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Modernist Women Writers and War

Trauma and the Female Body in Djuna Barnes, H.D., and Gertrude Stein

Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick

Publication Year: 2011

In Modernist Women Writers and War, Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick examines important avant-garde writings by three American women authors and shows that during World Wars I and II a new kind of war literature emerged—one in which feminist investigation of war and trauma effectively counters the paradigmatic war experience long narrated by men. In the past, Goodspeed-Chadwick explains, scholars have not considered writings by women as part of war literature. They have limited “war writing” to works by men, such as William Butler Yeats’s poem “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” (1919), which relies on a male perspective: a pilot contemplates his forthcoming flight, his duty to his country, and his life in combat. But works by Djuna Barnes, H.D., and Gertrude Stein set in wartime reveal experiences and views of war markedly different from those of male writers. They write women and their bodies into their texts, thus creating space for female war writing, insisting on female presence in wartime, and, perhaps most significantly, critiquing war and patriarchal politics, often in devastating fashion. Goodspeed-Chadwick begins with Barnes, who in her surrealist novel Nightwood (1936) emphasizes the actual perversity of war by placing it in contrast to the purported perverse and deviant behavior of her main characters. In her epic poem Trilogy (1944–1946), H.D. validates female suffering and projects a feminist, spiritual worldview that fosters healing from the ravages of war. Stein, for her part, in her experimental novel Mrs. Reynolds (1952) and her long love poem Lifting Belly (1953), captures her experience of the everyday reality of war on the home front, within the domestic economy of her household. In these works, the female body stands as the primary textual marker or symbol of female identity—an insistence on women’s presence in both the text and in the world outside the book. The strategies employed by Barnes, H.D., and Stein in these texts serve to produce a new kind of writing, Goodspeed-Chadwick reveals, one that ineluctably constructs a female identity within, and authorship of, the war narrative.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press


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pp. c-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-24

The authors in this study offer a different and much needed perspective on war: an embodied, feminist critique of trauma and the identity politics of war and war narratives. Rather than the traditional accounts of war by soldiers and male civilians depicting men in battle, the selected female authors investigate and engage with the gender politics of war and gendered...

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01 Circumventing the Circumscription of Marginalization

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pp. 25-58

Djuna Barnes is unable to position war directly within the experience of female characters in her literary output because she did not experience World War I or World War II in the ways that H.D. or Gertrude Stein did and thus could not bear witness like they could in their work. Barnes spent World War I and the majority of World...

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02 Validating Female War Experience through Literary Witnessing

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pp. 59-91

An insistence on a female perspective defines H.D.’s war writing. Primarily interested in female subjects throughout her work, H.D. privileges the experiences and stories of women. Trilogy (1944–46), for instance, relies on first-person literary witnessing, as does Bid Me to Live (1960). Like Djuna Barnes, H.D. writes corporeality and...

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03 A War Heroine in the Domestic Economy

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pp. 92-135

Unlike Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein comments explicitly on her war experiences at great length. She also discusses her personal experience with war much more directly than H.D. through her autobiographical accounts of life during World War I, although Stein also fictionalizes her experience of World War II in...

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pp. 136-142

Initially, I became interested in the subject of trauma because of the lack of scholarly attention to it in American women’s modernist literature. I found that trauma was discussed in literature in amorphous terms and without a critical framework. Part of the challenge in writing about representations of literary trauma critically is the interdisciplinary focus of contemporary...


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pp. 143-150


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pp. 151-160


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pp. 161-170

E-ISBN-13: 9780807138168
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807136812

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 2011