Inherent contradictions : English women’s literatures’ depictions of First World War service
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameBachelor of Arts (Hons)
This dissertation examines the idealisation of middle-class men’s and women’s service during the First World War through the study of five novels written by English women between 1916 and 1918. Historiography on women in the war tends to focus on whether the war represented a “watershed” moment for women’s rights. This dissertation argues that although the war was not a watershed moment, it did create an environment which enabled the contestation of women’s traditional domestic role. Chapter One shows how the novels idealised enlistment as men’s greatest service to the war, reflecting prevalent attitudes within society and reinforcing men’s traditional masculine role. In contrast, Chapter Two shows how women’s service threatened traditional notions of domesticity. Concerns for working-class women’s moral and sexual transgressions influencing middle-class women, underlies the novels promotion of war service’s potential moral benefits. Simultaneously, they emphasise the temporary nature of war service, and women’s eventual return to traditional domesticity. The concurrent idealisation of women’s service and their return to the public sphere shows the war not as a “watershed”, but as an environment which reasserted masculinity and challenged traditional ideas of middle-class women’s domesticity.