Modernism, Material Culture and the First World War

Cedric Van Dijck

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Shifts the scholarly conversation on modernism and war from shell shock to material culture
  • Provides the first book-length study of the material culture of the First World War through the lens of modernist literature
  • Rethinks the relationship between modernism and armed conflict in tangible terms by exploring how the things of war helped shape modernism
  • Offers an alternative to familiar accounts of modernism and shell shock
  • Explores canonical and lesser-known authors from Britain, Europe and the colonial world to cover a wide range of war experiences
  • Turns to unexpected and newly discovered print artefacts from the modernist archives, including trench newspapers, shop signs, travel guides and other sources at the margins of the canon

What did modernist writers make of the things of war? Often studied for its fascination with the shell-shocked mind, modernist literature is also packed with more tangible traces of the First World War, from helmets, trench art and tombstones to shop signs, military newspapers and leaflets dropped from airplanes. Modernism, Material Culture and the First World War asks what experimental writers read into these objects and how the conflict prompted a way of thinking of their writings as objects in their own right. Ranging from 1914 to the early 1940s, the chapters in this book weave together prose and poems by Guillaume Apollinaire, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Hope Mirrlees and Mulk Raj Anand.

List of Figures


Series Editors' Preface


1 Guillaume Apollinaire’s Curiosities

2 E. M. Forster in the Streets

3 Monuments in Virginia Woolf and Hope Mirrlees

4 Mulk Raj Anand in the Mud

Coda: At the Museum



A compelling and innovative study of how artefacts – trench helmets, shop-signs, gravestones, wartime leaflets and magazines – become fundamental to reading and writing the ‘greater war’. With acuity and brio, Cedric Van Dijck invokes the writers Apollinaire, Forster, Woolf, Mirrlees and Anand to lure us to the no man’s land where we no longer know where the body of war ends and that of modernism begins.
Santanu Das, All Souls College, University of Oxford
Cedric Van Dijck is a postdoctoral fellow in English Literature at the University of Brussels (VUB). He is a co-editor of the Edinburgh Companion to First World War Periodicals (2023) and The Intellectual Response to the First World War (2017). His research on modernism and war has appeared in PMLA, TSLL, Modernism/modernity, Times Literary Supplement and Modernist Cultures.

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