Gendered Readings of the First World War: A European Overview

Book review:

Hämmerle, Christa, Oswald Überegger, and Birgitta Bader Zaar, eds. Gender and the First World War. Hampshire, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 265 pages. ISBN 978-1-137-30219-9. Hb. $100.

“What stood in the Post Office / With Pearse and Connolly?”: Heroism, Timeliness, and Timelessness in Some of Yeats’s Plays

The essay discusses a frequently recurring type of hero found in William Butler Yeats’s plays, including the last one, The Death of Cuchulain (1939). This hero-figure occurs quite early in Yeats’s oeuvre: The Green Helmet (1910), for example, already focuses on the definition of hero and heroism and different versions of this hero type also occur in other plays, such as The King’s Threshold (1904) and The Player Queen (1922). In dramas, where this motif plays an important role, his source is in part Nietzsche’s tragic hero completed with other features. As early as The Green Helmet, Yeats defines what makes a hero: apart from bravery, also gaiety, a kind of ecstasy is needed. Cuchulain’s goal to become the hero, smiling even in the shadow of death, is achieved in Yeats’s last play, and the Cuchulain-image emerging from the Anima Mundi binds past and present. (EB)

From Heroic Soldiers to Geometric Forms and Suffering Wrecks: The Transformation of the Male Body in the Art of World War I

Mechanized and trench warfare, which dominated World War I representations and made millions of soldiers suffer, challenged the rigid gender ideals and hierarchies in the Europe of the time. As the destruction of the traditional manly ideal ran parallel with the destruction of male bodies in the war, the hegemony of traditional representational modes of soldiers was also gradually replaced by more innovative strategies both in poetry and painting. The essay analyzes such works of art with a focus on the crisis of masculinity, manifested quite tangibly in new strategies and representations of visual art. Similarly to soldiers’ written reminiscences, works of visual art depict a sense of emasculation, powerlessness, physical and mental breakdown, testifying that the masculine ideal, which was in large part defined by the chivalric heroic tradition, became anachronistic and unattainable. The figure of the physically or mentally disabled, disempowered soldier as a new phenomenon gained a central position during and after World War I, questioning the validity of the old patriarchal order. Previously marginalized masculinities, for example, the masculinity of homosexual men, and traits previously associated exclusively with femininity such as sensitivity, found their way to open up the borders and shape the Modernist discourse of European masculinity, changing it once and for all. (EEB)