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Temporalizing the Great War: Wartime in Twentieth-Century American and British Literature


This dissertation highlights the importance of time to the “wartime” experience of the First World War. The power of poetry to commemorate and of narrative plot to sequence defines literature’s unique potential to make sense of time beyond the often reductive logic of linearity. In this way, literature disrupts the premise that wartime is a homogenized experience, unavoidable and necessary for peace. My project defines four unique temporalities of WWI—mobilized time, trench time, civilian time, and retrospective time—across a range of literary works composed by American and British poets and novelists. By delineating particular temporalities of the Great War in literature I argue wartime has been a perpetual norm in modern life, characterized by temporal continuities rather than, as is commonly suggested by propaganda or history, temporal containment.

The first chapter, “Trench Time,” examines the commemorative poetry of Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen and the sequencing novels of Erich Remarque and Dalton Trumbo in order to reframe the trenches as a temporality—rather than simply a space—that has endured in cultural memory on a queer horizon. The second chapter, “Mobilized Time,” analyzes how a montage aesthetic enabled John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway to represent the shock of wartime and spectacle of peace that arrested lives and conflated the past, present, and future of their lost generation. Chapter Three, “Civilian Time,” focuses on the temporal margins of the war in order to characterize the experiences of those foreclosed from the benefits of wartime aid and disavowed in remembrance: the precarious women working in wartime through V.A.D. or W.A.A.C. as reflected in Evadne Price’s Not So Quiet and the marginalized men demobilized after the Armistice as reflected in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. In the final chapter, “Retrospective Time,” I read the recurrences of trench time, mobilized time, and civilian time in contemporary works that emphasize the provisionality, textual remains, and excentricity of the past: “Last Post” by Carol Ann Duffy, The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst, the Regeneration Trilogy and Another World by Pat Barker, and The Hours by Michael Cunningham.

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