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Title: The sense of touch in First World War literature
Author: Das, S.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2003
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This thesis examines the sense of touch in the experience of the First World War and its relation to literary representation. The literature of the First World War is haunted by the sense of touch: from the horrors of the trench-mud to the "full-nerved still warm" boys of Owen, Sassoon and Nichols, to serving the body in pain that one comes across in the nurses' memoirs. Starting with archival material from the Imperial War Museum - unpublished letters, diaries and journals - I analyse how imaginative literature dwells on moments and processes of tactile contact across genres: trench poetry (Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg), novels (Barbusse, Blunden, Jones) and nursing memoirs by women (Brittain, Bagnold, Borden). The aims of the study are three-fold. First, I examine why the sense of touch is so crucial - both in the context of horror and tenderness - to the experience of the First World War. Second, how did such tactile experience affect the subjectivities of the soldiers and the nurses? Third, why is there such an urgent need within war writings to evolve a literary language around the most intimate and the most elusive of human senses? After three weeks in the Somme, Owen writes, "I have not seen any dead. I have done worse. In the dank air, I have perceived it, and in the darkness, felt". In my thesis, I seek to relate some broad theoretical interests about the relation between touch and human subjectivity to literary questions and historical particularities; I ground my research in close textual analysis of representations of tactile contact in war writings. Section I examines the horrors of the "sucking" trench-mud and its threat to the identity of the soldiers through letters, newspaper accounts and the writings of Sassoon, Rosenberg, Blunden and Jones. Section II explores moments of tactile tenderness between soldiers, and how such moments go beyond the established categories of gender and sexuality. Chapter 3 studies the representation of the dying kiss in touch literature while Chapter 4 concentrates on Wilfred Owen. Section III considers the experience of the women-nurses, and the relation between trauma and witnessing. Chapter 5 examines why the nurses repeatedly dwell on moments of physical contact with the wounded male body while Chapter 6 focuses on three "operating-scenes".
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available