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A canadian response to the iconography of war propaganda in the British Empire: Nellie McClung’s Politeia Pax Feminina

Une réponse canadienne à l’iconographie de la propagande de guerre dans l’Empire britannique : la « Politeia Pax Feminina » de Nellie McClung
Karin Ikas
p. 112-130

Résumé

Comme l’écrivait récemment Margaret Atwood dans Story of a Nation (2001), l’éthique canadienne de considération pour autrui fait aujourd’hui partie de l’identité nationale autant que le respect de la diversité et du multiculturalisme. Il faut ajouter à ce propos le lien que l’on peut établir entre l’impact de la guerre et le rôle de la paix dans le processus actuel de construction d’une identité nationale canadienne. En dépit du fait que le Canada ne soit pas aujourd’hui une nation militaire mais plutôt une nation de soldats de la paix, la guerre, comme c’est le cas pour toute nation, a eu un rôle instrumental dans le processus de construction de la nation. En réalité, « c’est la guerre qui a fait le Canada », comme l’annonçait la page d’accueil du Musée canadien de la guerre, mise en ligne il y a peu. Cependant, « le Canada n’a jamais été un enfant de chœur dans le concert des nations ; il a participé à des guerres et a négocié ses avantages comme tous les autres. Pourtant, s’il faut que les nations projettent une image d’elles-mêmes, il vaut certainement mieux que les Canadiens s’identifient à la moralité incarnée et s’imaginent dans le rôle d’arbitres plutôt que celui de bouchers ou de bellicistes », note pertinemment J. L. Grantstein. En partant de ces observations, le présent article remonte à l’époque du Haut Empire et de la Grande Guerre, que l’on peut considérer comme la pierre angulaire de ces évolutions. En s’appuyant sur le travail de critiques comme J. Turpin, J. Bethke-Elshtain et A. Carter pour définir son cadre théorique, cet article examine la relation contestée entre maternité, paix et guerre, et l’impact de cette relation sur la construction d’une identité nationale et féminine en contexte de guerre. Cette analyse aborde en premier lieu du matériel de propagande, des œuvres d’art et des représentations littéraires de cette période qui semblent singulièrement frappants. Puis, cet article se concentre sur l’œuvre de l’écrivain, militante et critique féministe canadienne, Nellie McClung, et son traitement plutôt controversé de ces questions. McLung était, parmi d’autres, une pacifiste déclarée avant la Grande Guerre, mais devint une fervente partisane de l’engagement canadien pendant la guerre quand son fils se fit enrôler. Après la guerre, finalement plutôt désillusionnée, elle revint à ses idées pacifistes et prôna une politique mondiale féminine autre, désignée comme « Politeia Pax Feminina » ; réponse canadienne à l’iconographie d’une guerre patriarcale et de sa propagande menées dans le contexte de l’Empire britannique. Cette position peut être considérée comme un premier signe du besoin actuel du Canada de se définir dans le rôle d’arbitre mentionné précédemment.

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Texte intégral

1In Womankind Beyond the Stereotypes Nancy Reeves describes the mythologizing of women in wartime as follows:

  • 1  Nancy Reeves, Womankind Beyond the Stereotypes, Chicago: Aldine, 1971, 76.

Women are praised as the peaceful sex and invited to become Golden Star mothers, to offer their sons in sacrifice upon the altars of the Tribal Gods.—And that’s the end of it. They remain far outside the arenas of decision.1

2A poster advertising the Red Cross in the Great War vividly attests to this mythic role ascribed to women during warfare. Additionally, it illustrates how maternity along with the nurturing and peaceful role of women is elevated to the realm of heroism (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 Courtesy of Imperial War Museum
London, no: IWM: VAD

Fig. 1 Courtesy of Imperial War Museum London, no: IWM: VAD
  • 2  Carmel SHUTE, “Heroines and Heroes: Sexual Mythology in Australia 1914-18,” in Joy Damousi and Mar (...)
  • 3  Helen Cooper et al. (Eds.), Arms and the Woman: War, Gender and Literary Representation, Chapel Hi (...)

3Leading on from this we can also assess that as Carmel Shute rightfully notes in “Heroines and heroes: Sexual mythology in Australia 1914-18,” with the outbreak of this “imperialist war the womanhood of Australia, and indeed the womanhood of the entire Western civilisation, were plunged into the age-old mythic role of saintly and peace-loving mothers.”2 Now, part of this can be traced back to the traditional belief that “[...] war cultures must invest in an image of a peace worth fighting for, a peace which is imagined through images of an idealized and nostalgic pre-war Golden Age”3 and women are generally acknowledged as a major pillar of that idealized and romanticized imagery. The post-war poem “A Dream in Luxembourg” (1930) by the British novelist and poet Richard Aldington stands as a striking and well-known literary example:

[…] Must fair women die?
I’ll not believe it, Death is masculine.
Death, like a war-lord, wants more man-power,
And, by God, he gets it, I’ve seen him get it.
How many yellow dead men have I seen?
[…] Reported how many casualties?
But one gets used to it, quite used to it,
And it seems nothing for men to die,
Nothing for one to die oneself.
But for a fair woman to die,
And that a woman one loves or has loved—
No, it is incredible, they don’t die […].

  • 4  Cf. Betty Reardon, Women and Peace, Albany: SUNY Press, 1993; Jean Bethke-Elshtain, Women and War,(...)

4This connects closely to similar research findings of April Carter, Elise Boulding, Betty Reardon, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Susan R. Grayzel and other feminist critics.4 They further concede that women’s association with peace and maternal imagery is not only an ancient theme but also a very modern one that has dominated public discourse until the 21st century. As a matter of fact, the modern version of the well-known creed of “Pax Materna,” that is mother’s peace, has its origin in the United States. It was created during the Vietnam War by a group of women who called themselves “Another Mother for Peace” and sent a Mothers’ Day card to members of the United States Congress stating:

  • 5  Harriet Hyman Alonso, Peace as a Women’s Issue, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 1993, 218.

For my Mothers’ Day gift this year
I don’t want candy or flowers
I want an end to killing.
We who have given life
Must be dedicated to preserving it.
Please, talk peace!5

  • 6  Cf. Sara Ruddick, Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politics of Peace, London: Women’s Press, 1990.

5Put simply, any case being made for war and also for peace still goes along with a re-evocation of traditional gender imagery. Moreover, to this day mothers are especially associated with pacifism and negotiating conflicts in times of war.6 Jennifer Turpin’s critical anthology provides some interesting case studies from various wars and nations that support this argument. As she aptly points out:

  • 7  Jennifer Turpin, op. cit., 11.

Governments attempt to educate women as to what constitutes a ‘good mother’ during wartime; their propaganda strategies are remarkably similar, drawing on representations of the good (patriotic) mother as one who is willing to sacrifice her sons to war.7

  • 8 Idem.
  • 9  For an illuminating account of this issue see, in particular, Sue Bethke-Elshtain’s insightful stu (...)
  • 10  Sue Bethke-Elshtain, op. cit., XIII.

6Needless to say, not all women content themselves with the role of “sending, supporting, and reproducing men”8 as it has been engendered by patriotic war propaganda merging motherhood, nationalism, and militarism. Similarly, not all women are inherently peaceful or peace-mongers as various examples of women warriors in different historical, cultural, and geopolitical contexts reveal.9 Subsequently, women’s role in the war context needs to be discussed beyond the scope of essentialist gender roles and “the traditional dichotomy whereby women are seen as the life givers, men as the life takers”10 as Sue Bethke-Elshtain rightly argues in Women and War.

7Particularly insightful here is an analysis of women’s changing roles in the High Empire Period (1890-1920). Dominated by the Great War as the first war to be total in scope, but also by women’s struggle for suffrage and independence, this period is generally acknowledged as a moment of major breakthrough for women’s emancipation.

8Focusing on this time span here I will particularly look at the contested relationship between motherhood, peace and war as displayed in various propaganda material—such as posters and magazines—as well as in literary works from Australia, England and Canada during this period. While articular attention will be given to the Canadian feminist writer Nellie McClung’s novel The Next of Kin (1917), some renowned literary works by men and non-literary texts such as pamphlets, posters and newspaper advertisements, in an age generally dominated by the press and print media, will also be considered.

9I am especially interested in the ways in which motherhood and the demand for an independent female subjectivity intertwine with the experience of war and warfare of women on the home-front at the beginning of the 20th century. Some of the central questions to be pursued here are: How are notions of nationalism, motherhood, pacifism and war displayed in the documentary, propagandistic and literary works analysed in this paper? Is the war considered to be a catalytic moment for women to redefine gender categories and construct femininity beyond the traditional notions of motherhood in times of conflict and war?

Contested Gender Roles in the High British Empire and the Impact of the Great War

  • 11  Elleke Boehmer, Colonial & Postcolonial Literature, Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1995, 2-3.
  • 12 Cf. Nigel Fountain, Women at War, London: Michael O’Mara Books, 2002.

10The whole time span between the 1890s and 1920s, the so-called High Empire period to apply Elleke Boehmer’s respective terminology,11 is generally acknowledged as a turning-point for women in history; yet, it also figures as a historical and cultural paradox for most of them.12 While this period saw women’s foremost international campaigns to gain suffrage and equal rights, it was also dominated by two major international wars, the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa and the First World War, which also decisively impeded women’s thrust for independence and equality. What is more, however, is that the very notion of the home-front was an invention of the First World War as well and thus for the first time, “home” and “domestic” became adjectives that modified the military term “front.”

  • 13  Trudi Tate et al., “Introduction“, in Trudi Tate et al. (Eds.), Women’s Fiction and The Great War,(...)

11Even though suffrage had not yet been granted to women, now, for the first time they were asked to act as independent legal citizens. Elaborating on this issue, Trudi Tate and Suzanne Raitt have convincingly illustrated that in the heyday of women’s agitation to win the vote the “war only intensified the pressure on women to inhabit a cultural, social, and sexual paradox.”13 In Signs Sandra Gilbert even goes so far as to identify the Great War as a form of sex warfare, or as she puts it in her article “Soldier’s Heart: Literary Men, Literary Women, and the Great War”:

  • 14  Sandra Gilbert, “Soldier’s Heart: Literary Men, Literary Women, and the Great War”, Signs 8/3, 198 (...)

[The Great War is] a war between the front and the home-front [and thus] [...] a climatic episode in a battle of sexes.14

12By and large, we can doubtless adopt the view of Susan R. Grayzel who aptly summarizes the deep impact of the Great War period on women as follows:

  • 15  Susan R. Grayzel, Women and the First World War, London: Longman, 2002, 5.

[…] the First World War looms as a historical conundrum. On the one hand, women in many participant nations gained basic voting rights in its immediate aftermath that they had never possessed before. On the other hand, their overall economic and social status showed few, if any, notable transformations.15

13Not too surprisingly, these traditional notions are particularly visible in propaganda material of the time as the following striking example from the Imperial War Museum in London illustrates (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 Courtesy of Imperial War Museum, London,
no: IWM: ART 5194

Fig. 2 Courtesy of Imperial War Museum, London, no: IWM: ART 5194

14The image above is a painting reproduced as a poster in 1916 and it testifies to the fact that various nations participating in the Great War depicted women as saintly mothers, nurturers and protectors. It is precisely due to this traditional role that women function as the pillar within the war re-constructed family model where the father/husband is a wounded soldier and the child an intimidated youngster, both desperate for the central maternal figure’s protection, comfort and help. As has been observed before, all forms of media available at the time such as books, photos, films, postcards, posters and poems were used extensively by all warring parties to influence or rather shape the viewer’s and reader’s war attitude in various places all over the Empire.

  • 16  In New Zealand women were granted suffrage in 1893 and in Australia in 1902.

15In Australia, the only country in the British Empire besides New Zealand where women had gained the vote at that time, 16 we see another interesting and quite contradictory evocation of traditional gender imagery, in particular maternity, to support but also to erode political war propaganda. While the “mother of war” on British war posters appeals to men’s notion of duty with slogans such as “Go! It’s your duty Lad. Join to-Day” (IWM: PST 6540) or “Women of Britain Say—Go” (IWM, British propaganda poster by E. Kealy), Australian and New Zealand women had the chance to vote “yes” or “no” in the conscription poll. Needless to say, this stimulated a further provocative debate and led to contradictory statements as to the role of mothers within the nation at war.

16Very insightful here are the following posters from the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne which were directed at women preparing to vote in a referendum as to whether Australia should introduce conscription in the Great War (Fig. 3 and Fig. 4).

  • 17 As reproduced in Bruce Scates and Raelene Frances, Women and the Great War, Cambridge: Cambridge UP (...)

Fig. 3 17

Fig. 3 17
  • 18 Ibid., 89.

Fig. 4 18

Fig. 4 18
  • 19  Cf. Carmel Shute, “Heroines and Heroes: Sexual Mythology in Australia 1914-18” and Joy Damousi, “S (...)

17Obviously, the force of this wartime mythology was such that the possession of the vote for women had also imposed a new responsibility upon them in that they were asked to “defend and justify that vote by good performance” (Brisbane Courier, 1 October 1918), that is according to the demands of the national war effort. In general, then, as Carmel Shute rightfully notes in her influential article “Heroes and heroines,” the conscription debate went along with a reassertion of the traditional gender dichotomy as both sides, the patriotic war supporters as well as the war-resisters, enmeshed women as mothers in their respective propaganda.19 Some accused women of forgetting the soldiers at the front altogether. Others stereotyped them as naïve tokenized helpmates of the state, or rather just ignorant women who merely worshipped heroism.

18The following illustration is another poster from the conscription debate that clearly indicates how female ignorance and evil were associated with maternal imagery to put the blame on women for the tragic loss of male lives in the war. The very title of this respective, multi-layered anti-conscription poster is revealing (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5 Courtesy of Fryers Library, University
of Queensland, Brisbane (Australia).

Fig. 5 Courtesy of Fryers Library, University of Queensland, Brisbane (Australia).

Maternal Imagery in Traditional War Writing

  • 20  For a closer analysis of this aspect, see among others p. Quinn et al. (Eds.), The Literature of t (...)

19In the male-dominated Great War literature, renowned writers like May O’Rouke and Siegfried Sassoon used such images to hold women liable for the state of war as well as for war atrocities.20 Sassoon’s poem “Glory of Women” sets out to express these feelings as follows:

“Glory of Women”
You love us when we’re heroes, home on leave,
Or wounded in a mentionable place.
You worship decorations; you believe
That chivalry redeems the war’s disgrace.
You make us shells. You listen with delight,
By tales of dirt and danger fondly thrilled.
You crown our distant ardors while we fight,
And mourn our laureled memories when we’re killed.
You can’t believe that British troops "retire"
When hell’s last horror breaks them, and they run,
Trampling the terrible corpses – blind with blood.

  • 21  Siegfried Sassoon, “The Glory of Women”, in Rupert Hart-Davis(Ed.), The War Poems of Siegfried Sas (...)

O German mother dreaming by the fire,
While you are knitting socks to send your son
His face is trodden deeper in the mud.21

  • 22 Cf. Gail Braybon, “Women and the War”, in Stephen Constantine et al. (Eds.), The First World War in (...)

20Not too surprisingly, here women are once again merely acknowledged as mothers, full of patriotic vigour. This concept implies that women are just defined through their strong affiliation to the nation and their male children, as Sassoon’s poem stunningly illustrates. Finally, the poem supports the traditional myth, namely that “[…] the male sexual urge was understood to be active, aggressive and spontaneous whilst female sexuality was believed to be weak, passive and responsive” as Lynda Neid convincingly argues in Myths of Sexuality. As all the above-mentioned examples imply, it is indeed plausible to argue that the various justifications which have been given for women’s existence in the late 19th and early 20th century can be narrowed down to two—her husband and her child. Nevertheless, it is also important to acknowledge that the lives and the written realistic and fictional accounts of many women of the time prove these assumptions to be too limiting, distorted and falsified.22

21To pursue this argument, I will thus turn to some literary texts by Canadian Nellie McClung, a particularly well-known woman of the High Empire period and examine the ways in which she intertwines motherhood and the demand for an independent female subjectivity with the experiences of war and warfare of women at the beginning of the 20th century. The works of interest are Nellie McClung’s novel The Next of Kin and her critical treatise and feminist manifesto In Times Like These.

A Literary Response from Canada : Nellie McClung’s The Next of Kin

  • 23  For an insightful critical study on the Canadian war novel and the impact of female authors see in (...)

22The First World War was an important topic for many renowned women novelists in Canada during the High Empire period.23 In various fictional accounts of the war, writers such as Francis Marion Beynon, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Evah McKowan and Nellie McClung challenge the common assumption of the time, namely that war stories have to be about male heroes and should focus on male soldiers’ experiences at the front. Depicting the catastrophic impact of war on every living being back home, these writers not only rewrite the notion of total war but also inscribe women into war history by pointing to women’s active role in war and also their significant pleas for peace. This view is well argued by the literary critic Donna Coates from the University of Calgary who has repeatedly talked about this issue in various of her articles and aptly points out:

  • 24  Donna Coates, “War”, in W. H. New (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada, Toronto: University (...)

With the exception of Jean Blewett’s sentimental Heart Stories (1919), these women writers are unified in protesting the social marginalization of women’s voices and values, and in forcefully reiterating that women deserve a place alongside men, not as their subalterns.24

  • 25  Margaret Macpherson, Nellie McClung: Voice for the Voiceless, Montreal: XYZ Publishing, 2003.
  • 26  For further information on the life and works of Nellie McClung see among others Randi R. Warne, L (...)

23Nellie McClung, a first-wave feminist, activist and social reformer, is generally acknowledged as Canada’s most outstanding and popular feminist author of the time. Born on a small pioneer farm in Gray County, Ontario, in 1873, as the last of six children, she was of Methodist-Scotch-Irish parentage and grew up in Ontario and Manitoba. Later she worked as a teacher at various Canadian colleges and had her first commercial success as a writer with her first book, Sowing seeds in Danny, a best-selling novel. Among her various successful fictional books are The Purple Springs (1921) and her last full-scale novel Painted Fires (1925). Together with Sowing Seeds in Danny, these novels make up the Pearlie Watson trilogy, in which McClung tells the life of a reform-minded heroine in rural Canada. Nellie McClung is particularly interested in the situation of the unfortunate, downtrodden, and voiceless people of society and it seems legitimate to identify “Nellie McClung—[as] a Voice for the Voiceless” as the title of Margaret Macpherson’s book suggests.25 It is not too surprising, then, that Nellie McClung was fascinated by Charles Dickens’ novels and soon became very involved in various suffrage organizations and the political campaigns for enfranchisement and prohibition in Manitoba and Alberta. In 1915, she published the feminist critical treatise In Times Like These, by far the most outspoken classical statement on Canadian feminism of the High Empire period. Altogether Nellie McClung published more than sixteen books, among them two autobiographies, the war novel The Next of Kin, four books of short stories, and numerous articles and stories in newspapers and magazines all over North America. In Canada and the United States she received further praise for her brilliant and witty speeches, lectures and readings.26 Her role within the Canadian cultural and literary context might best be summarized by a comment from Marilyn I. Davis, who outlines McClung’s status as follows:

  • 27  Marilyn L. Davis, Stories Subversive, Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1996, 17.

Nellie Letitia (Mooney) McClung would have been a remarkable woman in any age, but in the repressive, patriarchal society of her day she was the leading women’s rights activist and social reformer, and she changed the face of Canada.27

  • 28  Nellie McClung, “Men and Money: A Story With a Purpose”, Maclean’s Magazine, September 1919, 15-17 (...)
  • 29  Veronica Strong-Boag, “Introduction” to Nellie McClung, The Next of Kin: Those Who Wait and Wonder(...)

24In addition to that, McClung is an interesting writer to consider in the war context because of her own varying attitude towards peace and war. Before the Great War she was an outspoken pacifist, yet she became a fervent supporter of Canadian military involvement when her son enlisted. Her pro-war stance can be traced in various writings such as “Men and Money” (1919)28 and also Three Times and Out: A Canadian Boy’s Experiences in Germany, a story she ghost-wrote for a Canadian private who had been imprisoned in Germany during the war. Particularly insightful, however, is The Next of Kinin which she works out in fiction some of the critical thoughts she develops in her theoretical treatise In Times Like These, her so-called “wartime attack upon female parasitism and what is now called male chauvinism.”29

  • 30  Nellie MCCLUNG, The Next of Kin: Those Who Wait and Wonder, Toronto: Thomas Allen, 1917, 9.

25Throughout the novel McClung depicts mothers as having a major impact on the nation’s future, a future she believes to be more pacifist once women and most of all mothers have a say in politics. The setting is rural Alberta in the early stages of the war and the pre-eminent concern of the story is with the women in the Canadian countryside and their families. Throughout the book the city is viewed through the eyes of the rural female spectator. The story opens on “a bleak day in November” in northern Alberta where “a thick, gray sky, and a great, noisy, blustering wind” hints at the tough life of women in the Canadian countryside and sets the mood for the subsequent Municipal Hall Meeting of the local Red Cross Group. Due to the men having gone to the Great War fighting for the Empire it is a female-only group that gathers to listen to the speech of a suffragist about women’s social and political role and their attitude towards the war. The meeting reveals the difficult situation Canadian women face on the home-front, torn between pacifism or support for the nationalist war efforts through essentialist gender behaviour on the one hand and rebellious thoughts, politicised actions and a claim for liberty and independence in the context of female suffrage on the other hand. Subsequently, all talks and discussions finally come down to the central question, “What do the women of the world think of war?” as one participant aptly puts it. But more importantly, with recourse to the traditional essentialist train of thought regarding the supposedly pacifist nature of women she continues, “No woman wanted war, did she? No woman could bring a child into the world, suffering for it, caring for it, loving it, without learning the value of human life, could she?”30

26Nonetheless, the traditional evocation of gender imagery that this opening scene alludes to is already contested in the following statement, when a more politicised woman, and a mother into the bargain, states:

  • 31 Ibid., 9-10.

Well-kept homes and hand-knit socks will never save the world. Look at Germany! The German women are kind, patient, industrious, frugal, hard-working, everything that a woman ought to be, but it did not save them, or their country, and it will not save us.31

27At first sight this concept seems to be borrowed from In Times Like These, where we come across various similar critical lines; yet closer examination reveals that McClung does not merely confirm this notion but rather puts it into a more progressive and international idea in the novel The Next of Kin. The juxtaposition of the respective parts of the two works makes this difference in Nellie McClung’s line of thought quite obvious.

28In Times Like These it reads,

  • 32  Nellie MCCLUNG, In Times Like These, New York and Toronto: D. Appleton / Mc Leod & Allen, 1915, 24

The German woman’s ways have been ways of pleasantness, but her paths have not been paths of peace; and now, women everywhere are thinking of her, rather bitterly. […] It is not [so much] a woman’s duty to bring children into the world, as to see what sort of a world she is bringing them into, and what their contribution will be to it.32

29and in The Next of Kin this is already developed into a more placating intercultural notion of cross-cultural female politics and as such goes beyond the former dichotomies of enemies and friends through its call for an international female bond to oppose the militant and martial male war instinct:

  • 33 Nellie MCCLUNG, 1917, op. cit., 10.

My nearest neighbour is a German, and she and I have talked these [war] things over. She feels just the same as we do, and she sews for our Red Cross. She says she could not knit socks for our soldiers, for they are enemies, but she makes bandages, for the day’s wounded men are not enemies, and she is willing to do anything for them.33

30Thus, besides subservient and traditionally minded mothers, rebellious mothers tired of having “to settle down to knitting a dull grey sock or [to doing] the easy task of collecting Red Cross funds from perfectly willing people who ask me to come in while they make me a cup of tea” (164) prevail in the course of the novel where the proceedings of the war require women’s involvement in public life due to a shortage of men on the home-front as the following scene perfectly indicates:

  • 34 Ibid., 253-254.

Going over a hill, we came upon a woman driving a mower. It was the first reminder of the war. She was a fine-looking woman, with a tanned face, brown, but handsome, and she swung her team around the edge of the meadow with a grace and skill that called forth our admiration. […] “Did you know I’ve lost my husband?” […] It was a smashing blow. […] but I am all right now, and have thought things out. […]. I am getting on well. The children are at school now, both of them […] —the crops are in good shape—did you ever see a finer stand of wild hay? I can manage the farm, with one extra hired man in harvest-time. […] This is a great country, is n’t [sic] it? Where can you find such abundance, and such a climate, with its sunshine and its cool nights, and such a chance to make good? I suppose freedom has to be paid for.34

31Interestingly enough, in the end, the male-dominant war becomes the trigger for a more moderate and peaceful feminine future. As it was mostly men who died in the war it was ultimately in the hands of the women to do better and not only keep the home-front going but also rebuild the country in a more feminine manner, that is in the sense of a pacifist politics to end all wars. Thus, the Pax Materna is redefined as a Politeia Pax Feminina to replace the past and present Martial Politeia Masculina, as the unnamed war widow quoted above further puts it:

  • 35 Ibid., 254.

Freedom […] is worth something to have a chance to work and bring up my children—in peace—so I am living on from day to day … not grieving … not moping … not thinking too much,—it hurts to think too hard,—just living.35

  • 36 Idem.
  • 37  Consult among others Anne E. Hunter et al. (Eds.), On peace, war, and gender. A challenge to genet (...)
  • 38  Nellie MCCLUNG, 1917, op. cit., 165.
  • 39 Ibid., 255.

32And the narrator concludes: “Then we shook hands, and I told her that she had found something far greater than happiness, for she had achieved power.”36 In other words, the process of “conscience-raising” about the war and women’s role in it on the home-front dominates the novel. The sense that maternity is always linked to patriotism and nationalism in times of war is thus disrupted and replaced by a realization that although female boundaries are not always elastic enough to accommodate alternative notions of maternal imagery, at least within one generation cultural boundaries can be successfully overcome and alternative notions of war developed as soon as one’s individual identity is preferred to national collectivism.37 Subsequently, “the great gift that Canada [and one may add Australia and other colonies] had given to the Empire” is no longer understood as “the gift of men and wheat, bread and blood—the sacrament of empire” as an enthusiastic pro-imperial woman speaker in a later suffrage meeting in the novel puts it.38 Rather, it is the “freedom kept up” by a woman who “had found something far greater than happiness”. The dawning of a new, feminine era is reinforced through the rather pastoral closing imagery of “a western sky [which] is red now, giving promise of a good day to-morrow”39 and as such replaces the gloomy and grey scenery that marked the patriarchal society that was dominant in the novel’s opening image.

Conclusion

33As various female authors such as Adela Pankhurst and Miles Franklin from Australia, Francis Marion Beynon, Georgina Sime and of course Nellie McClung have revealed through their impressive body of war works, writing enables women to touch upon provocative subjects, namely suffrage and an erosion of the traditional maternal imagery of women being nurturers of the race—and to erode essentialist gender-imagery perpetuated by a patriarchal nation at war. As the Canadian activist Flora Mac D. Denison aptly put it in the pamphlet “War and Women”, written for the Canadian Suffrage Association in 1914:

  • 40 Flora Mac D. Denison, “War and Women”, Toronto, 1914, no page number.

[...] The male human, and especially the male, has thought in terms of combat and of dominance through force. [...] When we study history, what was the keynote of it all? Battles, battles, battles. […] Women’s thought and action have always been constructive. […] In writing this, another pen than that held by Mars will have to be used. Venus must be the star in the ascendant and the monsters of the race must assist in tracing out a new code of ethics.40

34Thus, these works should not be read as efforts at accommodations, if by accommodations we mean simple integration into an existing social and political structure. They are grim portrayals of women’s lives in various times of war in the early 20th century in the Western World, but also indicate women’s power and potential to fight for their own beliefs, freedom and personality. As a body they are a condemnation of twentieth-century patriotic and patriarchal war and a challenge to construct feminist alternatives and attain female power and legal status, if necessary by female means of war. As Elizabeth Robins writes:

  • 41  Elizabeth Robins, Way Stations, New York: Dodd and Mead, 1913, 73-74.

[...] intelligent women know that the sum of feminine achievement is for the first time a factor in that Weltpolitik [‘world politics’] which is the shaping of public opinion. We see clearly that, working shoulder to shoulder as we have never worked before, women are laying the foundation of a power which is to change the course of history.41

35Writing serves as a key component to exert this new female world policy and shapes the new or alternative notion of a feminist Pax Discursiva that replaces the prior essentialist Pax Materna.

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Bibliographie

Bethke-Elshtain Jean, Women and War, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1995, 1987.

Boehmer Elleke, Colonial & Postcolonial Literature, Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1995.

Boulding Elise, “Feminist Inventions in the Art of Peacemaking: A Century Overview,” Peace and Change, 20.4.1995, 408-439.

Braybon Gail, “Women and the War,” in Stephen Constantine etal. (Eds.), The First World War in British History, London: Edward Arnold, 1995, 145.

Carter April, “Should Women Be Soldiers or Pacifists?”, in Lois Ann Lorentzen et al. (Eds.), The Women and War Reader, New York: New York UP, 1998, 33-37.

Coates Donna, “The Best Soldiers of All. Unsung Heroines in Canadian Women’s Great War Fictions,” Canadian Literature, 151, Winter 1996, 66-99.

Coates Donna, “War,” in W. H. New (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002, 1186-1196.

Cooper Helen et al. (Eds.), Arms and the Woman: War, Gender and Literary Representation, Chapel Hill, NC: University of Carolina Press, 1989.

Damousi Joy, “Socialist women and gendered space: Anti-conscription and anti-war campaigns 1914-18,” in Joy Damousi and Marilyn Lake (Eds.), Gender and War: Australians at War in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge and Melbourne: Cambridge UP, 1995, 254-273.

Davis Marilyn L., Stories Subversive, Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1996.

Fountain Nigel, Women at War, London: Michael O’Mara Books, 2002.

Gilbert Sandra, “Soldier’s Heart: Literary Men, Literary Women, and the Great War,” Signs, 8/3, 1983, 422-450.

Grayzel Susan R., Women’s Identities at War: Gender, Motherhood, and Politics in Britain and France During the First World War, Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

Grayzel Susan R., Women and the First World War, London: Longman, 2002.

Hallet Mary and Marilyn Davis, Firing the Heather: The Life and Times of Nellie McClung, Saskatoon: Fifth House Publishers, 1993.

Hergenhan L. t. (Ed.), Australian Literature and War – Special Issue of Australian Literary Studies, 12/2, October 1985.

Hunter Anne E. et al. (Eds.), On peace, war, and gender. A challenge to genetic explanations, New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1991.

Hyman Alonso Harriet, Peace as a Women’s Issue, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 1993.

Korte Barbara et al. (Eds.), War and the Cultural Construction of Identities in Britain, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002.

Mac D. Denison Flora, “War and Women,” Toronto: 1914, no page number.

Macpherson Margaret, Nellie McClung: Voice for the Voiceless, Montreal: XYZ Publishing, 2003.

McClung Nellie, In Times Like These, New York and Toronto: D. Appleton / Mc Leod & Allen, 1915.

McClung Nellie, The Next of Kin: Those Who Wait and Wonder, Toronto: Thomas Allen, 1917.

McClung Nellie, “Men and Money: A Story With a Purpose,” Maclean’s Magazine, September 1919, 15-17, 99-100.

Novak Dagmar, Dubious Glory: The Two World Wars and the Canadian Novel, New York and Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2000.

Oldfield Sybil, Women Against the Iron Fist: Alternatives to Militarism, 1900-1989, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989.

Quinn p. et al. (Eds.), The Literature of the Great War Reconsidered: Beyond Modern Memory, New York: Palgrave, 2001.

Reardon Betty, Women and Peace, Albany: SUNY Press, 1993.

Reeves Nancy, Womankind Beyond the Stereotypes, Chicago: Aldine, 1971.

Riley Denise, Am I that Name? Feminism and the Category of ‘Women’ in History, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1988.

Robins Elizabeth, Way Stations, New York: Dodd and Mead, 1913.

Ruddick Sara, Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politics of Peace, London: Women’s Press, 1990.

Sassoon Siegfried, “The Glory of Women,” in Rupert Hart-Davis(Ed.), The War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon, London: Faber & Faber, reissued edition, 1983, 100.

Scates Bruce and Raelene Frances, Women and the Great War, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997.

Shute Carmel, “Heroines and Heroes: Sexual Mythology in Australia 1914-18,” in Joy Damousi and Marilyn Lake (Eds.), Gender and War: Australians at War in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge and Melbourne: Cambridge UP, 1995, 23-42.

Strong-Boag Veronica, “Introduction” to Nellie McClung, The Next of Kin: Those Who Wait and Wonder, repr., Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1972, VII-XXII.

Tate Trudi et al., “Introduction,“ in Trudi Tate et al. (Eds.), Women’s Fiction and The Great War, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999, 1-17.

Turpin Jennifer, “Many Faces: Women Confronting War,” in Lois Ann Lorentzen et al. (Eds.), The Women and War Reader, New York: New York UP, 1998, 3-18.

Warne Randi R., Literature as Pulpit: The Christian Social Activism of Nellie L. McClung, Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 1992.

Wiltsher Anne, Most dangerous women. Feminist peace campaigners of the Great War, London: Pandora, 1985.

York Jodi, “The Truth about Women and Peace,” in Lois Ann Lorentzen et al. (Eds.), The Women and War Reader, New York: New York UP, 1998, 19-25.

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Notes

1  Nancy Reeves, Womankind Beyond the Stereotypes, Chicago: Aldine, 1971, 76.

2  Carmel SHUTE, “Heroines and Heroes: Sexual Mythology in Australia 1914-18,” in Joy Damousi and Marilyn Lake (Eds.), Gender and War, Melbourne: Cambridge UP, 1995, 23.

3  Helen Cooper et al. (Eds.), Arms and the Woman: War, Gender and Literary Representation, Chapel Hill, NC: University of Carolina Press, 1989, 16.

4  Cf. Betty Reardon, Women and Peace, Albany: SUNY Press, 1993; Jean Bethke-Elshtain, Women and War, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1995, 11987; Susan R. Grayzel, Women’s Identities at War: Gender, Motherhood, and Politics in Britain and France During the First World War, Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1999; Jennifer Turpin, “Many Faces: Women Confronting War”, in Lois Ann Lorentzen et al. (Eds.), The Women and War Reader, New York: New York UP, 1998, 3-18; April Carter, “Should Women Be Soldiers or Pacifists?”, in Lorentzen 1998, 33-37; Jodi York, “The Truth about Women and Peace”, in Lorentzen 1998, 19-25. See also Elise Boulding, “Feminist Inventions in the Art of Peacemaking: A Century Overview”, Peace and Change, 20.4.1995, 408-439, and Sybil Oldfield, Women Against the Iron Fist: Alternatives to Militarism, 1900-1989, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989.

5  Harriet Hyman Alonso, Peace as a Women’s Issue, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 1993, 218.

6  Cf. Sara Ruddick, Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politics of Peace, London: Women’s Press, 1990.

7  Jennifer Turpin, op. cit., 11.

8 Idem.

9  For an illuminating account of this issue see, in particular, Sue Bethke-Elshtain’s insightful study Women and War, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1987, 1995.

10  Sue Bethke-Elshtain, op. cit., XIII.

11  Elleke Boehmer, Colonial & Postcolonial Literature, Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1995, 2-3.

12 Cf. Nigel Fountain, Women at War, London: Michael O’Mara Books, 2002.

13  Trudi Tate et al., “Introduction“, in Trudi Tate et al. (Eds.), Women’s Fiction and The Great War, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999, 5.

14  Sandra Gilbert, “Soldier’s Heart: Literary Men, Literary Women, and the Great War”, Signs 8/3, 1983, 422-450. See also Anne Wiltsher, Most dangerous women. Feminist peace campaigners of the Great War, London: Pandora, 1985.

15  Susan R. Grayzel, Women and the First World War, London: Longman, 2002, 5.

16  In New Zealand women were granted suffrage in 1893 and in Australia in 1902.

17 As reproduced in Bruce Scates and Raelene Frances, Women and the Great War, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997, 85.

18 Ibid., 89.

19  Cf. Carmel Shute, “Heroines and Heroes: Sexual Mythology in Australia 1914-18” and Joy Damousi, “Socialist women and gendered space: Anti-conscription and anti-war campaigns 1914-18”. Both in Joy Damousi and Marilyn Lake (Eds.), Gender and War: Australians at War in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge and Melbourne: Cambridge UP, 1995, 23-42 and 254-273.

20  For a closer analysis of this aspect, see among others p. Quinn et al. (Eds.), The Literature of the Great War Reconsidered: Beyond Modern Memory, New York: Palgrave, 2001; Barbara Korte et al. (Eds.), War and the Cultural Construction of Identities in Britain, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002; Dagmar Novak, Dubious Glory: The Two World Wars and the Canadian Novel, New York and Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2000, and L. t. Hergenhan (Ed.), Australian Literature and War—Special Issue of Australian Literary Studies, 12/2, October 1985.

21  Siegfried Sassoon, “The Glory of Women”, in Rupert Hart-Davis(Ed.), The War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon, London: Faber & Faber, reissued edition, 1983, 100.

22 Cf. Gail Braybon, “Women and the War”, in Stephen Constantine et al. (Eds.), The First World War in British History, London: Edward Arnold, 1995, 145. See also Denise Riley, Am I that Name? Feminism and the Category of ‘Women’ in History, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1988, 96-97, and Helen M. Cooper et al. (Eds.), Arms and the Woman: War, Gender and Literary Representation, Chapel Hill, NC: University of Carolina Press, 1989.

23  For an insightful critical study on the Canadian war novel and the impact of female authors see in particular Dagmar Novak, op.cit., and Donna Coates, “The Best Soldiers of All. Unsung Heroines in Canadian Women’s Great War Fictions”, Canadian Literature, 151, Winter 1996, 66-99.

24  Donna Coates, “War”, in W. H. New (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002, 1190.

25  Margaret Macpherson, Nellie McClung: Voice for the Voiceless, Montreal: XYZ Publishing, 2003.

26  For further information on the life and works of Nellie McClung see among others Randi R. Warne, Literature as Pulpit: The Christian Social Activism of Nellie L. McClung, Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 1992, and Mary Hallet and Marilyn Davis, Firing the Heather: The Life and Times of Nellie McClung, Saskatoon: Fifth House Publishers, 1993.

27  Marilyn L. Davis, Stories Subversive, Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1996, 17.

28  Nellie McClung, “Men and Money: A Story With a Purpose”, Maclean’s Magazine, September 1919, 15-17, 99-100.

29  Veronica Strong-Boag, “Introduction” to Nellie McClung, The Next of Kin: Those Who Wait and Wonder, repr., Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1972, XIV.

30  Nellie MCCLUNG, The Next of Kin: Those Who Wait and Wonder, Toronto: Thomas Allen, 1917, 9.

31 Ibid., 9-10.

32  Nellie MCCLUNG, In Times Like These, New York and Toronto: D. Appleton / Mc Leod & Allen, 1915, 24.

33 Nellie MCCLUNG, 1917, op. cit., 10.

34 Ibid., 253-254.

35 Ibid., 254.

36 Idem.

37  Consult among others Anne E. Hunter et al. (Eds.), On peace, war, and gender. A challenge to genetic explanations, New York. Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1991.

38  Nellie MCCLUNG, 1917, op. cit., 165.

39 Ibid., 255.

40 Flora Mac D. Denison, “War and Women”, Toronto, 1914, no page number.

41  Elizabeth Robins, Way Stations, New York: Dodd and Mead, 1913, 73-74.

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Karin Ikas, « A canadian response to the iconography of war propaganda in the British Empire: Nellie McClung’s Politeia Pax Feminina », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. III - n°2 | 2005, 112-130.

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Karin Ikas, « A canadian response to the iconography of war propaganda in the British Empire: Nellie McClung’s Politeia Pax Feminina », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. III - n°2 | 2005, mis en ligne le 27 octobre 2009, consulté le 18 novembre 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/2611 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.2611

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Auteur

Karin Ikas

(Frankfurt/Main, Germany)
Karin Ikas, M.A, received her Ph.D. at Würzburg University (Germany) in 1999 with a dissertation on “Modern Chicana Literature : An Intercultural Analysis” (published as Die zeitgenössische Chicana-Literatur : Eine interkulturelle Untersuchung [Heidelberg, 2000]) which won the prestigious Daimler Chrysler Foundation’s “Academy Award for Intercultural Studies 2001” (Stuttgart). She has more than 7 books to her credit and is author of several critical essays in the area of English, North American and (Post-) Colonial Literary and Cultural Studies as well as Gender Studies. Currently, she is a research lecturer at Frankfurt University (Germany) and she also holds a teaching position at Würzburg University (Germany). Among others, she is the author of Chicana Ways (Reno, 2002), Mexican American Stories—Viewfinder Literature (München, 2001) and co-editor (with F. Lomelí, USA) of Latino Literatures and Cultures : Transnational Perspectives (2000) and Stories from Down Under : Australia and New Zealand (München, 2004), the latter with Australian critic D. Carter. Violence and Transgression in World Minority Literatures (Heidelberg, 2005) is her most recent book, co-edited with R. Ahrens, M. Herrera-Sobek, and F. Lomelí. Forthcoming is the critical collection The Canadian Nation in the Third Millennium (Frankfurt, 2006). She has won several fellowships including a one-year study period at the University of Texas in Austin (USA). Her website is <http ://web.uni-frankfurt.de/fb3/wagner/ikas.htm>.

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