Reading, Trauma and Literary Caregiving 1914-1918: Helen Mary Gaskell and the War Library

Journal of Medical Humanities:1-17 (forthcoming)

Abstract
This article is about the relationship between reading, trauma and responsive literary caregiving in Britain during the First World War. Its analysis of two little-known documents describing the history of the War Library, begun by Helen Mary Gaskell in 1914, exposes a gap in the scholarship of war-time reading; generates a new narrative of "how," "when," and "why" books went to war; and foregrounds gender in its analysis of the historiography. The Library of Congress's T. W. Koch discovered Gaskell's ground-breaking work in 1917 and reported its successes to the American Library Association. The British Times also covered Gaskell's library, yet researchers working on reading during the war have routinely neglected her distinct model and method, skewing the research base on war-time reading and its association with trauma and caregiving. In the article's second half, a literary case study of a popular war novel demonstrates the extent of the "bitter cry for books." The success of Gaskell's intervention is examined alongside H. G. Wells's representation of textual healing. Reading is shown to offer sick, traumatized and recovering combatants emotional and psychological caregiving in ways that she could not always have predicted and that are not visible in the literary/historical record.
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DOI 10.1007/s10912-018-9513-5
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