Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

"I Have Something Vital to Do Here": The Modernist Mode in the Writings of Mary Borden
by Gromada, Jennifer Susan, D.Litt., Drew University, 2019, 371; 13859546
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation explores the modernist mode in the writings of Mary Borden. Borden was an early twentieth-century Anglo-American writer. Her best-known work is The Forbidden Zone, a collection of modernist World War I prose and poetry drawn from her experiences running field hospitals in France and Belgium during the war.

Borden came of age as a writer concurrent with the rise of literary modernism. Possessing personal wealth, an elite education, social connections, artistic interests, and an ambitious personality, she cultivated relationships with a group of influential artists, writers, and thinkers living in Europe in the early twentieth century. Modernist techniques emerged in her writing in the 1910s, expanding and developing through the following decade, and reaching their zenith in The Forbidden Zone in 1929. The rapid evolution of Borden’s modernist technique, particularly during World War I, places her at the forefront of this literary movement. A chronological review of Borden’s vast, though largely unknown, catalog of writing—stories, poems, book-length narratives, essays, and published letters—offers a window into the changes in poetic and narrative style and technique occurring during the era of literary disruption later identified as modernism.

Borden’s contributions to the modernist canon diminish following publication of The Forbidden Zone. After losing her fortune during the 1929 market crash, she became attuned to the necessity of earning an income from her writing. Although she continued to experiment with content and technique, a focus on producing popular and income-generating works moderated her literary innovation during the latter half of her career. Borden’s adaptive mode of writing demonstrates a keen understanding of her audience; her most popularly successful works were those in which she restrained her use of modernist techniques in favor of a more accessible, realist style of writing intended to appeal to middlebrow readers.

Borden left a large literary legacy that defies easy categorization and frustrates any attempt to affix any single label to her writing. Her expansive oeuvre, which spans nearly half a century across multiple continents, offers an unparalleled opportunity to explore the major alterations in the literary landscape through the works of one writer, tracing the rise of modernism and the emergence of the middlebrow. Borden expressed reservations about the entanglement of art and personal experience, but never let these sentiments interfere with her early determination to make her “life tell for eternity.”

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ready, Robert, Pechilis, Karen
School: Drew University
Department: Graduate Studies
School Location: United States -- New Jersey
Source: DAI-A 80/09(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: World History, American literature
Keywords: Borden, Mary, Lady Spears, Middlebrow, Moderism, The Forbidden Zone, World War I
Publication Number: 13859546
ISBN: 978-1-392-12201-3
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