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The New Death

The New Death: American Modernism and World War I

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    The New Death
    Book Description:

    Adopting the term "new death," which was used to describe the unprecedented and horrific scale of death caused by the First World War, Pearl James uncovers several touchstones of American modernism that refer to and narrate traumatic death. The sense of paradox was pervasive: death was both sanctified and denied; notions of heroism were both essential and far-fetched; and civilians had opportunities to hear about the ugliness of death at the front but often preferred not to. By historicizing and analyzing the work of such writers as Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner, the author shows how their novels reveal, conceal, refigure, and aestheticize the violent death of young men in the aftermath of the war. These writers, James argues, have much to say about how the First World War changed death's cultural meaning.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3409-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    In 1918, the popular religious writer Winifred Kirkland described a change in American life: people were preoccupied with death as never before. The war raging in Europe, she claimed, made death “new.” So many men were dying; so many of them were the “shining best” of their generation. All Americans felt the loss, from the “humblest” to the “most intellectual.” What strikes her, though, is not primarily the numbers of dead. Instead, it ishowpeople are dying and that, once dead, they often remain unburied. She writes not just of death but of “dissolution”: the grotesque physical breakdown of...

  6. 1 “Clean” Wounds and Modern Women: World War I in One of Ours
    (pp. 29-62)

    In the epigraph, D. H. Lawrence relocates the spectacle of New Death from a war between nations to a war between the sexes. He describes the war as an occasion on which women exerted a “destructive malevolence” toward men, rather than as a conflict during which armies of men wounded and killed each other. In this vision, male bodies suffer not from wounds but from illness caused by a monstrously strong New Woman.¹ Lawrence effectively sanitizes the effects of war first by leaving the soldier’s wounds unspecified, then by directing his reader’s gaze away from the soldier to the active...

  7. 2 The Story Nick Can’t Tell: Trauma in The Great Gatsby
    (pp. 63-118)

    In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novelThe Great Gatsby(1925), death happens on the highway, the lawn, and in a swimming pool; it happens to men but most spectacularly to a woman. If the war made death “new,” Fitzgerald made it new again by refiguring it within a postwar perspective that sees death in postwar locales. Fitzgerald depicts violence that calls the war to mind instead of writing about the war itself. War stories crop up in the novel, but they are allusive, short, and sometimes—as in the instance in the epigraph—cut off or cut entirely from the finished...

  8. 3 Regendering War Trauma and Relocating the Abject: Catherine Barkley’s Death
    (pp. 119-159)

    Open any number of books about World War I and you will find the same quote from Ernest Hemingway’sA Farewell to Arms. This one quote has become the canonical articulation of postwar disillusionment, the clearest statement of the “lost generation.” Historians use it to illustrate the crisis of belief brought on by the massive slaughter made in the name of God, country, civilization, and democracy. In this passage, the novel’s narrator, Frederic Henry, muses about the gap between official language and the reality of death in war:

    I did not say anything. I was always embarrassed by the words...

  9. 4 The Missing of Sartoris
    (pp. 160-198)

    Rising above a plain in the Valley of the Somme in northern France, a large monument stands in commemoration of “the missing of the Somme” (see figure 10). The monument at Thiepval is subtly modeled on the triumphal arch. It is inscribed with names of the dead and backed by a large cemetery. Designed by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, it has been called a “silent scream”—a work of pacifism protesting the deaths in the Battle of the Somme and, by extension, the whole of World War I. InSites of Memory, Sites of Mourning, Jay Winter emphasizes its...

  10. Conclusion: New Death, Blood Simple
    (pp. 199-206)

    In Dashiell Hammett’s novelRed Harvest(1929), the detective who tells the story plays with murder and, as he puts it, “get[s] to like it.”¹ He arrives in Personville (alias “Poisonville”) on a routine assignment but finds himself in the middle of a gang war. After being threatened by a corrupt police chief, the detective himself, Hammett’s “Continental Op,” becomes a killer. He also uses his powers of detection and deduction not to fight crime but to pit the criminals against each other so that they will kill each other off. In other words, he joins the war. About two-thirds...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 207-234)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-250)
  13. Index
    (pp. 251-259)