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The Backwash of War: The Classic Account of a First World War Field-Hospital Nurse (1916)

Tekijä: Ellen N. La Motte

Muut tekijät: Katso muut tekijät -osio.

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
9412292,136 (4.16)11
"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.… (lisätietoja)
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Näyttää 1-5 (yhteensä 12) (seuraava | näytä kaikki)
The Backwash of War: The Human Wreckage of the Battlefield as Witnessed by an American Hospital Nurse by Ellen N. La Motte is the account of an American battlefield in nurse in French hospital in Belgium. The stories of her experiences were so horrifying and bad for moral the book was banned in the United States until 1934

When he could stand it no longer, he fired a revolver up through the roof of his mouth, but he made a mess of it. The ball tore out his left eye, and then lodged somewhere under his skull, so they bundled him into an ambulance and carried him, cursing and screaming, to the nearest field hospital.

These are the opening two sentences of the first of fourteen stories. The story goes on to explain that since he failed in his attempt he was to be nursed back to health, using valuable medical supplies, and when he was well enough, put up against a wall and shot.

What La Motte witnessed scenes like this and others that make Johnny Got His Gun seem like a child’s book. La Motte does not seem to have an agenda like many anti-war writers, but wants to bring to light the realities of a romanticized war. Medals were handed out much like candy. It was for the benefit of the morale of the civilian population, that when they saw a soldier walking the streets of Paris missing limbs they would notice the Coss de Guerre pinned on his chest.

Other stories tell of the stench of the hospitals where gangrene and meningitis were winning many of the battles. “A Surgical Triumph” is a very disturbing story on a wounded son of a hairdresser. Modern advances in medical science saved this soldier's life and it is a triumph for the medical community, but is it a triumph on a personal level.

La Motte removes all romantic notions of war as seen from the eyes of a nurse. She tells of the soldiers, medical staff, and the generals who make frequent rounds handing out medals in extremis. Despite motorized ambulances and a serious attempt to take care of the wounded, WWI was a miserable for anyone wounded as it was for anyone in the trenches. History tends to soften our views of the past. In this year, the one hundredth anniversary of World War I, the re-release of La Motte’s book will remind readers that no matter how glorious war is made out to be, there is a very dark and tragic side to every war.
( )
  evil_cyclist | Mar 16, 2020 |
THE BACKWASH OF WAR (original subtitle, THE HUMAN WRECKAGE OF THE BATTLEFIELD AS WITNESSED BY AN AMERICAN HOSPITAL NURSE), Ellen La Motte's little book of stories from the Belgian front of WWI was successful enough to go through multiple printings in the U.S. in 1916-17, although it was banned in France and England, where its dark tone was considered detrimental to morale and to the war effort itself. And, once the U.S. entered the war, the book was suppressed there too.

I had never heard of BACKWASH until very recently, when I ran across a mention of this new edition in a WWI Centennial Newsletter. As a "war lit" buff (in fact I'd just finished reading another obscure WWI memoir by an English private, A.M. Burrage's WAR IS WAR, about his time in the trenches of Belgium), I was immediately intrigued and decided to read it. And I was not disappointed. Cynthia Wachtell, an American Studies prof at Yeshiva University, has rescued the book from decades of obscurity, adding an erudite and scholarly Introduction and a perhaps first-ever biography of La Motte, to a well-annotated text of the original volume. She also added three other published wartime essays by LaMotte, along with an extensive list of other LaMotte writings, followed by her own extensive research notes and a useful index. In other words, the Wachtell edition - a fascinating mix of history, literature and women's studies - is a very important piece of scholarship, deserving of a wide audience.

Ellen La Motte's life was one of great accomplishment. Trained at Johns Hopkins as a nurse, she became a recognized expert on tuberculosis, publishing numerous articles about the disease and its treatment, and also held important administrative positions with the Health Department of Baltimore. Though not wealthy herself, she enjoyed the patronage of a very wealthy cousin, which gave her the opportunity to volunteer as a nurse overseas during the Great War. La Motte was already over forty when she traveled to France to try to "do her bit" for the war. Her experiences in a large Paris military hospital and then in a French field hospital near the Belgian front formed the basis for her BACKWASH stories, all of them dark and filled with starkly grim descriptions of the wounded and dying men she treated there.

While the stories are compelling enough in themselves - and I can see why they enjoyed such success in those early years of the war - what I found even more interesting here in the Wachtell edition was La Motte's own life story, brought out so well in the added biography and historical timeline. After she got to France, La Motte met Emily Crane Chadbourne, a wealthy divorcee from Chicago, heiress of the Crane Company (known primarily today for its bathroom fixtures). They began a relationship which would endure until La Motte's death in 1961. In Paris they would become close friends with another unorthodox couple, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas - a friendship which endured for nearly forty years. One is compelled to wonder if Ernest Hemingway, a frequent guest at Stein's salon in the postwar years, read BACKWASH (maybe even got a copy from Stein?), and developed his own terse, declarative style of writing in imitation of La Motte. Because the stylistic similarities are striking. But, having read another fascinating book, STEIN AND HEMINGWAY: THE STORY OF A TURBULENT FRIENDSHIP, by Lyle Larsen, I know that Ernie & Gert's friendship had its ups and downs, and that the macho Hemingway would have been loathe to admit being influenced by any woman, whether it be Stein or La Motte.

I was intrigued to learn that, despite her many accomplishments in the field of health and medicine, La Motte's real ambition was to be a writer, a dream she could follow freely, having become independently wealthy, first through her cousin, and then through her life-partner, Chadbourne. Following the success of BACKWASH, she became interested in the scourge of opium addiction, and traveled to China and other parts of the Far East to research it, later publishing numerous articles and several books on the opium trade. I wonder if any of those pieces would be relevant again today in light of the current opioid addiction crisis here in America.

When one thinks of literary classics of WWI, Hemingway's A FAREWELL TO ARMS, Remarque's ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, and perhaps e.e. cummings' THE ENORMOUS ROOM usually come to mind. To those I've previously added another favorite of my own, Frederic Manning's HER PRIVATES WE. And now there's this one, THE BACKWASH OF WAR: AN EXTRAORDINARY AMERICAN NURSE IN WORLD WAR I, which came before any of those others. There are several editions of La Motte's book available now, since it is in the public domain, but I will strongly recommend this one from Johns Hopkins University Press, with all of its important and illuminating addendums from editor Cynthia Wachtell. History, Literature and Women's Studies professors and teachers should take note, because this is a very important contribution to all of those fields. My congratulations to Dr Wachtell. My highest recommendation.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the Cold War memoir, SOLDIER BOY: AT PLAY IN THE ASA ( )
  TimBazzett | May 22, 2019 |
During WWI, Ellen serves as a nurse in France. She offers several short stories about the cruelty and harshness of war. A viewpoint rarely seen elsewhere. The stories themselves were fairly short, just quick snapshots into a patient, a procedure or an odd situation. She presents a very vivid, very honest point of view, which works well with her subject manner. Overall, highly recommended. ( )
  JanaRose1 | Jun 13, 2014 |
This short nonfiction book packs a powerful punch. Vignettes written by an American nurse about field hospitals during WWI, it is dark and graphic and disturbing. It is all too real.

There are heroes in the book, and there are also just plain people, people who ended up as fodder for war and those who ended up treating them. While emergency treatment for soldiers has changed drastically since the period of this book, and methods of fighting war have changed, the effect on bodies and souls is still devastating.

This is not a book full of hope and feel-good stories of redemption. It is a books of despair and hopelessness, and the timeless, relentless brutality and reality of war. ( )
  TooBusyReading | May 18, 2014 |
WHAT an amazing book. Honestly, I don't believe I've ever read a historical source like it. THE BACKWASH OF WAR is not done as a documentary. And it certainly isn't first person nor the type of history you would get with Xenophone or Gregory of Tours. Instead, this is a book of vignettes. And the author, Ellen Newbold La Motte, gives you stories that are drawn on her experience as an American nurse volunteering in Flanders during WWI.

Her writing is astonishingly good. It's philosophical, poetic, poignant, and very successful in relating the horrors of war. In fact, if I had had her experiences, I'm quite sure I would have had to write them down, or else go mad.

Take the suicide.

When he could stand it no longer, he fired a revolver up through the roof of his mouth, but he made a mess of it. This ball tore out his left eye, and then lodged somewhere under his skull, so they bundled him into an ambulance and carried him, cursing and screaming, to the nearest field hospital.

..Since he had failed-in the job, his life must be saved, he must be nursed back to health, until he was well enough to be stood up against a wall and shot.


Nurse Ellen writes of the irony of the time and expense of saving this man. How the surgeon took so much time to partially repair him, and spent so much in materials to save his life, items that might have been used for men who wished to live. All that ether and gauze. All spent so that the poor fellow, with his eye left dangling, could be shot by his countrymen. Because well, discipline is important.

About the Croix de Guerre she writes,

He had performed no special act of bravery, but all mutilés are given the Croix de Guerre, for they will recover and go back to Paris, and in walking about the streets of Paris, with one leg gone, or an arm gone, it is good for the morale of the country that they should have a Croix de Guerre pinned on their breasts.


This is a blunt author. A blunt book. A book I reacted to strongly. If you are like me you'll find her insight into how 'the system' worked very interesting. Just as some of her asides are. She comments at one point, for example, about the patients in her ward discussing how when they over took a German gunnery site, they found the Germans chained to their weapons.

Read this book --which was banned in the United States after we entered the war. You will not find stories that are purposefully uplifting. But I think you'll marvel at the women and men who worked in that horrific environment. Who volunteered for it.

And all that night he died, and all the next day he died, and all the night following he died, for he was a very strong man and his vitality was wonderful.

... His was a filthy death. He died after three days' cursing and raving. Before he died, that end of the ward smelled foully, and his foul words, shouted at the top of his delirious voice, echoed foully. Everyone was glad when it was over.
( )
  PamFamilyLibrary | Apr 25, 2014 |
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» Lisää muita tekijöitä (3 mahdollista)

Tekijän nimiRooliTekijän tyyppiKoskeeko teosta?Tila
Ellen N. La Motteensisijainen tekijäkaikki painoksetlaskettu
Mortier, ErwinKääntäjämuu tekijäeräät painoksetvahvistettu
Sinun täytyy kirjautua sisään voidaksesi muokata Yhteistä tietoa
Katso lisäohjeita Common Knowledge -sivuilta (englanniksi).
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Alkuteoksen nimi
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Alkuperäinen julkaisuvuosi
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Kirjaan liittyvät elokuvat
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Epigrafi (motto tai mietelause kirjan alussa)
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Tiedot englanninkielisestä Yhteisestä tiedosta. Muokkaa kotoistaaksesi se omalle kielellesi.
To
MARY BORDEN-TURNER
"The Little Boss"

TO WHOM I OWE MY EXPERIENCE IN
THE ZONE OF THE ARMIES
Ensimmäiset sanat
Tiedot englanninkielisestä Yhteisestä tiedosta. Muokkaa kotoistaaksesi se omalle kielellesi.
This war has been described as “Months of boredom, punctuated by moments of intense fright.”
Sitaatit
Viimeiset sanat
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Englanninkielinen Wikipedia

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"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.

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