Line Up Boys

The picture I chose to examine is titled "Line Up, Boys! Enlist To-Day". I chose the picture for several reasons, one of them being the impact it had on men, but the women they lived with. The poster displays a line of soldiers walking happily in uniforms, holding guns and laughing simultaneously. This poster although aimed at men, left women searching for a purpose in the war. It reminded me of Vera Brittain's interest in whatever role she could play in the war. On page five of "Introduction: Reading World War I Posters"  it says, "The unprecedented use of posters...and the marvelous results attained by the means of them, has impressed the power of the medium upon the world's population so forcibly that all doubt that may have existed as to its efficacy has been permanently removed". Although it has been repetitive in the class thus far, it is truly unbelievable that posters of soldiers walking in a line had the power to persaude an entire generation to join the work force. 

Brittain uses War Nurse Iconography for Story-telling Advantage

Like most Red Cross images, this advertisement also has a religious underpinning. It is more than the nature of the organization it is trying to represent that causes the Red Cross images to appear less “war like”. The main idea of the image seems to be that the advertisers want people to think on saving lives rather than spending them in war. The images are not anti-war, but the message is very different in their call to action.

    Advertisers want people to equate the Red Cross with the crucifix, Jesus, religion, mercy, and hope. These are very different call to actions than other war posters that are meant to inspire men to fight, families to risk money, or families to go without food stuffs. This poster seems to suggest that the Red Cross is a manifestation of Jesus Christ and that the men, specifically strangers, should be treated as family or else your family member will be treated less by God. The larger than human size Jesus within the art who is situated behind the active people in the foreground is meant to remind people of the power of God. The Red Cross at the level of his head and slightly behind his head symbolizing that the Red Cross is behind and equal to Jesus.

    The Red Cross symbology in the poster is disconnected to the real workings of nursing during WWI. Vera Brittain might laugh at the placid foreground scene considering how gruesome the real work of war nursing was. The poster scene is an entire disconnect from reality. Yet, the effects of the imagery of the war nurse in her uniform had to have played a part in Brittain’s life. She would have been looked at differently when in her uniform. Certain social actions would have been expected of her while in uniform. Her descriptions in her memoir give a sense to the reader that Brittain in uniform was different from the Brittain out of uniform. I do not think that the effects of this prestige was lost on her entirely because she uses her position to speak about the war with an authority over other homefront women. The irony is that the poster’s overglorified imagery is disconnected from reality yet a real life war nurse uses the iconography to her advantage.


“Inasmuch as Ye Have Done It Unto One of the Least of These...” Flickr, Latham Litho. and Ptg Co., Brooklyn, New York, 1910,

Brittain's External Tensions Reflected Internally

I was surprised by how much Vera Brittain stated she disliked all the changes that the war brought into her life, and yet at the same time rejoiced in all the things that had changed for her in practice. Brittain declares about the leaving of her childhood home, “I am so glad that they are leaving that artificial, north-country hole” (224). She does not seem to miss her hometown and she never returns to it. The disconnect from her home is clear, but throughout the text she reflects many times on her previous life there in a longing way. She even walks all over the town to say goodbye. Brittain writes, “I bid a hurried good-bye to all the places made dear to me” (204).

In nursing as well Brittain has this tension of finding worthiness in practicing nursing while also being highly critical of nursing's horrors and trials. The autobiography develops a heightened tension because of the authors vacillations. I think this speaks to the overall tension of the war itself.

Brittain, Vera. Testament of Youth: an Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925. Penguin Books, 1994.

When Your Allies Steal the Stage in Your Theater of War

Many wars start for one reason, but continue for another - the Trojan war comes to mind as a classical example. The war may have started over a stolen wife, but that was not why it continued. Howard makes a similar argument, "Left to themselves, the original protagonists, Russia and Austria-Hungary, would almost certainly have done so. But the original causes of the war were now almost forgotten" (37). After a certain point, perhaps a war develops into too much lost life to give into a peace? People of a nation start to want the war for other reasons. They think they should keep fighting because look what happened in Ypres. They think now the other side has to pay for those losses in new losses of their own. So, it does become about who can declare the most glory or "manhood" and it stops being about what it started for all together. I mean Achilles didn't go to fight Trojans to get back Helen, and none of the Allies really went to war for the reasons they claimed either.

Howard, Michael. The First World War: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press,

Aspects of Vera Brittain’s War

Vera Brittain’s war explains a series of effects on countries involved in the war, whether it be emotional or physical. In section five of chapter four, Rupert Brooke’s poem describes the essence of the war. It states,
“Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary,/ Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move,/ And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary—/ all the little emptiness of love? (Brooke). This portion of a poem is the most significant to me because of the truth behind the words. Everyone listening to the poem has a deep connection with the fear of war. It takes the effects of the war and lays them out in front of the audience. The country was afraid of the affects of war, and the citizens knew of the dangerous stories regarding trench warfare. The “sick hearts that honour could not move” refer to the soldiers dying in the trenches, unable to move. Lastly, the poem connects to the public because of a level of uncertainty. While Rupert Brooke’s poems were brought into the public eye after the poet’s death, the message and hopelesnees of the poem affected those who listened. It acted as a type of foreshadowing that was to come, which is the most unsettling aspect of the poem yet.

Armies Created Only for War Will Only War

It seems an unavoidable conclusion that two things were happening in regards to Prussian Militarism. One was that Kaiser Wilhelm, a monarch (who by their nature are always leading lives filled with pomp and circumstance) may have suffered from cognitive dissonance as is suggested by Howard, but it was hardly a situation of mind that the monarchy achieved alone or suffered from alone. The military arm was large and maintaining that kind of military for so long requires a great deal of nationalism. Plus, as Howard argues, "Bismark himself, having created the German Empire, had been content simply to preserve it, but the successor generation was not so easily satisfied. It had every reason to be ambitious," (9). Such an army is maintained not by the will of a monarchy alone. Bismark created an empire with that army. It would seem unreasonable to think that the army would be content to maintain the empire. This was an army meant to war and build empires, and such an army is made to war. The highly intense stakes regarding warfare were well established. Could that also produce a sort of a manic state of longing for a war and played a huge factor in World War I? Can the argument be made that such a situation requires a war? After all, war was expected through the previous generations of both the monarchy and the military.

Howard, Michael. The First World War: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Moving Forward

When searching for an element in the world leading up to World War I that is emblematic of twentieth century modernity, advancements in transportation stand out. With advancements such as railways, people and goods could be transferred from place to place at a much more rapid rate than ever before. As Michael Howard says in “The First World War: A Very Short Introduction,” it was the “development of railways and telegraphs which made possible the rapid deployment to the theater of war unprecedented numbers of men” (Howard 16). Having the ability to transfer people from place to place rapidly changed the nature of conflict and war, as it simplified the travel done by militaries. Battles could be fought in different countries with soldiers from many different locations, as arriving in these locations was easier. Furthermore, the speed of transportation is emblematic of the changes within communication at this time. Innovations, such as the telegraph, allowed messages to flow between people quicker and easier than before. Messages between allies and enemies could be received and could change the conflict faster than in any previous conflict. Transportation and the speed of travel in the world are emblematic of twentieth century modernity because they changed the nature of conflict and are representative of the rapid change in many areas, such as communication, during this time.

Chaotic Remembrance

As we close our time of exploring the particular experiences of a momentous and traumatic period in time—that is, the events surrounding WWI—I was captivated by the potential implications of the many moments scattered throughout To the Lighthouse which seem to be reflections upon the potential power and/or powerlessness of the human capacity for remembrance.  Of course, the subject of To the Lighthouse is the fragmentation of a family and, by their association, a small community, but through this family Virginia Woolf simultaneously provides us with a poignant commentary on the repercussions of World War I.

I noticed last week Mrs. Ramsay’s intense desire to preserve moments in time, even in the face of persistent change.  This was most apparent when, upon leaving the dinner, she turns in the doorway and, “With her foot on the threshold she waited a moment longer in a scene which was vanishing even as she looked” (111), as if to capture the impression forever in her memory.  As we found in these next sections of the novel, however, her attempt is grimly futile, for we are told almost in a literal, bracketed “aside”, that Mrs. Ramsay “died rather suddenly the night before” (128), and further that Andrew Ramsay had died fighting in the war in France, and Prue, the beautiful daughter for whom Mrs. Ramsay was dreaming so beautifully at the dinner party, “died that summer in some illness connected with childbirth" (132).  In result, Ramsay family does not visit the Isle of Skye for ten years, and time and decay begin to encroach on the memories of what has passed there. 

Very soon we must confront the apparent futility of human striving and remembrance when the narrator asks: “What power could now prevent the fertility, the insensibility of nature?” and declares that “Mrs. McNab’s dream of a lady, of a child, of a plate of milk soup?  It had wavered over the walls like a spot of sunlight and vanished” (138).  This would seem to imply, or even declare, that we have no power whatsoever over the decay and death necessitated by the passage of time.  And yet, Mrs. McNab does return, and does somehow slow “the corruption and the rot;” rescuing the house, as well as its collective memory, “from the pool of Time that was fast closing over them now a basin now a cupboard” (139). 

In fact, reminiscing upon one’s (perhaps long buried) memories plays a significant role in the final sections of To The Lighthouse.  Mrs. McNab continues to bask in her remembrances, thinking that “They lived well in those days.  They had everything they wanted (glibly, jovially, with the tea hot in her, she unwound her ball of memories, sitting in the wicker arm-chair by the nursery fender” (140), such actions that Woolf refers to as “wantoning on with her memories” (140).  The children, however, are still haunted by what has come before, and as Cam and James wind their way to the Lighthouse at last, James recalls the events we earlier saw of his childhood: “’It will rain,’ he remembered his father saying.  ‘You won’t be able to go to the Lighthouse’” (186).  Lily likewise sorts through the past as she paints on the lawn, and “she seemed to be sitting beside Mrs. Ramsay on the beach” (171).  And to Mr. Carmichael she is almost compelled to ask: “‘D’you remember?’…thinking again of Mrs. Ramsey on the beach” (171).

Lily, however, in contrast with James dwelling in his frustration, works through her memories in order to complete her painting, for she “was not inventing; she was only trying to smooth out something she had been given years ago folded up; something she had seen” (199).  Indeed, this painting is apparently not significant for how it looks, but for what it shows about the process of Lily’s having painted it, and thus, perhaps, this same process reflects the anxieties present throughout the novel. 

A neat conclusion to the remembered experiences of the Ramsay’s &co. is not provided by Woolf, but in attempting to work out what the potential lives of these people may be, I was repeatedly reminded of another bracketed aside:

“[Macalister’s boy took one of the fish and cut a square out of its side to bait his hook with.  The mutilated body (it was alive still) was thrown back into the sea.]” (180)

In this description I cannot help but find a reflection upon the broken Ramsay family, reduced in number by three, and also those who have been left behind after the fragmentation caused by WWI.  They are a family and a people emotionally damaged, even physically mutilated, and yet left alive.  They have had no say in what has happened, their hopes have been betrayed, and far too much has been stolen away.  Even still, they are alive, and so they must decide, each one, how it is that one may live.  To do so must surely feel strange and stilted--ten years have passed for the Ramsay family, after all--or even unnatural after such turmoil.  But perhaps it is the movement shown through the remembrance of tragedy that is most heartening, for it is, like Lily’s painting finished in a brief moment of clarity, an “attempt at something” (208).

Conclusions, Feminism, and Martyrs

One thing which struck me while finishing To the Lighthouse was the relatively unconventional ending. I remember one conversation which I had with Lily about the trope of feminist figures either commiting suicide or dying by the end of narratives. Lily mentioned that she was sick of feminist figures suffereing premature deaths largely because it seemed to signify the inability of femenists to exist in society. I wonder if this Lily's continued life, and completed painting, signify a divergence from that tradition and if that divergence might be due to its post-Edwardian setting? 

It stikes me that Lily not only becomes increasingly prominent in the narrative and the perspective of the novel, but that this happens, mostly, after the death of Mrs. Ramsay. Perhaps Woolf is attempting to make some sort of a statement about the need for a new kind of female figure, one who finds her strength and agency not within the private sphere, but withing herself. I read Mr. Ramsay as seeming to hit on Lily a little bit when they reunited at the house, and so Lily's continued resistence to marriage is in a sense saying that the Ramsay family needs to remain broken and largely disfunctional. Perhaps this was not Woolf's intention, but I cannot help but feel that she is consciously trying to defy conventional expectations for gender relations and closure by having Lily remain at a distance from the family.

Art, Time, and Distance in To The Lighthouse

A major theme in To the Lighthouse is the misunderstanding between people. Characters think and speak past each other, reading intention and feelings into others' actions and comments. All the while, they keep most of their own thoughts and opinions protected. This tendency is explored most explicitly through Lily, whose role as a detached artist gives her the opportunity to ruminate over these human tendencies. In one instance late in the novel, Lily considers her own judgment of Mr. Tansley. Woolf writes, "Half one's notions of other people were, after all, grotesque. They served private purposes of one's own" (Woolf 197). Lily understands that she has retained negative opinions of Tansley that are useful to her, but are inherently false.

Instead of maintaining her own bias, she must consider things she has heard from other people. She must learn to "look at him through [Mrs. Ramsay's] eyes" (197). To understand Mrs. Ramsay, however, "fifty pairs of eyes" (198) were not enough. And that is the same for anyone. It is only through time and distance that Lily is able to make sense of other people in her life. Years after Mrs. Ramsay's death, she is able to view her in a more complex way rather than through only admiration. In the first and third sections of the novel, Lily attempts to capture truth within her painting, and she needs the time and distance in order to complete her vision. Her feeling of success concludes the story, thereby demonstrating the unique ability of art to capture the complexity of human experience.