We moderns: women modernists' writing on war and home
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Sensational, participatory, everyday—we rarely describe literary modernism in such terms. But I insist on them in my dissertation, We Moderns: Women Modernists’ Writing on War and Home. I examine interwar and World War II writings by Elizabeth Bowen, Gertrude Stein, Alice Toklas, and Virginia Woolf; I reappraise these women as originary theorists of trauma who argue for the home as a key site of embedded war history. Their texts—from Toklas’ bloody recipes for meals under German Occupation, to Stein’s interior decorating ideas inspired by a radiator she’d like to steal from Hitler’s house, to Woolf’s account of hostessing in war’s aftermath—work as interactive popular genres, inviting identification with clichéd advice on home and housekeeping, then confronting readers with war violence in our most intimate, familiar “rooms.” Moreover, in refusing to neatly encapsulate the events of war, these writers produce what I call modernist sensation texts: they viscerally engage readers in the anxiety-ridden, disorienting monotony of daily life during wartime. In bringing war home, women modernists challenge the divide between private and public life, between home and front, and call for readers’ active participation in the unfinished work of remembrance and mourning. The archive I redefine as war texts envisions a wartime history that is idiosyncratic and inclusive, a type of living that strives for communication, and a type of reading that bears witness—a vision, as I discuss in detail, that I try to maintain in my own Rhetoric of the Homefront critical reading and persuasive writing classroom.