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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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Three War Veterans Who Don’t Tell War Stories

Three War Veterans Who Don’t Tell War Stories

(p.39) 2 Three War Veterans Who Don’t Tell War Stories
The First World War

Kate McLoughlin

British Academy

Veterancy is a natural figure for the kind of wisdom-through-experience that is purveyed, as Walter Benjamin noted in ‘The Storyteller’ (1936), through traditional storytelling. But these three veterans have been stupefied by their experiences in mass, industrial, globalized war – William Wordsworth’s ‘Discharged Soldier’ in the French Revolutionary Wars, Rebecca West’s Chris Baldry (The Return of the Soldier (1918)) and Virginia Woolf’s Septimus Warren Smith (Mrs Dalloway (1925)) in the First World War. Consequently, they are unable to process their experiences into communicable wisdom – a different thing from being able to describe them. Those who encounter these veterans (and this includes the texts’ readers) may feel sadness or anger at their plight. But, though there is affect, there is no empathy, whether through body or mind. All that remains is to look upon these unfathoming, unfathomable characters with consternation.

Keywords:   veterans, experience, storytelling, William Wordsworth, Rebecca West, Virginia Woolf, French Revolutionary Wars, First World War, Walter Benjamin

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