Shell Shock in “The Secret Battle”

We’re honored to have The Secret Battle editor Dr. Austin Riede as a guest author today. Dr. Riede is an English professor at the University of North Georgia.

What drew me most to The Secret Battle is its frank and curious exploration of the phenomenon of shell shock, the particular form of war trauma that developed during the first World War. While all wars generate trauma, shell shock has become a historical (if still inexact) term that signifies the individual trauma of soldiers and nurses in the war, as well as the larger cultural trauma of the war.

While The Secret Battle is not the first novel to explore the issue of shell shock, I think it is the first to do so from the point of view of a sympathetic, but somewhat detached, narrator. The unnamed narrator, like Herbert himself, has seen and experienced the war firsthand. The narrator who tells the story of Harry Penrose is clearly interested in his friend, but he is also confused about what has happened to him, and the question of why this happened to Harry and not to him—or to any other soldier who may have found himself in the same position.

Among the myriad characters in British literature suffering shell shock, Harry Penroses’s case is perhaps the most subtle and understated. In Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Septimus Smith suffers rather ostentatiously and schizophrenically. In her novel Return of the Soldier, Rebecca West’s Chris Baldry suffers from easily identifiable (and clearly allegorical) amnesia, like Ford Madox Ford’s Christopher Tietjens from his Parade’s End tetralogy,. Later depictions of shell shocked soldiers, the fictional Billy Prior and the fictionalized Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon in Pat Barker’s Man Booker prize winning Regeneration trilogy, are similarly overtly traumatized. All of these are excellent explorations of what shell shock meant for British literature and culture, and Harry Penrose deserves to take a place among them. His shell shock is less easy to identify. The symptoms are subtle and the situation is non-allegorical. Although Harry Penrose’s story is unique, what is so striking, both to the narrator and to the reader, is how easily it could have happened to anybody. Among the literary depictions of shell shock, Harry Penrose—no artistic or mathematical genius, no paragon of manhood—is the most typical and in many ways, the most tragically and unnecessarily doomed.

The Secret Battle releases May 28, 2018. While you wait, don’t miss out on our other exciting The Secret Battle events:

• Mar 21 — Cover Reveal
• Apr 4 — Press Release
• Apr 25— “Editing and Annotating The Secret Battle” by Ed. Austin Riede
• May 2 — Editor Interview
• May 2 — Giveaway Begins
• May 9 — Sample Chapter
• May 16 — “Shell Shock in The Secret Battle” by Ed. Austin Riede
• May 23 — Launch Info
• May 28 — Book Release

Editing and Annotating “The Secret Battle”

We’re honored to have The Secret Battle editor Dr. Austin Riede as a guest author today. Dr. Riede is an English professor at the University of North Georgia.

Working on The Secret Battle was the first time I edited an historical text. My approach to editing the text was to try and preserve the novel’s text in its original form, so I made up my mind to preserve the British spellings, and only try to change errors. I soon found that the text had gone through many small changes in subsequent editions since 1919, and in almost all cases, I chose the original spelling or phrase.

I approached the novel by keeping in mind that its potential audience is broad. When reading an annotated novel, I’ve always found it annoying when some name or reference which I am unfamiliar with is not explained in a note. This is most likely to occur when reading a novel or text on an unfamiliar topic from an unfamiliar period or region. While the World War I literature and history buff may be familiar with a broad range of geographical and cultural references in the text, I chose to annotate with the first-year university student—born in this millennium rather than the last—in mind.

That said, the novel challenged my own knowledge on the War. While it was easy to explain things like the location of the Dardanelles, or where in London the Haymarket is, I soon found that Herbert was treating his topic with the immediacy and familiarity of someone who had just lived through the war. He was writing to an audience for whom the geography and the battles of the war would have been intimately familiar from newspaper accounts, as well as from accounts of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers revolving in and out of the England on leave, or returned permanently due to injury. The painful details of the failed invasion of the Dardanelles would have been fresh in the minds of Herbert’s intended audience. They would have read accounts in the paper of soldiers staying on the Island of Mudros, and would have had a clearer picture of the cliffs of Cape Helles in the Dardanelles, or of Vimy Ridge in France. I tried to be as inclusive as possible in the notes, so as to give the 21st century reader a clear picture of where exactly the characters are and what they are experiencing.

Editing and annotating The Secret Battle was a wonderful experience, and hopefully my work will help bring the novel to a new generation of readers.

The Secret Battle releases May 28, 2018. While you wait, don’t miss out on our other exciting The Secret Battle events:

• Mar 21 — Cover Reveal
• Apr 4 — Press Release
• Apr 25— “Editing and Annotating The Secret Battle” by Ed. Austin Riede
• May 2 — Editor Interview
• May 2 — Giveaway Begins
• May 9 — Sample Chapter
• May 16 — “Shell Shock in The Secret Battle” by Ed. Austin Riede
• May 23 — Launch Info
• May 28 — Book Release

Gloria Bennett on “A Room of One’s Own”

We’re honored to have Gloria Bennett guest-author today’s A Room of One’s Own celebration. Bennett is a creative writing professor at UNG. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in a number of literary journals and reviews.

I was introduced to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own as an undergraduate, and her words continue to inspire me. For me, the spirit of the essay is the emphasis on women having a dedicated private workspace. We need a quiet place, a room of our own, in order to write, to create, to map out our goals, and to pursue our dreams. If we’re going to succeed, we have to figure out a way to free ourselves from day-to-day distractions and commitments on our time.

I have a dedicated room in my home that serves as an office, but I use that space to grade my students’ compositions, and to work on lesson plans and other duties. While necessary in my line of work, these activities keep me from pursuing my art and making progress towards my own creativity.

Last spring, tight deadlines required me to finish the first draft of a book-length memoir I had spent the previous four summers working on. I began looking into writers’ retreats, applied to a handful, and was awarded a brief writer’s residency at an educational center and artist retreat in northwest Georgia, located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

For three days and two nights, I was the only guest on the premises. I stayed in one of several cottages, which was equipped with everything I needed for my stay: a fully furnished kitchen and bath, a comfortable bed, and a cozy writing space. I was surrounded by natural beauty, which inspired me to continue my writing project. When I needed a break from my work, I went for long walks through the woods on well-established trails, or sat in a rocking chair on the front porch to take in the mountain views. With the exception of the grounds keeper, who came to check on me at least twice a day, I was completely alone. The only other signs of life were the wildlife that ventured near my cottage.

As of this writing, I’m planning a similar trip for late May of this year—to the mountains of northern Alabama—for writing and reflection. Financial support systems like these are so important to writers, and other artists, who are seeking a room of their own to transform their craft into art, a thing of beauty for others to enjoy.

It’s Finally November

We’re honored to have Dr. Donna Gessell as a guest author today. Dr. Gessell has participated in NaNoWriMo for the last decade and helped organize local NaNoWriMo events on the UNG Dahlonega campus. This is the first in a four-part NaNoWriMo blog series.

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), that time of year when hundreds of thousands of people around the globe furiously attempt to write 50,000 words of their novels.

If that sounds crazy, well, it is. However, the experience is one I’ve repeated at least eleven times since I was introduced to the phenomenon thirteen years ago. Of those eleven times, I’m glad to report that I have “won” seven times. “Winning” means reaching the 50,000-word goal. The only prizes for winning are the satisfaction of having achieved the goal and “a crappy first draft” of a novel. That verbiage is from Chris Baty who started NaNoWriMo in 1999 with a group of friends. He chose 50,000 words because it is about the length of The Great Gatsby.

So why participate in NaNoWriMo?

Beyond the satisfaction and the draft, it’s a great exercise in writing discipline. It’s not difficult to figure out that an average of 1,667 words are needed each day for the thirty days of November. Finding the drive to write that much every day is good self-discipline for any writer. Also, dealing with the ups and downs that each week presents adds to the experience. When the euphoria of Week One expires, learning techniques to keep going during Weeks Two and Three builds writing stamina. And the final whirlwind of Week Four writing keeps authors coming back yearly.

The camaraderie of NaNoWriMo is also inspiring. Knowing that hundreds of thousands of other people are also writing makes for good company, and the NaNoWriMo website provides opportunities to converse with other authors in chat rooms on everything from character development to how to procrastinate with a variety of useless activities, including making up lists of poisons to do-in a villain and how to brew the perfect cup of coffee.

At the local level, writers can join regional groups and participate in Come Write Ins. In fact, the Chestatee Review is going to host Come Write Ins upstairs at the Starbucks in Dahlonega, 110 East Chestatee Street, every Monday in November from 10 am to 12 noon and from 7 pm to 9 pm.

Bring your laptop, your ideas, and your grit. You’ll see me adding words to my latest attempt at a novel, this one based in the small town in Virginia where I learned the power of words while writing manuscripts of all genres with my childhood friend.

More than a dozen novels that started out as NaNoWriMo projects have been published, including Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Perhaps yours will join the list.

Allen Mendenhall on Researching “The Southern Philosopher”

We’re honored to have Allen Mendenhall, editor of The Southern Philosopher: Collected Essays of John William Corrington, join us today as he talks about his research process, the help he received, and just what makes John William Corrington so interesting. You can find more by him at the Southern Literary Review and his website.

My interest in John William Corrington began in law school. I went to law school at West Virginia University to study under Jim Elkins, who is well-known in law-and-literature circles and recently had written on Corrington. I read Corrington in Elkins’s classes and at some point, reached out to Corrington’s widow, Joyce, to strike up a conversation about her late husband. Before I knew it, I was staying at Joyce’s home in New Orleans and getting phone calls from Bill’s friends and colleagues. One day, a package arrived in the English department at Auburn University, where I was a doctoral student, and in it were materials that a friend of Corrington’s sent along because he’d heard I was researching Corrington.

Some of Corrington’s other family members refused to talk to me about him. Joyce was always completely forthcoming with me when I asked her what I thought were sensitive questions. She’s not shy. The first time I found out Corrington had been married and divorced before he met and married Joyce, I was concerned about broaching the topic with her. But when I did question Joyce about this period of Corrington’s history, she didn’t miss a beat in explaining who the first wife was and why Bill had divorced.

Joyce showed my wife and me around New Orleans, took us to nice restaurants that only locals knew about, and showed me video footage of her late husband delivering a lecture. I couldn’t have gained the knowledge of Corrington that I now possess if it weren’t for Joyce’s openness and frankness.

I’ve written three books and now edited this one. The Corrington edition was harder to complete than the books I wrote. It took over seven years of work before the book finally reached print. The University of North Georgia Press has been patient with me and excellent to work with during this process.

Corrington was enthralled by the political philosopher Eric Voegelin and undertook multiple scholarly projects involving Voegelin’s complex teachings. Corrington illuminates Voegelin’s writing; in many ways, Corrington is easier to read. His prose, I think, is more accessible than Voegelin’s, and he introduces and describes the dense, esoteric subjects and concepts that characterize Voegelin’s work.

Problematic in our current time and space and political environment is Corrington’s fascination with the Confederacy. I won’t try to explain his positions on that subject here but would encourage readers to investigate for themselves his account of the role of myth and poetry in the narration of Southern history.

It’s interesting to see how Corrington went from writing Beat-style poetry in the 1960s to novels and short stories and then to daytime television scripts and philosophical tracts inspired by Voegelin. His interests and talents were diverse, and his friends and students were loyal. I’ve yet to talk to someone who disliked Corrington.

I think there’s more work to be done on Corrington’s life and thought. By bringing this collection of Corrington’s essays to print, I hope to have laid the groundwork for future scholarship on this fascinating man and his complex ideas about law, history, philosophy, and the humanities. The Southern Philosopher should generate more research about Corrington—and perhaps even get Corrington’s works in the classroom where students of a new generation can become as enamored of him as his own students were in his day.