Traumatic Cosmopolitanism: Eleanor Dark and the World at War.
[A] traumatic cosmopolitanism becomes readily visible when we remember that many of these new communities of writers and artists were formed in the exigencies of displacement,, expulsion, self-chosen exile, and bitter political choice. Under such pressures, the meaning of writing itself was drastically changing. (Gandhi and Nelson 291) It seems to me that during the war the overcharged subconsiousnesses of everybody overflowed and merged. [...] I felt one with, and just like, everyone else. Sometimes I hardly knew where I stopped and somebody else began. (Bowen 95)
Eleanor Dark found refuge and support in her correspondence and friendships with other women writers throughout the war years. Her wartime novel, The Little Company (1945), also advocates for the value of a cosmopolitan community forged through trauma and suffering. Indeed, the novel suggests that the war is a welcome crisis for the ways in which it awakens transnational values. Ultimately, it is critical for our understanding of global modernism and the development and importance of the literary relationships between Australian women wartime modernists and their European counterparts, as they construct a "little company" of intellectual and emotional war work.
In her essay "Wartime Cosmopolitanism," Susan Stanford Friedman asks whether Virginia Woolf was alone in her move away from "loyalty to the nation-state" and towards "pacifist cosmopolitanism" (23), and proposes the term "cosmofeminism"--which does not simply signify "a call for global sisterhood," but in more complex and potentially more important ways, is "rather situated in a feminist critique of the nation-state in wartime and a utopian longing for a peaceful world citizenship founded on justice and liberty that is compatible with an antinationalistic love of country" (23-24). The term "pacifist cosmopolitanism" is also one which has been used to describe the way in which, during both World Wars, women assembled global communities calling for a peaceful end to the conflicts--what Lela B. Costin has called "a courageous and daring demonstration for international reconstruction and peace by women from both neutral and warring nations" and "a striking and highly competent application of women's energy and will toward the development of alternatives to war" (301). However, it was not only pacifism which instigated the formation of global communities of modern women. Extending the concept of pacifist cosmopolitanism as a way of uniting women writing in and about war, in this essay I extend Friedman's discussion of cosmofeminism to focus on women's united experience of trauma. I propose that women writers working during and prior to the Second World War produced works which might be identified as examples of "traumatic cosmopolitanism"--that is, a cosmopolitanism forged through the shared experience of trauma. As Max Pensky defines it, the cosmopolitan describes "elements of a moral, psychological, political-institutional, or cultural discourse that both describes and recommends normatively important identities and relationships beyond national belonging" (256). This essay suggests, then, that in narrativising their shared, global traumatic experience, and in particular, the experience of being a writer during this time, wartime women writers effectively construct a community of (thinking about and writing about) suffering which moves beyond the national discourses of jingoism and ignorance that can perpetuate trauma and violence. Australian women writers of the Second World War, I argue, are at the vanguard of such ethical projects for the ways in which they challenge the lapse into nationalist dichotomous discourses of war.
Importantly, then, with a focus on Dark's wartime novel The Little Company, the book Drusilla Modjeska calls "her most emphatic political statement" (xi), this essay suggests that women's literary responses to war in Australia can be compared to those in other cosmopolitan centres, especially in Britain, and considers the dual sense of psychological threat and the ethical responsibility of the writer which is figured in such works. In May 1940, for example, Miles Franklin wrote to Eleanor Dark: "Can't you write a novel showing the non-existence of the Australian mind through colonial servility and through lack of exercise--it has atrophied" (Ferrier, As Good as a Yarn 52). Indeed, the distinction between pacifist cosmopolitanism and traumatic cosmopolitanism is one in which the recognition of a global, collective suffering is precisely the first step in healing that suffering. Division and competition in the experience of trauma or in the willingness to take an ethical stand is hardly effective. It is also true, as William Hatherell has argued, that "[f]or the Australian writer it was much more difficult to connect the experience of front line and home front" (81), and that the sense of shared suffering such as characterises British writing of the Blitz, for example, is not so obviously prevalent in Australian writing of the same period. However, it is also the case that for men and women, especially those living in areas of Australia outside the urban centres, the sense of isolation and remoteness prevented the reassurance of shared suffering evident in London Blitz writing. For these people, seeking connection with others experiencing this global trauma, constructing a community, is a way to combat the internal and external conflicts of war.
Taking as its starting point an understanding of Second World War literature as primarily about "a conflict in which the civilian experience was paramount" (MacKay 6), this essay draws on Rebecca L. Walkowitz's identification of what she terms "critical cosmopolitanism"; in particular, in relation to the way in which it "trouble[s] the distinction between local and global that most conceptions of exile have presupposed," and in its emphasis on "intellectual projects more than intellectual conditions" (n.p.). It is thus part of a broader move to understand Australian literature as--and in the context of--world literature. The essay also develops Sarah Ailwood's discussion of the way in which Dark contributes to an understanding of the "relationships between regionalism and modernism" (21) and "modernism's world-imaginary" (Herring qtd in Ailwood 35), particularly in terms of her literary influences. Just as Ailwood has noted Katherine Mansfield's influence on Dark, so too, I argue, transnational figures like Elizabeth Bowen can help us to understand the emotional discourse of war as it appears in the work of Dark.
The years during and following the Second World War were, for Dark, "years of stresses and strain" (O'Reilly 71). Although she published two novels during the war years--The Timeless Land (1941) and The Little Company--both of which were very well received, writing became difficult for her. In part, this appears to have been a result of wartime publication delays on The Timeless Land, from around the end of 1940, as well as the conflicts produced by Dark's other commitments and responsibilities in her role as a small-town doctor's wife. Yet, in her letters, Dark also records a sense in which her perceived lack of productivity can be seen as a kind of psychological reticence, and one she sees to be shared by her contemporaries. Writing to Franklin in September 1941, she observes that "[t]here should be floods of stuff being produced. But there is something paralysing about all this waste and horror" (Ferrier, As Good as a Yarn 70; original emphasis). A few months later, however, she appears to have reached a breakthrough in her understanding of her wartime literary work: it is not that she needs to devote all of her time to writing instead of performing an active role in her local community, but rather that her writing itself can make an important intellectual and political contribution (Spender 268). Indeed, she realises, it is her responsibility to produce such work, and in April 1942 she appends to a letter to Franklin a quotation from Cato:
Some have said that it is not the business of private men to meddle with Government--a bold and dishonest saying which is fit to come from no mouth but that of a tyrant or a slave. To say that private men have nothing to do with government is to say that private men have nothing to do with their own happiness or misery; that people ought not to concern themselves whether they be naked or clothed, fed or starved, deceived or instructed, protected or destroyed. (Ferrier, As Good as a Yarn 83)
The revelation was productive: by October 1943, Dark had temporarily abandoned work on the trilogy (certainly a more nationalist project, even if partly critical) and completed the first draft of The Little Company (Saunders 293; O'Reilly 72). The lesson is drilled home in the novel, too, in a conversation between the stalled writer Gilbert and the budding writer Elsa:
"Are you doing anything? There does seem to be a sort of creative paralysis abroad. It's true what Paul was saying we aren't getting things done. [...] Do you think it really matters if we're all stuck?" "Of course it matters. It's a job-even if it isn't recognised as one. We're allowing ourselves to be--deflected." (Dark, The Little Company 115; original emphases)
Writing, the conversation emphasises, is doing, is work, and what s more, it is work dangerous to the naive nationalist cause. The characters make Dark's case for breaking not only their own "creative paralysis," but the intellectual paralysis of the nation, too.
Thus, in each of her novels from this period, the tension of global and national pressures are marked in greater or lesser ways. Although The Timeless Land, for example, is concerned with the early period of European settlement in Australia, it is also "very much part of a continuum of national self-analysis [...] which often contested the very ideologies, such as patriotism, it was assumed to support" (Carson, "Conversations with the Land" 191). Lantana Lane (1959), too, a series of humorous sketches about the residents of the eponymous Sunshine Coast hinterland street, nevertheless records the way in which the small community is still "under threat from external forces" (McKay 24). The Little Company, of course, is the most explicit of these in its treatment of the effects of the Second World War (and, too, the after-effects of the First World War) on Australians, and it is here that "Dark takes up issues of contemporary state power, including the role of propaganda in war, and refers specifically to surveillance activities" (Carson, "Surveillance and Slander" 35). All three novels can also be seen as examples of the ways in which Dark's writing pursues "a worthwhile direction for modernist feminists": her work "think[s] differently, outside the frames of nation, privilege and modernity, with openness to cultures and landscapes not previously encountered" (Kime Scott 26). More particularly, however, The Little Company may be seen to participate in the cosmopolitan project of geomodernism, or as Susan Carson puts it, "one in which an engagement with modernism/s is produced from a conflux of national interest and attempts at localised geopolitical representation and international influences" ("A Girl's Guide" 178). In this way, her wartime writing "expand[s] and complicat[es] the examination of Australian modernist writing" (182). (1)
The Little Company, Dark's sixth novel, was completed in the last years of the Second World War. The Masseys--siblings Gilbert, Marty and Nick--are a family of writers and left-leaning thinkers. While Marty lives contentedly alone with her intellectual husband, and Communist sympathiser Nick decides to join up, previously successful author Gilbert struggles with that "creative paralysis" which has lasted since before the war, an hysterical and fanatically religious wife, and his ironically named daughters--the promiscuous Virginia, and rebellious, literary-minded, and very like her father, Prudence. The war releases a kind of anarchic freedom among the characters, and Gilbert soon leaves his wife, Phyllis, for Elsa, the young half-sister of his childhood playmate, only to find in her merely a temporary reprieve from his loneliness--though she does offer up to him an understanding of his fragmented manuscript. Free from the selfish emotional grip of his wife and lover, at the novel's end, with his "little company" of intellectuals--Marty, Richard, Nick, Prue, and young Pete--Gilbert is finally free to pursue his novel: a glorious reconceptualisation of a political figure of his youth, and who comes to stand for the potential freedom of a socialist future.
Thus, the construction of Australian identity and its relationship to history and memory in The Little Company does much to elucidate Pensky's concept of "cosmopolitan memory." Like critical cosmopolitanism, cosmopolitan memory places less emphasis on
what is remembered, and far more on what processes of memory are cosmopolitan ones. These processes ... all involve a conscious subversion of a discourse of national memory in which the cosmopolitan appears not as a global alternative to national memory, but as a dialectical complication and destabilisation of the normative and functional elements that national memories once served. (Pensky 256; original emphases)
The adult characters, all around the same age, are as Marty observes, living their lives "in a slick, chronological pattern; the century had grown with her in the slow, slow tempo of their mutual childhood."
At the time, she and the century had seemed to share, up to the year 1914, an age of innocence, of unsophistication, of downright naivete. The violence of the next four war-years had inevitably identified itself with the storms and stresses of her own ignorant and rebellious adolescence. She had emerged into young womanhood, discovering life and love, with the century still sympathetically matching her mood in the rosy, pleasure-mad years of the early twenties ... Now, in the cold consciousness of maturity ... worry and disillusionment and apprehension ... dragged [her] with them, nervously, nearer and nearer to the climax, borne down with them into catastrophe. (Dark, The Little Company 37-38)
In the context of a nation developing, in Marty's metaphor, into middle-aged adulthood, "Cosmopolitanism ... emerges as the political, legal, and moral discourse challenging the supposed stability of the nation as the self-maintaining frame of reference for a new category of wrongs" (Pensky 259). Whereas characters like Phyllis cannot believe in the coming of the second war, for it would be "just too silly," it is precisely in an understanding of other cultures and Australia's place in relation to them that the novel's more sympathetic characters (Gilbert, Prue, Marty) note the impossibility of predicting a conclusion to the war. The Bully Germany, the Resolute Russia, the Beautiful Japan--the personification of the nations at war is shown to be symptomatic of a naive and even Orientalist vision of global players.
Yet, there is some hope in the future: Gilbert's educated and well-read daughter, Prue, he thinks, is far "more fortunate than he had been. For he had known nothing--nothing! He had been, at fifteen, at eighteen, even at twenty-one, in the mud of Flanders, sublimely ignorant, not only of international issues, but even of the domestic national policies of his own country" (Dark, The Little Company 64). Australia in the grip of a Second World War, Dark implies, cannot afford such ignorance--indeed, if Phyllis (Phyllis who so loves the symbolic that she blindly wanders into the misty bush to prove a point) is a symbol of such attitudes, then her slide into psychological breakdown is a warning about its consequences. And insofar as the novel "entwine[s]" personal questions with the "intellectual and political" (Modjeska x), Gilbert's intellectual movement from patriotism to global concern (xvi), from youthful soldier enraptured with his rosy young wife to middle-aged writer, reflecting on his place in the world, parallels his increasing distance from slow, uncritical Phyllis, and the increasing politicisation of his writing. As such, cosmopolitanism becomes, in the logic of Dark's narrative, associated with Communism--both are what Pensky calls "futural" terms, "in the sense that [they project] a coming political arrangement in which the parochial constraints of particular national attachments and identities ha[ve] been jettisoned--or grown out of--in favour of a full mature mode of universal membership in keeping with a global mode of governance" (256). It is in Gilbert's political writing, his "defence of those unities of people and place," Modjeska notes, that we see Dark's point that "radical writing must confront and counter the conservative narratives, the 'natural' stories of heroism and war" (xvii).
Part of this project of confrontation and counterattack involves a disruption of gendered roles. Although Gilbert does seem to have reaped the benefits of a gendered division of labour, avoiding much of the responsibility for caring for his family and household while Phyllis took up the burden, we do see in his support for Prue and his disappointment with Virginia, as well as his disgust at "man's" creation of war, the emergence of a new model of gender relations. At a key moment of revelation, Gilbert imagines that
Some disembodied voice of composite womanhood said to him dryly: In the past we have been grateful for the shelter of your strong right arm against tigers, spears, swords. But can you shield us from the weapons of your scientific warfare--this precious, ultimate bloom of your masculine inventiveness? Forgive us, gentlemen, if we are no longer greatly impressed by your protective instinct. Forgive us if we feel that our children now need a more reliable guardianship--our own ... The monstrous unnaturalness of modern warfare oppressed him like suffocation. (Dark, The Little Company 222)
In fact, for Modjeska, it is such feminist observations as they appear through a male character which "offered a way through the impasse of feminist discourse in Australia during the late 1930s and early 1940s in which"--as in the ideological conflicts raised by pacifist cosmopolitanism--"gender politics either became divorced from or reduced to the politics of class and nationalism" (xvi). In contrast to Gilbert's journey of epiphany and growth, Dark's portrait of Phyllis's blinkered nationalism is thus akin, in some ways, to many unsympathetic nineteenth-century portrayals of "silly women" who fail to recognise the extent of their responsibilities to a national and a global society. Indeed, the issue of women's cultural responsibility was one to which Dark returned, writing in "Balancing the Scales" (1934) that "the extremely important psychological aspect of marriage [is] the conception of it as a 50-50 partnership," which "will be achieved only when the washing of nappies is quite as much father's concern as mother's and the paying of the domestic bill is quite as much mother's concern as father's" (65-66). The idea is one also taken up by Dark's women writer colleagues: in a 1949 letter to Nettie Palmer, Franklin complains that "[i]f mothers didn't stay like hens in their banal brain-atrophying homes painfully and slowly rearing sons for men to blow to pieces each generation, perhaps some sane way of preserving peace might progress" (Ferrier, As Good as a Yarn 12).
It is, then, the role of the writer, the artist, the one who articulates the simultaneous trauma and comfort of the cosmopolitan which becomes central here. Reflections on writing and the role of literature in times of stress make up a good deal of the book, and motivate much of its political action. Writing in 1944, Dark observed the creative relationship between artists and war. She says that,
I think that because we are living in such times of stress there's an intellectual stirring. The writer feels this like everyone else, and his business is to express it. So when people are searching for an understanding of their problems, they naturally turn to their literature, which gives-or ought to give--a reflection, and perhaps an interpretation, of themselves and their community (qtd in Brooks and Clark 226).
Interestingly, Dark's conceptualisation of the writer as "stirr[ed]" to creative production by war, as a kind of voice, or what a European modernist T.S. Eliot might have called a "guide," echoes a similar observation by Elizabeth Bowen, who said of her wartime writing that:
The stories had their own momentum, which I had to control. The acts in them had an authority which I could not question. Odd enough in their way--and now some seem very odd-- they were flying particles of something enormous and inchoate that had been going on. They were sparks from experience--an experience not necessarily my own. [...] It seems to me that during the war the overcharged subconsciousnesses of everybody overflowed and merged. It is because the general subconsciousness saturates these stories that they have an authority nothing to do with me. [...] I felt one with, and just like, everyone else. Sometimes I hardly knew where I stopped and somebody else began. (Bowen 95)
And even though Dark herself was (despite her own perception to the contrary) highly productive during the war (Modjeska xviii), The Little Company records an anxiety about the seriousness with which writers are treated. "Even in peace-time," Gilbert observes, "the writer is apt to be regarded by the bulk of the population--if he's regarded at all--as a sort of entertainer. A passer of idle moments. So that in wartime, when there aren't officially supposed to be any idle moments, he becomes almost an object of contempt ... So perhaps getting together with a lot of other writers is a comfort to him" (Dark, The Little Company 107). This kind of connection to community suggests that a feminist (if not women's) cosmopolitanism invokes the sense of a global community as necessary in the narrativisation of traumatic experience. (2) Indeed, the "little company" might not only refer, then, to the novel's characters, whom Modjeska identifies as "the little company of progressive intellectuals and radicals embattled in a complacent, timid and for the most part philistine society" (xiv), but perhaps, too, the little company of wartime writers themselves--artists in battle against the war, united in the experience of trauma and the need to write a way through it--to work it through. In fact it is in the "little company" which Elsa instigates that Gilbert simultaneously--and perhaps not coincidentally--finds the solution to his writer's block and a release from a past by which he has remained haunted.
Ailwood, Sarah. "Anxious Beginnings: Mental Illness, Reproduction and Nation Building in 'Prelude' and Prelude to Christopher." Katherine Mansfield Studies 2 (2010): 20-38.
Bowen, Elizabeth. Postscript to The Demon Lover. 1945. The Mulberry Tree: Writings of Elizabeth Bowen. Ed. Hermione Lee. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986. 94-99.
Brooks, Barbara. "Waterway: The Multilayered City: History, Economics and Dream." Hecate 27.1 (2001): 11-18.
-- --. and Judith Clark. Eleanor Dark: A Writer's Life. Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 1998.
Carson, Susan. "From Sydney and Shanghai: Australian and Chinese Women Writing Modernism." Pacific Rim Modernisms. Ed. Mary Ann Gillies, Helen Sword, and Steven Yao. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2009.173-98.
-- --. "A Girl's Guide to Modernism's Grammar: Language Politics in Experimental Women's Fiction." Hecate 30.1 (2004): 176-83.
-- --. "Surveillance and Slander: Eleanor Dark in the 1940s and 1950s." Hecate 27.1 (2001): 32-43.
-- --. "Conversations with the Land: Environmental Questions and Eleanor Dark." JASAL (1997): 191-95.
Costin, Lela B. "Feminism, Pacifism, Internationalism and the 1915 International Congress of Women." Women's Studies International Forum 5.3/4 (1982): 301-15.
Dark, Eleanor. Lantana Lane. 1959. St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 2012.
-- --. The Little Company. 1945. New York: Penguin, 1986.
-- --. "Balancing the Scales." 1943. Hecate 27.1 (2001): 65-66.
-- --. The Timeless Land. 1941. Sydney: HarperCollins, 2013.
-- --. Prelude to Christopher. 1934. St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 2012. Ferrier, Carole. "Introduction." Hecate 27.1 (2001): 6-10.
-- --. ed. As Good as a Yarn with You: Letters between Miles Franklin, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Jean Devanny, Marjorie Barnard, Flora Eldershaw and Eleanor Dark. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992.
Friedman, Susan Stanford. "Wartime Cosmopolitanism: Cosmofeminism in Virginia Woolf's Three Guineas and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 32.1 (2013): 23-52.
Gandhi, Leela, and Deborah L. Nelson. "Editor's Introduction." Critical Inquiry 40.4 (2014): 285-97.
Giesen, Bernhard. "The Trauma of Perpetrators: The Holocaust as the Traumatic Reference of German National Identity." Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity. Ed. Jeffrey C. Alexander, Ron Eyerman, Bernhard Giesen, Neil J. Smelser, and Piotr Sztompka. Berkeley, CA: U of California P, 2004.112-54.
Hatherell, William. "The Australian Home-Front Novel of the Second World War: Genre, Gender and Region." Australian Literary Studies 23.1 (2007): 79-91.
Lang, Anouk. "Modernity in Practice: A Comparative View of the Cultural Dynamics of Modernist Literary Production in Australia and Canada." Canadian Literature 209 (2011): n.p.
Lukowitz, David C. "British Pacifists and Appeasement: The Peace Pledge Union." Journal of Contemporary History 9.1 (1974): 115-27.
MacKay, Marina. Modernism and World War II. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007.
Mazlin, Cyrena. "Rose Macaulay's And No Man's Wit: The Forgotten Spanish Civil War Novel." Hecate 37.1 (2011): 56-69.
McKay, Belinda. "Writing from the Hinterland: Eleanor Dark's Queensland Years." Queensland Review 8.2 (2001): 21-28.
Modjeska, Drusilla. Introduction. Dark, The Little Company, ix-xxi.
O'Reilly, Helen. "'Dazzling' Dark--Lantana Lane." Southerly 72.1 (2012): 71-120.
Pensky, Max. "Cosmopolitan Memory." Routledge Handbook of Cosmopolitatiism Studies. Ed. Gerard Delanty. Abingdon: Routledge, 2012. 254-66.
Saunders, Ian. "On Appropriation: Two Novels of Dark and Barnard Eldershaw." Australian Literary Studies 20.4 (2002): 287-300.
Scott, Bonnie Kime. "First Drafts for Transnational Women's Writing: A Revisiting of the Modernisms of Woolf, West, Fauset and Dark." Hecate 35.1&2 (2009): 10-28.
Spender, Dale. Writing a New World: Two Centuries of Australian Women Writers. London: Pandora, 1988.
Walkowitz, Rebecca L. Cosmopolitan Style: Modernism Beyond the Nation. New York: Columbia UP, 2006.
(1) For more on Dark's modernist techniques, see Brooks, "Waterway" 11; Carson, 'A Girl's Guide' 180; Ferrier, As Good as a Yarn 8; Lang, n.p.
(2) Although the community is shown to be vital in The Little Company, in Dark's own life it became complicated: the relationship between Dark and Marjorie Barnard was damaged by Barnard's perception that The Little Company was too close to her own novel, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1944; 1947). In 1945, she wrote to Dark that "in The Little Company and To-morrow we were both tearing at the same knot with different fingers, both using that most difficult creation, another writer, as our means, our sounding board. I don't know if you have this skins off feeling too" (Ferrier, As Good as a Yarn 130; see also 13). For extensive discussion of the similarities between the two novels, see Saunders.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||May 1, 2015|
|Next Article:||"A Meaningful Freedom": Women, Work and the Promise of Modernity in a Reading of the Letters of Raden Adjeng Kartini (Java) alongside Miles...|