Aftershocks: Politics and Trauma in Britain, 1918-1931 by Susan Kingsley Kent

By Susan Kingsley Kent

Aftershocks reports how meanings of shellshock and imagery proposing the traumatized psyche as shattered contributed to Britons' understandings in their political selves within the Nineteen Twenties. It connects the strength of feelings to the political tradition of a decade which observed awesome violence opposed to these considered as 'un-English'.

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Frontsoldiers returned home in a violent frame of mind. “All was not right with the spirit of the men who came back,” Philip Gibbs wrote in 1920 of the veterans. Something was wrong. They put on civilian clothes again, looked to their mothers and wives very much like the young men who had gone to business in the peaceful days before August of ’14. But they had not come back the same men. Something had altered in them. They were subject to queer moods, queer tempers, fits of profound depression alternating with a restless desire for pleasure.

They may seem to forget it and go along as peaceable as anybody to all outward appearance, but it’s all artificial, you get my meaning. Then, one day, something ‘appens to upset them . . and something goes pop inside their brains and makes raving monsters of them. It’s all in the books, he adds, offering an explanation for the widespread adoption of the mind in pieces as archetypal interwar subject. Lord Peter himself had been “blown up and buried in a shell-hole” in 1918, returning home with “a bad nervous breakdown, lasting, on and off, for two years.

A persistent “noise” in her head crowded out any possibility of thinking coherently. Her mind “clogged,” she sought quiet that might enable her to “really clear up her mind; really come to some conclusion . . ” Like a piece of paper blown about from place to place, Scrap could not settle or find mooring. ” Rose Macaulay’s 1919 What Not, A Prophetic Comedy declared that wars “put a sudden end to many of the best intellects, the keenest, finest minds, which would have built up the shattered ruins of the world in due time.

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