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9781421426716
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The Backwash of War

An Extraordinary American Nurse in World War I

"We are witnessing a phase in the evolution of humanity, a phase called War—and the slow, onward progress stirs up the slime in the shallows, and this is the Backwash of War. It is very ugly."—Ellen N. La Motte

In September 1916, as World War I advanced into a third deadly year, an American woman named Ellen N. La Motte published a collection of stories about her experience as a war nurse. Deemed damaging to morale, The Backwash of War was immediately banned in both England and France and later censored in wartime America. At once deeply unsettling and darkly humorous, this compelling book presents a unique view of the destruction wrought by war to the human body and spirit. Long neglected, it is an astounding book by an extraordinary woman and merits a place among major works of WWI literature.

This volume gathers, for the first time, La Motte's published writing about the First World War. In addition to Backwash, it includes three long-forgotten essays. Annotated for a modern audience, the book features both a comprehensive introduction to La Motte's war-time writing in its historical and literary contexts and the first extended biography of the "lost" author of this "lost classic." Not only did La Motte boldly breach decorum in writing The Backwash of War, but she also forcefully challenged societal norms in other equally remarkable ways, as a debutante turned Johns Hopkins–trained nurse, pathbreaking public health advocate and administrator, suffragette, journalist, writer, lesbian, and self-proclaimed anarchist.

About the Authors

Writer Ellen N. La Motte (1873–1961) graduated from the Johns Hopkins Hospital Training School for Nurses in 1902. During World War I, La Motte volunteered to nurse in Paris and then served in a field hospital at the Belgian front. She was the author of numerous books, including The Tuberculosis Nurse, Peking Dust, and The Opium Monopoly. Cynthia Wachtell is a research associate professor of American studies at Yeshiva University. She is the author of War No More: The Antiwar Impulse in American Literature, 1861–1914.

Endorsements

"The Backwash of War is an important book. Through her sensitive and informed editing, Wachtell paints a subtle picture of LaMotte that includes censorship, suffragism, her relationship with the lesbian avant-garde scene in Paris, political activism, and her influence on other American writers."

- Kate McLoughlin, University of Oxford, author of Authoring War: The Literary Representation of War from the Iliad to Iraq

"With The Backwash of War, Cynthia Wachtell not only makes available a forgotten classic anti-war book, but also provides an insightful biography and an astute introduction to the war writing of Ellen La Motte, whose approach to describing the human cost of war was genuinely innovative."

- Lynn Dumenil, Occidental College, author of The Second Line of Defense: American Women and World War I

"Long before A Farewell to Arms or All Quiet on the Western Front, a trailblazing American nurse captured the bloody absurdity of World War I so perfectly she was censored for telling the truth. Read now; don't let Ellen La Motte sit in obscurity a moment longer. But be warned—these devastating stories, like a German shell, will rip your guts out. "

- Brian Castner, bestselling author of The Long Walk and All the Ways We Kill and Die
Johns Hopkins University Press
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