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The New Death

American Modernism and World War I

Pearl James

Publication Year: 2013

Adopting the term "new death," which was used to describe the unprecedented and horrific scale of death caused by the First World War, Pearl James uncovers several touchstones of American modernism that refer to and narrate traumatic death. The sense of paradox was pervasive: death was both sanctified and denied; notions of heroism were both essential and far-fetched; and civilians had opportunities to hear about the ugliness of death at the front but often preferred not to. By historicizing and analyzing the work of such writers as Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner, the author shows how their novels reveal, conceal, refigure, and aestheticize the violent death of young men in the aftermath of the war. These writers, James argues, have much to say about how the First World War changed death's cultural meaning.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-28

In 1918, the popular religious writer Winifred Kirkland described a change in American life: people were preoccupied with death as never before. The war raging in Europe, she claimed, made death “new.” So many men were dying; so many of them were the “shining best” of their generation. All Americans felt the loss, from the “humblest” to the “most...

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1 / “Clean” Wounds and Modern Women:World War I in One of Ours

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pp. 29-62

In the epigraph, D. H. Lawrence relocates the spectacle of New Death from a war between nations to a war between the sexes. He describes the war as an occasion on which women exerted a “destructive malevolence” toward men, rather than as a conflict during which armies of...

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2 / The Story Nick Can’t Tell:Trauma in The Great Gatsby

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pp. 63-118

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby (1925), death happens on the highway, the lawn, and in a swimming pool; it happens to men but most spectacularly to a woman. If the war made death “new,” Fitzgerald made it new again by refiguring it within a postwar perspective that sees death in postwar locales. Fitzgerald depicts violence that calls the war to...

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3 / Regendering War Trauma and Relocating the Abject: Catherine Barkley’s Death

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pp. 119-159

Open any number of books about World War I and you will find the same quote from Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. This one quote has become the canonical articulation of postwar disillusionment, the clearest statement of the “lost generation.” Historians use it to illustrate the crisis of belief brought on by the massive slaughter made in the name of...

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4 / The Missing of Sartoris

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pp. 160-198

Rising above a plain in the Valley of the Somme in northern France, a large monument stands in commemoration of “the missing of the Somme” (see figure 10). The monument at Thiepval is subtly modeled on the triumphal arch. It is inscribed with names of the dead and backed by a large cemetery. Designed by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, it has been...

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Conclusion: New Death, Blood Simple

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pp. 199-206

In Dashiell Hammett’s novel Red Harvest (1929), the detective who tells the story plays with murder and, as he puts it, “get[s] to like it.”1 He arrives in Personville (alias “Poisonville”) on a routine assignment but finds himself in the middle of a gang war. After being threatened by a corrupt police chief, the detective himself, Hammett’s “Continental Op,”...


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pp. 207-234


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pp. 235-250


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pp. 251-259

E-ISBN-13: 9780813934099
E-ISBN-10: 0813934095
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813934082
Print-ISBN-10: 0813934079

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 831625670
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The New Death

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Modernism (Literature) -- United States.
  • World War, 1914-1918 -- Literature and the war.
  • Death in literature.
  • Psychic trauma in literature.
  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
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