Monday, April 9, 2012
Emerging From World War I
Until recently I thought that World War I lacked any enduring significance. Yet some of the most interesting historical fictions I've been reading this year take place during that period. Tara Chevrestt's Ride For Rights approaches WWI as instrumental in advancing the cause of women's rights. Joseph Richardson's Fire Angels reveals WWI as a crucible that defined the character of those who fought, and those who didn't fight. Jacqueline Winspear's Birds of a Feather also deals with attitudes toward military participation in WWI.
The cultural meaning of the white feather in Winspear's book as a sign of cowardice contrasts with the white plume of courage in Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac. This was pointed out in a discussion about the significance of white feathers on Straight Dope. (See "Why Does A White Feather Signify Cowardice?" ) The English Channel separates the WWI White Feather Campaign from Rostand's 1897 play. Yet white feathers representing pacifism is in continuity with the dove as a symbol of peace. I'd expect that this is why doves appear on the UK edition's cover of Birds of a Feather shown above.
Winspear's mention of pilates in this novel intrigued me. She revealed that Joseph Pilates began to develop his system of exercises during WWI to assist wounded soldiers. According to my research, Joseph Pilates was motivated by a desire to overcome the illnesses from which he suffered as a child in Germany. His father's history in the sport of gymnastics probably also motivated Pilates to become stronger. In England, he became a self-defense instructor at Scotland Yard. Despite this service to law enforcement, he was interned during WWI due to his German origin. According to a French website devoted to pilates, its founder originally called his discipline "contrology". Today pilates is as popular as yoga which influenced Joseph Pilates.
Here are the sources that I consulted about Joseph Hubertus Pilates and his work:
Joseph Pilates and the History of Pilates
The Origin of Pilates
Australian Pilates Website
French Pilates Website
Wikipedia on Pilates
The Maisie Dobbs mystery series to which Birds of a Feather belongs focuses on post-WWI society. I expect I will learn a good deal more about the impact of WWI if I continue to read it.