" 'My Heart is a Piece of Stone': Anxious Separations and Emotional Dislocations in British Correspondence from the Long Second World War."

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Abstract

Historians who write about emotion in wartime focus mainly on the experiences of frontline soldiers and of civilians under bombardment, but wartime separation from family and friends also provoked a range of emotions. This paper excavates emotion in an unusually complete set of letters written by a British working-class couple between 1941 and 1946. Interpreting letter-writing as a technology of the self, it explores their letter-writing practices, and uses psychoanalytic theory to comprehend the anxieties that their letters document. Wartime and post-war separation, enforced by conscription, challenged their aspirations to a companionate marital style and added to the complexities of pregnancy and parenthood. The sickness and hospitalisation of their baby in 1945 – 46, in the era before the establishment of the National Health Service, introduced a new dimension to separation. Occurring at a time when the couple were even further apart geographically than during the war itself, and letters were the only regular means of connection, it imposed massive marital, and, particularly, maternal strain. By analysing and contextualising the increasingly fraught exchanges between a mother on her own and a man at the frontline, this paper throws new light on epistolary constructions of anxious separations and emotional dislocations in the “long” Second World War.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of British Studies
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 11 Sep 2022

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