slow moving process. Joyce Marlow, in her introduction to The Virago Book of Women and The Great War, writes that “the material published about the First World War has been Amazonian in its breadth, depth, and sheer volume but women’s role in it has had a bumpy ride” (1). Despite such depth, breadth, and volume of texts produced by women, such texts and their authors have been excluded from the literary canon which includes their male counterparts. How is it possible for a war that affected so many men and women to have so few voices and perspectives represented in the World War I literary canon? The First World War not only exposed humankind to a new sort of war through advancements in technology, military strategy, and mobilization efforts, but the war also created a distinct literary tradition which revealed the creative, personal and emotional impact of twentieth-century warfare. Michael Howard, in his concise history of World War I entitled The First World War, writes “Everywhere peoples were supportive of their governments. This was no ‘limited war’ between princely states. War was now a national affair” (32). No longer was
war limited to a select group of men marching off to combat the enemy. Now, millions of citizens were being called to join the war effort. “It was in a spirit of patriotic duty that they joined the colors and went to war” (Howard 34). While the men were being mobilized as soldiers, women quickly joined the effort as nurses and welfare services staff members. Women began to fill the roles the men had left behind for the front lines. Howard maintains—that such a transformation disrupted “the whole balance of society in the process” (70). He also asserts, “Women had already been organizing themselves before the war in the ‘Suffragette’ movement to demand the vote, and leaders of that movement now swung their influence behind the war effort” (Howard 70). Just as women joining the war effort upset the persistent patriarchal social balance, so too did adding women writers to a male-dominated literary canon—World War I literature—tip the balance. The literature derived from the home front, trenches, and front lines grappled with sensations of nationalism and patriotism as well as idealism and socialism. Thus, the perspectives represented in World War I literature reflect a variety of individuals whose lives the war impacted. The soldier poets and writers long remembered for both their contributions on the battlefield and through their literary accomplishments have not been forgotten. Siegfried Sassoon, Edmund Blunden, and Robert Graves among thousands of lesser known names contributed to the documentation of history and chronicled the war experience for future generations. In contrast, the documentation of the female experience during the war have not been given equal consideration. Marlow asserts, “a few books about the female experience in the First World War have been published…but full justice has still not been done to the scope of women’s efforts between 1914 and 1918” (9). To illustrate the true breadth of World War I texts written and published, George Walter, editor of the 2006 edition of The Penguin Book of First
World War Poetry, describes in his introduction, an “explosion of creativity” which precipitated hundreds of thousands of poems and other war writings to be published within the span of World War I (ix). Considering this wave of unexperienced writers suddenly compelled to put their thoughts into words, many scholars and critics questioned the value and literariness of such works. When considering poetry written during World War I, Walter describes, “The war was barely six months old when Edward Thomas declared, ‘No other class of poetry vanishes so rapidly, has so little chosen from it for posterity’” (xiii). According to Thomas, it seems, poetry written in response to the war would not survive and would merely disappear. Could an uneducated and untrained group of male war writers compose texts which maintained the literary tradition so valued? It would seem, perhaps, not so, until the trench poets emerged and transformed the genre of poetry. Soldier poets, rather than poet soldiers, were creating a distinct form of writing. Walter describes the soldier poets as “a new breed” of writers who “were exactly the opposite” as the poet soldiers, “and their work reflected this change in emphasis: using a new, unadorned kind of poetic language, they sought to capture the reality of life in uniform and, in particular, the realities of modern warfare” (Walter xviii). Trying to determine where World War I literature fit within the traditional literary canon was a challenge because the soldier poets had created a distinctive style particular to the war experience. The poetry the soldier poets created was not considered “poetry as literature, but rather poetry as reportage” (Walter xix). The sheer volume of publications of war literature during this time was unprecedented. Additionally, much of the literature being published was being written by soldiers, some of whom had never written a poem much less been published before. In fact, as George Walter indicates, “the most complete bibliography of First World War poetry published to date lists well over two thousand individual poets, but only a few of these names will be
familiar to contemporary readers” (xxxi). In fact, very few war writers experienced literary success once the war ceased. For many, war poetry permitted soldiers to vocalize what they needed and then return to silence. Moreover, much of the poetry of the First World War has been compiled into numerous anthologies, digital archives, and collections. Many of these war literature compilations primarily consist of male authors. However, despite the fact that men fought directly in combat, the female perspective offers another critical viewpoint of the war. To illustrate, The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (2006), presents the poetry of the First World War in terms of thematic units in an attempt to convey “the sheer diversity…without arranging that poetry so that it tells a particular story” (Walter xxxvi). Containing over two hundred war poems, but only twenty-seven poems representing the voices of female war writers, the Penguin anthology continues to uphold the trend to limit the female voice. Among the female voices, the anthology includes: Vera Brittain, Charlotte Mew, Rose Macaulay, Edith Sitwell, Jessie Pope, Eva Dobell, Amy Lowell, Margaret Postgate Cole, and May Wedderburn Cannan. Comparatively, Tim Kendall’s anthology Poetry of the First World War (2013) includes the poetry of five female war-writers among the twenty-two male war-writers. May Sinclair, Charlotte Mew, Mary Borden, Margaret Postgate Cole, and May Wedderburn Cannan represent the female war-poets included in Kendall’s anthology. In his “Note on the Anthology,” Kendall asserts, “This anthology concerns itself with the poetry related to the War by poets from Britain and Ireland who lived through part or all of it” (xxviii). The predominant exception to male dominated anthologies is Catherine Reilly’s Scars Upon My Heart (1981) which anthologizes the poetry of over seventy-five female war-writers. Until Reilly’s work, rarely would female writers be included in war anthologies. The voice of the war was primarily male. However, the male voice does not exist in isolation. A
female voice and perspective also exists. Despite the common assumption that war should be a man’s affair, women have played significant roles during wartimes; their efforts should not be diminished because they were not fighting soldiers. Such a lack of presence in war anthologies as well as digital archives seems to mimic such common assumptions. The First World War Poetry Digital Archive contains over seven thousand documents, images, audio, and videos related to teaching, learning, and researching the First World War. Launched in 2008 through the University of Oxford, the archive was one of twenty-two projects designed to create a multimedia digital archive funded by the JISC Digitisation Programme. While no longer funded, the archive remains a wealth of primary documents; however, among the ten author collections, only one is female. Vera Brittain is the sole female war-writer represented in this digital archive’s collections. Although her writing is well represented through images of her handwritten letters composed throughout the war, Brittain stands alone as the sole female writer among well-known male war-writers including Edmund Blunden, Robert Graves, Ivor Gurney, David Jones, Roland Leighton, Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon and Edward Thomas. Likewise, First World War.com presents an array of primary texts and historical facts related to the war. Although many of the primary documents represent male writers, including memoirs, diaries, poetry, and prose, the FirstWorldWar.com archive does feature an extensive list of female war-writers which includes titles of female composed anthologies, dramas, memoirs, fiction, and poetry. Such a list invaluably provides direction to one seeking out the names of female authors and texts. Locating a majority of the texts was also relatively easy through the use of the online resources Amazon.com and Project Gutenberg. Consisting of over 49,000 published texts, Project Gutenberg provides readers in the United States access to books in which U.S. copyright laws have expired. As recorded on the
Project Gutenberg website, Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice has 44,554 downloads to date, which makes it the most downloaded of any other text available through the online resource. In a single day, Austen’s novel recorded 1,351 downloads. Meanwhile, during a search of the Project Gutenberg site, Edith Wharton’s World War I texts The Marne and Fighting France, from Dunkerque to Belfort have 24 and 19 downloads respectively. We can also contrast this to Wharton’s more popular novels The Age of Innocence, with 2,035 downloads, and Ethan Frome, with 1,975 downloads. Rose Macaulay’s Non-Combatants and Others What Not, published in 1918, has 33 downloads. Such quantitative information raises questions about the familiarity, relevance, and value of women’s war texts. Do the number of downloads correlate with the degree to which people are familiar with the authors and texts? Does familiarity with a text increase the number of downloads? Familiarity, relevance, and value does impact whether or not readers access certain literary texts. Similarly, how much influence does relevance, value, and familiarity affect an editor’s decision to select or omit an author or text from an anthology? Tim Kendall admits, “I have preferred to seem unkind to minor writers, believing that by generously representing the War’s most important poets I could best illustrate the extent and variety of their achievements.” He contends, “I have followed the simple rule of giving the largest allowance of space to those poets who seem to me the most important” (Kendall xxix). Such a viewpoint illustrates the glaring limitation of anthologies and archives to adequately represent the multitude of voices from the war. Above all, Kendall believes reliability should be foremost when selecting texts for his anthology. In his book Thomas Hardy and British Poetry, Donald Davie, as cited by Kendall, defines “an anthology poem as one that, ‘whether by luck or design, and whatever its other virtues, cannot give offence’” (xxviii). The inherent issue is that the very nature of the context
and content of war poetry goes against Davie’s definition. All in all, whether or not a poet’s writing is included in any anthology, digital archive, or collection is subjective. Despite attempts to be as inclusive as possible, omissions of authors and their texts seem inevitable—according to Kendall: “No matter how many pages their publishers allow them, anthologists will always fret over writers who have been excluded” (xxviii). The argument in terms of limiting female war writers, thus, can be based on a number of rationales including page limits, reliability of content, as well as familiarity. Such an argument perpetuates the limitation of the female voice with the World War I literary canon. In acclamation of Reilly’s Scars Upon My Heart, Walter concludes that despite challenging the notion of war poetry as solely a male domain reserved for those who experienced combat, the anthology did not impact the decisions of subsequent anthologists to include more female voices (xxxiii). In her preface to Reilly’s anthology, Judith Kazantzis poetically notes, “The particular furious magnificence of the soldier poets makes it unsurprising that women poets should recede into the background. Yet to be so little known now?” (Reilly xxiii). Overall, the female voice during World War I is one that seems to have been overlooked and overshadowed by the prestige and valor of their male counterparts. But the question remains: Why has the female writer been omitted from such a transformational moment in world history? Lillian Robinson provides a compelling argument in response to the difficulty posed when attempting to insert a particular author of group of writers into an established literary canon. In her article, “Treason Our Text: Feminist Challenges to the Literary Canon,” Robinson concludes, “There is no reason why the canon need speak with one voice or as one man of the fundamental questions of human experience” (89). Only through inclusion of the female perspective into the World War I literary canon can we understand the reality of the culture during this time period. Therefore, female war-writers deserve the opportunity to become
relevant, valued, and familiar in today’s society. Through an exploration of history, content, and voices present in female war-writing, I argue that World War I female authors are an important voice in literary history because when the voices reporting events and experiences are excluded, the historical view becomes limited for those in the future. While the male soldier voice exclaims the experience of war, the female voice can equally pronounce the effects of war. In such regard, there needs to be a more deliberate focus on female war writing through the processes of researching, educating, and creating digital platforms such as multimedia archives.
Chapter 1: Establishing Relevance This is the second battlefield. The battle now is going on over the helpless bodies of these men. It is we who are doing the fighting now, with their real enemies. —Mary Borden, “Blind” Ellen La Motte, a war nurse and author of The Backwash of War, wrote, “We are witnessing a phase in the evolution of humanity, a phase called War—and the slow onward progress stirs up the slime in the shallows, and this is the backwash of war…By examining the things cast up in the backwash, we can gauge the progress of humanity” (7). The role of women during the First World War needs further examining in order to further solidify their contribution to history and literary tradition. If female war-writing was considered the “backwash” of war, then we can truly measure how far humanity has progressed in the last century. Again, one of the issues with the paucity of familiarity with female war-writers is the establishment of their relevance. How relevant is women’s history to the understanding of war? How is such relevance established within a typically patriarchal world history? Only through a familiarity with female war-writers can any semblance of relevancy to history or literary canon be achieved. Additionally, a single form or language is not adequate to convey the trauma of war; a singular genre or isolated word is incapable of conveying such horrors. Sarah Cole contends, “Violence—especially the rampaging violence of war—demands a style or technology of representation that pinpoints its experiences without justifying or celebrating it” (1636). Comparatively, retelling of gruesome details in a war hospital seems as traumatic as the retelling of one’s experience of fighting in the trenches. Laurie Kaplan, in “Deformities of the Great War: The Narratives of Mary Borden and Helen Zenna Smith,” confirms, “Dismemberment, hideous burns, gangrene, shellshock, poison gas…the magnitude of the wounds inflicted by the new weapons of war were beyond the human imagination” (35). Just as the soldier-writers needed a
medium through which they could express themselves, so did the women war writers. The distinction, however, exists in how relevant scholars and historians believed the experiences to be. Thus, a differentiation between combatant and non-combatant took shape and influenced the reception of female writers during this time period. It was commonly believed that only soldiers could write of war because they were the ones who fought, lived, and died in battle. Women could not possibly know war; therefore, they could not possibly write about it. On the contrary, the female experience during the war continues to be of both historical and literary value. Margaret Higonnet, in her Presidential Address presented at the 2005 American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) Conference, attributes the change in writing during the war to “the corrosion of official and conventional language under pressure from propaganda, censorship, and psychological breakdown in the war years” in which previous styles, or more traditional writing, was replaced with “fresh experiments in order to give expression to the war” (vii). In fact, Higonnet’s definition of literature supports the inclusion of war literature into the canon, particularly the female voice. She states, “By putting the ‘world’ back into the war, by putting women back into the world of war, and by putting orality back into the weaving of words, that in its broadest sense is literature” (x). Thus, in order to trace the evolution of literature and history, war literature plays a pivotal role in understanding the war experience through a multi-sensory journey of writing styles, images, voices, and personal histories. In Carol Acton’s article entitled, “Diverting the Gaze: The Unseen Text in Women’s War Writing,” she includes an excerpt from Tim O’Brien’s short story, “How to Tell a True War Story.” Within the excerpt, O’Brien, a contemporary soldier-writer, conveys the difficulty one has when writing about war.
In any war story, but especially a true one, it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seems to happen…The angles of vision are skewed. When a booby trap explodes, you close your eyes and duck and float outside yourself. When a guys dies…you look away and then look back for a moment and then look away again. The picture gets jumbled; you tend to miss a lot. And then afterward, when you go to tell about it, there is always that surreal seemingness, which makes the story seem untrue, but which in fact represents the hard and exact truth as it seemed. (qtd. in Acton 64-65) Similar difficulties were also present for writers struggling to record their experiences during World War I. Even when attempting to write, “Soldier’s narratives took traditional forms,” Ariela Freedman contends, “and employed a documentary tone drawing on authority from their eyewitness accounts” (111). In contrast, although women could not draw upon such authority as the combatants nor could they accurately describe the trench experience, they could examine the greater impact of the War (Freedman 111). While the female’s exploration into war was unorthodox and challenged even the new writing styles male soldier-writers were beginning to forge, the preexisting literary tradition seemed to stymy the acceptance of war-writers. Through such exploration, for example, writers like Mary Borden and Helen Zenna Smith took liberty to “defy cultural assumptions about what was ‘appropriate’ for women writers to take on in terms of writing about wounded men and about their own work as nurses and ambulance drivers” (Kaplan 35). Borden and Smith challenged the notion of what characterized feminine writing. The writing which emerged during the war period seemed to meld traditional and modern styles. Mary Borden, a rich heiress from Chicago, became a nurse during the First World War. Her war experience began as a volunteer for the French Red Cross caring for victims in a typhoid ward. By 1916, she was operating her own hospital at Bray-sur-Somme. As close to the front
lines as she could possibly get, Borden recounts her experience in The Forbidden Zone. A fragmented account of life in a war hospital, Borden’s book was not printed during the war, as Hazel Hutchinson writes in her “Introduction,” because “the content was too controversial and potentially damaging to wartime morale” (Borden xiv). The Forbidden Zone was not published until 1929. Borden’s book has been known to a relatively small group of readers and only parts have been reprinted in anthologies of women’s war writing (Hutchinson, xv). The most recent edition of The Forbidden Zone in 2008 illustrates the influence of Borden as a voice of the First World War who continues to fight the battle for recognition among today’s readers and scholars. Borden’s style has been described as a hybrid of genres—prose and poetry, memoir and fiction—and a fragmented mish mash of thoughts and experiences that are retold with no particular chronology of time or place. Borden introduces The Forbidden Zone stating: I have not invented anything in this book. The sketches and poems were written between 1914 and 1918, during four years of hospital work with the French Army…I have called the collection of fragments The Forbidden Zone because the strip of land immediately behind the zone of fire where I was stationed went by that name…To those who find these impressions confused, I would say that they are fragments of a great confusion. Any attempt to reduce them to order would require artifice on my part and would falsify them. To those on the other hand who find them unbearably plain, I would say that I have blurred the bare horror of facts and softened the reality in spite of myself, not because I wished to do so, but because I was incapable a nearer approach to the truth. (Borden 3) Borden’s introduction highlights the transformation that was occurring in literature produced during the years of 1914-1918. Many war writers needed to find a language and style suitable for conveying their thoughts, emotions, and war experiences. Likewise, readers also had to
transform expectations of a literature that only somewhat mimicked the traditional forms of the past. The issue lies in discovering how to relay the trauma and horror of war to those who were not on the front lines fighting in the trenches or the second lines serving in the hospitals. One of the most vivid descriptions of the war appears in “Moonlight.” Borden personifies Pain, Life, and Death as her intimate companions throughout the war. Referring to Pain and Life, she writes, “The first two are quarrelsome. They fight over the wounded like dogs over a bone. They snarl and growl and worry over the pieces of men we have here; but Pain is the stronger” (Borden 40). Borden continues to describe Pain as an obscene figure who lurks and preys on the wounded soldiers. “I find her possessing the men in their beds, lying in bed with them; and Life, the sick animal, mews and whimpers, snarls and barks at her, till Death comes—the Angel…— comes silently, drives Pain away, and horrid, snarling Life and leaves the man in peace” (Borden 40). Then, almost matter-of-factly, Borden reflects on the routine of the hospital and describes the drinking of their midnight cocoa next to the operating room. “Sometimes there isn’t much room. Sometimes legs and arms wrapped in cloths have to be pushed out of the war. We throw them on the floor—they belong to no one and are of no interest to anyone—and drink our cocoa” (Borden 41). The routine of war has become reality and the previous world has become mere imagination. Notably, the constant battle of fighting Pain, Life, and Death does not discriminate among gender. For Borden and so many other writers the war challenged both masculine and feminine roles as well as the essence of the human (Freedman 113). “There are no men here, so why should I be a woman? There are heads and knees and mangled testicles. There are these things, but no men; so how could I be a woman here and not die of it? ... It is impossible to be a woman here. One must be dead” (Borden 44). Thus, the death of gender in female war texts
demonstrates the relevance of women’s war writing alongside their male counterparts. Freedman supports, “In the persona of the nurse, the not-woman crosses the zone of the not-men, and despite her problematic role, begins to carve out a relationship to the war which does not divide experience along gendered lines” (119). Furthermore, an attempt to diminish the distinct literary lines between masculine and feminine writing becomes evident through the further study of gender throughout various war texts. Continuing, Freedman asserts, “Gender itself has been wounded; and the men and women of the field hospital did not recognize themselves as men and women but as nurses, doctors, patients, the dead, the dying, and the not yet dying” (121). In this respect, if gender distinctions have been removed from the text, should such gender distinctions not also be removed from war literature overall? Such a question challenges the existing divide between male and female war literature. Borden, for example, throughout the stories in The Forbidden Zone “attempts to bridge the gender and genre divide—not to explain one form of life to another, but to inspire empathy, the only kind of memorial that allows the dead to retain the privacy and integrity of their silence and enables the living to retain their links to one another and the dead” (Freedman 122). Thus, Borden’s writing brings relevance to her writing through the act of connecting the past to the present and the living to the dead. Comparatively, many women witnessed a change in their roles during the war. Volunteering as nurses, ambulance drivers among other war occupations, women exhibited the freedom to move beyond the walls of the home. Borden uses the war hospital to illustrate such a transition. “In a corner near to my kitchen we had partitioned off a cubicle… a rough wooden frame lined with electric light bulbs, where a man could be cooked back to life again. My kitchen was an arrangement of shelves for saucepans and syringes and needles of different sizes”
(Borden 97). While the distinction between wife, mother, and nurse may be blurred, the role of women in wartime deserves attention. Kaplan explains the transition, The Great War killed the nineteenth-century view of a frail, disembodied, ethereal woman and replaced her with an iconic picture of a nurse…This strong female presence, which graphically negates the docile image of an Edwardian daughter, is a vision that recurs in women’s self-writing about the war. (42-43) Therefore, the distinction between this new woman as war participant, whether nurse, ambulance driver, or other volunteer, created an entirely different perspective from the traditional roles of the nineteenth-century woman. Ellen N. La Motte, who dedicated her book The Backwash of War to Mary Borden, writes of women and wives. “You know, they won’t let wives come to the Front. Women can come into the War Zone, on various pretexts, but wives cannot. Wives, it appears, are bad for the morale of the army…It is not the woman, but the wife that is objected to. There is a difference” (La Motte, 40). La Motte presents a portrait of women during the war as objects which contribute to boosting the morale of the Armies; however, women are not truly perceived as constituents in battle. The distinction between women and wives creates a paradox which La Motte describes, So wives are forbidden, because lowering to the morale, but women are winked at, because they cheer and refresh the troops. After the war, it is hoped that all unmarried soldiers will marry, but doubtless they will not marry these women who have served and cheered them in the War Zone. That, again, would be depressing to the country’s morale. (41) So, in thinking about what Borden identifies as the “second battlefield,” what could La Motte possibly mean? In many ways, I believe she refers literally to the war zones in which women
were able to freely and openly occupy. Women were not able to serve as soldiers wielding guns, marching across deserted wastelands, and fighting in the trenches. Instead, the women who served as nurses and ambulance drivers were the ones who had to clean up the aftermath of battle. The viewpoint that women were still considered second-class citizens is evident in their writing. The courage and bravery of women was not always considered equally to the caliber of soldiers. For the most part, as La Motte implies throughout her writing, women were a means to an end rather than an integral part of war. To illustrates, the following passage from Smith’s Not So Quiet… describes the history of women in war and the trauma of World War I: Once women buckled on their men’s swords. Once they believed in that ‘death-or-gloryboys’ jingo. But this time they’re in it themselves. They’re seeing for themselves…And the pretty romance has gone. War is dirty. There is no glory. Vomit and blood look at us. We came out here puffed out with patriotism. There isn’t one of us who wouldn’t go back tomorrow. The glory of the war…my God! (Smith 56) Yet again, the female voice beckons to be heard as a participant in the War. Borden and LaMotte, did not sit passively and wait for war to cease; they, like so many other women, played an active role in the War. In sum, the active participation of women on the “second battlefield” and the literary texts which emerged as a result should be enough evidence to declare the relevance of women during the First World War. The voice of the female war-writer is a voice that should be integrated in the voice of history because their perspective is equally as valuable as the male perspective. Exploring the literature of female war-writers enables those so far removed from the experience the opportunity to understand the horror and trauma of war.
Chapter 2: Seeking Value I am not proposing to ask you to see it from my point of view. You cannot, no matter how willing you are to try. No two people ever see life from the same angle. –Mildred Aldrich, A Hilltop on the Marne As previously mentioned, through an exploration of female war-literature, readers and scholars are able to delve into the array of perspectives precipitated by World War I. In her article, Kaplan concludes, “the trauma of handling the human ‘wreckage’ of war changed women’s perspectives on writing” (43). Women writers sought to convey the horror and experience of war with those who seemed so far removed in order to raise awareness of the atrocities of war. Additionally, “the experimental and fragmentary perspective of the female noncombatant thus appears to produce a fuller articulation of war” (Freedman 111). The war perspective was no longer only attributable to the male voice. As previously cited, Margaret Higonnet writes of women and war writing in her “2005 ACLA Presidential Address.” In her address, Higonnet asserts, “But that is not the whole story. Women too were caught up in the war as actors and victims” (vii). No longer was the female war story a tale of the bystander. World War I brought women into the world of war as more of a witness to the horror of war. Thus, through their participation in the War, women were able to ascertain a perspective not previously held by their gender. In fact, Freedman celebrates “the past decade has expanded to include women [in the study of WWI writing]…the soldier poet as a privileged chronicler of WWI may finally have been laid to rest” (110). However, there is still much work to accomplish when it comes to developing and furthering our understanding of the female perspective through exploring, analyzing and comparing various texts from the period enables us to better understand history and events of World War I. Higonnet also declares, “very few critics have addressed
women’s war writing from a comparative perspective” (viii). Thus, the value of women’s war literature can be discovered when attention is paid to the quality of the text and readers and scholars begin to interact with the texts on an analytical and comparative basis. An American citizen who was living in France when war broke out, Mildred Aldrich documents the atmosphere through writing letters to a relative back home, but, ultimately, the texts transform into a diary-like record of her day to day experiences. Aldrich records in A Hilltop on the Marne the following thought dated June 3, 1914: “There is a law which decrees that two objects may not occupy the same place at the same time—result: two people cannot see things from the same point of view, and the slightest difference in angle changes the thing seen.” According to her correspondence, despite numerous requests to convince her to return to America, Aldrich chose to remain in France. On August 10, 1914, Aldrich reflects I am old enough to remember well enough the days of our Civil War, when regiments of volunteers, with flying flags and bands of music, marched through our streets in Boston, on the way to the front. Crowds of stay-at-homes, throngs of women and children lined the sidewalks, shouting deliriously…inspired by the marching soldiers with guns on their shoulders…But this is quite different. There are no marching soldiers, no flying flags, no bands of music. It is a rising up of a nation as one man—all classes shoulder to shoulder, with but one idea—‘lift up your hearts, and long live France!’ (Aldrich VIII) Two weeks later, Aldrich observes the disappearance of all the men in town and awaits the women who remain and the men unfit for war to replace the men called to fight (X). Again, no matter where in Europe everyone was called to “do their bit.” And Aldrich experienced her opportunity to become a participant in the War when a regiment of soldiers came to rest at her home. “I ran into the house, put on the kettle, ran up the road to call Amelie, and back to the
arbor to set the table as well as I could. The whole atmosphere changed. I was going to be useful” (Aldrich XII). Later that same day, September 8, 1914, Aldrich records a soldier’s sentiments about the war. He comments on the attitudes of the women in the village who are experiencing the effects of war compared to the women back in England who “have no notion what war is like.” She continues her entry for this day stating, “I could not forget the poor fellows lying dead out there in the starlight—and it was such a beautiful night…Off to the northeast the cannon still boomed,--it is still booming now as I write” (Aldrich XIII). Concluding with an affirmation that she has tried to clearly write the facts of events as they occurred, Aldrich writes “I am afraid that I have been more disturbed in putting it down than I was in living it” (XVI). For so many, men and women, who participated in the war, putting their experiences into a language others would understand was difficult. In addition to finding the words to describe the war experience, war-writers also had to balance strong political opinions and dissenting attitudes. In her article “Biblical Theology as Dialogue: Continuing the Conversation on Mikhail Bakhtin and Biblical Theology,” Juliana Claassens writes, “In the Bakhtinian notion of the ‘outsider,’ a foreign culture or unfamiliar text has the function of providing a different perspective that may prove to be enriching to the dialogue” (139). In the following excerpt, Aldrich provides such an example of enriching the dialogue of war: And here we are today, in the twentieth century, when intelligent people have long been striving after a spiritual explanation of the meaning of life, trying to prove its upward trend, trying to beat out of it materialism, endeavoring to find in altruism a road to happiness and governments can still find no better way to settle their disputes than
wholesale slaughter, and that with weapons no so-called civilized man should ever have invented nor any so-called civilized government ever permitted to be made. (Aldrich X) Aldrich, it seems, takes on the voice of political activist as she so vehemently voices her opinions of society. Notably, “each text comes to the conversation with its own distinctive perspective, which includes its particular historical and literary context” (Claassens 136). Therefore, the inclusion of the unique perceptions of female war-writers enhances the historical and literary contexts of World War I. Without such viewpoints on the war, a male-dominated viewpoint will continue to perpetuate limiting the female voice in reporting events as truly experienced. Not to downplay the sacrifices of millions of soldiers’ lives, but others also experienced the war. Without the voice of the others, future generations cannot truly gain an understanding of the vast impact of World War I on those who lived to tell about the experience. In a similar manner as Aldrich, Edith Wharton chronicles her experiences as an American in wartime France in Fighting France. Wharton depicts numerous scenes from the time period as she writes details what life was like as a foreigner in Paris and the commencement of the war as well as her observations traveling throughout war-torn France. Within Fighting France, Wharton recalls an adage she attributes to Goethe, and she writes, “Goethe was never wiser than when he wrote: ‘A god gave me the voice to speak my pain.’ It is not too much to say that the French are at this moment drawing a part of their national strength from their language.” Such unity in voice is also expressed in Wharton’s writing in which she includes a note from a mourner. "Thank you, for having understood the cruelty of our fate, and having pitied us. Thank you also for having exalted the pride that is mingled with our unutterable sorrow.” Wharton concludes the sentiment with, “Simply that, and no more; but she might have been speaking for all the mothers of France.” A common theme, the unity of peoples from various walks of life emerges during
Wharton’s wartime description—“The whole civilian part of the nation seems merged in one symbolic figure, carrying help and hope to the fighters or passionately bent above the wounded.” Only focusing on the male perspective of war limits our ability to perceive an event objectively and from multiple perspectives. The female perspective should not be neglected because women did not serve on the front lines, but rather served on the “second battlefield” of the war or remained at home. In an attempt to answer such a question, or at least establish a comparison between masculine and feminine perspective. Wilfred Owen’s well-known poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” can be analyzed alongside Elinor Jenkins’ “Dulce et Decorum?” in terms of perspective. Obviously, Owen’s poem is told from the perspective of the soldier; the first stanza begins, “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,/Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through/sludge” (1-2). Owen depicts an image of soldiers who are wounded, deaf and blind, tired and limping march through the sludge. Continuing, the speaker recounts the horror of a gas attack in stanza two. “Gas! GAS! Quick boys!” (9). Then, “I saw him drowning” (14). In stanza four, however, the speaker vividly describes his war experience, “If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace/Behind the wagon that we flung him in,/And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,/ His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,/ If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood/Come gargling” (17-22). The image of the speaker witnessing the death of a fellow soldier graphically conveys the terror and horror of war. Ultimately, the speaker concludes, “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest/To children ardent for some desperate glory,/ The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est/Pro patria mori” (25-28). Thus, as the eyewitness, the speaker presents his reality as he sees it—violent, messy, and futile. The last three lines, being the most poignant, reveal that war is not so sweet and that dying in battle for one’s country is, perhaps, not so
glorified. In fact, the opinion the speaker shares presents a viewpoint in contradiction with the spirit of nationalism, patriotism, and duty so many young soldier’s and family’s possessed who had not yet experienced the trauma of war. Only a soldier in the trenches could convey such sentiments about the reality of war. Comparatively, Elinor Jenkins poem “Dulce et Decorum?” although it shares a similar title as Owen’s, the poem is written from the mourner’s perspective. Stanza one reads, “We buried of our dead the dearest one--/Said each to other, ‘Here then let him lie,/ And they may find the place, when all is done,/From the old may tree standing guard near by.’ (1-4). As the speaker continues, the grief of loss is evident and descriptive in stanza three: “For we that loved him covered up his face,/And laid him in the sodden earth away” (9-10). As the poem concludes, the speaker prays: Oh Lord of Hosts, no hallowed prayer we bring, Here for Thy grace is no importuning, No room for those that will not strive nor cry When lovingkindness with our dead lies slain: Give us our father’s heathen hearts again, Valor to dare, and fortitude to die. (17-22) So, the poem ends with the mourners asking the question, “Dulce et Decorum?” Thus, as the poems generated from varying perspectives, several comparisons as well as contrasts can be gleaned. First of all, both poems possess a degree of mourning for the dead. For Owen, the speaker mourns a fallen comrade and in Jenkins’ poem, the speaker mourns a loved one. Nonetheless, the reality of death and aftermath are both addressed in each poem. The soldier concludes that there is no glory in dying for one’s country, while the mourner concludes that
God cannot bring back the dead and subsequently turns to “our father’s heathen ways” seeming to give up on religion. While Jenkins’ poem is neither graphic nor an eyewitness account from the trenches, the experience in the poem is one in which anyone who has ever experienced loss could relate. Owens’ clearly conveys the horror of battle, but Jenkin’s equally conveys the grief of death. Thus, neither perspective is greater than the other; the major significance is the perspective from which the topic of death and war are addressed. While the perspective of the soldier is important to the history and understanding of the war experience, who determines that the perspective of the mourner is any less significant? Now, if we compare the graphic description of stanza four of “Dulce et Decorum Est” with Mary Borden’s dramatic dialogue in “The Operating Room” a similar sense of the graphic is conveyed through the conversation Borden records between patients, surgeons and a nurse. 3rd Patient: I am thirsty. 2nd Patient: Cut the dressing, Mademoiselle. 2nd Surgeon: What’s his ticket say? Show it to me. What’s the x-ray show? 3rd Surgeon: Abdomen. Bad pulse. I wonder now? 1st Patient: In the name of God be careful. I suffer. I suffer. 1st Surgeon: At what time were you wounded? 1st Patient: At five this morning. 1st Surgeon: Where? 1st Patient: In the arm… A nurse comes in from the corridor. He apron is splashed with blood. Nurse: There’s a lung just come in. Hemorrhage. Can one of you take him?
Ultimately, the story concludes with the death of the 3rd patient who suffered the abdominal wound. The surgeon concludes, “Give me a light someone. My experience is that if abdomens have to wait more than six hours it’s no good. You can’t do anything. I hope that chap got the oysters in Amiens! Oysters sound good to me” (Borden 90). Throughout Borden’s writing, readers are able to ascertain several perspectives including soldier, nurse, and surgeon. Like the soldier in Owen’s poem, we see a similar disillusionment of war with the surgeon. Borden, although she was not a soldier on the front lines is able to articulate similar images and experiences of a soldier as well as perspectives of others. She may not have witnessed the horror of the battlefield, instead, she witnessed its bloody aftermath. Borden’s contribution, like other female war-writers, provides valuable insights into participants of war beyond the soldier. All in all, looking at male and female war texts side by side, distinctions clearly exist in terms of perspective. However, similarities in themes and images reflect a common experience with death and war. Every human reacts to life differently, and the more perspectives to be analyzed and to become familiar with, the more beneficial to understanding not only the experience of war but also life. The perspectives of both male and female writers are equally significant when attempting to study and understand the past through both a historical and literary lens. Even more so, contemporary readers should not be denied access to a diverse range of viewpoints and experiences—which includes the female experience of war.
Chapter 3: Becoming Valuable War had that day the aspect of a country fair. –Mary Borden, “The Regiment” Mikhail Bakhtin theorizes, within Discourse in the Novel, about the construction of language and voice in everyday life as well as literature. Bakhtin asserts, “in real life people talk most about what others talk about—they transmit, recall, weigh and pass judgement on other peoples’ words…people are upset by others’ words or agree with them” (530). Thus, when we consider how war-writers utilized language to convey the war experience, we must also consider the various voices which influenced the creation of the text. For when a single voice exists, the effect is one of authority, which according to Bakhtin, can only be transmitted; the result is that the reader cannot become an active participant with the text (533). When an author writes using a single voice, readers may interpret the text as a directive. The interaction between the reader and text becomes limited to the extent that “there can be no arguing” (Bakhtin 533). In contrast, Helen Zenna Smith uses a distinct style of incorporating multiple perspectives through her use of ellipses and divergent tones. Helen Zenna Smith was the pseudonym Evadne Price used to conceal her identity. She was an upper-class girl of twenty-one when her wealthy parents paid for her to join the volunteer ambulance corps. Smith was a journalist and her novel, Not So Quiet…: Stepdaughters of the War was published in 1930. Her novel is a bitter, sarcastic response to the war. In fact, Smith wrote the novel as a protest against Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (Kaplan 37). Smith employs a style that corresponds to what Bakhtin coined “heteroglossia” which refers to the social and dialogic nature of language. Her stream-of-consciousness style depicts the perspectives of individuals who have
had a limited experience with the war, and therefore, they know little of what war really means. Readers are transported into the mind of the narrator and must navigate the various voices: Mrs. Evans-Mawington scowling, furious-mouthed, jealous…Mother smug, saccharinesweet…shelves of mangled bodies…filthy smells of gangrenous wounds…shell-ragged, shell-shocked men…men shrieking like wild beasts inside the ambulance until they drown out the sound of the engine…“Nellie loves to be really in it”—no God to pray to because you know there isn’t a God—how shall I carry on? ...“Proud to do her bit for the old flag.” Oh Christ! Oh Christ!...I’m only twenty-one and nobody cares because I’ve been pitchforked into hell, nobody cares because I’m going mad, mad, mad…(Smith 3334) Smith clearly captures the voices of Mrs. Evans-Mawington and Mother with their naïve and sentimental understanding of the war; the voice of the country for which Nellie “does her bit,” the injured soldiers, and the female ambulance driver all in one brief excerpt. The social distinctions of war are also omnipresent as well as the religious undertones—a conflict between duty, fear, life, and madness are encapsulated within. Additionally, Smith’s words bring pause and allows readers to, as Bakhtin describes, “reflect how enormous is the weight of ‘everyone says’ and ‘it is said’ in public opinion, public rumor, gossip, slander, and so forth” (530). Each character constitutes a voice in the dialogue of not only the War but also Smith’s experience with the War. When considering the voice of traditional literature to the voice of war-literature, Bakhtin’s words resonate: “One’s own discourse and voice, although born of another, or dynamically simulated by another, will sooner or later begin to liberate themselves from the authority of the other’s discourse” (535). What results is a certain degree of heteroglossia—a
“double-voicedness” (Bakhtin 539)—of a multitude of perspectives and voices all contained within a single text to create a dialogue which reflects world around us. In “Bakhtin, Temporality, and Modern Narrative: Writing ‘the Whole Triumphant Murderous Unstoppable Chute,’” Stacy Burton describes, “This interrelation of voices—found in literature as well as in life—is embodied in words themselves, for once spoken words enter into the ‘dialogic fabric of human life,’ where each word is constantly open to nuance, evaluation, and reinterpretation” (47). Thus, the world in which we live exists as an ongoing dialogue. “In terms of language, this process conventionally is described as ‘finding one’s voice,’ in terms of one’s understanding of the world, shaped through language and experience” (Burton 48). Clearly, the female war voice is valuable in so far as that the female voice enhances a predominantly masculine social dialogue about war. A second Bakhtinian theory also applies to war literature, and that is what Bakhtin has termed the “carnival.” In the introduction to Rebalias and His World translated by Helene Iswolsky, Bakhtin defines the carnival using literature of the Renaissance and the Middle Ages. Baktin explores the culture of the period as “a boundless world of humorous forms and manifestations” which “opposed the official and serious tone of medieval and feudal culture” (4). He continues to list three distinct forms: ritual spectacles, comic verbal compositions, and various genres of billingsgate (Bakhtin 5). Numerous examples of Bakhtin’s “carnival” emerge throughout war literature in terms of the first form: ritual spectacle. In such spectacles, “civil and social ceremonies and rituals took on a comic aspect as clowns and fools” (Bakhtin 5). Throughout Borden’s and Smith’s prose such depictions of ritual spectacles are depicted and convey a tone of sarcasm or even irony of the spectacle of war.
In many instances, it is the masquerades and graphic illustrations women writers described in their writing that seemed to receive the greatest censorship. Laurie Kaplan explains, “Smith and Borden consciously de-feminize language, form, and content. With their graphic, observable details of wounds, deformation, and death, Smith and Borden defy the constrictions of gendered language” (37). Intent on shocking their readers, women writers of the First World War use the language of trauma to assert the primacy and validity of their war experiences (Kaplan 39). Thus, the graphic nature and horror of war is an image sometimes displayed in a circus-like, theatrical manner which can be traced through World War I literature. In “The Regiment,” Borden creates a caricature of the army marching through the village. “The armies were gypsy caravans vagabonding over the country. Swarms of little men were housekeeping in the open. Their camp fires, their pots and pans, and their garments hung out to dry on bushes… a cluster of tents, gaudily painted, suggested a circus” (Borden 21). In this respect, Borden employs a literal illustration of a carnival-like event, the circus, to juxtapose the brutality and horror of the War. In a similar manner, the continuous descriptions of wounded soldiers adds to the grotesque nature of war in contrast to the disillusioned populace who remain in their homes unscathed. “It isn’t pretty to see a hero spilling up his life’s blood in public, is it? Much more romantic to see him in the picture papers being awarded the V.C., even if he is minus a limb or two” (Smith 91). Just as war is not romantic, Bakhtin’s notion of the carnival does not conjure the romantic. Instead, as Wharton depicts in the following excerpt, the notion of the carnival depicts war as a theatrical event rather than a deadly one. It is one of the most detestable things about war that everything connected with it, except the death and ruin that result, is such a heightening of life, so visually stimulating and absorbing. "It was gay and terrible," is the phrase forever recurring in "War and Peace";
and the gaiety of war was everywhere in Cassel, transforming the lifeless little town into a romantic stage-setting full of the flash of arms and the virile animation of young faces. (Wharton, Fighting France) Also, it is interesting to note how often World War I historians speak of locations of battle and military strategy in theatrical terms. Such language then carries over into literature. Yet another example of the “carnivalesque,” in Not So Quiet… Nellie says, “I have lost count of the number of times I have been a supernumerary in the last scene of the great war drama that opens daily in a recruiting office and drops its final curtain amid no applause on a plain deal coffin…the last picturesque tableau in the masquerade” (Smith 116). As a result, the use of theatrical terminology creates a disconnection between reality and imagination—an inaccurate perspective of war is conveyed and only those men and women who experienced war truly know the horrific truth of war. Kaplan states, “The generation who came of age during the 1914-1918 war wrote poetry, plays, and fiction that challenged conventional concepts of heroism and heroics.” Furthermore, she continues, “the war-writing of this period apportioned blame for those masculine ideas of force and conquest the reality of battle negated” (Kaplan 36). Thus, the value of female war-writing lies in the dialogue between author, character, and reader. Through such a dialogue, a greater understanding of women’s history and perspective becomes attainable.
Conclusion: Gaining Familiarity I see in the years to come…But what I do not see is pity or understanding for the warshocked woman who sacrificed her youth on the altar of war that was not of her making. --Helen Zenna Smith, Not So Quiet… Smith asks, “What is to become of us when the war is over?” (167). Well, for most female war writers, they have nearly been forgotten. As Elaine Showalter addresses in A Literature of their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing, feminist critics have long sought “to record new choices in a new literary history” (36). Additionally, Annette Kolodny, a notable feminist scholar and political activist, challenges literary history and criticism in her aptly titled article, “Dancing through the Minefield: Some Observations on the Theory, Practice, and Politics of a Feminist Criticism.” What is at stake, Kolodny writes, “was not so much literature or criticism as such, but historical, social, and ethical consequences of women’s participation in, or exclusion from, either enterprise” (1388). Thus, the necessity clearly points to the duty of researchers, scholars, and teachers to vocalize the relevance and value of female war writers. Although, Freedman, a more recent source on the subject, reveals that new anthologies and recent criticism have expanded the canon in terms of women’s war writing (110), women’s participation in the First World War should not be excluded nor downplayed in history or literature. Furthermore, challenges to the literary canon, including the addition of female war writers, has not been typically well received even in terms of adding male war authors to the canon. Higonnet contests, “While soldier’s testimony and fictionalized autobiography have been at the heart of the war canon and of archives…these forms have not been fully absorbed into twentieth-century literary canon” (Higonnet, viii). Thus, the continued need exists for researchers and literary scholars to continue to promote inclusion of war literature into the canon.
Even though significant progress has been made in promulgating female authors and texts over the last century, there is still much work to be done. According to Kolodny, “Our sense of a ‘literary history’ and, by extension, our confidence in a ‘historical’ canon, is rooted not so much as a definitive understanding of the past, as it is in our need to call up and utilize the past on behalf of a better understanding of the present” (Kolodny 1390). In order for a clear knowledge of how far women writers have progressed, we must remain cognizant of the past. Only through tracing the progress throughout history can anyone determine how far society has come and how much further we need to go. Kolodny asserts, “Our choices and evaluations of current literature have the effect of solidifying or reshaping our sense of the past” (1390). If female war writers remain hidden in the shadows of their soldier-writer counterparts, then readers have solidified a past which excludes the female voice from the history and literature of World War I. Instead, readers, scholars, and critics, need to develop a solution to increase our familiarity with female war-writers. Perhaps there is no single panacea or quick-fix to the issue. But, there are methods and modes readily available to publicize female composed war texts. The choice is ours. “The authority of any established canon,” Kolodny describes, “is reified by our perception that current work seems to grow, almost inevitably, out of it, and is called into question when what we read appears to have little or no relation to what we recognize as coming before” (1390). In fact, World War I literature, in general, has been called into question because it so little resembles any single genre which preceded it. In addition, we must also consider the degree of censorship and scrutiny which doused publications of war literature until well after the initial war sentiments and oppositions had dissipated. Furthermore, “An established canon functions as a model by which to chart continuities and discontinuities, as well as the influences upon and the interconnections between works, genres, and authors. That model, we tend to
forget, however, is of our own making” (Kolodny 1390). In response, one possible method of increasing the familiarity of female war-writers is to challenge the currently established literary canon. As the relevance and value of female war-literature is discovered, perhaps writers including Mary Borden and Helen Zenna Smith, among others, will join the ranks of Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. As readers and critics, “we appropriate different meanings, or report different gleanings, at different times—even from the same text—according to our changed assumptions, circumstances, and requirements” (Kolodny 1391). Hence, the continued need to familiarize current and future generations with the legacy of female war-writers is a critical component of literary history, criticism, and analysis. Memoirs, novels, journals, poems written during the First World War still contain a vast store of information and meaning for contemporary readers to glean. Kolodny proposes a plausible explanation for why female warwriters have all but disappeared. She posits, “the reason may be due not to any lack of merit in the work but, instead, to an incapacity of predominantly male readers to properly interpret and appreciate women’s texts—due in large part to a lack of prior acquaintance” (Kolodny 1392). Teachers, researchers, and scholars need to put forth a deliberate effort to gain acquaintance with female war-writers so that increasingly more readers, male and female, can interact with the creative and informative texts written during World War I. A war which was declared “the war to end all wars” must not be forgotten and neither should the voices who lived to tell about the experience. In some respect, learning not just how to read women’s texts but how to read war texts seems a critical component of interpreting and determining the value of war literature. Therefore, a conscious choice must be made to include a multitude of voices, including female war-writers, into our reading lists, curriculums, and research.
Another viable option to publish and promote primary texts, research, bibliographies, and other digitized resources related to the study of women war-writers is the development of an extensive female war-writers digital archives, blogs, social networking—the online possibilities are numerous. Moreover, Claire Bond Potter, in “Thou Shalt Commit: The Internet, New Media, and the Future of Women’s History,” describes digital media as “more than a tool for global networking and intellectual exchange, digital technology has transformed the most basic terms of feminist scholarship: reading, writing, archival research, and publication” (350). While the field of digital humanities is a relatively new concept, the possibilities are vast. “Access to digitized documents and finding aids does push research forward,” and in the case of women war-writers, “the absences are unimportant when compared to improved access” (Potter 353). Arguably, such absences are important, however, in recognizing a need for improvement. The primary benefits of digital humanities include accessibility and availability of resources; readers and scholars can access an array of resources with speed and ease. However, if we fail to familiarize them with the full range and scope of women’s war literature, readers and scholars will not know what they are missing (or even that they are missing anything). Since limiting the voices of the war to men is to deny a full and accurate perspective of the war, how do we move forward to provide access to and scholarship of [women’s] war literature? Potter proposes, “not eliminating but re-imagining print…has the potential to transform and re-energize history as a scholarly, public, and politically relevant practice” (360). Through the use of technology, historians and researchers can transform the methods scholars use to obtain information. Such methods may be the key to promoting the works of female warwriters. One such example is Lucy London’s blog Female Poets of the First World War. London’s self-funded blog, created in 2012, provides biographical information on numerous
female war-writers. Such creative efforts demonstrate the possibilities for expanding upon the availability of information about female writers. Similarly, Richard Badenhausen credits the incredible amount of editorial and archival efforts to restore a vast score of omitted voices including women’s war experiences (422). While efforts are being made toward increasing the inclusion of the female perspective, a significant push toward increasing readers and scholars knowledge of female war authors. No matter how the task is accomplished, the expansion of women’s studies related to war literature is an academic and historical area that deserves recognition. Higonnet expands upon Badenhausen’s recognition of recent efforts to include female war experiences. She concludes, “Life-writing, because it has been considered a feminine mode, has a key interest of feminine historians, who have reassessed it as an artistic form and begun to redraw the map of authorship” (viii). Female war-writing serves a clear purpose not only for feminine historians but for all who are interested in obtaining a complete and accurate portrait of the World War I experience. So, research and familiarity with female war-writers should not be left to mere chance and coincidence. Instead, a purposeful focus on increasing access remains key. In summary, female war literature provides researchers and scholars with a wealth of relevant historical and literary information and insights. Despite the value of female war-writers’ contributions, however, greater efforts to provide access and increase familiarity with the genre continues to be an area of improvement. As Robinson concludes, “sweeping modifications in the canon are said to occur because of changes in collective sensibility” (83). Through changes in curriculum as well as increased availability in libraries, universities, and numerous digital mediums, access to the poetry, fiction, and non-fiction of the First World War can be attained by those who seek out the information. Such texts should not be limited to historians, feminist
critics, and literary scholars. But just increasing the availability of and access to female warwriters still fails to give justice to the contributions women made to society and literature during this period. There must also be a concerted effort to teach and study female war literature: “For, beyond their availability on bookshelves, it is through the teaching and study of certain works that they become institutionalized as canonical literature” (Robinson 84). Female war authors have a voice that longs to be heard for centuries to come. Borden dedicated The Forbidden Zone to “the Poilus,” to the infantry men of First World War. “But,” Borden writes, “the book is not meant for them. They know, not only everything that is contained in it, but all the rest that can never be written.” Borden wrote The Forbidden Zone for those who were not on the front lines, or even the “second-battlefield.” She wrote, like so many other female war-writes, for future generations. So, even though how we continue to spread the female voice from one generation to the next remains unclear, one thing is certain: historical accuracy necessitates a multiplicity of voices and perspectives. The female voice, long neglected in the literature of the First World War, deserves to be on the front lines.
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