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Loving Arms

Loving Arms: British Women Writing the Second World War

Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Loving Arms
    Book Description:

    Loving Armsexamines the war-related writings of five British women whose works explore the connections among gender, war, and story-telling. While not the first study to relate the subjects of gender and war, it is the first within a growing body of criticism to focus specifically on British culture during and after World War II.

    Evoking the famous "St. Crispin's Day" speech from Henry V and then her own father's account of being moved to tears on V-J Day because he had been too young to fight, Karen Schneider posits that the war story has a far-reaching potency. She admits -- perhaps for all of us -- that such stories "had powerfully shaped my consciousness in ways I could not completely resist."

    How a story is narrated and by whom are matters of no small importance. As widely defined and accepted, war stories are men's stories. If we are to hear an "other" story of war, then we must listen to the stories women tell. Many of the war stories written by women insist that war is not the condition of men but rather the condition of humanity, beginning with relations between the sexes.

    For the five women whose work is examined inLoving Arms-- Stevie Smith, Katharine Burdekin, Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen, and Doris Lessing -- this latter point was particularly relevant. Their positions as women within a patriarchal, militarist culture that was externally threatened by an overtly fascist one led to an acute ambivalence, says Schneider. Though all five women perceived the war from substantially different perspectives, each in her own way exposed and critiqued the seductive power of war and war stories, with their densely interwoven tropes of masculinity and nationalism. Yet these writers' conflicting impulses of loyalty to England and resistance to the war betray their ambivalence.

    Loving Armswill interest students of twentieth-century British literature and culture, gender studies, and narratology. Even today, we maintain an unabated love affair with the war story. But unless we listen to what the women had to say fifty years ago, we are doomed to hear only "the same old story."

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6134-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. iii-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: Narrating War
    (pp. 1-9)

    My father was not quite old enough to see action in World War II, but he had a war story, and a telling one at that. Eager to do his part, he cajoled my reluctant grandfather into allowing him to join the navy when he was just seventeen. Concerned that the war was winding down, he volunteered for submarine duty and every other high-risk assignment he thought would ensure combat. But it was too late; V-J Day smashed his hopes. While others cheered, my father and his buddies, feeling irrevocably cheated, wept.

    Only recently have I learned to appreciate the...

  6. 1 Discerning the Plots
    (pp. 10-36)

    As if in response to these two overlapping and complementary assessments of war as never-ending story, contemporary peace activist Dorothee Sölle plaintively asks of “the storyteller and those who have passed the tale down … and believed it” a crucial question: “Is that all? … Do I have to be Abel if I don’t want to be Cain? Is there no other way?” (quoted in Reardon,Sexismepigraph). Catalyzed by the psychological and cultural ramifications of the Great War, the experience of the Second World War, and the enormous cache of war narrative, Burdekin, Smith, Bowen, Woolf, and Lessing elaborated...

  7. 2 Inscribing An/Other Story: Katharine Burdekin, Stevie Smith, and the Move toward Rebellion
    (pp. 37-73)

    As Samuel Hynes has demonstrated inThe Auden Generation, the 1930s in England was a decade of economic, social, political, and literary crisis. Hynes identifies his principle subject as “the generationentre deux guerres,” and the point of his inquiry as “how the war behind them and the war ahead entered into their work, and how the forms of imagination were altered by crisis” (9). Though he purports to be concerned with the “men and women” of this generation, in truth Hynes focuses on an exclusively male literary tradition.¹ His relative obliviousness to woman-authored literature and its significance both generates...

  8. 3 Double-Voiced Discourse: Elizabeth Bowen’s Collaboration and Resistance
    (pp. 74-108)

    As if in response to Virginia Woolf’s claim (inThree Guineas) that women have no country, in Elizabeth Bowen’s novelThe Heat of the Day(1949) Stella Rodney protests, “No, but you cannot say there is not a country!” (274). As a member of that hybrid class, the Anglo-Irish, with its “helplessly conflicting loyalties” (Lee,Estimation18), Bowen lacked the luxury of claiming anyone nationality completely enough to take it for granted and thus either to embrace it unequivocally or to repudiate it on principle. In her preface toLast September(1929), set during Ireland’s “Troubles,” Bowen describes

    position of...

  9. 4 Re-Plotting the War(s): Virginia Woolf’s Radical Legacy
    (pp. 109-132)

    In one sense, Virginia Woolf spent a lifetime trying to “tell the truth about war” (TG97). Even before the 1930s, war and suggestions of its deepest origins as well as its far-reaching, often insidious consequences broke through the seemingly placid surface of her narratives with significant frequency.¹ Always implicit in her censure of war was her awareness of the need for deep-seated change, not only in gender relations but throughout the web-like structure of human existence. For, like Burdekin and Smith, Woolf traced the roots of war to divisive, adversarial habits of mind—paradigms of difference and opposition of...

  10. 5 A Different Story: Doris Lessing’s Great Escape
    (pp. 133-173)

    “War,” Doris Lessing once declared, has been the “most important thing” in her life (quoted in Fishburn,Life5). Her fiction repeatedly affirms this observation, for even more than in Woolf’s oeuvre, war in its multiple guises insistently marches across the pages of Lessing’s texts, leaving ruin in its wake. Of all the writers included in this study, none is so quintessentially a child of violence as Lessing—born out of the psychic ruins of World War I and, through her writing, reborn with great difficulty out of the grim and glaring holocaust of World War II. Her father a...

  11. Coda: As Time Goes By
    (pp. 174-182)

    In the Prologue toA Rumor of War, a nonfiction account of his experiences as a marine in Vietnam, Philip Caputo explains, “I have tried to describe accurately what … the Vietnam War was like for the men who fought it” (xx). Like many other combatants, Caputo wants to “warn men against war, by telling them the truth about it.” Unlike most of his forebrothers-in-arms, however, he professes the apparent futility of his literary caveat: “It might, perhaps, prevent the next generation from being crucified in the next war. But I don’t think so” (xxi). Caputo’s pessimism seems sadly justified,...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 183-203)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 204-215)
  14. Index
    (pp. 216-221)