Sisters and Brothers in Arms: Family, Class, and Gendering in World War I Britain (CXX)

TitleSisters and Brothers in Arms: Family, Class, and Gendering in World War I Britain (CXX)
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication1933
AuthorsWoollacott, Angela
Book TitleGendering War Talk
PublisherPrinceton University Press
CityPrinceton, NJ, USA

Sisters and Brothers in Arms by Angela Woollacott is an essay within the book Gendering War Talk edited by Miariam G. Cooke and Angela Woollacott

Brief excerpt in lieu of abstract: 

This essay examines World War I brother-sister relationships, spe­cifically British women's representations of their relationships with com­batant brothers.The powerful images of male-female relationships dis­torted by World War I, drawn by middle-class women writers in their memoirs and novels, help us to consider the ways in which the war affected the close familial relationships of working-class women. Vera Brittain complained that "like so many women in 1914," she was suffering "from an inferiority complex," and later she lamented that the war had put "a barrier of indescribable experience between men and the women whom they loved." Irene Rathbone described her life and those of her women friends after the war as the hollow, rudderless existence of survi­vors, suggesting that they may as well have died as their men had. De­spite their own active participation in the war effort, for these women writers the guilt, anger, and adoration that their brothers and fiances evoked in their role as warriors subsumed their own novel freedoms, including the partial granting of suffrage in 1918.

Gendering War Talk book description by publisher: 

In a century torn by violent civil uprisings, civilian bombings, and genocides, war has been an immediate experience for both soldiers and civilians, for both women and men. But has this reality changed our long-held images of the roles women and men play in war, or the emotions we attach to violence, or what we think war can accomplish? This provocative collection addresses such questions in exploring male and female experiences of war--from World War I, to Vietnam, to wars in Latin America and the Middle East--and how this experience has been articulated in literature, film and drama, history, psychology, and philosophy. Together these essays reveal a myth of war that has been upheld throughout history and that depends on the exclusion of "the feminine" in order to survive.


The discussions reconsider various existing gender images: Do women really tend to be either pacifists or Patriotic Mothers? Are men essentially aggressive or are they threatened by their lack of aggression? Essays explore how cultural conceptions of gender as well as discursive and iconographic representation reshape the experience and meaning of war. The volume shows war as a terrain in which gender is negotiated. As to whether war produces change for women, some contributors contend that the fluidity of war allows for linguistic and social renegotiations; others find no lasting, positive changes. In an interpretive essay Klaus Theweleit suggests that the only good war is the lost war that is embraced as a lost war.



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