Commemorative Modernisms: Women Writers, Death and the First World War

Commemorative Modernisms: Women Writers, Death and the First World War

by Alice Kelly


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Reconsiders the relationship between the Great War and modernism through women’s literary representations of death

    • Provides the first sustained study of death and commemoration in women’s literature in the wartime and postwar period
    • Offers a reconsideration of the relationship between the First World War and literary modernism through the lens of women’s writing
    • Considers the literary impact of the vast mortality of the First World War and the culture of war commemoration on British and American women’s writing

    One of the key questions of modern literature was the problem of what to do with the war dead. Through a series of case studies focusing on nurse narratives, Edith Wharton, Katherine Mansfield, H.D., and Virginia Woolf, as well as visual and material culture, this book provides the first sustained study of women’s literary representations of death and the culture of war commemoration that underlie British and American literary modernism. Considering previously neglected writing by women in the war zones and at home, as well as the marginalised writings of well-known modernist authors, and drawing on international archival research, this book demonstrates the intertwining of modernist, war, and memorial culture, and broadens the canon of war writing.

    Product Details

    ISBN-13: 9781474459907
    Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
    Publication date: 07/22/2020
    Pages: 304
    Product dimensions: 6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.75(d)

    About the Author

    Alice Kelly is the Harmsworth Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute and a Junior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. Her critical edition of Edith Wharton’s First World War reportage, Fighting France was published by EUP in December 2015 and she co-edited a Special Issue of Katherine Mansfield Studies on ‘Katherine Mansfield and the First World War’ (EUP, September 2014).

    Table of Contents

    List of Illustrations

    Introduction: A Culture Surcharged with Death

    I. Death in Proximity: Wartime Commemorations

    1. The Shock of the Dead: Deathbeds, Burial Rites and Cemetery Scenes in Nurses’s Narratives
    2. Uncomfortable Propaganda: Edith Wharton’s Wartime Writings

    II. Grief at a Distance: Civilian Modernism

    1. Mansfield Mobilised: Katherine Mansfield, The Great War and Military Discourse
    2. The Civilian War Novel: H.D.’s Avant-Garde War Dead

    III. Modernist Death: Postwar Remembrance

    1. Modernist Memorials: Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield in the Postwar World

    Conclusion: Modernism’s Ghosts


    What People are Saying About This

    University of Oxford Marina Mackay

    A revealing and poignant treatment of women’s writing in an age of public grief. Ranging from nurse-memoirists’ initial efforts to uphold the decencies of customary rites to civilian modernists’ growing scepticism about the habits and conventions of mourning, Commemorative Modernisms testifies eloquently throughout to the depth and power of writers’ concerns with the Great War dead.

    Yale University Jay Winter

    In this intelligent and sensitive study, Alice Kelly explores how women writers mapped the literary landscape of modernism in the disordered years during and after the Great War. By probing their creative responses to the slaughter of the war years and the commemorative wave that followed it, Kelly provides a new and gendered reading of the modernist achievement.

    University of Waterloo Carol Acton

    Kelly provides a new way of considering the works under discussion as they are brought together in the context of commemoration. The range of authors and genres deepens the conversation around war writing, modernism and commemoration and demands that we reconsider established paradigms.

    University of Oxford Santanu Das

    This passionate and compassionate study is at once an excavation of women’s war experiences; of how war and modernist writing was shaped by the dead and in turn shaped it; and, of why and how we care for the dead. The intricate scholarship and emotional nuance with which Kelly illuminates and integrates these different histories are remarkable.

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