Myths of Unity: Remembering the Second World War through Letters and their Editing

Jolly, Margaretta (2005) Myths of Unity: Remembering the Second World War through Letters and their Editing. In: Vernon, A (ed.) Arms and the Self. Kent State University Press, pp. 144-170. ISBN 9780873388122

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The publication of war letters represents multiple interests, personal, social and ideological. In addition to the perennial commercial conditions of a famous name and a complete well-written correspondence, letters can accrue interest through association with national ceremonies of war commemoration, debates over military history and even with the advent of other wars. The letters of David Tinker, killed in the Falklands, were compared to the writings of First World War poets. But also, conversely, Ronald Blythes 1991 edition of Second World War letters and diaries worried his eminent reviewer, Paul Fussell, for its too smooth integration into a glut of sanitised anniversary publication. The publishing of personal documents is perhaps even more entwined with generational, familial and individual time span. War letters are most often retrospectively consumed as personal commemorations by relations of their writers, although this auto/biographical frame itself has social determinants in a culture of memoir and autobiography-making. A rather different context for publication has been the rise of cultural and womens studies over the last twenty years. The interest stirred by these disciplines in the private documents of the socially and literarily marginalised has been particularly powerful in facilitating the publication of womens war letters. In all three contexts, letters are positioned in relation to the symbolic place that wars play in public and personal memory, and gather mythical as well as historical meanings. In this article, I consider the publication of Second World War letters as a fragment of this special epistolary niche. It is not my intention to analyse the letters themselves, but rather to add to the history of what Janet Altman has called the letter-book as a literary institution. I argue that the letter-books of the Second World War take three characteristic forms, according to whether a national, familial or academic memory is uppermost.

Item Type: Book Section
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
School of Media, Film and Music > Media and Film
Research Centres and Groups: Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research
Depositing User: Margaretta Jolly
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 20:32
Last Modified: 03 Feb 2020 14:44
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