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Enid Bagnold's The Happy Foreigner. The Wider World Beyond Love Stella Deen SUNY New Paltz WHEN ENID BAGNOLD's first novel, The Happy Foreigner, was published in 1920, it was praised for its documentary value. Writing for the New Statesman, Rebecca West decreed that Bagnold had given "one of the finest descriptions of life in the devastated areas of France that has yet been written."1 Set in the winter and spring following the Armistice, this fictionalized account of Bagnold's experience as a driver for the French Army remains a valuable record of haunted battlefields and scant army rations; of what it is like to drive an open automobile through rain, mud and snow; of loneliness in the war zone and the brevity of friendships formed there; and, in the last section of the novel, of the painful and slow recolonization of northern France. The Happy Foreigner also documents the entrance of women into a new, womanless world. Fanny meets an astonished hush when she enters the dining hall of the underground fortress in Verdun, whose seventy officers have not seen a woman for months. Assigned to drive a Russian Colonel, she is obliged to assuage his doubts about his female driver's capability before the trip can get underway. What sort of woman would leave her home in England, unchaperoned, to drive officers engaged in assessing damage in the villages and inspecting prison camps? This question runs just below the surface of all Fanny's encounters. Upon the arrival of the Englishwomen, one of the French drivers gloats, "On va r'devenir homme."2 But the women's presence does not, on the whole, bring out a buried or threatened masculinity. Fanny (whose name is nearly an acronym for the women's ambulance corps known as First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) remains a singular "creature," to use one of Bagnold's favorite designations. This despite the important place in the novel of her romance with a French officer. Even while The Happy 131 ELT 44 : 2 2001 Foreigner registers the gendered and national boundaries that underwrite war and that govern social life in the war zone, it foregrounds a set of experiences shared by men and women, ally and enemy. Its dual ambition is to record its time and to find a language and narrative structure transcending it. The latter, visionary project necessarily diverges from the former, documentary impulse. The visionary dimension of The Happy Foreigner—its determination to make connections across the gendered, cultural, and political fault lines of war—was also a feature of Bagnold's first war book, A Diary Without Dates (1918). A record of Bagnold's VAD work at the Royal Herbert Hospital, A Diary Without Dates led to her immediate dismissal. The Daily Mail had cited it as an example of "unfeeling [hospital] routine ."3 But other readers, including Robert Nichols, applauded its insight into the minds and hearts of the warded soldiers as well as its recognition of the limits to the nurse's understanding of these realms. Nichols wrote to Bagnold in amazement that "At last there was someone on this side of the water who knew! Who without having crossed was one of 'us' by the sheer gift and use of imaginative insight."4 Both A Diary Without Dates and The Happy Foreigner are characterized by the wish for a space and language apart from factions, a language in which to record directly and freshly the impressions of the VAD and the driver, respectively . In this essay I want to argue for the inclusion of The Happy Foreigner in our emerging canons of women's Great War literature. This novel has never received full critical treatment5 and has been omitted from all but a few studies of women's World War I literature,6 perhaps because it has been read as a romance using the war merely as its backdrop .7 Where it has been included, it has been treated cursorily. But a number of recent books have documented women's experiences and literature of the Great War,8 and it is now possible to give readers unfamiliar with Bagnold's work a sense of The Happy Foreigner's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 131-147
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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