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‘What you have to do is remember’: Representations of Women’s Experiences of Second World War Clandestine Warfare in Fiction, Life Writing, Film and Television

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posted on 2019-04-17, 08:12 authored by Bronwen A. Edwards
Representations of women’s experiences of working for the Special Operations Executive F Section and at Bletchley Park during the Second World War predominately convey a conservative view of the war. This depiction of the conflict is the result of the reliance within works of fiction and life writing on the recognisable narratives provided by hegemonic discourses of both war and gender. I use the term hegemonic war discourses to refer to the enduring symbols, language and imagery of the British experience of the Second World War as it presents in later eras, and hegemonic gender discourses to refer to cultural gender norms. The majority of the texts do not question these narratives, an adherence evident in a variety of recurring tropes and patterns, including eroticised torture scenes, the use of the stereotype of the ‘Good German’, female characters who must have sex as part of their war work, and an emphasis on heteronormative romance. These hegemonic discourses serve two purposes; they assist the author to negotiate the complexities of representing the past, negating anxieties about the reality of conflict and women’s sexual agency, and for the reader facing tumultuous political times they create a comfortable escape into a world which gives them the vision of the past they expect. There are, however, a few deviations in both life writing and fiction. The implications of these shifts are that women’s voices and reclamation of narrative agency through life writing can lead to transformations in hegemonic discourses, as the women reach for existing linguistic frames and mould them to their own experiences. Significantly, these changes also occur in a few of the fictional works, illustrating how women’s continued occupation of previously male gendered spaces has the potential to change how we think about conflict, gender and narrative norms.



Stewart, Victoria; Rawlinson, Mark

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Department of English

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University of Leicester

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