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The First World WarLiterature, Culture, Modernity$
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Santanu Das and Kate McLoughlin

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266267

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266267.001.0001

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Civilians Writing the War: Metaphor, Proximity, Action

Civilians Writing the War: Metaphor, Proximity, Action

Chapter:
(p.99) 5 Civilians Writing the War: Metaphor, Proximity, Action
Source:
The First World War
Author(s):

Sarah Cole

Publisher:
British Academy
DOI:10.5871/bacad/9780197266267.003.0005

This essay investigates what happens if we listen to the civilian, rather than solely to the combatant, in thinking about war writing, and take seriously the complexities and dilemmas that the position of civilian entails for the writer. It is the essay’s working premise that the status of the civilian is an immensely important one for the moral and imaginative life of the twentieth century. The essay reads in detail three short passages, taken from three majestic civilian texts of the war: one each from H. G. Wells’s 1916 Mr. Britling Sees It Through; Virginia Woolf’s 1922 Jacob’s Room; and Mary Borden’s 1929 The Forbidden Zone (a dazzling collection of short pieces from her time as a nurse during the war). Ultimately, what these readings show is that the particular qualities of the civilian situation in relation to the war, in which a dialectic of distance and proximity is the key feature, produce exceptionally complex, dynamic, moving forms of figuration, in which the problem of figuration itself becomes critical.

Keywords:   civilian, First World War, form, war writing, H. G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, Mary Borden

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