'Pitied but distrusted' : discourses surrounding British widows of the First World War
This thesis employs critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1995) to unpick the discourses surrounding British widows of men who died as a result of the First World War. The war widows’ pension scheme, as implemented under the Royal Warrant of 1916, was the first (financially) non-contributory pension, and the first specifically directed towards women in Britain. Implemented against a backdrop of the first mass, industrialised war of the modern era, the discourses and ideologies underpinning it are firmly rooted in those of the previous century. At a time when the State was intervening in the life of its citizens in more extensive way than at any previous time, it also sought to distance itself from these citizens through the use of an impersonal style of communication. This was used to present war widows’ pension legislation that was framed around discourses of morality and nationalism that masks underlying parsimony and patriarchy. This thesis draws on a wide range of resources such as charitable records, media sources and Hansard reports, concentrating on a selection of 200 individual case files relating to claims for a war widow’s pension, held in the National Archive, Kew. Two case files are analysed in detail using discourse-historical analysis (Wodak, 2001) as a framework for a linguistic analysis. The two case files chosen represent widows whose experiences are typical of those found in the corpus. One widow is representative of the sizeable group of women who had their pensions stopped because of ‘improper’ behaviour, the correspondence in her file revealing how discourses of morality, social welfare and national identity are employed interdiscursively to deny her State funds. The second case study is more diachronic, showing how one widow, in common with thousands of others, was denied a pension on grounds on ineligibility. She employs discourses of social welfare and nationalism to support her claim over a period of nearly 40 years. Over the course of the 20th century, the relationship between the State and the public altered, and this case file offers an opportunity to explore this in some detail.