‘Time unfixed’: Time, Narrative and the First World War
In 1916 the Home Office sent out a poster announcing an ‘Alteration of Time […] by order of the Lord Lieutenant’, whereby ‘the time […] will be put forward an hour […] [for] purposes arising from the War.’ Four years later, in his foreword to ‘Women In Love’ (1920) D. H. Lawrence presented an ‘altered’ sense of time as the defining characteristic of a war whose end, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, had been marked by a symbolic pause in time. Lawrence wrote that he had decided that the novel should ‘not concern the war itself,’ although it ‘took its final shape in the midst of the period of war,’ because he had wished for ‘time to remain unfixed, so that the bitterness of war may be taken for granted’.
My research examines the link between ‘the bitterness of war’ and ‘unfixed’ senses of time in the literature of and about the First World War. I will explore how the experience of war shaped the experience of time, and how these shapes are borne out in narrative prose. My analysis will focus on British fiction between 1914 and 1939, and on the novels of Ford Madox Ford, D. H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf in particular. My PhD’s main contention is that the ways war shaped time were absorbed into narrative forms. It thus arises from and builds upon the ‘temporal turn’ in literary studies ushered in by Ricoeur’s ‘Temps et Récit’ (1983). Despite this turn’s particular impact on modernist studies, the First World War has remained strangely under-explored. By filling in the gap in our understanding between pre- and post-war narrative temporality, I hope also to demonstrate the utility of historically-informed narrative analysis, and to begin to bridge the gap between narratology and historical criticism.