Not So Quiet: Stepdaughters of War

Posted on centenarynews.com on 18 January 2016
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Author: Helen Zenna Smith
Publication Date: 01 January 1930

Publisher's Description:

'Praised by the Chicago Sun-Times for its “furious, indignant power,” this story offers a rare, funny, bitter, and feminist look at war. First published in London in 1930, Not So Quiet... (on the Western Front) describes a group of British women ambulance drivers on the French front lines during World War I, surviving shell fire, cold, and their punishing commandant, "Mrs. Bitch." The novel takes the guise of an autobiography by Smith, pseudonym for Evadne Price. The novel's power comes from Smith's outrage at the senselessness of war, at her country's complacent patriotism, and her own daily contact with the suffering and the wounded.'

Centenary News Comment:

Not So Quiet purports to be the diary of Helen Zenna Smith, an ambulance driver at the front. In fact Smith is the pseudonym of Evadne Price, a popular writer and journalist after the First World War. She was approached by her publisher to write a woman's repy to Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, but rather than trivialise his experiences by writing a parody novel Price decided to write a serious novel. Although she did not serve any time at the Front, Not So Quiet is based heavily on the diaries of Winifred Young who served as an ambulance driver in France.

Not So Quiet is a harrowing novel and its power comes from the juxtapostition of everyday life and the worst aspects of war. The book opens with the company of drivers cutting their hair to get rid of lice, but even this necessary act is weighed down by the expectations of society - even at war women must be feminine.

Not So Quiet provides a double perspective - that of the non-combatant on the home front and as one of 'England's Splendid Daughter's' doing her bit - which allows Price to comment on society as a whole and the concepts of masculinity and feminity as well as the social and psychological effects of war. Ultimately it satirises in the bleakest way an unswerving patriotism and blurs the distinction between the enemy of the Western Front and the enemy at home.

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