Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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Unmentionables

Unmentionables is a story of the transformative power of an open mind and an open heart. Small town intrigues, women’s suffrage, race relations, international aid, public health regulation and undergarments all figure in the mix.

Laurie Loewenstein’s novel opens in August 1917 under the Chautauqua tent in the Midwest town of Emporia. Marian Elliott Adams sweeps onto the stage wearing “a rippling striped silk caftan and red Moroccan sandals” to lecture on Barriers to the Betterment of Women. Not about the lack of female colleges or voting rights, as you might think. Rather, the barriers are “combination suit, petticoat, corset, corset cover, hose supporter, hose” – 25 pounds of invisibilities that drag women down. The nameless faces in the audience (they look the same in every Chautauqua town) listen politely. The Chautauqua lectures are offered and taken as entertainment. Nobody expects them to change the world. Continue reading


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Rilla of Ingleside

After a few novels set on the Western Front, I wanted to move to the home front. Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside did the trick.

Rilla of Ingleside is chronologically the eighth book in the Anne of Green Gables series, although it was the sixth published. First published in 1920, it is a rare (some say the only) novel written from a woman’s viewpoint about the war in Canada by an author who lived through the war. It chronicles the entire period of the war, starting on the day Franz Ferdinand’s assassination is reported and ending as the local boys who enlisted and survived come home to Prince Edward Island. Continue reading


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Not So Quiet … Stepdaughters of War

Not So Quiet … Stepdaughters of War (NSQ) turns All Quiet on the Western Front (AQWF) around and looks at WW1 through women’s eyes from the Allied side of the Front. As AQWF tells of a young German soldier on the front lines, NSQ tells of British ambulance driver Helen Z Smith.

Author Evadne Price was commissioned to write a parody of AQWF from a woman’s point of view, All Quaint on the Western Front. Instead, she adapted the war diaries of Winnifred Young to craft NSQ as a fictional memoir under the pseudonym Helen Zenna Smith. Published in 1930, it won the French Prix Severigne as “the novel most calculated to promote world peace”. Continue reading