A new look at First World War experiences in N.L.

Andrew Robinson
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PhD candidate at Oxford looks to research subject closer to home

Once she completes her doctoral studies in English literature at the University of Oxford in England, Nancy Martin hopes to direct her research of literature concerning the First World War towards stories closer to home.

Martin, a Newfoundlander who previously completed bachelor and master degrees at Memorial University, reckons she is five months away from completing her PhD at Oxford. Her work has focused on how men and women have recalled the First World War in their own writing.

“How they represent the experience of war,” explains Martin. “What I specifically kind of look at is how identity, masculine and feminine identity, is represented in fiction and life writing, and I trace the transitions in that writing in terms of identity. For example ... when men eagerly enlisted for the most part during the early months of the war, how they described themselves in that experience of course fundamentally alters as they experience war itself.”

While she may examine a work of fiction, that novel will have been written by someone who did experience the First World War in some fashion, making it likely the writer will have drawn upon personal experience.

Looking at some works that have already been devoured for scholarly purposes, Martin was most interested in accounts from personal memoirs, diaries, and letters.

“At root of the project is I’m trying to expand or explode even the cannon of First World War literature, because the kind of group of writers — whether they be men or women — that we look at is still incredibly small,” she said.

She was struck by how a woman’s sense of self changed as the war went on, making particular note of how they seemed to exude more independence through their writing.

Following the completion of that project, Martin plans to take her research skills back to Newfoundland and Labrador in order to tackle a similar endeavour focused on the written work of people in this province.

“There has been no to date extended study ... of the creative responses from Newfoundland, which is a real shame, because there’s an incredible amount of material. There’s poetry that most people have never heard before. There’s all kinds of letter collections and diaries.”

She cites in particular the diary of Owen William Steele, Phebe Florence Miller, and the letters of Sybil Johnson, amongst others. In the course of her work, Martin also hopes to discover previously undocumented writing. She would be especially interested in hearing from Newfoundlanders or Labradorians who have pieces of writing at home belonging to deceased relatives with a connection to the First World War.

While hoping to complete this work through a post-doctoral position, Martin said she will still do the work even if that plan does not pan out.



Twitter: @TeleAndrew

Geographic location: Oxford, Newfoundland and Labrador

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