World War I: The Overthrow of the Romantic - An expository study of WWI poetry by women *LOTS of citations*

Topics: World War I, Women's suffrage, World War II Pages: 9 (3372 words) Published: November 23, 2008
"If literature should not only indicate how mankind thinks, but also how mankind feels, then the poems of the First World War succeed on both counts." (Lee)Romanticizing of war has existed since man first marched off to his earliest battles. Men historically were taught that their role was to fight for country and the honour of loved ones back home. Women were historically trained to be supportive helpmates, patiently waiting for their loved ones to reappear as heroic victors of war. Neither group was ever to admit the truth - that war is hell, regardless of who wins. World War I changed this perspective forever.

World War I was no exception to this initial romanticism. The men heading off to war were written in glorious terms as patriotic heroes, the women were depicted as faithful handmaidens, fulfilling the needs of their men. The men who served were on the battlefield, living through the day-to-day horrors of the trenches. The women were kept behind the lines, assisting in the processes of war - from helping with the building of munitions, to serving as nurses to the wounded, to staying behind to mourn the loss of loved ones. All of this was reflected initially in the writings of both men and women. The shift in perspective was slow to arrive but arrive it eventually did as a result of a growing new political movement sweeping through Britain.

Thanks to the emergence of the suffrage movement, women were slowly getting acclimatized to a new role, one that pronounced their independence, and announced that they could say and feel and do as they chose and as they believed. If they knew the truth, they could for the first time reflect upon it and let the world see it from their perspective. As the growth of independent thought of the female perspective grew so too did that of the male develop as well. As each gender learned to express its true feelings within the context of the times the grim realities of the war experience could be revealed to the world. As each gender reflected on the war, men with the harsh truth of the experience and women with the ability to write as a faction that finally mattered (even with the limitations that gender placed upon them), each faction could effectively portray the Great War as it really was.

The initial reactions of both genders to war were virtually identical - war was viewed in the most romantic of senses, with no real connection to the pain and suffering that war invokes. War was romantic, altruistic, and it was heroic. As time passed, war could no longer be viewed with this pastoral naivety. It was ugly, it was brutal, and it was senseless. Reality set in for the boys in khaki and for the women who soon came to realize that many of their men might never return home. Young men suddenly learned that war was not what they had anticipated, and their writings started to reflect on the brutality and ugliness of their conditions. As their perceptions changed, so too did those of the women back home - and this time their political independence and free thinking played a role as never before in expressing their heartfelt beliefs and views of war.

The women of Great Britain, already amidst the women's suffrage movement, were further reinforced in their independence, to living in a world in which they could say and feel and do. If they knew the truth, it was now time to reflect upon it and to let the world see it from their perspective. As each gender reflected on the war, the men with the grim reality of experience and the women with the ability to write as a faction that mattered even with the limitations that gender placed upon them, each faction could more effectively portray the Great War as it really was.

The switch in perspective was slow to emerge but once it gained momentum it was hard to contain. Initially war was depicted in the usual romantic way. However, things were starting to change as shown in the poem "The Dragon and the Undying" by Siegfried Sassoon. Initially...

Cited: llen, Marian. "The Wind on the Downs." "Introduction to First World War Poetry." OxfordUniversity. 4 November 1996. 26 November 2006< http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/projects/jtap/tutorials/intro/women/>Bedford, Madeline Ina. "Munition Wages." "Introduction to First World War Poetry." OxfordUniversity. 4 November 1996. 26 November 2006< http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ltg/projects/jtap/tutorials/intro/women/>Bell, Amy Helen. "Nought were we Spared": British Women Poets of the Great War. DalhousieUniversity, Halifax, Nova Scotia, December 1996. 91-95. 26 November 2006Braybon, Gail. "Women, War and Work." World War I. Ed. Donald J. Murphy, GreenhavenPress, Inc.; San Diego, 2002. 184-195Dobell, Eva. "Pluck." "Introduction to First World War Poetry." Oxford University. 4November 1996. 26 November 2006Gavin, Lettie. American Women in World War I. University Press of Colorado; Colorado, 1997.
43-67Lee, Stuart. "Introduction to First World War Poetry." Oxford University. 4 November 1996. 26November 2006 Owen, Wilfred. "Disabled," Studies in Twentieth Century British Literature Before 1945 CourseReader. Compiled by Mary Ann Gillies and Aurelea Mahood. Simon Fraser University, 2006. 2.21Pope, Jessie. "The Call." "Introduction to First World War Poetry". Oxford University. 4November 1996. 26 November 2006Sassoon, Siegfried. "The Dragon and the Undying." Studies in Twentieth Century BritishLiterature Before 1945 Course Reader. Compiled by Mary Ann Gillies and Aurelea Mahood. Simon Fraser University, 2006. 2.13Sassoon, Siegfried. "They." Studies in Twentieth Century British Literature Before 1945 CourseReader. Compiled by Mary Ann Gillies and Aurelea Mahood. Simon Fraser University, 2006. 2.16Sassoon, Siegfried. "Glory of Women," Studies in Twentieth Century British Literature Before1945 Course Reader. Compiled by Mary Ann Gillies and Aurelea Mahood. Simon Fraser University, 2006. 2.17Walsh, Ben. "Gallery Background: Gaining Women 's Suffrage." The National Archives. 26November 2006 Williams, Oscar, ed. The War Poets; The John Day Co.; New York, 1945. 3-11Zdrok, Jodie L. ed. World War I (Greenhaven Press ' Great Speeches in History Series);Greenhaven Press; Michigan, 2004. 8-20, 25-33
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