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ELT 44 : 3 2001 once more, her disinclination to theory is the only limitation of the book. On the other hand, the fact that Reflections on Biography is finally staged apart from an academic framework (the NEH notwithstanding) is the best thing about the book. The first word of the title alone suggests that we can expect something relaxed, commodious, and venerable. Although people from television producers to poststructuralists might argue that there are more fashionable ways to think about or to produce the "biographical image," Backscheider triumphantly demonstrates over and over again that many of the newer questions have been alive all along in the old biographies, while the newer ones continue like no other genre to engage educated individual readers as narratives about both themselves and their culture. Terry Caesar Mukogawa Women's University Women's Writing on WW I Women's Writing on the First World War. Agnès Cardinal, Dorothy Goldman , Judith Hattaway, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. xiii + 374 pp. $59.95 THE EDITORS of Women's Writing on the First World War ask us "to reconsider what we should understand by 'war writing,'" and this volume makes forceful and convincing claims for the necessity of recognizing women's signal contributions to the far-reaching cultural changes ushered into the Western world by the twentieth century's first major military conflict, changes as cataclysmic as the war itself. History is an infinite passage through violence, according to Derrida, and the women whose work is featured here are shown to be, despite their physical distance from the front lines, active creators of, and not simply witnesses to, history at a most violent passage. As the editors assert, the "artistic movements that grew out of the war experience do not always come unmediated from the trenches." This collection of primary texts by women written largely between 1913 and 1940 ranges widely across genres, from domestic conduct manuals, to memoirs, to reportage, to fiction, from one-page letters and journal entries, to sizable excerpts and full-length essays and short stories . Though British writers predominate, the international representation among the entries is impressive, as is the expansive, inclusive editorial sweep that has gathered writers obscure and celebrated, the expected and the unexpected, the mysterious and the famous, among 368 BOOK REVIEWS them H.D., Rebecca West, Vera Brittain, May Sinclair, Gertrude Stein, and Maud Gonne. We are presented with a compelling compilation of voices that draws from all classes and frames of experience. Class is a strikingly insistent theme in much of the writing here. Perceived threats to standards of hygiene and class—tensely guarded borders frequently associated in the conduct and household-advice manuals particularly—seem more urgent than "larger" concerns about gender or nationality for women writing at a time of upheaval, when every detail of life, down to the domestic and personal, ostensibly the most removed from combat, becomes radically politicized. Life in wartime derealizes the "rational" public sphere for the woman caught at home as much as for the man caught in the trenches, and the once firm and reliable distance between public and private collapses for both. The editors do not make specific note of the class anxieties that recur in so many of their selections that often manifest as a seemingly irrelevant preoccupation with behavior and manners in a time of global crisis, but the introduction does pay careful attention to the complicated issues of identity of which those anxieties are symptomatic—issues provoked by the war experience and figured as what the editors identify as the trope of the "incongruous," common to war writing across gender divisions. The introduction offers a compendious overview of much of the most significant extant scholarship on literature of the First World War, a body of critical work that the editors maintain has largely neglected women's contributions. At once demonstrating and decrying women's relative absence in the canon, they cite several anthologies and critical accounts of war literature that either slight or effectively ignore women writers altogether. The need to redress this imbalance provides vindication for what may at first seem a similarly imbalanced, narrowly defined —even self-evident—project, to "reveal...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 368-371
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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