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Of Little Comfort

War Widows, Fallen Soldiers, and the Remaking of the Nation after the Great War

Erika Kuhlman

Publication Year: 2012

During and especially after World War I, the millions of black-clad widows on the streets of Europe’s cities were a constant reminder that war caused carnage on a vast scale. But widows were far more than just a reminder of the war’s fallen soldiers; they were literal and figurative actresses in how nations crafted their identities in the interwar era. In this extremely original study, Erika Kuhlman compares the ways in which German and American widows experienced their postwar status, and how that played into the cultures of mourning in their two nations: one defeated, the other victorious. Each nation used widows and war dead as symbols to either uphold their victory or disengage from their defeat, but Kuhlman, parsing both German and U.S. primary sources, compares widows’ lived experiences to public memory. For some widows, government compensation in the form of military-style awards sufficed. For others, their own deprivations, combined with those suffered by widows living in other nations, became the touchstone of a transnational awareness of the absurdity of war and the need to prevent it.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-x

The idea for this book came to me while I read and lovingly fingered the pages of Helene Hurwitz-Stranz’s anthology of war widows’ memoirs, which she titled Kriegerwitwen gestalten ihr Schicksal: Lebenskämpfe deutscher Kriegerwitwen nach eigenen Darstellungen (Warrior Widows Create Their Fate: The...

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1. An Army of Widows

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pp. 1-20

In April 1919, the popular German magazine Simplicissimus published illustrator Josef Wackerle’s watercolor titled Die Witwen (The Widows). The image shows two figures draped in black gowns and veils standing on a balcony overlooking a vast, empty sky and village rooftops below...

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2. Trostlose Stunden: German War Widows

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pp. 21-51

Dressed in deep mourning attire and dabbing at her tears, Frau Hillemann, a railway manager’s widow, sat in her pastor’s study after her husband’s funeral. In answering Reverend Farbig’s question of whether she intended to move away from the small village where she lived with her...

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3. The War Widows’ Romance: Victory and Loss in the United States

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pp. 53-89

When German forces launched the siege of Verdun in February 1916, they hoped to blast their way through the stalemated front and force General Joseph Joffre’s French Army to shrink back in defeat. But the French, though ill prepared, responded in kind, and after five bloody months the...

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4. The Transnationalization of Soldiers, Widows, and War Relief

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pp. 91-122

Soldiers’ Pay, William Faulkner’s 1926 novel about the fate of a Great War hero, is not a romance, although it has all the ingredients of one. Military aviator Lieutenant Donald Mahon lies wounded after the enemy shoots down his airplane over Flanders Field. His fiancée and his...

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5. “The Other Trench”: Remarriage, Pro-natalism, and the Rebirthing of the Nation

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pp. 123-149

The medieval town of Magdeburg, situated on the Elbe River in north central Germany, has a history that is wedded at important junctures to the institution of marriage. It was consecrated in a.d. 805 by the Roman Emperor Charlemagne, and in 929 the German King Henry I bequeathed the city to...

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pp. 151-162

The Second World War ignited just twenty years after the signing of the peace treaty that ended the First World War. In the later conflict political ideologies, such as fascism and communism, were at stake. Many more nations aimed much more toxic weapons against one another. The horrors of trench...


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pp. 163-203

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 205-218


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pp. 219-223

About the Author

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pp. 225

E-ISBN-13: 9780814749050
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814748398
Print-ISBN-10: 0814748392

Publication Year: 2012