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Be a Good Soldier: Children's Grief in English Modernist Novels. Jennifer Margaret Fraser. Buffalo: University ofToronto Press, 2011. Pp. 270. $55.00 (cloth).

Be a Good Soldier makes a broad contribution to several current fields of interest within modernist studies, encompassing childhood and affect—quite literally, in the shape of the child subject who is also subjected to a suppression of affect—within a wider consideration of war and trauma. In Jennifer Margaret Fraser's second book, the focus of the argument is on the figure of the child: more specifically, Fraser posits that infantile grief is prohibited in the worlds of the English modernist novels she studies, that in each of the texts under discussion one sees an attempt on the part of a detached adult self to return to the emotionally liberated state of a grieving child. The study conceives the English modernist canon widely, bringing under its auspices not only Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, and Ford Madox Ford, but also Joseph Conrad, Jean Rhys, and James Joyce. They are considered through the prism of the enjoinder to "be a good soldier," which for the author constitutes a typically English prohibition that takes the [End Page 794] form of a denial of childhood tears. Fraser concentrates upon the ways in which that imperative is both encoded in the texts and deconstructed from within through what she terms the "grief language" of each (210). The dual premises are as follows. The child, encouraged to suppress grief by familial and social forces, experiences alienation from the self in adulthood. Should this attempted silencing be uncovered, the force of childhood grief can expose the violence engendering and engendered by suppression, and inarticulacy can be recuperated through writing. The study is divided into six chapters, each given discretely to a close reading of one author: the first considers Conrad's Under Western Eyes and the second Rhys's five novellas; the third treats of The Return of the Soldier, while the fourth discusses both The Good Soldier and Parade's End; the fifth, penultimate chapter focuses upon Woolf's A Haunted House and The Waves; the sixth returns to Finnegans Wake, the subject of Fraser's first monograph, Rite of Passage in the Narratives of Dante and Joyce (2002). Each work is considered as a type of trauma narrative wherein an "infantry" of characters-a phrase containing the double meaning of a cadre of soldiers and of children-become petrified adult subjects who wage war. As such, Be a Good Soldier suggests that the trauma of war is born from that earlier and prior trauma, which arises self-reflexively from the philosophy and rhetoric of war. The monograph itself is in part a narrative of trauma and affect, arising, as Fraser introduces it, from a personal tragedy within the author's own family and thus taking as its subject the grief that was the impetus for its writing.

These writers—the very selection of whom arguably privileges the concept of variant modernisms over an internally coherent modernism—are united through readings in which Fraser suggests that each "seek[s] ways to return to the inarticulate, grieving, exiled self of childhood" in order to insist that this condition is not unnatural, and therefore requiring suppression, but "resident, native and innate" (7). The injunction to "be a good soldier," it is argued, manifests as an emotional detachment, the cultivation of a "stone" self whereby the adult becomes literally or figuratively militarized and expresses repressed grief through aggression (10). Fraser contends that the adult is reunited with the infant self through a return to tears, by recognizing the experience of trauma and mourning. This claim exhibits a tension that runs through the book: it is held between the split subjectivity implied by the division between the adult and child subject, and it contains an implicit humanist faith in the possibility of an integrated self. The undercurrent to these modernist tears is an accompanying reading of Jacques Derrida, ranging across his writing but concentrating on the auto-deconstructive Circumfession, an approach that aims at bringing out "the dissenting role of childhood and of grief" in the Anglophone writers (5). Fraser...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6601
Print ISSN
1071-6068
Pages
pp. 794-796
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-28
Open Access
No
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