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Comparative Literature Studies 40.3 (2003) 265-285



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Alfred Lemm and Rudyard Kipling:
Ironic Commentaries on Women's Wartime Shifts

Gordon Williams


That the trenches were exclusively the sphere of the male was generally viewed as more than a matter of social convention. Pacifists would sometimes align women with their cause, as R.C. Trevelyan, wishing "the average man as reasonable/And sane as Socrates or Shaw, or--well/As a woman." 1 Hence the idea that there would be no more war if women ruled, one of the less satisfactory propositions offered in Marion Craig Wentworth's anti-war play, War Brides, popular enough in America for it to be translated to the screen in 1916 as a vehicle for Alla Nazimova. Early that year Nazimova, married to British actor Charles Bryant, was hoping to play it on the London stage; but its theme rendered this impossible. Wartime censorship would hardly countenance the spectacle of Aristophanic revolt against becoming a "breeding-machine" to restock the country "for the next generation's cannon." 2 Women sometimes felt resentment at being left out of the action, the protagonist of Rose Macaulay's "Many Sisters to Many Brothers"(1914) complaining that whereas she had matched her brother in their childhood battles, now "I sit here, and you're under fire." 3 And it was left to the likes of Clare Goslett 4 to soothe ruffled susceptibilities with the notion of two armies, one military, the other civil, and both "equally important": "The Girl Behind Will Stand Behind the Boy Behind the Gun,"as an American song of 1918 put it. Not only must women work for the cause on their own account; they must help to sustain the fighting man, encouraging trainees "to have noble ideas about their work." According to Macaulay (Non-Combatants, 73), the sensitive, intelligent frontline soldier was apt to abandon his pre-war preference for intellectually stimulating young women in favor of "some girl with poise, and tone, and sanity, and no nerves, who [End Page 265] never bothered about the war or anything." H. Cecil McNeile ("Sapper") touches this with a species of generalizing mysticism: what could women at home know "of the details, the filthy, necessary details of war," entailing amongst the men a loss of innocence which made it the more imperative for women to retain theirs. They provided a centre of repose to which the warrior could return for moral or spiritual sustenance: "it is they, in their blessed ignorance, who keep us sane"; and "Sapper" enforces his notion of "blessed ignorance" with Rudyard Kipling's "Ballad of Boh Da Thone," and the horror evoked in "O'Neil's bride, when the robber chief's head arrived at the breakfast table." 5

But Kipling takes a variable attitude to women in his imaginative work. It was his conception of "TheVampire" which helped to energise the Hollywood screen in 1914, through the offices of Theda Bara. But this was as specific in inspiration as his "Dirge of Dead Sisters," a moving tribute to "the Nurses who died in the South African War." "The Female of the Species"(1911), designed as an anti-suffragist squib, is more characteristic in discerning a biological impulsion away from "male diversions," with no room for "doubt or pity," a view recurring in the postwar "Craftsman," a poem that depicts Shakespeare witnessing

How at Bankside, a boy drowning kittens
Winced at the business; whereupon his sister
Lady Macbeth aged seven - thrust 'em under,
  Sombrely scornful. 6

This is very much the mood of "Mary Postgate," one of the finest short stories to emerge during the war. It is proposed here to consider this story alongside one of comparable quality from the other side, "Die Hure Salomea," by a Berliner who wrote as Alfred Lemm although his name was Lehmann. These stories provide, in their different ways, a fascinating counterpoint to the official tune; but however atypical in their representations of the wartime woman, they bear the unmistakable stamp of their respective national origins. Little enough is known of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1528-4212
Print ISSN
0010-4132
Pages
pp. 265-285
Launched on MUSE
2003-09-02
Open Access
No
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