“Gripping, Grewsome, Great”: Re-Encountering Ellen La Motte’s The Backwash of War through the Lens of Obscenity

Layne Parish CraigTexas Christian University
Vol. 39, No. 1 (Spring 2020), 39-60

This article shines new light on a lesser-known modernist woman writer whose use of the obscene was no less revolutionary than that of her male contemporaries. Ellen N. La Motte’s World War I memoir The Backwash of War was celebrated upon its publication in 1916 for its frank treatment of the human body; however, scholarly work on La Motte has focused on her biography as a nurse-essayist and downplayed her explicit depictions of male soldiers’ physicality. This paper analyzes La Motte’s use of obscenity and taboo in order to recover her place not only as a bold and transgressive documentarian of the war but also as a progenitor of a modernist writing style heavily influenced by changing understandings of the role of the body in art.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]