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The First World War is positioned preeminently amongst wars in the British literary landscape. Strategically occurring after the publishing and educational expansions of the late nineteenth century and the cinema explosion in the first decade of the twentieth century, the war was ideally located as an operative site of simultaneous national pride and traumatic loss. Its influential position in the canons of war writing, of twentieth-century writing, and of twentieth-century poetry, as well as more broadly in the popular consciousness, can be attested to by the thousands of publications (popular and academic), radio and television programs, films, and websites about the war that have proliferated since August 1914. Courtesy of the scholarly consciousness-raising of second-wave feminism, a more recent addition to this corpus of interest has been the field of women’s First World War writing. Catherine Reilly, publishing her anthology of women’s First World War poetry in 1981, began to map female responses to the war, and this work has been [End Page 210] thoroughly and carefully expanded upon by such scholars as Margaret Higonnet, Nosheen Khan, Sharon Ouditt, Susan Rayzel, and Angela Smith, amongst others. The poetry of such writers as Margaret Postgate Cole, May Sinclair, May Cannan, and Jessie Pope is now (fairly) firmly positioned within the canonical traditions of First World War writing.
Just as this canon of war writing has expanded from previous considerations of (primarily male) poetry to permitting the inclusion of women poets, so too has Argha Banerjee moved on from his earlier study, Poetry of the First World War: A Critical Evaluation (2011), to now more fully consider the female poet of war in Women’s Poetry and the First World War (2014). Like the earlier book, this latter project is published by Atlantic Publishers, who cannot be commended for the slipshod and slapdash production. A lack of careful proofreading, combined with sophomoric typesetting (not to mention shoddy bookbinding, which would not stand up to regular library use), precludes this text from being recommended to students as an example of literary scholarship. Banerjee would be well advised to avoid this publisher for his future work.
Women’s Poetry and the First World War is roughly divided into two parts. In the first five chapters, Banerjee considers the critical models of loss and mourning, politics and propaganda, female work, myths and folklore, and the natural world. There is no doubt that Banerjee has read a great deal of criticism, and he enjoys providing a synthesis of this scholarship, in addition to occasionally reading the work of a wide range of female poets against the same. This first part of the book is where the project makes its most helpful contributions as it discusses the work of lesser-known figures, like Katharine Furse, and considers songs (such as the “Land Army Song”: “Come out of the towns / And on to the downs / Where a girl gets brown and strong”) alongside lyrics published in local papers. In the following example, the lyric is concerned with female shift workers’ attempt to beat the production record of another shift:
The stampers gazed with eager eyes upon the weigher staid.Oh beat that other shift, they cried, who have a record made.We don’t care what becomes of us if we can just surpassThe 1506 a total grand! the other shift did pass.The time is four, the work is hit, the sweat is running fast.1303 the total now. Ye gods! can they be passed?1
This archival excavation by Banerjee should be the basis of more work that would flesh out the varied experiences of the war.
The second part of the project, peculiarly titled “Appendix,” consists of six sections (really, these are chapters), which focus on the war poems of individual poets, and it is in this appendix that the work of Cannan, Cole, Pope, and Sinclair is considered, as well as that of Charlotte New and Carola Oman. It is not remotely clear why this material was not...