1st Edition

Shell Shock and the Modernist Imagination
The Death Drive in Post-World War I British Fiction

ISBN 9781138273108
Published October 26, 2016 by Routledge
200 Pages

USD $62.95

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Book Description

Looking closely at both case histories of shell shock and Modernist novels by Ford Madox Ford, Rebecca West, and Virginia Woolf, Wyatt Bonikowski shows how the figure of the shell-shocked soldier and the symptoms of war trauma were transformed by the literary imagination. Situating his study with respect to Freud’s concept of the death drive, Bonikowski reads the repetitive symptoms of shell-shocked soldiers as a resistance to representation and narrative. In making this resistance part of their narratives, Ford, West, and Woolf broaden our understanding of the traumatic effects of war, exploring the possibility of a connection between the trauma of war and the trauma of sexuality. Parade’s End, The Return of the Soldier, and Mrs. Dalloway are all structured around the relationship between the soldier who returns from war and the women who receive him, but these novels offer no prospect for the healing effects of the union between men and women. Instead, the novels underscore the divisions within the home and the self, drawing on the traumatic effects of shell shock to explore the link between the public events of history and the intimate traumas of the relations between self and other.

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction: shell shock and the traces of war; The invisible wound: shell shock and psychoanalysis; Transports of a wartime impressionism: Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End; The ’passion of exile’: Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier; ’Death was an attempt to communicate’: Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway; Conclusions: the ethics and aesthetics of the death drive; Bibliography; Index.

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Wyatt Bonikowski is Assistant Professor of English at Suffolk University, USA.


'As Shell Shock and the Modernist Imagination progresses, Bonikowski’s arguments gain momentum, coalescing in his powerful point that in the aesthetic sublimation of the death drive, modernist fiction can sustain the pleasures of life.' Times Literary Supplement '... Bonikowski teases out some interesting facets of Septimus, by looking at how he functions within the structure of the text. ... Overall the book is a useful ... addition to readings of Mrs Dalloway.' Virginia Woolf Bulletin 'Wyatt Bonikowski has made a strong argument for modernist narrative as a line of thought that ... must take detours in order to pursue a truth about the First World War that is not simply locatable in a past event or an object to be grasped, but is more like a ’thing’ that evades.' English Literature in Transition 1880-1920