Be a Good Soldier

Be a Good Soldier: Children's Grief in English Modernist Novels

JENNIFER MARGARET FRASER
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442695504
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  • Book Info
    Be a Good Soldier
    Book Description:

    Be a Good Soldierinitiates conversation on the figure of the child in modernist novels, investigating the demand for emotional suppression as manifested later in cruelty and aggression in adulthood.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9550-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction to Children’s Grief: The Return from Exile
    (pp. 3-25)

    In my early twenties, I went to Italy to study for six months and I called home to Vancouver, Canada, every week or two. I decided to call on a Monday; I had the uncanny feeling there was something wrong. As soon as I heard my mother’s voice, I could tell she had terrible news for me. Very calmly, she told me to come home; my older brother had been stabbed in the heart and lung in a freak attack. The paramedics categorized him as ‘dead on arrival.’ The emergency doctors revived him. His lung was punctured. The knife went...

  5. 1 Translating the Foreign Language of Childhood Grief: Joseph Conrad’s Under Western Eyes
    (pp. 26-50)

    Sounding like Derrida, but in a letter rather than a postcard, Joseph Conrad imagines his writing as the work of mourning: ‘It is thus, with poignant grief in my heart, that I write novels to amuse the English!’ (LettersII. 55). While Conrad grieves, he also acknowledges his British readers for whom he writes; one might call this the ‘us in me.’ Conrad’s writing process, which is undertaken in a foreign language for foreigners, has the force to make his ‘grief’ seem merely an amusement. He must imagine ‘the English,’ for he has not been born or raised in their...

  6. 2 Childhood Grief as Resident Alien in Jean Rhys’s Five Novellas
    (pp. 51-80)

    In Joseph Conrad’sUnder Western Eyes, Razumov’s journal, which details the suppression of childhood grief and the way in which it leads to his betrayal of Haldin, needs to be translated by the English teacher. Childhood grief is literally a foreign language in Joseph Conrad’s novel. Ultimately, Razumov’s grief cannot be translated into English because there do not seem to be words for it; thus, the teacher-translator omits it.

    In Jean Rhys’s five novellas, childhood grief is slightly more resonant. It is no longer treated as a foreign language; yet other than inWide Sargasso Sea, the child speaker belongs...

  7. 3 Grieving the Child of the Shell-Shocked Soldier: Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier
    (pp. 81-111)

    InThe Return of the Soldier, we see a significant shift in the portrayal of the grieving child. While Conrad and Rhys position the sadness of childhood as foreign, West places it in the very centre of a British estate. In Conrad’sUnder Western Eyes, not only is the child as foreign to British readers as Russia, but the child is recalled only by adults; it is not a character in its own right. In Rhys’s novellas, the child-self becomes more separate from the adult in that her protagonists are pregnant and sometimes even give birth. Yet the child is...

  8. 4 Childhood Grief on the Home Front: Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier and Parade’s End
    (pp. 112-144)

    Rebecca West brings the child home inThe Return of the Soldier.In her novella, the child’s nursery is part of the British home; yet the death of the child, before it is articulate, links her treatment of childhood grief with that of Rhys in her novellas. Although grief is still seen as ‘tropical,’ there is a shift from Conrad’s and Rhys’s sense of the child as foreign. The grieving son in West’s fiction is native, part of society, albeit suppressed. This child, however, does not become articulate. He dies before speaking. Hence, Ford Madox Ford’s narration of childhood grief...

  9. 5 Creating a Space for Childhood’s Sound Waves: Virginia Woolf’s A Haunted House and The Waves
    (pp. 145-175)

    In Ford Madox Ford’s fiction, he confates the domestic home and the military home front. He locates within this superimposed space a good soldier and layers within him a grieving child. However, he renders the child not only inarticulate, but silent. Thus, when we shift focus from Ford and the novelists discussed before him to the fiction of Virginia Woolf, what is most notable is that she actually lets the child-self speak.¹ Although struggling throughout with the suppression of grief and its return as aggression, Woolf’s fictional child has fully lost its alien status; furthermore, the child no longer has...

  10. 6 The ‘Laughtears’ of the Child Be Longing: James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake
    (pp. 176-209)

    The grieving, joyful child-self belongs inFinnegans Wake.The child is longing for this sense of belonging and finds it finally in modernist fiction’s most radical, innovative text – a text that is most indicative of a break with lessons learned in the past. Thus, the pedagogical directive to be a good soldier and dry one’s tears is drowned out in the river of ‘laughtears’ that courses through theWake.¹

    The tragedy of Woolf’s narrators inThe Waves, who express themselves simultaneously as children and as adults, revolves around their suppression of the native childhood self and the resultant need to...

  11. Conclusion: Creating Fictional Space for the Grief of the Child
    (pp. 210-220)

    A sustained reading of the requirement to suppress grief in the works of Conrad, Rhys, West, Ford, Woolf, and Joyce reveals that certain modernist novels deconstruct the model of grief inherited from their predecessors, and that they do so by inserting into their texts a form of grief-language associated first with childhood memories, then with children themselves, and ultimately with child-narrators. Employing literary experimentalism and sharing the metaphor of turning to stone by means of suppressing grief bring these novelists into dialogue. All strive to break out of the pedagogical mould they have inherited. They write about the damage that...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 221-248)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 249-264)
  14. Index
    (pp. 265-270)