Women Writing World War I: Centenary Reflections

full name / name of organization: 
Christa Zeller Thomas / University of Ottawa
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Literature about WWI is often associated primarily with men, especially with those who had first-hand experience of the war -- Ernest Hemingway, Erich Maria Remarque, Rupert Graves. War novels, great or otherwise, are usually defined as stories of battle, and war poetry similarly is thought of as written by soldiers -- Wilfrid Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, John McCrae (whose "In Flanders Fields" is perhaps the best-known war poem of all). That the Great War was not exclusively a manly undertaking, however, is evidenced by the participation of women in the war effort, both behind the lines as nurses, volunteers, and ambulance drivers and on the home front as administrative clerks and munitions workers. Mothers, too, were mobilized, a circumstance made shockingly clear by war propaganda such as the notorious "Little Mother" letter. While women writers at the time wrote about the war (Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, Vera Brittain, L.M. Montgomery), it is only in recent times that critics have also begun to redefine war literature to encompass women's experiences and viewpoints as legitimate contributions. Post-memory interpretations of WWI include many by women (Anita Shreve, Jody Shields, Jane Urquhart, Anne Perry, Frances Itani, Laurie King, and Jacqueline Winspear, for example).

This edited collection will assess and discuss women's contributions in serious literature and popular writing in English to our understanding of WWI. Articles might consider works from Great Britain, the Commonwealth countries, and the United States. In particular, questions to which the volume seeks responses include:

1) Is women's writing about the war always marked (primarily) by gender? If so, how is it gendered? By protagonist, subject matter, approach, dominant tropes, etc?
2) Do women's stories about WWI alter our understanding of that war's historical significance?
3) Does women's creative non-fiction (autobiography, biography, essays) have the same characteristics as their fictional and poetic output, or is it distinctive?
4) Are there particular literary genres to which women writing about the war are drawn? If so, why?
5) Does women's writing generally rely on a female protagonist, or are women cast as supportive characters?
6) Do women's stories exhibit particular national characteristics? Are they situated within a specific national tradition?
7) Why do women writers now feel the need to revisit WWI? Is it easier now to write from a female perspective about the war, and if so, why?
8) Does the interweaving of multiple story lines that is typical of post-memory narratives (Jane Urquhart, Jacqueline Winspear, Anne Perry) detract from or perhaps even erase the gravity of meaning of the Great War, or does it contribute to a multifaceted engagement with the subject?

Submit abstracts of 350 words together with a short biographical sketch to Christa Zeller Thomas (czellert@uottawa.ca). Deadline for abstracts is March 15, 2014. The deadline for submitting full articles is July 15, 2014. Articles must use MLA citation style and be no longer than 6000 words.