Jennifer Orth-Veillon, PhD - Blog Curator
Jennifer Orth-veillon has generously agreed to shepherd and curate this fascinating perspective on WW1, with its many echoes that still ring through literature, art, film and theater.
The U.S. World War One Centennial Commission thanks Dr. Orth-Veillon for her contribution of time, effort, heart and soul in bringing together an impressive community of talent to explore WWI’s Influence on contemporary writing and scholarship.
About the Curator
Jennifer A. Orth-Veillon, who holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Emory University, curates the WWrite blog from the perspective of a writer, scholar, teacher, and French-English translator specializing in the literature of war and the experience of the American veteran. She has led writing workshops for veterans on university campuses and has taught over twenty courses on different modes and mediums for war veteran memoirs. For two summers she served as a teaching assistant to Dr. Mark Facknitz's James Madison University's summer abroad program on the Great War and modern memory, which took place at various WWI memorial sites in France, Belgium, and England. In her writing and research, she seeks to understand the complexity of war through its shifting place in cultural memory and history.
The WWRite Blog
Exploring WWI’s Influence on
Contemporary Writing and Scholarship.
Enter Here was the world's worst wound.
Siegfried Sassoon, from "Passing the New Menin Gate"
And here with pride
'Their name liveth for evermore' the Gateway claims.
Was ever an immolation so belied
As these intolerably nameless names?
Well might the Dead who struggled in the slime
Rise and deride this sepulchre of crime.
And as I sat busy thinking,
E.P. Peters, from "The Right Direction"
How to protect the stripes,
I saw my black brother drinking
From the cup of disenfranchised rights
I saw sons of honest toil,
Robbed of life and protection.
Yet they are answering Democracy's call
And striving in the right direction.
Not with her ruined silver spires,
Edith Wharton, from "Belgium"
Not with her cities shamed and rent,
Perish the imperishable fires
That shape the homestead from the tent.
"There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity.
Ernest Hemingway, from Farewell to Arms
Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene."
About This Blog
“The world’s worst wound,” “slime,” “obscene,” “imperishable fires,” “disenfranchised rights”—all are terms WWI writers used to talk about one of modern history’s most devastating conflicts. In today’s world of 24-hour media streams, terms like these convey unsurprising descriptions for ubiquitous mass violence. However, by writing about the less-heroic aspects of war, Sassoon, Hemingway, Wharton, and E.P. Peters did something revolutionary. Prior to WWI, acceptable narratives communicated a sense of patriotism, triumph, and noble sacrifice. The strong soldier fought bravely and didn’t complain. The weak soldier was a coward and a criminal. While patriotism, triumph, and heroic sacrifice are certainly important aspects of the combat experience, they do not paint a complete portrait of the long-lasting effects of war on soldiers, on families, and on the community. It could be said that WWI writing, for the first time in history, was responsible for exposing the severity, variety, and complexity of war wounds to the public.
Why WWI? It inevitably had to do with the unprecedented elements this war introduced to an unsuspecting world—the unbreakable nationalistic alliances formed by powerful empires, the misery of inch-by-inch trench warfare, masses of soldiers suffering deep psychological damage (“shell shock”), new weapon technology that disfigured the human body beyond recognition and razed entire cities in seconds, entire populations wiped out not only by war, but also by the Spanish flu epidemic that swept the continents. In combat, Russia, France, the British Empire, Germany, and Austria lost close to a million soldiers each and their wounded nearly doubled that number. America officially entered only in 1917 but lost around 53,000 soldiers in combat during just seven months in 1918. The Vietnam War serves as an interesting point of comparison—this conflict lasted fourteen years and the combat dead totaled around 47,000. In addition, WWI-era’s Spanish flu epidemic cost Americans another lost 63,000 lives by Armistice.
Still, what emerged immediately from this destruction’s aftermath was a dominant public narrative of triumph and commemoration. Many of the WWI literary works considered today as classics offered a counter-narrative. Some were even censured. Voices of African-American soldiers and women fell into complete silence.
In America, WWI became overshadowed by WWII and Vietnam, further diluting the voices of these poets, novelists, essayists, and scholars who unknowingly set a precedent for all successive war writers—they opened the space for readers and writers alike to explore the complexity both of war’s physical and mental horrors and of its historical significance. From the vast scenes on the battlefield, we were finally able get into the mind and body of individuals soldiers, doctors, nurses, civilians, and families.
The purpose of this blog is to expand and modernize this complex space of memory by featuring today’s writers and scholars inspired by writing or events of WWI. As such contributions are such an invaluable learning resource, the blog also calls for students and teachers to participate by reading and responding to posts. Finally, as we approach the 100th anniversary of Armistice of the war that didn’t end all wars, WWrite welcomes posts from the public—anyone inspired to share their story about WWI and writing. If you would like to submit an article or story, select "I would like to contribute a story" in the menu on the left and contact us with your thought, or idea. We will get back to you about it.