Tag Archives: World War I

Moments of concentrated empathy

In Our Time, Hemingway (1925). Hemingway’s spare prose style and repressed emotions are seemingly inadequate for capturing the trauma his characters undergo. In “Soldier’s Home,” Krebs feels intense frustration because he can’t “make his mother see” the trauma of war, which is something he can’t express.

Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf (1925). Moments when characters are so acute to each other’s emotions, they seem to pick up and respond to each other within their heads, such as exchange between Peter and Clarissa. Also moments when characters feel intently but are unable to convey this, such as Richard unable to tell Clarissa he loves her. Finally, moments where characters are only tenuously related (Clarissa, Septimus) but Clarissa feels intense empathy for Septimus at the party, despite differences in social class.

As I Lay Dying, Faulkner (1930). Between Darl and Dewey Dell, who seem able to communicate nonverbally. Even Darl and Dewey Dell’s accounts contradict what actually was said. Also between Darl and Cash, where Cash picks up a memory Darl recalls of Jewel.

Nightwood, Barnes (1936). Pattern of male characters unable to understand their wives’ emotions, (Guido in 6, Felix in 45), but Robin and Nora have a kindredness the instant they meet. On 64, Robin says “Don’t wait for me,” almost as if it were a response to Nora’s thoughts on their resurrection.

Experiences of shared thoughts in Hemingway and Woolf seem directly influenced by WWI, whereas Faulkner is interested in familial relations and Barnes is interested in kinship between misfits, women. But in Woolf and Barnes, awareness of other characters’ emotions is present in women-women relationships (Elizabeth feels sympathy for Mrs. Kilman and guilt). However, society (and law) prevents same-gender relations, so by the party scene, Clarissa not only feels little kinship with Sally, she feels a snobby towards her. In Barnes, the female relationship is open and Robin and Nora have a more empathetic relationship than Guido/Hedvig, Felix/Robin, whose relationships seem characterized by tragic miscommunications. Finally, three novels have moments where characters seem to pick up in speech where other characters’ thoughts trail off, whereas in Hemingway, the dialogue between Krebs and his mother is disjointed, jumping from one topic to another.

World War I and the rise of Modernism

After World War I, many novels used characters that related their wartime experiences in a post-war time frame.
This reflects the change of the thoughts and feelings from pre-war sentiments towards modernity. In Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and As I Lay Dying (1930), we have two characters, Septimus and Darl, that have both returned from the war and have gone towards madness in silence. This is also reflected in In Our Time (1925) through the terse style of Hemingway, which is indicative of the reporting of the events of war. This shows that many of the generation that went through this war period became hardened and lost individuals due to it.

Whose Body? (1923) and Mrs. Dalloway both embody the post-war rise of highly concentrated and urban centers that is found in London. This is done in Mrs. Dalloway through the shared experiences found in the fast-paced change in focalization in this work and the shift from scientific deductive methods in traditional detective novels towards an intuitive detective method in Whose Body?.