Historian David Bell recently suggested that scholars reconsider the impact of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815) upon modern culture, naming them the first "total war" in modern history. My thesis explores the significance of the wars specifically in the British mourning culture of the period by studying the war literature of four women writers: Anna Letitia Barbauld, Amelia Opie, Jane Austen, and Felicia Hemans. This paper further asks how these authors contributed to the development of a national consciousness studied by Georg Lukács, Benedict Anderson, and others. I argue that women had a representative experience of non-combatants' struggle to mourn war deaths occurring in relatively foreign lands and circumstances. Women writers recorded and contributed to this representative experience that aided the development of a national consciousness in its strong sense of shared anxieties and grief for soldiers. Excluded physically and experientially, women would have had an especially difficult time attempting to mourn combatant deaths while struggling to imagine the places and manners in which those deaths occurred, especially when no physical bodies came home to "testify" of their loved ones' experiences. Women writers' literary portraits of imagined women mourning those whose bodies never came home provide interesting insights into the strategies employed during the grieving process and ultimately demonstrate their contribution to a collective British consciousness based on mourning. The questions I explore in the first section of this thesis circle around the idea of women as writers and mourners: What were writers saying about war, death, and mourning? What common themes begin to appear in the women's Romantic war literature? And, perhaps most importantly, how did such mourning literature affect the growing sense of nationality coming out of this period? In the second section, I consider more precisely how these literary contributions affected mourning culture when no bodies were present for burial and advanced the development of a national consciousness that recognized the wars' "nobodies." How did women's experiences of being left behind and marginalized in the war efforts prepare them to conceptualize destructive mass deaths abroad, and, conceptualizing them, to mourn them?



College and Department

Humanities; English



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Amelia Opie, Anna Letitia Barbauld, body, Britain, burial, death, Felicia Hemans, French Revolutionary War, Jane Austen, literature, mourning, Napoleonic Wars, national consciousness, relic, Romantic, war, women