Elsie Clews Parsons: Inventing Modern Life

By Desley Deacon | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINE
The End of the Conversation

AMERICA'S hesitating descent into what was at first called "the European War" formed a somber counterpoint to Parsons's increasing absorption into the world of anthropology. The outbreak of hostilities between Germany and the Allied countries of Great Britain and France in August 1914 caught Americans by surprise. Walter Lippmann and Harold Stearns were just setting out on a European tour when Austria declared war on Serbia, and Germany and then Russia and France mobilized at the end of July. They returned to London to join Norman Hapgood in witnessing Britain's declaration of war on 4 August. Randolph Bourne and Arthur Macmahon arrived in Dresden the day Austria declared war on Serbia, and they left for home from a mobilizing Denmark. And Lucy Clews, traveling in Europe, was finally located at the Ritz in London. Once Lippmann had recovered from the shock and worry of his immediate situation, he realized that the war changed everything. We see now, he wrote in his diary, "that all our really civilized effort is set in a structure of hard necessities." Liberalism could no longer concentrate entirely on local problems, he noted, but had to incorporate an understanding of national and world politics. Already, in August 1914, he was planning for the new world the end of the war would bring.1


The "Bust" Par Excellence

At first, Parsons wrote that December, "the war seemed unreal to me. The accounts I read might have been transcribed from ancient historical records as far as any realization of actuality they brought." But observing the excited and emotional reactions of her family, friends, and community in the quiet beauty of the Berkshire fall, she began to sense "an utterly mad, pervert universe." "War is 'a compelling idea' people like to fall back upon," she noted in

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