- Over HereAmerica's Great War Mobilization and Transnational Alternatives in Mary Austin and Ellen Glasgow
America has been the intellectual battleground of the nations.—Randolph Bourne, "Trans-National America"
Only I would not kill for diplomacy, for nationalism, for abstract idealism. Surely the human heart is a bundle of contradictions. And the coming generation will say, "You had your war. Now we will have ours."—Ellen Glasgow, The Woman Within
In the July 1916 issue of the Atlantic, Randolph Bourne connected the agonies of the Great War with a remarkable reconceptualization of American citizenship. Bourne was a rising young contributor notable as an antiwar voice amid an increasing call for belligerent preparedness by liberal [End Page 127] intellectuals, including his former teacher, John Dewey. In "Trans-National America," Bourne excoriates the virulently and puritanically xenophobic nativism fueling the manufactured consent of war mobilization; this 100 percent true Anglo-Americanism questioned what could be done with those hyphenated, unassimilated immigrants when the nation finally—inevitably—joined an international war on the side of England.1
Violent, oppressive answers emerged over the next decade: paternalist assimilation, ghettoization and segregation, imprisonment and suppression, the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, and federal throttles on immigration enshrined in the Immigration Restriction Acts of 1921 and 1924. Yet in the war years, few serious writers felt that nineteenth-century belligerent nationalism should survive the war—or the Russian Revolution—and calls for a new internationalism abounded. Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations might be the most famous failure, but even a liberal commentator like Walter Lippman could declare to an audience of political and social scientists in the spring of 1917 that "that great end and that great hope is nothing less than the Federation of the World" (2017, 348).2 Yet as the siege of Verdun gave evidence of the suicidal butchery at the heart of nationalist imperialism, Bourne was one of the few suggesting that America in 1916 already held the keys to a particular kind of peaceful resolution: a model of citizenship that transcends national boundaries and respects cultural differences, while still maintaining national sovereignty and cultural preferences. War would not promote a coherent Anglo national culture, Bourne insisted, because a transnational America already existed: "In a world which has dreamed of internationalism, we find that we have all unawares been building up the first international nation" (1916/1964, 117). This "higher ideal," Bourne suggests, mocks the dominant melting pot metaphor of assimilation for a "trans-nationality, weaving back and forth, with the other lands of many threads of all sizes and colors" (119, 121). These woven threads will bring a kind of creative, liberated, and harmonious order to what he calls "a new spiritual citizenship" (122).
A generation of women, now largely marginalized in discussions of Great War writing, dramatized poignantly Bourne's transnational America and its spiritual citizenship. Writers like Mary Wilkins Freeman, Mary [End Page 128] Roberts Rinehart, and Evelyn Scott imagined the impact of global battlefields on the intimate lives of people Over Here on the home front. This essay considers two crucial novels of Great War mobilization, written by American women mid-career, as they explore the possibilities and contradictions of American transnationality as a counter to both violent militarism and xenophobic patriotism. Ellen Glasgow's The Builders (1919) untangles the braided strands of partisan, racist Southern politics and the avaricious and jingoistic logics of the Great War through the social and intimate intrigues surrounding a young woman serving as a nurse to a Virginian politician. Mary Austin's No. 26 Jayne Street (1920) maps a Greenwich Village milieu of revised gender roles and transnational politics through a decidedly modern love story. Though localized intensely on the concerns of Virginia state politics and the neighborhood activism of New York City, Glasgow and Austin represent how deeply the experiences of the global "over there" refracted not only dramatic debates on economics and gender but also the domestic lives of their characters as they imagined the spiritual citizenship of a transnational America on the brink of conflict.
Long before the official declaration of war on April 6, 1917, the effects of mobilizing what John Keegan...