Dr. Cynthia WachtellDr. Cynthia Wachtell, research associate professor of American studies and director of the S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program at Stern College for Women, has published two new essays connected to her work on Ellen N. La Motte, the author of The Backwash of War: The Human Wreckage of the Battlefield, a short story collection published in 1916 based upon La Motte’s experience working at a French field hospital on the Western Front during World War I. (Though the book had some initial success, it was banned in England, France and the United States and languished in obscurity for almost a century.)

The first essay is on the blog of American Nurse Today, where Dr. Wachtell writes a concise and powerful exploration of La Motte’s experiences and background.

In her second essay, at The Conversation, Dr. Wachtell makes the argument that La Motte occupied the artistic terrain of writing succinctly and honestly about war’s brutality well before Ernest Hemingway published A Farewell to Arms in 1929. Comparing their work side-by-side, Dr. Wachtell concludes that “Hemingway’s declarative sentences and emotionally uninflected style strikingly resemble La Motte’s.”

Dr. Wachtell concludes with some sharp questions of history: “So why did Hemingway receive all of the accolades, culminating in a Nobel Prize in 1954 for the ‘influence he exerted on contemporary style,’ while La Motte was lost to literary oblivion? Was it the lasting impact of wartime censorship? Was it the prevalent sexism of the postwar era, which viewed war writing as the purview of men? Whether due to censorship, sexism or a toxic combination of the two, La Motte was silenced and forgotten. It’s time to return The Backwash of War to its proper perch as a seminal example of war writing.”

Towards that end, Dr. Wachtell just edited a new and expanded edition of The Backwash of War, published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

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