I was leaving for home after a long, tiring day, depressed as I am these days at the thought of how hard the university is being hit by the current crisis, when a smiling colleague stopped me in the middle of the corridor. She’s an associate that teaches English Language and with whom I’ve only had contact because of admin matters. I thought she was going to ask me something about her workload next year as I’m the current Coordinator but I wondered why she was smiling.
To my surprise, she told me that surfing the net she’d come across an essay on Melvyn Bragg’s The Soldier’s Return (2000) and A Son of War (2001) that I had written a few years ago and published in Jaén’s ‘obscure’ journal Odisea. In the article (see: www.ual.es/odisea/Odisea09_MartinAlegre.pdf) I discuss these two autobiographical novels, which are part of a quartet completed by Crossing the Lines (2003) and Remember Me… (2008), using Masculinities Studies in order to examine a highly neglected theme: the silence that WWII British veterans kept and were forced to keep about their experiences. We know much about the shell-shocked WWI veterans and indeed about the post-traumatic stress syndrome suffered by Vietnam veterans. Yet, since WWII was a ‘just’ war fought against a monstrous villain, its veterans were forced to play the role of heroes, and, thus, to voice no complaints, for theirs could only have been the right (military) experience: all duty, honour and glory. Bragg dismantles the myth by narrating the many difficulties his own father had to readjust to civilian life once back from the war, also dismantling the myth that the reencounters with estranged wives and children were easy. They were not, as he himself learned.
As happens, my colleague’s father went through a similar situation and when she came across my essay she was looking for research on fiction that narrated the soldier’s return. In the lively 15 minutes we spent chatting in the middle of the corridor, she told me how sorry she was that she hadn’t listened with more interest when –atypically, I believe– her father insisted on telling his war tales to his daughters. ‘We were then teenagers’ she told me, ‘and teenagers are bored by these things.’ This is why she has decided to compensate for that lack of attention, which she sorely regrets, by checking the corresponding fiction and perhaps embarking on a doctoral dissertation (that’s why I always say that research in the Humanities is personal). Funnily enough, I had just taught my students that very same morning, following Leonard Davis’s clever Resisting Novels (1987), that ironically we pay attention to novels with a patience and interest we never find for actual human beings. I used as an example how I search myself all the time in Spanish Civil War novels for the experiences I could not get out of my grandfathers (being on opposite sides but in the same family they decided to silence them completely). I’m not sure I would have listened if they had decided to tell the tale.
So, Christina: thank you, you made my day by making me see that research no matter how ‘obscure’ can find an audience (as I always say, thanks to the internet), and that what mattered to me very much when I wrote that essay matters to others. I do hope you write that dissertation and I look forward to reading it.