Leeds Beckett University
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Trauma, Technology and the 'Haunted' Male Bodies of Interwar Literature

posted on 2022-11-18, 10:14 authored by Darren Gray

The First World War ‘haunts’ the present day and remains in the public consciousness through literature, film and national rituals such as Remembrance Day. This haunting is highly Gothic and exposes a socio-cultural trauma caused by the Great War. Then, as now, the male soldier’s body is a site of competing narratives regarding what is perceived as ‘ideal’, ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’. At the Great War’s outbreak, the soldier’s body was conflated with nationalism, eugenics, technological advancement and perceived as a machine-like technology of war. However, the soldier’s engagement with industrial war technologies exposed the fragility of the human body as well as the illusionary ideals and constructs which rendered it more than human. 

Taking an interdisciplinary approach and using a range of theoretical models, this study investigates masculinity through representations of the soldier’s body in popular and lesser-known literatures of the interwar period. Interwar literature is haunted by the spectre of the war and socio-cultural anxieties regarding gender, masculinity, and physical and mental ‘norms’ are manifested in representations of the soldier’s body. The soldier’s body is explored as a symbol of Futurist, machine-like, warrior masculinity as well as a physically and mentally broken body juxtaposed against the idealised body of the cultural imagination. The body is revealed as an object belonging to the state with a specific use-value as well as an embarrassment for the state and society when this use-value is depleted or falls short of the national ideal or ‘norm’. Analysing bodily categorisation, idealised machine-like bodies, the mutilated body, the facially-disfigured body and the shell-shocked, mentally damaged, suicidal body this study argues that all these representations highlight a deviation from a ‘norm’ in the interwar period and that these ‘monstrosities’ still have a relevance to ideas of masculinity, mental health and disability in the present day.


Qualification name

  • PhD


Ruth Robbins; James McGrath

Awarding Institution

Leeds Beckett University

Completion Date


Qualification level

  • Doctoral


  • eng

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