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Racing to the Front: Auto-mobility and Competing Narratives of Women in the First World War

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Women in Transit through Literary Liminal Spaces

Abstract

In her study of ‘women and auto/mobility in the era of the Great War’ Laura Doan has explored women’s ‘provocative engagement with the technologies of speed and machines’ (2006: 27) in the First World War, and has quoted Paul Virilo’s claim that in wartime ‘speed, by its violence, becomes a destiny at the same time as being a destination’ (qtd. in Doan 2006: 26). When the conflict broke out, thousands of British women hastened to volunteer their services in their desire to participate in the arena of war. Going to the battle-front had an immediate appeal, but women wanting to serve in the war zone were viewed with suspicion by the authorities. When the doctor and suffragist Elsie Inglis approached the War Office to propose the creation of a field hospital staffed by women to serve overseas she was summarily rebuffed: ‘Good lady, go home and sit still’ (qtd. in Marwick 1977: 107). But immobility was precisely what women would not cultivate. Refusing to be made to feel superfluous, they even sought to get into the thick of military action, where the ‘real’ business of war was being carried out. Elsie Knocker (later the Baroness de T’Serclaes), a trained nurse and a member of the Women’s Motorcyclist Club at the outbreak of hostilities, in her memoir Flanders and Other Fields utilized the vocabulary of competition and speed to describe the heady atmosphere in the early days of the conflict, when ‘committees proliferated, all intent on beating each other in the race to get to “the Front”’ (T’Serclaes 1964: 36).

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© 2013 Teresa Gómez Reus

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Reus, T.G. (2013). Racing to the Front: Auto-mobility and Competing Narratives of Women in the First World War. In: Reus, T.G., Gifford, T. (eds) Women in Transit through Literary Liminal Spaces. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137330475_8

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