Neither poppy not Mandragora : the memorialization of grief and grievance in the British literature of the Great War
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This dissertation examines the modes of individual and cultural grieving that characterize the British literature of the Great War and its aftermath, 1914-30. Combining archival research, cultural history, and genre theory, I identify the war literature’s expression of a poetics of grief and grievance: one that is melancholic, in that it resists redemptive mourning, and accusatory, in that it frequently assigns blame for war and suffering on civilian spectators or the writer himself. In order to trace the development of the anti-elegiac in the literature of the Great War, my dissertation provides: (a) a publication history of the war poems of Wilfred Owen, (b) a comparison of the manipulation of the pathetic fallacy and pastoral mode in the works of combatant poets and Virginia Woolf, and (c) a detailed assessment of the reception of the controversial war memoirs and novels of the late 1920s. My findings challenge the widely held assumption that the pervasive irony and disenchantment of the literature of the Great War is primarily a product of the historical rupture of the event. I emphasize that the ironic mode developed during the war- and inter-war periods is an expression of personal and social anxiety attached by writers to the subject of individual mortality. Additionally, I argue that the literature of the Great War focuses on the limits of language that addresses atrocity, and the instability of the idea of consolation in an era of mass, industrialized death.