Carol J. Adams
What is civilization? What is culture? Is it possible for a healthy race to be fathered by violence--in war or in the slaughter-house-- and mothered by slaves, ignorant or parasitic? Where is the historian who traces the rise and fall of nations to the standing of their women?--Agnes Ryan, "Civilization? Culture?"
Twentieth-century British and American women writers have struggled with one of the literary consequences of the Great War: experience at the front has customarily been understood as entitling one to write about war while being at the home front has been thought to foreclose this right. In response to this literary standard silencing most women because they were not at the front, some writers strategically expand the terrain of war. The front, they suggest, exists not only in traditionally viewed warfare, but also in what they view as the war against nonhuman animals, typified by hunting and meat eating. 1 Women, too, their argument goes, are located at this front, and are thus entitled to speak about war. From this expanded front, these writers correlate male acts of violence against people and animals; vegetarianism becomes, along with pacifism, a challenge to war. In the wake of the Great War, many modern women writers trace the causes of both war and meat eating to male dominance.
Drawing together the numerous references to vegetarianism in works by twentieth-century women writers, this essay identifies a tradition of literary texts that expands the front and in so doing establishes the links between vegetarianism and pacifism. Because the Great War catalyzed the assimilation of vegetarianism into the antiwar vision of women writers, it is the context against which we should read this tradition. For the purposes of this essay I am identifying vegetarianism as a theme in a novel only when the author has clearly articulated it. Vegetarians are figured in literature either