McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
h.d., narrative, performance, trauma, warner, woolf
This dissertation examines narrative representations of female non-combatant identity authored by Sylvia Townsend Warner, Virginia Woolf, and H.D. between 1916 and 1955, a historical moment consonant with World War I, the interwar era, World War II, and its aftermath. Their depictions of the material reality of war and its devastating impact on selfhood span the genres of the diary, essay, long poem, and novel. I argue that each text forwards a specifically feminist approach to recovery, which manifests in three ways. First, as experimental texts, these works embrace (and mirror) the shattering effects of trauma and loss sustained by non-combatant women, and thereby portray female identity as narrative. Recovery thus entails that the non-combatant acknowledge and integrate the experience of war and identity trauma into her narrative, and redefine self in a way that does not merely replicate her prewar identity. Second, such self-(re)definition occurs through the performative exercise of multiple subjectivity. Put differently, non-combatant women remake self by entering into postwar roles rooted in the intellect, political involvement, artistry, or multiple sexualities. Finally, narrative recovery is emblematic of the authors' collective aim to renounce the restrictive influence of patriarchal ideology upon womanhood. By exercising autonomy, woman equips herself to withstand future disruptions to her reemerging narrative.
With the exception of the chapter on Woolf--which approaches Between the Acts (1941) as a return to the exploration of female recovery in Mrs. Dalloway (1925)--this dissertation examines non-canonical texts, tracing shifts in representations of female non-combatant subjectivity throughout the career of each writer. My discussion of Warner includes an essay detailing her employment in a munitions factory (1916); Opus 7 (1927), a long poem featuring a protagonist whose attempts at recovery are tragically flawed; and Summer Will Show (1936), a novel that attributes female autonomy to political involvement and alternative sexuality. Finally, my work on H.D. considers the development of an increasingly transparent autobiographical subject in Within the Walls (1941), The Sword Went Out to Sea (1946-47), and her unpublished diary-memoir, Compassionate Friendship (1955), in which H.D. reflects upon her own experiences of war, writing, illness, and loss.
Kondrath, R. (2010). Performing to Reclaim: War Trauma and Female Non-Combatant Recovery in Sylvia Townsend Warner, Virginia Woolf, and H.D. (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/768