English, Department of


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A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: English, Under the Supervision of Professor Melissa J. Homestead. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2011

Copyright 2011 Sabrina Ehmke Sergeant


This dissertation examines American women’s popular novels about the Great War published between 1914 and 1922, and offers a perspective that complicates our understanding of the American experience of WWI. Drawing on a historical framework that illuminates the subtleties of the nation’s the ever-shifting political stance in response to the European War, this study demonstrates how American response to the war was neither monolithic nor static. This study contributes to current efforts to recover women’s voices in the male-dominated terrain of war writing, and promotes the value of studying noncanonical texts. Rarely considered in scholarship of American war literature, women’s popular war fiction allows for a reassessment of the significance the war had to the Americans who lived through it.

The fiction examined in this dissertation approaches the war as a positive endeavor for Americans and the nation. The stories recounted in these novels encourage Americans to consider involvement in the war as part of an American history of patriotic service, and that through that service, Americans could achieve their fullest potential as individuals. As stories written by women and deeply invested in women’s roles in shaping national sentiment, these novels interpret the war within the framework of women’s (especially mothers) relationship to their country.

The five chapters correspond to five distinct historical periods of American engagement with the Great War, and the accompanying novels speak to the history of each timeframe. Beginning with literature produced during American neutrality and limited preparedness, the study continues with an examination of the works prompted by mobilization, belligerency, demobilization, and finally, with the conflict over, memoralization and commemoration. The writers considered are Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews, Sylvia Chatfield Bates, Willa Cather, Alice French (Octave Thanet), Ethel May Kelley, Grace Sartwell Mason, Margaret Prescott Montague, Irene Nylen, Hetty Lawrence Hemenway, and Edith Wharton. Through close readings of these authors’ works, this project explores how American women writers participated in the ongoing debate to define the appropriate role for the nation and its women in the Great War.