World War I from Local Perspectives: History, Literature and Visual Arts

Austria, Britain, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Poland and the United States

by Mirosława Buchholtz (Volume editor) Grzegorz Koneczniak (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection 211 Pages
Series: Dis/Continuities, Volume 12


The volume explores the ways in which the Great War has been remembered and imaged in various local accounts. It provides careful readings of a wide range of sources: letters exchanged by Henry James and Burgess Noakes, spoken accounts of the Old Believers of the Russian Orthodox Church, historical documents concerning Eastern Europe and the United States, travel writings by Fritz Wertheimer, Hermann Struck, and Herbert Eulenberg, literary texts by Lord Dunsany, Miroslav Krleža, and Gustav Meyrink, theater performances in Italy and Ireland and visual arts: masks for facially disfigured soldiers made by Francis Derwent Wood and Anna Coleman Ladd.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction and Chronology. Dramatis Personae
  • Henry James and Burgess Noakes: The Evolution of an Employer/Servant Relationship during World War I
  • Lord Dunsany’s War Tales: Realism and Fantasy
  • Poems from the Home Front: Marian Allen and Vera Brittain
  • History Today: Ireland and the Great War
  • The Abbey Theatre in the Context of the Great War and Its Centenary: The Past and the Present
  • Echoes of the Great War in Italian Literature and Theatre of the First World War and the Interwar Period
  • Eccentric Contemporaneity: Gustav Meyrink’s Views on the Great War
  • Jews and Poles in the German-Occupied East: Two Scenes from the First World War
  • American Zionism in the World War I Years: Between Academic Discourse and Pragmatic Approach
  • Recollections of the First World War by the Old Believers Living in Poland
  • Fates of the Suppressed: Social Criticism against the Background of the First World War in Miroslav Krleža’s The Croatian God Mars
  • Disfigurement and Defacement in (Post)World-War-I Art: Francis Derwent Wood, Anna Coleman Ladd, Hannah Höch, and Kader Attia
  • Notes on Contributors

Mirosława Buchholtz and Grzegorz Koneczniak
Nicolaus Copernicus University, Toruń, Poland

Introduction and Chronology. Dramatis Personae


As the centenary of the hitherto largely forgotten Great War was approaching in the second decade of the third millennium, shelves in bookstores in various countries of the Western hemisphere began to fill with new editions of old publications: historical accounts, memoirs, and novels. There arose, however, alongside a need not only for recollecting, but also for rethinking of that first methodical large-scale slaughter in the light (or rather haze) of later experiences of humanity on its way to dehumanization: World War Two, the Cold War, many local wars with global repercussions, and the impending (as we are told nowadays) Cyber War.

Among the many books on the Great War published yearly in Europe and North America, this one is in many ways exceptional. The authors who have contributed to our volume chose in their research the roads less traveled or never taken before. They are hence able to reveal in their essays aspects of war that have hitherto gone unnoticed. First of all, we are not – for the most part – taking our readers to the battlefields of the Great War. Instead we show the ways in which the Great War has been remembered and imaged in various local accounts, how it impacted individual lives and careers. Some of the settings mentioned in the following pages are nooks in terms of their geographical and historical significance. Some of the people who come to the foreground in our volume have not yet been counted among the canon of war and postwar literature or art. In other words, we redirect the reader’s gaze from the center to the periphery.

Secondly, several of our authors consider the first global conflict from the perspective of class, gender, and ethnicity, thus indirectly raising the question of whether the war may be viewed as a social equalizer. We show that veterans of the Great War included both servants (e.g. Burgess Noakes) and aristocrats (e.g. Lord Dunsany). We throw light on women on the Home Front, who wrote poems (e.g. Marian Allen and Vera Brittain) and made masks for facially disfigured soldiers (e.g. Kathleen Scott and Anna Coleman Ladd). Their work complemented the work of men: soldiers and doctors. We prove that military events of the global scale gave new impetus to ethnic relations in various parts of the world: among ← 9 | 10 → Jews, Poles, Germans, and Russians in Central and Eastern Europe, between Germans and Italians, between the English and the Irish, and further West, across the Atlantic Ocean – between Jews and Americans in the United States. In some cases the categories of ethnicity coincided with other criteria of differentiation: this volume brings a story of Croatian peasants caught as if in a vise between the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on one hand, and the Ottoman Empire, on the other, and another story of the Old Believers, Russian religious dissenters, who were relocated from Poland to Russia during the First World War. It is doubtful that the Great War eradicated social difference, but it certainly exposed the arbitrariness of distinctions and thus perhaps brought humanity at least one step further towards democracy.

Thirdly, the points of reference, or primary sources, used in the following essays and articles vary considerably both in their form and impact. They range from letters (exchanged by Henry James and Burgess Noakes) and spoken accounts of the Old Believers to historical documents (concerning Eastern Europe and the United States) to travel writing (Fritz Wertheimer, Hermann Struck, and Herbert Eulenberg) to literary texts (Lord Dunsany, Miroslav Krleža, and Gustav Meyrink) to theater performances (in Ireland and Italy) and to visual arts (artworks by mask-makers, Surrealists, and postcolonial artists). Although written by different authors, the articles and essays in this volume in many ways “speak” to one another, revealing various facets of complex class, gender, ethnic, religious, and political relations during the Great War. Two different authors, independently of each other, address the history of the Zionist movement in Europe and in the United States. The Anglo-Irish fantasist Lord Dunsany “meets” the Austrian fantasist Gustav Meyrink. Popular, in some cases amateur, poetry resounds in several languages. In some cases, the results presented in this volume required many years of research in archives and of arduous field studies. All of them testify to the particular authors’ scholarly passions for history, culture, literature, language, theatre, and visual arts in a variety of geographical and cultural areas of American, English, Irish, Italian, Jewish, German, Russian, Polish, and Croatian studies.

And finally, a disclaimer: this is not a book about trauma, whose pedestrian understanding in relation to the Great War goes without saying and whose enlightened conceptualization belongs to the field of psychiatrists’ expertise. Hypocritical tear-shedding is not the domain of the authors who contributed to our volume and seek instead to disentangle the many threads of the frayed tapestry brought to global attention thanks to the human fascination with numbers, and especially with the figure 100. ← 10 | 11 →

The volume begins with an article by Katie Sommer, who explores Henry James’s letters to and from his valet, Burgess Noakes, who briefly left James’s employment to serve at the front during World War I.1 She argues that the change to James’s household, to Noakes, and to James himself are a microcosm of what had happened in homes across England that employed domestic servants at the beginning of the twentieth century. In her article, Sommer brings together eleven letters exchanged between James and Noakes during World War I and fleshes out the nuances of a unique relationship, significant in the last months of James’s life. She shows how James’s life was turned upside down during the tumultuous first year of the Great War.

Max Duperray, the first Director of Laboratoire d’Études et de Recherche sur le Monde Anglophone at Aix-Marseille Université in France and an expert on fantasy, studies in his article the less well-known war tales of Lord Dunsany, an Anglo-Irish aristocrat, veteran of the First World War, and author. Duperray offers an in-depth comparative analysis of a wide range of both published and unpublished texts (including stories, testimonies, and notes) in which Dunsany recounts his war experience, alongside his famous tales of fantasy. Focusing on the poetic and the gothic elements of the fantasist’s writing, Duperray proves that Dunsany’s literary work is all of a piece. His forgotten war involvement and its written evidence allow his readers to discover new aspects and new dimensions of that part of his literary output for which he is best known.

In contrast to the mainstream literary and critical tendency of presenting the Great War as experienced by male soldiers during their service at the Western Front, Magda Maksymowicz focuses on the so-called Home Front: the individual battles fought by women who had lost their fiancés, husbands, and sons during the war. In a close reading of four poems: “The Raiders” and “The Wind on the Downs” by Marian Allen and “To My Brother” and “Perhaps” by Vera Brittain, Maksymowicz shows examples of intensely experienced tragedy of war far from the actual battlefields.

Grzegorz Koneczniak’s contribution consists of two essays. In the first – an introductory and historical one – he follows the framework of treating Canada’s involvement in the First World War in two 2014 issues of Canadian Historical Review (March and September), and studies selected historical accounts of Ireland’s participation in the global conflict. The texts he analyses come from History ← 11 | 12 → Today, which is a popular, post-World-War-Two established (1951), history journal which targets the general public. Koneczniak argues that, notwithstanding the complexity of the colonial and postcolonial relations between Ireland and Great Britain, the texts he has selected are beyond the ideological discursive or counter-discursive implications. The essay is meant to provide a historical background which can be used when analyzing Irish literature in the context of World War I or its remembrance. It is a second attempt at discussing thematic connectedness of articles within History Today (after Leo Hollis, who presents the figure of Sir Christopher Wren through Harold F. Hutchison’s text formerly published in the magazine).

In the second essay, Koneczniak discusses the activities of the Abbey Theatre as a backdrop of World War I – during the conflict and immediately after the armistice – and in the context of the current Great War centenary commemoration. The article is thus an exploration – brought up to date – of selected themes addressed in Culture War: Conflict, Commemoration and the Contemporary Abbey Theatre (2011), a book by Holly Maples. Koneczniak argues that the current commemoration of the Great War at the Abbey Theatre is the full-scale and multifaceted response to the war and, at the same time, it offers the contrast to the absence of and reluctance to World War I performances during the war and in the inter-war period.

Cezary Bronowski outlines the image of the Great War in selected works – created during the war and in the interwar period – by such Italian writers, playwrights and poets as Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Luigi Pirandello, Curzio Malaparte, Emilio Lussu, Giuseppe Antonio Borgese, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Clemente Rebora and Giuseppe Ungaretti. The article consists of two parts: the first one offers a contextual analysis of the Italian avant-garde futurist movement in the pre-war period and at the beginning of the Great War. The second, extensive and analytical, part is a critical discussion of the First World War as exposed in such works as Berecche e la guerra by Pirandello, Un anno sull’altipiano by Lussu, La rivolta dei santi maledetti by Malaparte and Viva Caporetto! by Malaparte. Bronowski also analyzes selected works which were created in the interwar period and were an expression of insightful “echoes” of the global conflict.

Tomasz Waszak focuses on Gustav Meyrink’s approach to the Great War in selected short stories from his 1916 volume entitled Bats (“The Storming of Sarajevo,” “Cricket Magic,” “The Four Moon Brethren,” and “How Dr Job Paupersum Gave His Daughter Red Roses”) and in his second novel The Green Face. Meyrink’s unconventional presentation of the origin of war and historical events of that time mirrors his occultist ideology. Despite grotesque deformation, the narratives prove ← 12 | 13 → to be an adequate representation of the civilians’ attitudes to the prolonged military action. Thus it is only the selection of artistic means that is in fact eccentric in Meyrink’s otherwise most accurate diagnosis of his times.

Iwona Kotelnicka-Grzybowska takes her readers on a trip to the German-occupied Eastern Europe during the First World War. Relying on various historical documents, both published and unpublished, she focuses on two accounts by German travelers and propagandist, whose attitude to the conquered people exemplifies a whole range of possible postcolonial relations. Whereas Fritz Wertheimer, who was affiliated with the army command, represented the political interest in global questions and solutions and – serving propagandistic purposes – focused on human types, the travel-companions and collaborators Hermann Struck (artist) and Herbert Eulenberg (writer) created far more sympathetic and individualized images of people and places of the Upper-East region. In her analysis, Kotelnicka-Grzybowska takes into account many pressures – political and ethnic – that inflected the images drawn (metaphorically and literally speaking) – by German visitors. The involvement of Struck and Eulenberg in the Zionist movement in Europe adds a new dimension to their artistic mission.

Zionist movement during the First World War is the main subject of the following article, in which Bożenna Chylińska tells a fascinating story of Jewish communities on both sides of the Atlantic. She traces the Americanization of the Zionist movement during the war and the rise of Jewish-American community to the position of power at the backdrop of the involvement of the United States in the first global conflict. She argues that political changes during and after the First World War affected the Zionist movement, allowing it to progress from “the stage of academic discourse and propaganda to the stage of the pragmatic response to the actual problems and hardships of Diaspora Jews.” As a result of the First World War, there arose “both the necessity and the possibility for uniting all American Zionists into one organization.” Louis Dembitz Brandeis, a prominent American lawyer and judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, became its actual leader for a relatively short period of time and its guiding spirit ever since.

Dorota Paśko-Koneczniak shares with the reader some of the results of an ongoing project that began in 1999 of recording, transcribing, and collecting authentic spoken accounts of Old Believers, members of an ethnic and religious social group, whose largest settlement in Poland can be found in the region around Suwałki and Augustów in the northeast of today’s Poland. Their ancestors, though born in Russia, separated from the Russian Orthodox Church after faith reforms introduced by Patriarch Nikon in the seventeenth century. Paśko-Koneczniak discusses her interviewees’ recollections of the impact the First World War had ← 13 | 14 → on the community of Old Believers who live in Poland. It is a story of paradoxical repatriation to Russia, hostilities, and hardships that have been retained in the collective memory of this ethnic and religious minority.

The social and pacifist themes of Miroslav Krleža’s short-story cycle entitled The Croatian God Mars are the subject of the article by Katarzyna Szczerbowska-Prusevicius. Even though Krleža’s literary achievement is comparable with that of Kafka, Musil, Strindberg, or Ibsen, he remains virtually unknown outside of Croatia and the former Yugoslavia. Krleža shows intense interest in a region at the outskirts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but at the same time he adopts the international perspective of a Marxist, who commiserated the double burden of political and social oppression. Krleža draws the portrait of a collective hero: Croatian peasants who were deprived of the right to both individual and ethnic identity. As soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian army, they served the political aims that were contrary to the needs and desires of their own ethnic group.

Facial disfigurement was one of the most horrifying visible signs that the Great War left behind it. Its social and psychological repercussions are still a matter of debate, as are the efforts on the part of physicians and artists to restore the faces of wounded soldiers. Although two sculptors in particular – Francis Derwent Wood and Anna Coleman Ladd – have been praised for their commitment to making masks for the afflicted veterans, the idea of facial masks itself has also come under critique as a propagandistic move to cover up the wrongs, while keeping the personal tragedies unresolved. In her article, Mirosława Buchholtz takes the story of artists facing the dilemma of concealment and revelation beyond the (post)World-War-I mask-making to address also the proto-feminist artistic activity of the forgotten avant-gardist Hannah Höch, and the postcolonial artwork of Kader Attia, both of whom directly or indirectly referred to the experience of war.

The following Chronology2 combines the grand narrative of World War I with local and individual stories (in italics) addressed in the essays and articles of this volume. It is followed by a list of major characters – Dramatis Personae – whose activities and publications are the subject of our discussion. ← 14 | 15 →


The “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck succeeds in unifying Germany under Prussian leadership. The nation develops a common government structure and social policy. Beginning of Kulturkampf in Germany.
Wilhelm I of Prussia is proclaimed Kaiser (Emperor of Germany) at Versailles.
Paris surrenders and France is forced to sign humiliating treaty with Germany. The Treaty of Frankfurt ends the Franco-Prussian War. France becomes a republic.
Napoleon III withdraws French army from Rome, the Pope withdraws into the Vatican, and Rome becomes the capital of the Kingdom of Italy.
Edward Cardwell, Secretary for War, reconstructs the British military system.
The Irish Land Act begins Irish relief legislation.

Three Emperors’ League – an alliance among Wilhelm I of Germany, Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, and Alexander II of Russia – is formed in Berlin. Its opponents include France and the Ottoman Empire.
The rise of Mikhail Bakunin’s anarchist movement.

A financial crisis leaves the Ottoman Empire bankrupt.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (July)
Old Believers during WWI Ireland and WWI WWI history American Zionism
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 211 pp., 13 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Mirosława Buchholtz (Volume editor) Grzegorz Koneczniak (Volume editor)

Mirosława Buchholtz is Professor of American literature and Director of the English Department at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, Poland. Her research interests include American and Canadian literature, postcolonial studies and auto/biography. Grzegorz Koneczniak is Assistant Professor at the English Department of Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, Poland. His main research interests include Irish and Canadian drama, literary theory, and digital publishing.


Title: World War I from Local Perspectives: History, Literature and Visual Arts
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
213 pages