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Reading Late Modern Wartime in the Anthropocene: Elizabeth Bowen's The Little Girls

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 May 2022


This article considers the way Elizabeth Bowen's The Little Girls (1963) continually gestures beyond its narrative present, and the consequences this has for the text's interpretation in its future—our present moment of environmental crisis. Bowen's late work is concerned with “late modern wartime”: a period when global conflicts seemed recursive, repetitious, or continuous. But this was also a wartime whose environmental impacts, by the 1960s, became enmeshed with deep geological timescales, when radionuclides were discovered to remain toxic into the far future. Tracing how Bowen grappled with anxiety about the future, from interwar culture to the Cold War, the article answers the critical injunction that we need new modes of reading in the Anthropocene by returning to the mid-century—now considered to be a key “beginning” of the Anthropogenic age. It argues that the posthuman imagination lies at the intersection between the nuclear uncanny and the anthropogenic uncanny.

Copyright © 2022 The Author(s). Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Modern Language Association of America

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This essay began as a paper for the conference Troublesome Modernisms, hosted by the British Association of Modernist Studies in 2019. A subsequent draft was presented to the University of St. Andrews’ School of English Research Seminar, and I would like to thank colleagues there for generous comments that shaped this piece.


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