Outsider Positions: Negotiating Gender, Nationality and Memory in the War Writing of Enid Bagnold

Angela K. Smith
2016 Women's Writing  
In 1918, Enid Bagnold published A Diary Without Dates, a revealing book that kept few secrets about life in a wartime hospital. Bagnold's book has helped the construction of the mythology of disillusionment that has clouded memory of the First World War for a century. In 1920, Bagnold published The Happy Foreigner, a novel that is much less easy to categorize. As her protagonist, Fanny, drives across the derelict battlefields of France, she reflects on the ways in which those battlefields may
more » ... recalled in later cultural memory. However, there is a curious optimism in Fanny that is quite at odds with these later constructions of disillusionment. France in 1919 is a melting pot of different people, military and civilian, men and women, representing many different nations as the first understandings of memory crystallize. This essay explores Bagnold's two war books in terms of the ways in which she negotiates gender and nationality. What does it mean to be a woman in a hospital? How do different nationalities interact in the post-war landscape, questioning these myths of disillusionment before they are even constructed? By considering these outsider positions, the author argues that Bagnold's role in helping to shape the memory of the First World War is far more complex than it might at first appear. Women's war writing and memory In this essay, I will explore the ways in which the outsider positions of gender and nationality can enhance our contemporary understanding of the First World War. By focusing specifically on the war writings of Enid Bagnold, built around the experience of women and infused with multiple different voices, I will argue that there are other ways of remembering-alternate dimensions to cultural memory that do not conform to the grand narratives of the war. One hundred years after its outbreak, the ways in which we remember the First World War are still significantly shaped by the literature of the period. Dominant in this myth-making were the writers of the trenches-Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and
doi:10.1080/09699082.2016.1232507 fatcat:bqlpc7obljgwvfy35ipy6l2heq