Modernism, Male Friendship, and the First World War

Modernism, Male Friendship, and the First World War

Modernism, Male Friendship, and the First World War

Modernism, Male Friendship, and the First World War


Sarah Cole examines the rich literary and cultural history of masculine intimacy in the twentieth century. Cole approaches this complex and neglected topic from many perspectives - as a reflection of the exceptional social power wielded by the institutions that housed and structured male bonds; as a matter of closeted and thwarted homoerotics; as part of the story of the First World War. Cole shows that the terrain of masculine fellowship provides an important context for understanding key literary features of the modernist period. She foregrounds such crucial themes as the over-determined relations between imperial wanderers in Conrad's tales, the broken friendships that permeate Forster's fictions, Lawrence's desperate urge to make culture out of blood brotherhood and the intense bereavement of the war poet. Cole argues that these dramas of compelling and often tortured male friendship have helped to define a particular spirit and voice within the literary canon.


ESTRAGON: How long have we been together all the time now?

VLADIMIR: I don't know. Fifty years maybe.

VLADIMIR: We can still part, if you think it would be better.

ESTRAGON: It's not worth while now.


VLADIMIR: No, it's not worth while now.


ESTRAGON: Well, shall we go?

VLADIMIR: Yes, let's go.

They do not move.

Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot


In Samuel Beckett's drama, wholly intertwined and wildly dysfunctional pairs of men populate a beleaguered world. Male friendship in Waiting for Godot (1954) is what survives the trauma of modernity – war, violence, history itself – and in turns becomes emblematic of such a condition. The two old and ragged friends, who hold an unsteady history in their persons and in their tense interactions, seem all that is left of a faded past. What I shall argue in the forthcoming pages is that this connection between male intimacy and the representation of modernity characterizes many literary works from an earlier moment, when these frameworks were established and tested: the English modernist period. Thus, Beckett – writing in the mid twentieth century, purveying an aura of numbness, desperation, and esilience following the Second World War, embodying a position of complex national affiliation – nevertheless displays in exceptionally sparse and skeletal terms an idea that preoccupied writers of an earlier generation, as they confronted their own historical and national situations. What this . . .

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