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Posts Tagged ‘Shell Shock’

Mrs. DallowayAs an adolescent, Patrick Stewart was my hero because of his role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I can go on for paragraphs about it, but it would be nothing you haven’t read before from other boys who grew up as science fiction enthusiasts.

My point for bringing up Stewart is his moving response to a woman’s question about domestic violence at a convention recently. Watch it here: 

There are so many things to deconstruct and to focus on in this video, but what I found the most moving was the connection Stewart made to his father’s violence being connected to the shell shock he experienced as the result of World War II. Stewart goes on to discuss how men were supposed to just suck it up and be tough.

My mind immediately snapped to Septimus Warren Smith and how he changed upon coming home from World War I.

When I teach Mrs. Dalloway, which I have had the pleasure to do twice, sometimes my students have a hard time connecting to Septimus’ plight in the novel. They relate to Clarissa or Sally or sometimes both. Or the occasional dissenter finds neither particularly pleasurable, but many find difficulty with Septimus. They understand shell shock is like what we call post traumatic stress disorder, but many students choose not to focus their discussions, papers or research on Septimus. The second time I taught Mrs. Dalloway, this became very noticeable.

In the future, I am going to show them this video of Stewart talking about his own father. I think there is a real teachable moment there to make the connections better if they consider what he is saying in relation to what happens to Septimus in the novel or in their own lives.

Also, it is a means for bringing the novel into a modern context, which is an important part of my pedagogy. I think it is worth investigating.

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Shell Shock and Modernist ImaginationShell Shock and the Modernist Imagination: The Death Drive in Post-World War I British Fiction by Wyatt Bonikowski is just out from Ashgate Press.

It includes a chapter on Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway (1925) titled “`death was an attempt to communicate’: Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.” Bonikowski, assistant profess or English at Suffolk University in Boston, presented part of the chapter at a 2008 MLA panel sponsored by the International Virginia Woolf Society.

The book looks at case histories of shell shock, along with Modernist novels by Ford Madox Ford, Rebecca West, and Woolf, to show how the figure of the shell-shocked soldier and the symptoms of war trauma were transformed by the literary imagination.

Bonikowski argues that the authors in his study broaden our understanding of the traumatic effects of war and explore the idea that there may be a connection between the trauma of war and the trauma of sexuality. All three novels are structured around the relationship between a soldier returning from and a woman who awaits him. However, according to Bonikowski’s argument, the novels do not offer the possibility of a healing effect from the reunion.

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