- Modernism, History and the First World War
Trudi Tate recently has made a significant contribution to the study of World War I literature through editing the anthology Women, Men and the Great War and co-editing with Suzanne Raitt the essay collection Women’s Fiction and the Great War. In the introduction to Women’s Fiction and the Great War, Tate and Raitt raise issues about the direction in which literary criticism dealing with warfare should be heading: “It is easy to apply metaphors of crisis and warfare to every aspect of the Great War, including gender, but an approach which is sensitive only to drama and to violence actually misses much of what the war and its writings were about.” Although Women’s Fiction and the Great War focuses on issues of gender and warfare, Raitt and Tate criticize the oppositional logic that has dominated much of the past criticism of Great War literature.
Trudi Tate extends this criticism in Modernism, History and the First World War. In her introduction, she distances herself from the limitations of the problematically narrow focus of past critics: “[G]ender is only one aspect of subjectivity and of writing, and this book tries to develop a broader view. [. . . W]e should perhaps be concerned that gender has, paradoxically, become a rather depoliticized focus for reading our culture and its history. It does not seem helpful to treat gender as the final point of inquiry, as if it provided the answers to questions about the war.” Though Tate does address issues of gender [End Page 516] in this study, she clearly moves away from the tradition of examining opposition in war criticism by studying texts by male and female authors; English, French, German, and American authors; “pro- and anti-war writers; civilians, combatants, and a civilian who pretended to have been a combatant.” These writers include HD, Ford Madox Ford, Rudyard Kipling, Henri Barbusse, Edmund Blunden, D. H. Lawrence, William Faulkner, Erich Maria Remarque, and Virginia Woolf, as well as the psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein. Tate’s approach involves a combination of new-historicist, trauma, and psychoanalytic theories to examine how these writers “bear witness to the trauma of the war and its consequences.”
Tate divides the study into three sections: “Witness to War,” “Corporeal Fantasies,” and “War and Politics.” “Witness to War” begins by examining how noncombatants in works by HD and in Rudyard Kipling’s short story “Mary Postgate” not only witness the war, but also experience traumatic responses to it. This chapter combines readings of HD’s and Kipling’s texts with analyses of wartime psychological and political texts, such as articles from the medical journal The Lancet and the 1922 War Office report on shell shock. Through these texts, Tate argues for the validity of a civilian war neurosis—a kind of shell shock suffered by noncombatants on the home front who either had direct experience with the war (as does the title character of Kipling’s story, who silently allows a wounded German pilot to die in her own back yard) or had traumatic responses to the news of the war. The works by HD examined here, Tate points out, “suggest a direct relationship between violent public events and the private lives of civilians during wartime; for HD, civilians, like soldiers, could suffer from crippling war neuroses.” For example, in HD’s story “Kora and Ka,” John Helforth suffers from the symptoms of war neurosis—“hallucinations, a sense of dissociation, loss of certainty about his sexual identity,” yet “his distress arises not from battle experience, but from the lack of it.” The example of John Helforth in particular helps to discredit the notion that all men shared a single, unified reaction to the war experience, and HD’s work in general destabilizes the idea that male and female experiences of the war were in opposition to one another. This extension of the study of war neurosis into civilian lives is of great use to the future study of Great War literature, partially collapsing the differences between...