After spending four months of research, planning, meeting my supervisor, writing, editing, and proofreading, I handed in my dissertation today! It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders once I gave it in at the English office. I also felt a sense of relief as part of me still can’t believe that I managed to write 15,000 words over the period of the summer months, when for the past eight years I have gone away travelling with my dad, but instead I went away for two short breaks and spent the summer working part-time as well as writing my dissertation. I’ll admit, I am proud of myself!
I got to the university library for 8:15 this morning, ready to proofread my dissertation for the final time before submitting it to the bookshop for 10am to get it bound. Even though I gave myself a week to re read my work, I still made a few tiny tweaks today, which meant that I had to change the page numbers for a few references in my chapters, which I didn’t realise until I had printed off one copy! I only had to reprint a couple of pages, and then I printed off two more copies of my dissertation, since I had to submit three copies to the English office (a total of 153 pages!!!).
I collected the three copies of my dissertation at 1pm, and I was amazed at how professional the final piece looked. I thought that I had to ask for plastic binding, but it turns out the English department wanted MA dissertations ‘perfect bound’. This meant that my dissertation looks like a book, which is pretty cool (see how nice it looks in the photo of me holding it!). It made me feel proud to submit it, a bit like submitting a PhD I guess.
Overall I have enjoyed the experience of a dissertation at Masters level. As I have mentioned before, I am still undecided on whether to do a PhD. I will see what result I receive for my dissertation and my Masters overall, and I will keep in mind my current idea, which is to promote the works of Wrenne Jarman.
I definitely feel that I am more specialised in English Literature at a greater level from studying an MA, and I found out during my MA that my specialism is contemporary literature. If I had known that before I studied an MA, I would’ve chosen the MA in Modern Literature which the University of Leicester offers, but I do not regret picking the MA in English Studies. The course offers students the chance to study literature from the Medieval era through to contemporary, and to pick an area of their choice when writing coursework. I enjoy a variety of literature from different time periods, so I thoroughly enjoyed the course.
36 days left to go until my dissertation for my masters degree is due!
I have written only one blog about my dissertation so far, which was when I was planning, getting my ideas together and doing a lot of research. As a quick reminder, my dissertation is about British female poetry of the Second World War. I looked at the First World War, so for me, it made sense to move onto the second one, but also because I enjoy studying female war poetry.
I’m at the stage now where I am just over two thirds of the way through in terms of the word count (the overall word count needs to be no more than 15,000 words). Sometimes I feel absolutely fine and believe that I have plenty of time and will finish it; other times I feel panicky and worry that I still have an awful lot of work to do!
Since writing the first blog about my dissertation, I have made a slight change to how I am approaching it. Rather than just focusing on female poets from the Second World War, I am looking into women who were not poets by occupation. War tends to cause people to write poetry, many who would not necessarily read or write it, as a way to come to terms with what is happening, and to express themselves through a creative medium i.e. in ways they cannot express in day-to-day conversation.
One example of a British woman who was not a poet but wrote poetry as a result of war is Alice Coats. Coats was better-known as a horticultural historian and a visual painter. She achieved outstanding recognition for her contribution to garden history, winning the award of the Veitch Memorial Medal by the Royal Horticultural Society on 17th February 1976, and she was conferred for an honorary degree of Master of Arts by the University of Birmingham on 9th July 1976.
Coats discovered her passion for horticulture when she worked in the Women’s Land Army in Warwickshire during the Second World War. After the war she published many books on gardening. However, it was from working in the Women’s Land Army that Coats’ talent for writing poetry was revealed in Vita Sackville-West’s anthology Poems Of The Land Army (1945). Even though Coats was not a poet, her works are very worthy of literary attention, many of them demonstrating what it was like to be a woman in war-time Britain.
The other women I am looking into are Vera Bax, Wrenne Jarman and Sylvia Read. All of the women in this dissertation have received very little or no recognition for their poetry written during and/or about the Second World War. This is partly because they were not poets or that well-known as poets. If they have received some attention, it is mostly only in passing, such as Tim Kendall, the editor of The Oxford Handbook of British and Irish Poetry (2007), who mentions Alice Coats as a talent poet, ‘represented by her wittingly satirical ‘Monstrous Regiment’’ (p.433).
It has been really interesting conducting research into women who have been greatly under-represented in contemporary literary studies. Women are slowly starting to be included more into the study of war poetry, and those that have been recognised were established writers during the twentieth-century, the most well-known one being Frances Cornford. Another well-known name is Edith Sitwell, but for my dissertation, I have purposely avoided those who have already been established into literary studies today. There are so many talented women who have yet to be discovered and added to the canon of war literature.
Even though I do find it difficult at times to write up my dissertation, I am enjoying the experience overall. Research and editing are my favourite parts of the process, the writing not so much! I am still unsure as to whether I would like to pursue a PhD- I will see how this ‘small’ project goes and how life is after finishing at university.
I mentioned when I first started blogging that I wanted to write about other topics, not just about my quest to improve my fitness for the upcoming Race for Life and posting homemade vegetarian recipes. Alongside all of the lifestyle stuff, I am a full-time student studying a Masters in English Studies, and the time has come where I need to seriously consider my dissertation.
For my undergraduate dissertation I looked at how British female war poets represent the position and engagement of women during the First World War. So to me, it makes sense to move onto the Second World War. I really enjoyed studying war poetry last year for my dissertation, and I have a passion for history. I want to see how different female poetry is from World War II in comparison to World War I.
I don’t know how much the British education system has changed since I was at secondary school and college, but when studying war, only the great soldier poets of the First World War are considered. Ask any British person to name a World War One poet, and you’ll get Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke and many more males who fought as soldiers. At a stretch, you might hear Jessie Pope and Charlotte Mew, but generally female poets of both wars are greatly underrepresented.
The reason for this underrepresentation is that both world wars are viewed as gendered experiences. Women were not allowed to become soldiers; they were forbidden from participating as combatants on the front line in the British forces. So war is seen as a male experience, hence some have used this to argue that women surely have nothing worth writing about, because they could not fight.
This is completely false. British women had experiences just as worthy of recognition as men did. In fact, the boundary between the Home Front and the Front Line was entirely diminished in the Second World War, as civilians in Britain experienced similar horrors to soldiers, such as the Blitz when Germany repeatedly bombed London and other UK cities.
In addition, the distinction between the sexes also became blurred during both world wars as women took on traditionally masculine roles, including munitions, agriculture and ambulance drivers.
Interesting fact: female conscription was introduced for the first time in British history through the National Service Act of 1941. Young unmarried women or childless widows were called up for war work, to help with the national effort.
Despite women working in masculine jobs, gender roles were greatly maintained, particularly by the British government and propaganda. Men serving as soldiers were constantly reminded that they were fighting to protect the women and children at home, and women’s magazines reminded women to upkeep their beauty and appearance, as well as the household, even while working in difficult and tiring jobs. Women, ideally, were expected to represent social stability by remaining at and maintaining their home, ready for the soldier’s return.
Of course women did venture abroad to serve as nurses and other non-combatant wartime roles, but even there they were expected to adhere to the ideals of femininity. Forbidding women from physical combat was the main method of retaining femininity, as male soldiers were associated with killing, while women were life-givers.
Catherine Reilly (1925-2005) conducted a lot of research into war poetry, and she was the first person to publish anthologies dedicated solely to British female war poets. I used Scars Upon My Heart(1981), an anthology of First World War female poetry for my undergraduate dissertation, and for my masters dissertation, I will be using the companion anthology Chaos of the Night (1984), which contains female poetry of the Second World War. I also recently discovered Anne Powell’s Shadows of War (1999), which contains additional women who wrote poetry. Both books are great reads, highlighting the fact that women were greatly involved in the war and had their own experiences worthy of recognition.
When I did my undergraduate dissertation, I found out that there is a gradual growing recognition for female war poets. Their poetry is representative of the experiences women went through during wartime Britain, including mourning, loss and working in gender reversed roles. If women had not been willing to work during both world wars, they would have been elongated, or possibly not won by Britain and its allies.
While there is more recognition for female war poets, anthologies still tend to veer towards the male gendered experience, only including a few poems by women. Some critics argue the reason for this is the genre of war poetry needs to be redefined, since the war experience of women is different to men’s.
The genre of war poetry was established by the soldier war poets of the First World War, representing the experiences of fighting in combat and trench warfare. World War One was the first war of modern technological warfare, which greatly influenced soldiers in writing their poetry. In fact, Second World War poetry is not as critically acclaimed as the First World War, most likely due to this.
I’m currently doing research at the moment, having read over twenty sources so far, a mixture of literary criticism and historical accounts. One of my favourite parts of writing essays and dissertations is research and reading. I learn something new each time I read a different source and, quite often, it helps to shape how I write my assignments.
The process of writing this dissertation is going to be very different compared to my experiences as an undergraduate. My undergraduate dissertation started in the summer before I started third year, when I did lots of reading and research, and writing up the project worked alongside all of my other assignments. This proved challenging for many students, but I coped with it rather well, making sure that I aimed to write a bit of my dissertation every week and meeting regularly with my supervisor. My hard work and effort meant that I achieved a first for my undergraduate dissertation!
I had to do a presentation recently in front of my course mates and some lecturers from the university. Overall it went really well; I received constructive feedback and was asked questions which will help me for my Masters dissertation.
My main research questions for this dissertation are:
How do British female poets represent the position and engagement of women during the Second World War?
What attitudes towards women are conveyed through female war poetry?
Why is Second World War poetry not as critically acclaimed as the poetry of the First World War
What ideals of ‘Britishness’ and opposition to Nazism/fascism conveyed through female war poetry?
How is a sense of the war as a ‘people’s’ one, and a sense of a nation united, portrayed through female war poetry
Is the divide between sex/gender maintained or blurred in female war poetry? What attitudes are held towards sex/gender by women poets?
So I have 15,000 words due on the 15th September 2015. Once I’ve handed in my dissertation, that’s it. I will have finished my masters! A scary prospect really, as I don’t know what my future holds. But as I wrote in a recent blog, I’m not worrying too much about my future, and just taking life and opportunities as they come.