"'I’m Not Sick,’ I Said. ‘I’m Wounded’": Disrupting Wounded Masculinity Through the Lyrical Spaces of War

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"Novels, one would have thought, would have been devoted to influenza."1 Modernist novels, one would add, in particular. In her essay "On Being Ill" (1926), Virginia Woolf asks why, given "how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings," it "has not taken its place [...] among the prime themes of literature."2 The influenza pandemic affected one-fifth of the world's population, killing within months an estimated fifty to one hundred million, whereas the four years of the war had killed fewer, an estimated sixteen million.3 Despite the comparative scope and severity of this illness, modernist scholars have largely focused on World War I as the defining historical trauma to which literature responds in the early twentieth century. The pandemic, which swept the globe in the final year of the war—abetted by the movement of populations—is heavily intertwined with the experience of the war. Illness complicated the senseless devastation and total immediacy of this first machine-age war. Rather than attempting to recuperate influenza narratives explicitly, this essay seeks to use illness, as distinct from wounds, as a framework for understanding the affective network surrounding bodily injury during World War I. The pandemic's influence—as well as the crisis of medical epistemology it represents and brings to a head—cannot in this sense be separated from considerations of the traumas of the war, despite its lack of casual influence. Addressing this gap, this essay locates the missing affective responses to widespread illness within modernist World War I literature.

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