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The Great War and the Female Elegy: Female Lamentation and Silence in Global Contexts

Margaret Higonnet
The Global South
Vol. 1, No. 2, Globalization and the Future of Comparative Literature (Fall, 2007), pp. 120-136
Published by: Indiana University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40339276
Page Count: 17
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The Great War and the Female Elegy: Female Lamentation and Silence in Global Contexts
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Abstract

In the last decade, cultural historians have debated whether the literature of World War I constituted a modernist break with the past, or rather nostalgically attempted to sustain "traditional values" in order to shape incomprehensible experience into meaningful forms of memory and mourning. Within the context of this debate, however, little attention has been paid to the vibrant and varied war poetry of women such as the Comtesse de Noailles, Berta Lask, or Eleanor Farjeon. Beyond these major figures, however, lies another cohort of elegists, including Anna Akhmatova, Zinaida Gippius, and Mary Borden whose work is especially provocative in its modernist rupture with poetic conventions in order to express their loss of faith, their despair, and their rage about a war that they had no political voice to oppose. And geographically removed, but touched by the "world" war, lie yet other mourning women in the colonies, some of them illiterate and therefore never considered as participating in the literature of war. These women, such as the Bambara and Malawi women's songs I discuss in the essay, speak across national boundaries of a rupture that has broken down speech itself and has thus turned them into what we may call female modernists. Thus war as a force of globalization at once unifies women who mourn their losses by drawing on traditionally assigned roles and forms, and also locates them at a fissure in literary history.

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