Depictions of Troy in Historical Fiction

Salvete, readers!

After a couple of weeks of posts concerned with WWI, we now return to our regular programming to discuss historical fiction. Anachronism can be a dirty word when it comes to evaluating historical fiction. By and large, I would agree that blatant anachronism can be dangerous when it undermines the story. However, I would also argue that when used carefully there is a place for anachronism in historical story-telling. I’ve written previously about how complaining about anachronism sucks the fun out of everything. But anachronism can also be put to good use, if used in a conscientious way. I’m going to use examples from the Trojan War, simply because it’s a topic in which I’ve researched pretty thoroughly.

Numerous novels set in the Trojan war run with the Homeric tradition that the Trojans were more or less the same as the Greeks, eg. Colleen McCollough’s Song of Troy and David Malouf’s Ransom. In these stories, Greeks and Trojans speak the same language, worship the same gods, and share the same material culture. The power structures in Greek and Trojan society is organised in more or less the same manner. The idea that the Troy was a mirror image of Greece is in no way historically probable, and if we are trying to understand the novel using the restrictive framework of accuracy, it will fail dismally.

In actual fact, the historical Troy was in all likelihood a Hittite colony. Eric Shanower picked up this idea and ran with it to great effect in his magnificent Age of Bronze comic book series. His depiction of Troy was hugely effective in that it subverted the reader’s expectations. Another great example of a novel which honours the historical Troy’s Hittite origins is Judith Starkson’s Hand of Fire. Shanower and Starkson deserve kudos for their detailed research and the dense, richly layered depiction of Hittite culture.

However, even as I acknowledge the power of historical verisimilitude in these narratives, I would argue that the traditional depiction of Troy as a kind of Greek polis still honours the story’s historical roots in that it reflects the cultural milieu which produced the Iliad and Odyssey, the primary textual sources for the Trojan War. In this context it can be very effective for the historical fiction author to evoke a sense of time and place rather than to rigidly adhere to the facts, archaeological or otherwise.

Sometimes we imagine that archaeology is an impartial science which provides unquestionable fact. Problem is, there’s no such thing. Archaeology is just as much influenced by the vicissitudes of historical circumstance as any other discipline. Here I think it’s useful to consider the thoughts of classical archaeologist (and spy!) Jerome Sperling is illustrative. When he wasn’t relaying information to the allies, Sperling participated in Carl Blegen’s pivotal excavations at Troy. Blegen’s interpretations of the site were strongly criticised by later archaeologists, who argued that he allowed his experiences of seeing cities levelled by enemy bombing in WWII to influence his interpretation of the destruction of Troy. Questioned about it decades later on Michael Wood’s documentary series In Search of the Trojan War, Sperling responded:

To me it doesn’t have any great significance, this criticism, because everybody’s Troy is different from everybody else’s Troy. It depends on what blend you make of the poetry you’ve read or the, how much of the archaeology and you care about it, and how much you use your own imagination… I don’t see the need for identifying Agamemnon, say, as being the person there at the end of Troy VIIA. I mean I’m thrill by, I’m overpowered by Homeric poetry, and I think everyone is who reads it carefully. It’s an over-powering experience. But that doesn’t make it, doesn’t have to make it historical, because you see poetic truth comes in the people that he talks about, their hopes and despair and problems and conflict. That’s where the truth of it is.

So there you have it. I think that if a renowned archaeologist (and puncher of Nazis) can recognise that the power of the Troy lies as much in story-telling as historical veracity, then surely novelists can too.

Until next time,

Valete

My writerly week, ending 21 April, 2017

Salvete, readers!

My favourite Father-in-law informs me that salvete is not only for Latin for, ‘Hey folks!’ but is also Latvian for serviette. I can only assume that any Latvian readers who stumble across my blog think I have a weird fixation upon serviettes.

This week has been very much focused upon my day job as I am entering a period of intense workload. That’s life. I’ve done a few cool writerly things though.

  • Chipped away at a bit more on the big translation project I’m working on, and finally finished another smaller project. I take back everything I said about Ps. Nicolaus being readable.
  • I can give myself a bit of a pat on the back for sharing my research on how the Great War affected my great grandparents. Hint: it wasn’t that great.
  • I did some research on marketing fiction and looked into some discussion of where the publishing industry is heading. This is, alas, just as important as actual writing these days.
  • I carved out some time to work on an article whose deadline is looming. This comes as a relief, as it’s been hanging over my head for a while.

I’ve been reflecting a bit on my author platform. As a creative writer, I produce historical fiction with a heavy mythological bent. This is a fairly natural extension from my existing platform as a young scholar of Greek and Roman history. But this also means that effectively I’m building two writing careers simultaneously, working in two related but very different genres. They complement each other quite harmoniously. Still, balancing the two can be a challenge sometimes. But it’s a challenge I love to meet, week by week.

Thanks for sticking with me, folks. I really appreciate it.

Until next time,

Valete

Harold and Marion’s War

Salvete, readers!

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A couple of years ago I decided to do some research on the lives of my maternal great grandparents, Harold Moses Horne and Marion Gordon Horne (née Taylor). I thought I would share what I found, and my reflections on the ANZAC legend and what it has meant for my family.

It was relatively easy to find information on Harold in old newspapers and the national archives, as he was a soldier in World War I. Marion was more difficult to trace. I managed to find three photographs of Harold. I’ve included one above. There are only two existing pictures of Marion, as far as I know. One is their wedding photo, taken when she and Harold were young. The other is of them in their fifties, worn and unsmiling. Both pictures are lost in a box somewhere. For both of their lives I am dependent also on the oral tradition handed down to me by my Mum. What really strikes me is how profoundly the war affected both of their lives. These people were not legends, as such, but genuine human beings with all the strengths and frailties that come with being human. I hope nobody minds if I share some of what I’ve found, and some of the thoughts I’ve had trying to piece together their lives.

Our story begins with Harold. This is by necessity, because information about Marion is scarce. His war record says he was born in 1895 to Charles and Miriam Horne, both of them farmers. That’s not too surprising. The overwhelming majority of Australians were farmers in those days. He was a Baptist, and from what I understand pretty devout most of his life. Most of his life he lived in Rosewood, Queensland. What really hits me is that he was a promising kid. According to the Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser, he won an academic prize at Ashwell State School. I guess he would have been twelve. After that, he took up an apprenticeship as a mechanic at the Ipswich Rail Works. He would have just finished the apprenticeship when he signed up with the army in March of 1916.

Why did he sign up? The same old stories get trotted out around this time of year. The stereotypical story of the ANZAC recruit is that he had a craving for adventure, or an ardent desire to defend the Motherland, or (God help us) wanted to help forge the Australian identity. Honestly? I have no idea, but I am willing to speculate that there were more prosaic reasons he might have joined the army. The Ipswich Rail Works ceased operations less than a year after he joined. Government subsidies had been redirected to the war effort, and most of the company’s labour force had volunteered. Perhaps Harold saw the writing on the wall for the company, and decided to try his luck with the army as many of his mates had? Certainly he and his family had never been well-off, and Australian troops were paid a princely sum of six shillings a day—more than three times as much as their British counterparts. In any case, we do know that he enlisted in February of 1916. At the age of twenty-one, I don’t think he could have known what he was in for.

A few months later, he boarded a ship for Alexandria to undergo training. I don’t think he could have had much training or experience. Five months after he embarked from Australia to Alexandria, he was shipped off to Marseilles, and from there to the Somme. Harold was part of a machine-gun division. Perhaps he had been assigned there because of his experience with heavy machinery. Who knows? All I know is that what he experienced changed him forever. We can read of the Somme, but I don’t think any of us can really understand the pointless, empty brutality of the battlefield—young men cut to ribbons and left to rot in no-man’s-land, and for what? To gain a few feet of land which would be lost the next day? Whatever empty sentiments we hear on ANZAC Day, I have difficulty seeing anything noble or glorious about such pointless loss of life. As a machine-gunner, his role would have been defensive. He likely never went over the top, but rather defended his trench against enemy attack. I can’t imagine the horror of it, to have to kill or be killed. He would have let loose a hail of fire that would have decimated row after row of enemy soldiers. What does that do to a person? I’m glad that I’ll never have to know.

Harold served in France until November of 1917. On a cool Autumn morning, his unit was hit by an enemy mustard gas attack. In the confusion, he was snared in some barbed wire. He managed to get his mask on, but the damage was done. His lungs were shredded. He was relocated to a military hospital in Aberdeen with acute laryngitis. It is at this point my great grandmother Marion comes into the story.

Marion had been born in 1898. Her dad was a blacksmith, and she had lived in Aberdeen all her life. When they met she was a munitions worker, and volunteered by night as a nurse’s aide. Here the oral tradition diverges somewhat from the documentary evidence. According to my mum, her grandmother always said they fell in love gradually as she tenderly tended his wounds. He was the tragic hero, an exotic foreigner fighting for freedom. It was like a scene from a romance novel. Perhaps that’s genuinely how they remembered it, and I don’t doubt that they were immediately attracted to one another on some level. No, what I find myself doubting is the timeframe. Harold was admitted to hospital on the Eighth of November, 1917. He and Marion were married on the Thirteenth.

Crikey. They didn’t waste time in those days.

Most marriage certificates tend to be printed on cream paper with gold embossed writing—or the ones that are meant for display, at any rate. This one is pretty grubby, with military typescript and scribble. Whoever made the record got her name wrong. The paper says she was ‘Maria.’ I’m willing to bet Marion lied about her age. While other records show she was born in 1898, the marriage certificate says she was born in 1895. Or perhaps it was a clerical error.

I can speculate all sorts of things that might have been going on at this point. It was probably clear to them that Harold was going to be rejoining his unit soon, and chances were that he wouldn’t have made it home, especially with his wounds. Did either of them expect this to be lifelong commitment? Nobody knew when or how the war would end. Maybe they felt they had to live in the moment. Or maybe they were just silly kids who didn’t think things through. I expect they saw it as terribly romantic to get married so soon, in a flurry of passion. There could have been any number of reasons. I honestly don’t know. There’s only so much a scrap of paper can tell you, and only so much a grandmother is willing to divulge to a child. Don’t forget, one of my main sources is what my mother tells me her grandmother told her when she was a kid. I suspect we’ll never know the full story. It would certainly cause his proper English Baptist parents some consternation when he brought home a girl who was not only Scottish but Presbyterian!

Harold and Marion only had a few weeks together before he was sent back to the front line, where he was reassigned to another machine-gun division. A few months later he suffered a relapse of laryngitis, and was sent back to the UK to recover. I haven’t been able to figure out where, and I haven’t found any evidence of communication between Harold and Marion at this point. Then he was deemed too ill to return to fighting, but was not discharged at this point. The war ended in 1918, but he couldn’t go home just yet.

After four years of bloodshed and with millions dead, Harold was reassigned to the Burials Division. This was a common fate for a lot of soldiers in his boots, I think. Too sick to fight, not sick enough for a medical discharge. They called Australian soldiers ‘Diggers.’ The word ‘Digger’ evokes mateship and bravery in Australian parlance. It features heavily in the bellicose rhetoric of the tabloid, the trite warmongering of the political speech. In Harold’s case, I don’t think he would have found anything to cheer in the name.

At this point we find something a little unexpected in Harold’s war record. In May, 1919, he was admitted to yet another military hospital, this time seeking treatment for syphilis. When did he pick it up? How did he pick it up? Actually, you know what? Never mind how. Let’s go back to when, and from whom? When I mentioned the disease to Mum, her eyebrows raised. ‘Ah,’ she said. ‘Well, you know. These young blokes, they thought they were going to die any day. I guess they had to try it.’ It is entirely possible that he contracted syphilis from a casual encounter or through the services of a sex worker. Once more, we’ll never know.

And I’m okay with that.

What I’m more curious about is whether he had it before he and Marion were married. If so (as seems likely) then she would have caught it too. Mum thinks that would have explained a few things about their marriage. I cannot blame him for passing it onto her. After all, syphilis only becomes detectable to the naked eye in its later stages. I just feel terribly sorry for both of them. Treatments for syphilis in those days did little and had horrible side-effects. It must have seemed like a miracle when penicillin was discovered when they were in their thirties. Shortly after undergoing treatment, Harold was placed on indefinite leave, and returned to Aberdeen. I can only assume she was treated too, as both would still have been carriers.

Some months later, they embarked aboard a ship to Australia. By this point, Marion was pregnant; the baby was stillborn en route. He was Christened ‘Allan’ before being buried at sea. Marion always blamed him. Now I guess we know why.

Harold came back to Rosewood a hero. The local paper ran a photo of him on the front page. His name and picture were included in a commemorative book, Queenslanders in the Great War. Incidentally, you can still download a copy of this book via the University of Queensland library. But inside I think both of them were dealing with a world of hurt. They had both seen things that nobody should have to see. They had just lost a child. And I can imagine that each was suddenly realising the consequences of marrying a stranger. Marion was far from the only home she had ever known, and trapped living with her in-laws, who never lost their distaste for her. She spoke with a heavy brogue, and never quite fit in with her husband’s family.

The next decades are a blur. Times were lean. The roaring twenties largely bypassed the young couple, and indeed much of Queensland. Harold didn’t qualify for a pension, as the government did not deem him grievously injured enough to warrant one. But his health was permanently affected, and he was so frequently ill that he could never hold down a steady job. There are a few reports of him being fined a few shillings here and there for driving without a licence or public drunkenness. Their marriage was never easy. Before he left, Harold had apparently been easy-going and likeable. Now he was surly and easily provoked. The war had changed Marion too. As a girl she had been naive, energetic. Over the next years she nursed a deep resentment for the hurts she had endured, and a regret for the life she had left behind. They had three more boys, Jack, Gordon, and Allan. The last boy was her favourite, named after the baby she and Harold had lost.

Their marriage, always tense, seems to have reached breaking point during the Great Depression. I was startled to discover a 1937 article from The Queensland Times. I don’t know much about the context, but certainly the clipping is suggestive of deep problems in their marriage. I shall reproduce it below.

STIR IN COURT

Woman Leaves Witness Box

A stir was caused in the Summons Court yesterday when the complainant in a case became somewhat excited and rushed from the witness box before she had completed her evidence. Appearing before Mr. G.A. Cameron, P.M., Marion Horne, Ipswich, claimed that of February 20th, 1937, she had been unlawfully deserted by her husband, Harold Moses Horne, and that she had been compelled to leave her husband’s residence under reasonable apprehension of danger to her person.

The complainant, in evidence, stated that she had been married to the defendant for 18 years. Her present address was Bremer flats, but she had lived with her husband in Roderick Street until a year ago. She was not living with him now, as he had made her life a “hell.” On February 20th she was compelled to leave her home because she was afraid he would do her an injury. Her mind was a complete blank regarding the events that led up to the incident on February 20th, because every day was the same to her. She had gone through a lot and her nerves were bad. On one occasion he had thrown water over her, and he ill-treated her frequently.

With an outburst of emotion witness declared that she was happy to go to her own home, and she would never go back to live with him again.

‘Witness began to talk very fast, and after being continually advised by the Police Magistrate to tell her story calmly and coherently she shouted hysterically: “That is enough! You can do what you like with me!” She then left the witness-box and made for the Court-House door, but was recalled.

‘The case was dismissed, Mr. Cameron observing as he turned to the defendant: “You had better make arrangements to keep her.”

What conclusions can I draw from this? First, that the situation for women in the 1930s was pretty lousy, if that’s the best the judge could come up with when presented evidence of domestic abuse. Next, my great grandmother had considerable courage to testify against him in the first place. And finally… Look, I don’t want to absolve my great grandfather of blame, but my mind cannot help but make a connection to the war. It is possible that post-traumatic stress could have been a factor in the domestic violence. The war made her life hell as well as his.

This is one of the legacies of war, that it tears apart the lives of generations. She did go back to him, and that they never separated again after that. I’m not sure she had much choice in the matter. But when Harold passed away in 1955 at the age of sixty, I know she remembered him with fondness. She would sit by the window in the afternoons with a pack of cigarettes, and remember. Sometimes she would tell her grandchildren something of her life, and that of the blue-eyed boy she fell for in Aberdeen.

I have mixed feelings about ANZAC Day. Most of all I hate the way the legend silences the Anzacs themselves. I hate the way it has become commercialised like Christmas, with scented candles and slogans, biscuits, campouts and all this khaki rubbish. Is it nothing more than an excuse to get pissed and play two-up? Why do we mask the human dimension of conflict behind sanctimony? Harold and Marion’s was not the war to end all wars. A hundred years have passed since Gallipoli. Do we have the right to use the ANZAC story to encourage today’s young people to take up arms for God, gold, and glory?

No. I don’t think we do.

But you know what? I too am a part of the war’s legacy. So are my parents, my siblings, my children. I’m rather glad Harold and Marion jumped into their relationship head-first. I owe my present existence to a very rash decision two young people made around a hundred years ago. And now as an historian I can do my best to ensure that their legacy is remembered and not misused.

Lest we forget.

Until next time,

Valete

 

My writerly week, ending 15 April, 2017

Salvete, readers!

And so we come rumbling to the end of another week. Let’s jump right into it.

  • Progress has been regarding my current academic project.
  • I gave one of my old essays a polish and posted it here, and it seems to have gone down well. Can I just take a second to express my gratitude at its warm reception? This essay has particular significance for me, as it was my first stab at researching my own topic independently when I was a wee undergrad! It’s more than that, though. The history of mental illness is a topic very dear to my heart, and my great grandfather’s PTSD following the First World War affected my family for several generations. Next week in honour of the ANZACs I am going to post some of the historical research I’ve done about my grandparents: how they met in WWI, and how the war affected them throughout their lives.
  • I’ve made a few minor tweaks to the novel which has a full manuscript, but nothing major. I should probably leave it alone now and just focus on the next project. Then again, I always remember a quote from George Lucas: ‘Films aren’t released. They escape.’ Perhaps its the same for all forms of storytelling.
  • The next novel has crawled forward a few paces. I had a bit of a brainwave on that front– the going has been slow, and that’s okay, but maybe I’m overthinking the first draft. My last novel was an historical fantasy set in a world which evoked the Greek bronze age. This next one is a first person narrative set during the early middle ages, and I’m working really hard to make the voice sound authentic to the period. The conceit of my current story is that it’s a lost historical source from a medieval author. Creating an authentic-sounding medieval voice is a greater challenge, which means very deliberate word choices. But you know what? Maybe I just need to give myself permission to write garbage and then edit, rather than agonising over every word. It’s important that I’ve got the voice down pat, as it’s really important. It doesn’t have to be perfect, though. That’s what first drafts are for.

I want to press forward on my writing projects, but it’s the Easter weekend and I think I owe my children some time. There will always be things to do, but my kids won’t be young forever.

Until next time,

Valete

 

Essay: Changing views of mental illness in WWI

Salvete, readers!

With ANZAC Day fast approaching, I thought I would take a short break from my usual ramblings about classical history and historical fiction to share an essay on how the phenomenon of shell shock affected Australian medical attitudes toward psychiatry and mental illness during and after World War I.

World War I was catalytic in the history of Australian psychiatry. The war’s epidemic of shell shock prompted the gradual acceptance of Freudian ideas of the subconscious, and moreover altered medical perceptions of insanity. Prior to the war, Australian doctors followed their British counterparts in treating mental illness under value-laden terms such as “insanity” and “madness.” The mental hospital was yet to emerge as a facility for treating the mentally ill. Rather, the asylum system prevailed. Similarly, early psychiatrists were viewed by the medical community as immoral charlatans. However, the failure of traditional medicine and military discipline to cure shell shock pushed a few radical Australian and British doctors to experiment with Freud’s techniques and adopt his principles of the unconscious. However, Australia’s medical community was not willing to accept Freud wholesale. The urgent call for a cure made it necessary to streamline Freud’s ideas toward a more practical, therapeutic approach. Physicians also dropped the sexual component of Freud’s theories to render psychiatric principles morally palatable. Ultimately, the acceptance of psychiatry by Australian doctors would result in the abandonment of the asylum system in favour of the mental hospital, and the adoption of a more sympathetic attitude toward the mentally ill. As a result of shell shock, the nomenclature of mental illness became less judgemental and more clinical. These changes would have lasting effects in not only the military medical world, but also the civilian.

To contextualise shell shock within the history of Australian psychiatry, it is worthwhile first examining attitudes of the pre-war medical community toward mental illness. The Australian medical community followed that of the British in dealing with the mentally ill from the nineteenth century onward, as most doctors practising in Australia had trained in England, and were heavily influenced by British medical literature.[1] Australian physicians tended to view neurotics through the lenses of British modernity and moralism.[2] To this end, they treated neurotics as failures of mental and moral fibre. In men, mental illness was seen as a manifestation of “hysteria,” an effeminate weakness caused by personal lapse in masculine virtue. In the case of women, however, doctors viewed hysteria as an organic problem originating in malady of the uterus.[3] Social Darwinists also pointed toward madness as the result of supposed genetic predisposition toward, as Dr. Wolfsohn put it in 1918, “feeble-mindedness.”[4] Neurosis could be blamed upon degeneracy in subjects’ pedigree.

Doctors during the early twentieth century thus diagnosed mental illness by attaching labels to its victims, such as the aforementioned “madness” and “hysteria,” and also treated mental cases as “insane” or “lunatic.”[5] The employment of such a value-laden system of nomenclature in dealing with neurosis led physicians to view the mentally ill with contempt. At best, the insane were objects of pity, to be supported by community charity and the state. At worst, doctors viewed neurotics with scorn, a blemish upon the face of Australia.[6] Indeed, a limited minority of Australian doctors advocated a eugenic program of selective breeding, segregation, and state-sanctioned sterilisation of lunatics to breed out mental feebleness. This observation should be qualified, however. The idea of eugenics certainly held notoriety, but only a handful of doctors took it seriously.[7]

However, there can be little doubt that mental illness was little understood or appreciated in the years leading up to World War I.[8] Though some doctors felt compassion for lunatics, there was little question of curing them. The mentally unstable were treated as lepers– one may see this in the application of the term “alienist” to asylum doctors.[9] Asylums were often used not only to look after lunatics, but also to keep them safely away from society.[10] The asylum system thus provided a convenient rug under which the nation could sweep its mad men and women. To be committed was a crippling social stigma which was to be avoided at all costs.[11]

The application of the asylum system becomes immediately apparent upon examination of early reports on shell shock in the Medical Journal of Australia. As the nation’s most influential medical publication, the MJA was a cornerstone in shaping medical opinion on the treatment of the insane. The MJA’s first mention of shell shock comes from early 1915, in a brief sidebar:

 

It appears that a considerable number of recruits who were enlisted in Lord Kitchener’s army were found to be insane. These recruits are brought before the Medical Board, of which Dr. Milns is the Lunacy expert, and in all cases in which insanity in one or another form is discovered, are sent to the County Asylums or to their friends, after the necessary formalities are complied with…[12]

 

As the above passage illustrates, commitment to lunatic asylums or to private care were routine methods of treating madness at the war’s beginning. In the majority of cases, asylums were not the sinister places of legend. However, the asylum system was open to abuse, vividly demonstrated by inquiries into maltreatment and neglect in Britain’s infamous Bethlem Hospital and York Asylum.[13] Lunatic asylums were state-financed facilities, usually run by a small staff under a medical superintendent, most of whom lacked psychiatric training and were uninterested in psychiatry.[14] Essentially, asylums were caretaker facilities which theoretically provided care and sanctuary for the committed.[15] However, they were often overcrowded, understaffed and underfunded.[16] Maintaining the physical health of the insane was not a high priority for Australia’s state governments.

The medical community also looked upon psychiatrists and their profession with a suspicious eye for much of the early twentieth century.[17] Psychiatry was at this stage a largely untested field. Recent European advancements through the works of Freud and Jung were considered only pseudo-scientific by the British medical community.[18] Due to the aforementioned influence of British medical opinion over Australian, Australian doctors followed suit.[19] Freudian psychiatry was often rejected for nationalist reasons. Imperial loyalty to England forbade endorsement of radical “Teutonic medicine.”[20] Doctors also dismissed psychiatry as a quack profession. To an extent, this opinion was justified: the majority of psychiatrists of this era were not registered doctors.[21] Moreover, the medical community saw Freudian techniques of deep analysis of the subconscious as time-consuming, ineffective and wasteful.[22]

However, by far the greatest cause for concern for British and Australian doctors was the immorality of Freud’s theories regarding sexuality as the driving force behind human endeavour.[23] The Freudian principle that neurosis stemmed from repression of “infantile sexual libido” hardly gelled with Victorian or Christian moralism.[24] As Dr. Paul Dane put it in a furious letter to the editor of the MJA, the progress of psychotherapy was hampered even in 1926 by “the absurd criticisms and childish opposition of certain armchair philosophers.”[25] Though he had his adherents in Australia, Freud and his followers were seen as a corrupting force.[26] For this reason Australian medical schools did not offer psychiatric or psychological training until 1925.[27]

The sudden epidemic of shell shock during World War I, however, challenged such perceptions of psychiatry and dramatically altered Australian views regarding mental illness toward a more empathetic approach.[28] These changes were the result of a long, bitter dispute in the medical world between those who clung to the orthodoxy of traditional medicine and those willing to experiment with psychiatric therapies to treat shell shock.[29] The following paragraphs will outline this dispute and its results.

Shell shock posed a baffling dilemma to doctors at the front lines.[30] Men who had appeared rational were reduced to a state of being “acutely hysterical” after suffering trauma under fire.[31] Close observation of patients revealed that “….they are usually quite reasonable, and, strange to say, are capable of giving a lucid account of their condition in writing.”[32] Stranger still, victims often did not manifest physical symptoms.[33] While civilian psychiatrists immediately pointed to Freud’s theories, most military physicians clung to traditional organic explanations for war neurosis.[34] Initially, doctors surmised that sufferers of shell shock had “their nerves completely shattered by shell fire.”[35] Many surmised that the concussive effects of shell fire were to blame for the strange symptoms. It was reasoned that the effect of being buried, thrown, or blown up, had the effect of desynchronising the central nervous system, causing physical shock.[36] By the war’s ending, however, this theory was disproven, as many cases had not faced shell fire.[37]

Nonetheless, Australian doctors continued to seek an organic explanation for shell shock. The most striking example of this development comes from Dr. Sydney Penn, who in 1918 vehemently argued that “infection of the tonsils, sinuses, antra, or teeth” was to blame for shell shock.[38] Though this seems laughable by contemporary standards, accurate anatomical knowledge of the central nervous system was scant at the time.[39] On the other hand, it is also worth considering prejudice in the medical system against experimentation with psychiatry for the reasons described above. Bias is evident in the MJA’s reviews of medical literature: until the 1920s, the anonymous reviewers gave glowing praise to publications which provided an organic explanation for shell shock, while condemning psychiatric treatises as “exaggeration or simulation.”[40] Military doctors who clung to the tenets of traditional medicine attempted to find other causes for shell shock, and thus avoid the corrupting influence of psychiatry.

The British army, however, tended to view shell shock as the result of a lapse in military discipline.[41] This is highly significant, as Australians suffering from shell shock on the Western Front were treated in British hospitals by British doctors during the war.[42] However, the Australian Army Medical Corps were allowed jurisdiction in regard to the health and wellbeing of Australian troops.[43] The compassion exhibited by Australian doctors in their treatment and diagnosis of war neuroses is striking. Romanticisation should be avoided, however. During the war’s early years, the AIF followed the British line closely, though this never extended to executing shell shocked troops as cowards or malingerers as it sometimes did in the British army.[44] Empathy for Australian troops under the “hell of fire” was not the only cause, but also to a sense of confusion in dealing with neurosis.[45] Uncertain as to the correct treatment, yet unwilling to inflict the indignity of commitment or punishment upon the neurotic Anzac, Australian doctors were more inclined than the British to offer medical discharge to shell shocked patients.[46] The contrast between British and Australian treatment of shell shock may be attributed to their motives. In wartime, the British were foremost interested in quickly returning wounded soldiers to the battlefield: this was perhaps justified, as England faced the threat of invasion.[47] The AIF, though no less committed to the war, were not so pressed. Moreover, Australian soldiers were all volunteers. Australia’s rejection of disciplinary action as a countermeasure against shell shock is fortunate, as the results could be disastrous.

The prior failure of discipline and traditional medicine to deal with shell shock left a vacuum which psychiatry could fill during the interwar years. No doctor serving in Australia’s military during the war was a trained analyst.[48] Indeed, though shell shock taught doctors “as never before how immense the influence is of the mind upon the body,” many still remained sceptical of psycho-analysis due to the repugnancy of Freud’s sexual theories.[49] Freud argued that the roots of shell shock lay in childhood and were strongly influenced by sexual impulses.[50] Such ideas gained little currency even among Freud’s Australian followers. Of more interest to military doctors working with psychological trauma were the concepts of emotional repression and mental defence mechanisms as causes and treating shell shock victims using Freud’s “talking cure,” the precursor of modern counselling.[51]

Yet the moral stigma of psychoanalysis’ predilection toward sexuality remained.  Once more the answer came from England, in the pages of the Lancet.[52] In a revolutionary 1917 article, Dr. W.H.R. Rivers coolly argued in favour of psychoanalysis– with caution.[53] In his opinion, moral outrage was no excuse to neglect a potential cure for shell shock. He argued that psychiatry’s “undoubted merits are in serious danger of being obscured, or even wholly lost to view, in the conflict produced by the extravagance of Freud’s adherents and the rancour of their opponents.”[54] A more moderate approach would produce results. To a large extent, Australian doctors heard his plea. Before the year’s ending, articles discussing the treatment of psychological casualties abounded in the MJA. This shift may conceivably have never occurred if the British Lancet had not advocated it first.

            Such conciliations toward psychiatry came at a cost to its practitioners. Unsurprisingly, Freud’s concept of sexuality was first bogeyman to be exorcised from the practice of psychiatry in Australia: as J.W. Springthorpe said, “the war neuroses have completely shattered the original perverted notion of a sexual basis and has driven such Freudism into oblivion.”[55] The removal of the sexualised dimension of psychiatry ultimately proved a boon for psychiatrists, as it allowed them the freedom to explore psychiatric treatments without the condemnation of their peers.[56] Hypnotism as a means of exploring patients’ subconscious was another treatment experimented with, but ultimately dropped. Hypnotic suggestion ably treated the symptoms of shell shock, but did not address the disease.[57] In fact, hypnosis could do more harm than good. While showing immediate outward signs of recovery, a patient could be left with a festering psyche as hypnotic suggestion urged further repression of the problem.[58]

Doctors further streamlined the talking cure during the interwar years. To a large extent, doctors were pushed to reject Freud’s laborious methods of deep analysis—examination of complex tensions between patients’ id, ego, and super-ego— to resolve emotional traumas faced throughout life, in favour of a more expedient approach.[59] The immense pressures of time and resources upon wartime doctors had prompted a shift toward a new treatment, “abreaction.”[60] Abreaction served to resolve the suppression of a single traumatic event in patients’ lives. Unlike deep analysis, abreaction involved sessions over the course of weeks or months, rather than years.[61] The techniques of abreaction would evolve toward modern civilian counselling techniques over the course of the 1920s. Discharged military doctors who had embraced psychotherapeutic techniques were already pushing for their application in the civilian world by 1917.[62] One of the main results of army doctors’ experimentation with shell shock treatment was the development of occupational therapy; the process of removing the patient from their usual surroundings and allowing them to vent pent-up feelings and offering objective advice were key features of occupational therapy adapted from treatments developed during the war.[63]

As psycho-analysis acquired a foothold upon Australian medicine, so too did the terminology of neurosis evolve toward medical jargon and thereby redefine psychosis as a medical rather than moral problem.[64] No longer would the sufferer of shell shock be labelled as hysterical or insane. The medical community came to view psychosis as a treatable clinical problem instead.[65] This new mode of nomenclature came about as doctors began to view mental cases with a less judgemental eye.[66] It was such a shift in attitude which prompted Drs. Smith and Pear in their seminal handbook on treating shell shock to suggest that:

 

The essence of the mentally afflicted patient’s trouble is some particular form of anxiety or worry which is individual and personal. The aim of diagnosis, therefore, should be not merely to determine the appropriate generic label for the affliction, but rather to discover the particular circumstances which have given rise to the present state.[67]

 

To an extent, this shift in attitude may be traced to issues of class. Those committed to asylums during the years leading up to the war were mostly vagrants, unemployed or itinerant workers. Madness, it appears, had been a condition almost exclusive to the poor.[68] Shell shock, on the other hand, did not discriminate between socio-economic classes. Well-educated officers too were susceptible to neurosis. One may argue, therefore, that shell shock for the first time presented Australian doctors with challenges of mental health from their own class.[69] Thus, the medical community came to the problem more sympathetically than they might have otherwise.

Such an attitude is clearly demonstrated in a 1919 MJA review. The author points out the “interesting fact that officers are especially prone to anxiety states, while most cases of compression hysteria fall among privates.”[70] Under terms later described in the MJA, these conditions amounted to essentially the same thing.[71] However, while the officer class was afflicted by a lamentable condition, the private was labelled under emasculative term of hysteria. If war neurosis did not afflict officers as well as privates, one may speculate that it would not have been such an over-riding concern for military doctors.

The most profound sign of the swing toward a clinical viewpoint is the replacement of the asylum system with that of the mental hospital. Indeed, the post-war treatment of shell shocked veterans was the main driver for the shift away from the asylum system. Among the earliest designated mental hospitals were those developed by the army for ex-servicemen in the mid 1920s.[72] The abandonment of the asylum was in the interests of returned Anzacs, as army’s Repatriation Department did not want its shell-shocked men made pariahs by the Australian community. Voluntary commitment to a mental hospital would carry less shame for the returned serviceman than the ignominy of the asylum.[73] To an extent, this was the case: numbers of patients treated by the repatriation hospital system soared from “1,570 in 1926 to 4,891 by 1939.”[74] The rise of the mental hospital was also a reaction to the medical community’s observation of the treatment of war neurotics in conventional hospitals, which caused some to rethink the curative befits of the asylum system.[75] As Dr. Paul Dane espoused,

 

Separate wards or special hospitals should in my opinion be provided.  If these psycho-neurotics are treated in an ordinary hospital, they are subjected to a good deal of uncalled-for criticism by the other patients who class some of them as “macroon;” the authority of the doctor is also gravely undermined by the same kind of criticism.[76]

 

The humane concern doctors such as Dane expressed for the wellbeing of their patients is commendable. However, it should be noted that other factors influenced the development of Australian mental hospitals. The Repatriation Commission hoped to ease the financial burden of pensions awarded to shell shock victims by curing them in such facilities.[77] Moreover, it was hoped that the research undertaken in state mental hospitals would be contusive to a psychological screening process in future wars, in order to avert the potential re-emergence of similar strains and increase the fighting effectiveness of the AIF.[78] The abandonment of the asylum system was a slow and steady process, the main beneficiaries of which were men. While mental hospitals were the preserve of male veterans during the interwar period, admissions of women to asylums increased dramatically.[79] It would take another World War for the psychological lessons learnt from the First to be cemented in the broader Australian community; nonetheless, the first steps had been taken.[80]

Shell shock in World War I redefined medical attitudes toward mental illness and led to the legitimisation of psychiatry in Australia. The epidemic challenged the conceptual validity of “madness.” The failure of traditional medicine to treat the problem pressed medical practitioners to adapt Freud’s theory of the subconscious mind and experiment with his techniques. This experimentation necessitated some changes to Australian psychiatry. However, the urgent call for a cure and strains upon resources led doctors to streamline Freudian notions in favour of an expedient, curative model. Australia’s medical community almost immediately exorcised Freud’s theories regarding human sexuality. This resulted in a sanitised version of psychiatry, which allowed Australian doctors the freedom to experiment with psychotherapy without the stigma of immorality. Such changes also aided the legitimatisation of psychiatry in Australia practitioners couched the practice of psychiatry in jargon acceptable to the medical community. No longer would mental cases be viewed as weaklings to be consigned to the asylum, but as patients suffering from curable illness. This shift in perception led to the gradual replacement of Australia’s asylum system with that of the mental hospital. Moreover, the psychiatric treatments developed by a handful of radical doctors in response to the crisis of shell shock would have lasting ramifications not only in the military medical world, but also the civilian. World War I thus marked a distinct turning point in the history of Australian psychiatry, leading toward public acceptance of psychiatric principles, and a greater medical awareness for the mentally ill.

 

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Carbery, A.D. “Some Medical Aspects of Recruiting for War.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol. 2, 3 August 1927, pp. 365-70.

Dane, Paul. “Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 2. 18 December 1926, p. 853.

Dane, Paul. “The Psycho-Neuroses of Soldiers and their Treatment.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 1, 25 April 1925, p. 427-30.

Downey, M.H. “The Management and Treatment of Early Insanity.” Australian Medical Gazette. Vol 2, 20 Dec 1911, pp. 719-24.

Freud, Sigmund. “Introduction.” In E. Jones (ed.), Psychoanalysis and the War Neuroses. Psychoanalytic Press, London, 1921, pp. 1-4.

 Jones, S. “Experiences in the Treatment of Voluntary Patients at the Psychiatric Clinic, Broughton Hall.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 2. 4 September, 1926, pp. 316-19.

 Jones, W.E. “A Case of Shell Shock.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 1, 4 March, 1916, p. 203-4.

 Jones, W.E. “Naval and Military News.” Medical Journal of Australia. Vol. 1, 16 January, 1915, p. 58.

 Lowson, J.P. “The Treatment of War Neuroses by Abreaction of the War Shock.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol. 2, 6 November, 1926, pp. 621-626.

 Maudsley, Henry. “Australasian Medical Congress, Brisbane, 1920.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 2, 25 September 1920, pp. 324-6.

 McWhae, D.M. “Neuroses.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 2, October 20, 1919, pp. 337-43.

 Morgan, Idris. “Hypnotic Suggestion.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 1, 15 January 1927, pp. 85-92.

 Review. “Shell Concussion and War Neuroses.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 1, 1 March, 1919, p. 173.

 Penn, Sydney. “A Plea for Adequate Recognition of the Part that can be Played in Shell-Shock by Septic Foci.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 2, 10 August, 1918, pp. 115-6.

 Regnell, W.R. “The Psycho-Neuroses of War.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 1, 7 June 1919, pp. 455-60.

 Rivers, W.H.R. “Freud’s Psychology of the Unconscious.” The Lancet. Vol 1, 16 June, 1917, pp. 912-14.

 Smith, E. and Pear, T. Shell Shock and its Lessons. Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1917.

 Springthorpe, J.W. “Twelve Months Service at the Front.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 1, 29 April, 1916, pp. 355- 61.

 Springthorpe, J.W. “War Neuroses and Civil Practice.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 2, 4 October, 1919, pp. 279-83.

 Summons, W.  “Medical Work Seen in the Australian Military Hospitals.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol. 2, 22 September, 1917, pp. 244-7.

 Wolfsohn, J.M. “The Predisposing Factors of War Psychoneuroses.” The Lancet. Vol. 11918, p. 177.

 Secondary Sources

Barham, Peter. Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War. Yale University Press, London, 2004.

 Butler, A.G. The Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914-18 Volume III: Special Problems and Services. Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1943.

 Cooter, M. Malingering in Modernity: Psychological Scripts and Adversarial Encounters in the First World War.” In M. Cooter and R. Harrison and S. Sturdy (eds.), War, Medicine and Modernity. Stroud, Sutton, 1998, pp. 125-9.

 Damousi, Joy. Freud in the Antipodes: a Cultural History of Psychoanalysis in Australia. Sydney, Sydney University Press, 2005.

 Finlay-Jones, R. “The Effect of War on the Theory and Practice of Psychiatry in Australia.” In H. Attwood and R.W. Home (eds.), Patients, Practitioners and Techniques. University of Melbourne Press, Melbourne, 1985, pp. 43-55.

 Gammage, B. The Broken Years: Australian Soldiers in the Great War. Penguin, Hammondsworth, 1975.

 Garton, Stephen. “Asylum Histories: Reconsidering Australia’s Lunatic Past.” In Catherine Colebourne and Dolly MacKinnon (eds.), ‘Madness’ in Australia: Histories, Heritage and the Asylum. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 2003, pp. 11-23.

 Garton, Stephen. The Cost of War: Australians Return. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996.

 Garton, Stephen. Medicine and Madness: a Social History of Insanity in New South Wales, 1880-1940. New South Wales University Press, Kensington, 1988.

 Kosky, R. “From Morality to Madness: a Reappraisal of the Asylum Movement in Psychiatry, 1800-1940.” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. No. 20, 1986, pp. 180-7.

 Leese, Peter. Shell Shock: Traumatic Neurosis and the British Soldiers of the First World War. Palgrave McMillan, Hampshire, 2002.

 Lewis, M. Managing Madness: Psychiatry in Australia 1788-1980. AGPS Press, Canberra, 1988.

 Lloyd, C., and Rees, J. The Last Shilling: A History of Repatriation in Australia. Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1994.

 Luckins, Tanja. “Crazed with Grief? The Asylum and the Great War in Australia.” In Catherine Colebourne and Dolly MacKinnon (eds.), ‘Madness’ in Australia: Histories, Heritage and the Asylum. University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 2003, pp. 169-83.

 O’Neil, W.M. A Century of Psychology in Australia. Sydney University Press, Sydney, 1987.

 Shephard, Ben. A War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists 1914-1994. Pimlico, London, 2002.

 Stone, Martin. “Shell Shock and the Psychologists.” In W.F. Bynum, Roy Porter, Michael Shepherd (eds.), The Anatomy of Madness: Essays in the History of Psychiatry Volume II. Tavistock Publications Ltd, London, 1985, pp. 242-71.

 Tyquin, Michael. Madness and the Military: Australia’s Experience of the Great War. Australian Military History Publications, Sydney, 2006.

Wessely, Simon. Shell Shock to PTSD. Taylor and Francis Press, Haboken, 2005.

 

Endnotes

[1] Michael Tyquin, Madness and the Military: Australia’s Experience of the Great War, Australian Military History Publications, Sydney, 2006, p. 87.

[2] M. Cooter, Malingering in Modernity: Psychological Scripts and Adversarial Encounters in the First World War,” in M. Cooter and R. Harrison and S. Sturdy (eds.), War, Medicine and Modernity, Stroud, Sutton, 1998, p. 126.

[3] This idea is perhaps best illustrated in M.H. Downey, “The Management and Treatment of Early Insanity,” Australian Medical Gazette, vol 2, 20 Dec 1911, p. 724.

[4] J.M. Wolfsohn, “The Predisposing Factors of War Psychoneuroses,” The Lancet, vol 1, 1918, p. 177; Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 34.

[5] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 18.

[6] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 46.

[7] Stephen Garton. Medicine and Madness: a Social History of Insanity in New South Wales, 1880-1940, New South Wales University Press, Kensington, 1988, p. 60.

[8] E. Smith and T. Pear, Shell Shock and its Lessons, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1917, p. 94.

[9] Peter Barham, Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War, Yale University Press, London, 2004, p. 105; Simon Wessely, Shell Shock to PTSD, Taylor and Francis Press, Haboken, 2005, p. 50.

[10] Garton. Medicine and Madness, p. 4.

[11] Smith and Pear, Shell Shock and its Lessons, p. 84.

[12] W.E. Jones, “Naval and Military News,” Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 1, 16 January, 1915, p. 58.

[13] Garton. Medicine and Madness, p. 14.

[14] M. Lewis, Managing Madness: Psychiatry in Australia 1788-1980, AGPS Press, Canberra, 1988, p. 35; Martin Stone, “Shell Shock and the Psychologists,” in W.F. Bynum, Roy Porter, Michael Shepherd (eds.), The Anatomy of Madness: Essays in the History of Psychiatry Volume II, Tavistock Publications Ltd, London, 1985, p. 242.

[15] R. Kosky, “From Morality to Madness: a Reappraisal of the Asylum Movement in Psychiatry, 1800-1940,” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, no. 20, 1986, p. 181.

[16] Garton. Medicine and Madness, p. 60.

[17] Stone, “Shell Shock and the Psychologists, p. 266.

[18] A.G. Butler, The Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914-18 Volume III: Special Problems and Services, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1943, p. 61.

[19] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 87.

[20] Stone, “Shell Shock and the Psychologists, p. 255.

[21] Garton. Medicine and Madness, p. 84.

24 J.P. Lowson, “The Treatment of War Neuroses by Abreaction of the War Shock,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol 2, 6 November, 1926, p. 621;Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 71.

[23] Joy Damousi, Freud in the Antipodes: a Cultural History of Psychoanalysis in Australia,Sydney, SydneyUniversity Press, 2005, p. 32.

[24] Paul Dane, “Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol 2, 18 December 1926, p. 853; Stone, “Shell Shock and the Psychologists, p. 255.

[25] Dane, “Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy,” p. 853.

[26] Damousi, Freud in the Antipodes, p. 35.

[27] W.M. O’Neil, A Century of Psychology in Australia, Sydney University Press, Sydney, 1987, p. 27.

[28] Damousi, Freud in the Antipodes, p. 35.

[29] Stone, “Shell Shock and the Psychologists, p. 246.

[30] Butler, Official History Vol III, p. 106.

[31] Jones, “Naval and Military News,” p. 58.

[32] Jones, “Naval and Military News,” p. 58.

[33] Stephen Garton, The Cost of War: Australians Return, OxfordUniversity Press, Oxford, 1996, p. 143.

[34] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 28.

[35] Jones, “Naval and Military News,” p. 58.

[36] W.E. Jones, “A Case of Shell Shock,” The Medical Journal of Australia,  4 March, 1916, p. 203.

[37] R. Finlay-Jones, “The Effect of War on the Theory and Practice of Psychiatry in Australia,” in H. Attwood and R.W. Home (eds.), Patients, Practitioners and Techniques, University of Melbourne Press, Melbourne, 1985, p. 48. Smith and Pear, Shell Shock and its Lessons, p. 21; W. Summons, “Medical Work Seen in the Australian Military Hospitals,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 2 22 September, 1917, p. 246.

[38] Sydney Penn, “A Plea for Adequate Recognition of the Part that can be Played in Shell-Shock by Septic Foci,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol 2, 10 August, 1918, p. 115.

[39] Smith and Pear, Shell Shock and its Lessons, p. 99.

[40] Reviews, “Shell Shock and War Neuroses,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 1, 1 March, 1919, p. 175.

[41] Stone, “Shell Shock and the Psychologists, p. 250.

[42] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 87.

[43] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 104.

[44] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 88.

[45] J.W. Springthorpe, “Twelve Months Service at the Front,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 1, 29 April, 1916, p. 359.

[46] Finlay-Jones, “The Effect of War on the Theory and Practice of Psychiatry in Australia,” p. 48.

[47] Peter Leese, Shell Shock: Traumatic Neurosis and the British Soldiers of the First World War, Palgrave McMillan, Hampshire, 2002, p. 70.

[48] Butler, Official History Vol III, p. 126.

[49] W.R. Regnell, “The Psycho-Neuroses of War,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 1, 7 June 1919, p. 455.

[50] Sigmund Freud, “Introduction,” in E. Jones (ed). Psychoanalysis and the War Neuroses, Psychoanalytic Press, London, 1921, p. 2.

[51] Stone, “Shell Shock and the Psychologists, p. 256.

[52] Stone, “Shell Shock and the Psychologists, p. 257.

[53] W.H.R. Rivers, “Freud’s Psychology of the Unconscious,” The Lancet, vol.1, 16 June, 1917, p. 912; However, Shephard points out that Rivers was not the first to do this: in fact, the such first adaptation in the history of military medicine came from Dr. David Eder, while working with Australian snipers evacuated from Gallipoli. B. Shephard, A War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists 1914-1994, Pimlico, London, 2002, pp. 85-6.

[54] Rivers, “Freud’s Psychology of the Unconscious,” p. 912.

[55] J.W. Springthorpe, “War Neuroses and Civil Practice,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 2, 4 October, 1919, p. 280. This response may also be seen in Dr. George E. Rennie’s speech at the 1920 Australasian Medical Conference, as reported in the MJA: “He stated that, while he had long recognised the value of psycho-therapy, he had been prejudiced against the doctrine… on account of the unjustifiable reference of almost everything to sexual impulses.” Henry Maudsley, “Australasian Medical Congress, Brisbane, 1920” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 2, 25 September 1920, p. 324; Damousi, Freud in the Antipodes, p. 36.

[56] Damousi, Freud in the Antipodes, p. 35.

[57] Smith and Pear, Shell Shock and its Lessons, p. 40; Idris Morgan, “Hypnotic Suggestion,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 1, 15 January 1927, p. 87. Morgan reports a case in which his shell-shocked patient, having been subjected to hypnosis, suffered a relapse weeks later.

[58] Smith and Pear, Shell Shock and its Lessons, p. 43.

[59] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 71.

[60] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 71.

[61] Lowson, “The Treatment of War Neuroses by Abreaction of the War Shock,” p. 621.

[62] Smith and Pear, Shell Shock and its Lessons, p. 108; Springthorpe, “War Neuroses and Civil Practice,” p. 281.

[63] Finlay-Jones, “The Effect of War on the Theory and Practice of Psychiatry in Australia,” p. 51.

[64] Stephen Garton, “Asylum Histories: Reconsidering Australia’s Lunatic Past,” in Catherine Colebourne and Dolly MacKinnon (eds.), ‘Madness’ in Australia: Histories, Heritage and the Asylum, Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 2003, p. 15.

[65] Butler, Official History Vol III, p. 56.

[66] Damousi, Freud in the Antipodes, p. 35.

[67] Smith and Pear, Shell Shock and its Lessons, p. 48.

[68] Garton, Medicine and Madness, p. 187.

[69] Leese, Shell Shock, p. 113. Although Leese exclusively focuses upon the British army, his argument that class shaped medical perceptions of shell shock is clearly echoed through the MJA article quoted below. Tyquin, on the other hand, suggests that this was not the case in the AIF, “where soldiers particularly recognised, and deferred to, ability before hierarchy.” Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 88. This may have been the case in the army, however it does seem to contradict the evidence exhibited in the MJA.

[70] Review, “Shell Concussion and War Neuroses,” p. 173.

[71] D.M. McWhae, “Neuroses,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 2, October 20, 1919, pp. 338, 339.

[72] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, pp. 100-101

[73] S. Jones, “Experiences in the Treatment of Voluntary Patients at the Psychiatric Clinic, Broughton Hall,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol 2, 4 September, 1926, p. 316.

[74] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 148. However, Tyquin does not consider that these numbers are to some extent artificially inflated by the Great Depression. It is likely that the numbers rise so dramatically due to veterans’ desire for a war pension awarded on the basis of shell shock, as a partial replacement for livelihoods lost in the 1929 crash.

[75] Kosky, “From Morality to Madness,” p. 181.

[76] Paul Dane, “The Psycho-Neuroses of Soldiers and their Treatment,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 1, 25 April 1925, p. 430.

[77] Finlay-Jones, “The Effect of War on the Theory and Practice of Psychiatry in Australia,” p. 51.

[78] A.D. Carbery, “Some Medical Aspects of Recruiting for War,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 2, 3 August 1927, pp. 365-70; Finlay-Jones, “The Effect of War on the Theory and Practice of Psychiatry in Australia,” p. 49.

[79] Tanja Luckins, “Crazed with Grief? The Asylum and the Great War in Australia,” in Catherine Colebourne and Dolly MacKinnon (eds.), ‘Madness’ in Australia: Histories, Heritage and the Asylum, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 2003, p. 169.

[80] W.M. O’Neil, “The Teaching and Practise of Psychology in Australia in its First Phases,” in Mary Nixon and Donald Taft (eds.), Psychology in Australia, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977, p. 15.

My writerly week, ending 7 April, 2017

Salvete, readers!

First, I must apologise for not doing one of these posts last week—I fully intended to, but Cyclone Debbie had other ideas. Fear not, though—aside from having to wade home through flood waters, the worst of it I experienced was losing broadband access for a few days. If the flooding Queensland experienced in 2011 was a punch to the gut, Cyclone Debbie was a slap in the face with a rubber fish.

Right, then. Things achieved for the week:

Creative writing

  • Acting on some advice from a manuscript assessor, I’ve been working on the dialogue in my current historical fantasy novel. I’ve had multiple readers point out that my Bronze-age characters speak in a manner so casual that it feels anachronistic. Making the revisions was a tough decision, as I had opted to have the characters converse in a very casual way for a reason. If there’s one thing my studies of ancient history and languages has taught me, it’s that people have never spoken in the stilted manner we hear in period dramas. However, that’s what readers of historical fiction expect, so upon reflection I think it might be best to bow to the conventions of the genre. This does raise the question, of course, of what kind of English they would have spoken in ancient Greece. And also, how do you balance readers’ expectations that dialogue should ‘feel’ authentic with the need to make the story flow? I think this topic merits a blog post, don’t you?
  • I submitted my novel to yet another publisher. Trying not to think about it, to be honest. Nonchalant. I can do nonchalant. Once, in high school, I was even breezy.
  • I am almost finished the Song of Ice and Fire books! Reading contributes to writing, yeah? *eyedart* I’ve barely seen HBO’s Game of Thrones and am relatively unspoiled, so I am on the edge of my seat. Though I think George R.R. Martin’s writing is… well, uncomfortable in certain respects, I can’t deny that it’s engaging. And I’m learning so much about world-building from seeing how carefully Martin has constructed Westeros.
  • You know what? I’m rather proud of the blog post I published a few days ago. I wrote the hell out of that thing. This is the first time I’ve ever published a personal essay online, and it is gratifying to see that the response has been so overwhelmingly positive. My thanks to everybody who liked, commented or shared.
  • I received some really helpful notes from a good mate on the first chapter of my novel. Glad to find the draft was well-received.

Research/ academic writing

  • After the delays I’ve experienced on my current research project, I’m happy to say that things are back on track and I’m swimming in ancient Greek once again.
  • After some deliberation, I raised my hand to do an academic book review on a subject which I know back to front. No word yet on whether my application to review the book has been accepted—let’s see.
  • Oh! And I had a couple of very pleasant surprises this week related to my first academic book, Tertullian and the Unborn Child. I found that the university where I work has already purchased the ebook! I didn’t even have to prod the library to buy a copy—somebody else did that for me. I have always dreamed of seeing my name in a library catalogue. It’s a new experience for me.
  • I also was thrilled to discover that my book is now on the Bryn Mawr Classical Review’s list of books available to review. This is one of the best-disseminated sources of book reviews in my field, so this is delightfully terrifying.

Think that’s it. Cheers for sticking with me—I really appreciate it.

Until next time,

Valete

Dear Twenty-Year-Old Me

Dear Twenty-year-old Me,

Right now, I’ve just turned thirty. Everyone assures me this is a huge milestone. Folks these days talk about turning thirty the way they used to talk about turning twenty-one. Apparently this is when real adulthood begins—when you settle down, get serious about your career, start a family. It sometimes seems like my generation spent its twenties lounging on the couch watching Spongebob and washing down fruit loops with vodka. That’s not going to be you. Sorry. In terms of life achievements, you’re going to pole-vault right over your twenties and land square in your thirties. It won’t be long now before you’re married and have two little people in your life who will argue with you on the correct way to use a lavatory.

And you know what? It’s going to be awesome. Your kids will teach you to see the world through new eyes, to appreciate just how amazing life can be. You’re going to read them Narnia and Roald Dahl, and they’ll applaud when you do the funny voices. Don’t misunderstand me, it won’t be easy—basically, you’re going to get signed up for a fulltime job where you are on call twenty-four hours a day, get no sick leave and no holidays. Sometimes, when the kids wake you up at four in the morning because they can’t find their damned Pokémon cards, it’ll feel like this will never end. But you’re doing something amazing—building a life together, teaching and nurturing them to become the best they can be. You wouldn’t trade the feeling of having your children fall asleep on your chest for anything.

Right now, at twenty, you’re working two jobs to get yourself through uni. You didn’t achieve stellar academic results in your first year, and you wonder whether it’s really worth it, especially when all you want to be is a writer. Don’t worry—you’re going to start hitting your academic goals in second year. Uni is a learning curve, so don’t beat yourself up. Your parents assure you that an Arts degree is going to be your ticket to stability in life. Don’t hold that against them. Mum and Dad are just passing on the wisdom of their generation. They didn’t realise that they came of age in the heyday of the liberal arts, and they couldn’t have known. Don’t fret about the value of an Arts degree. In about eighteen months, this thing called the Global Financial Crisis is going to happen, and it will mean the end of stability for your generation, regardless of what you study. Economic neo-liberalism will come to be taken for common sense, and most of the jobs will be casualised. It sucks, but you’ll make the best of it. Getting out of poverty is going to be an incremental process, and it isn’t going to be because of your education so much as your willingness to work hard and take opportunities as they come along. In this, you will be no different from anybody else.

But, um, if you want to invest in these things called Facebook and Twitter, I wouldn’t object.

At one point, after finishing the PhD, you’re going to convince yourself that being a school teacher is the best and only use of your knowledge and skills. The bad news? This is going to be the biggest mistake of your twenties. The good news? This is going to be the biggest mistake of your twenties. Anybody who can make it in the secondary education system will forever have your respect and admiration, but a job which involves reprimanding kids about their socks isn’t for you. Luckily, it’ll turn out that you’re good at other things too, and you learned a lot from your experience working in schools.

Oh, and that ambition to become a writer? It’s going to happen, but not until you figure out why you’re doing this. You’ll turn your PhD thesis into a book and advance human knowledge by a micron or two. Go you, but remember it’s not the Nobel Prize. The real test is whether your research is going to make a difference in people’s lives and have an impact upon the world. Let’s see what happens there, eh? The greatest thing you’ll gain from your education is comprehension of how little you really understand, and how much of the world there is to see.

It’s much better than it sounds right now.

I also happen to know you’re working on a novel. You’re far too scared to show it to anybody, but you’re convinced it’ll be the next blockbuster. Hate to say it, Twenty-year-old Me, but the one attitude cancels out the other. And it’s not going to be a bestseller, and that’s fine. That poor, unfortunate, half-formed novel is going to be valuable as a learning experience. You’ll gain the confidence to experiment with language, hone your storytelling ability. Most of all, you’ll learn how far you’ve got to go. Don’t be downhearted.

You’ll apply what you learned from your first attempt when you put pen to paper on your next novel. In hospital on the day your son is born, you’ll start scratching out a first chapter while your wife sleeps. You’ll keep scratching at it until it becomes a first draft. By the time you get to draft four, you’ll show it to other writers, and learn how to deal with criticism—both constructive and otherwise. Eventually you will tally of your drafts and feel like a gunslinger notching his rifle. At writing conferences, you will make like-minded friends who want your story to succeed just as much as you do and give you thorough critiques. It’ll be strange and a little intimidating, but you will repay the favour in kind. That’s how it works in the writerly world. With every stroke of the red pen, you become stronger as an author.

And on the bestseller thing? Sorry, Twenty-year-old Julian, you’ve got it wrong. As much as you might love JK Rowling’s work and hope to walk in her footsteps, her career is the exception rather than the rule. And Rowling didn’t write with the intention of becoming a bestselling author. She had a story which she wanted to share with the world. C.S. Lewis once said that we read to know we’re not alone. The flip side, of course, is that we write to reach out to others. It shouldn’t just be about selling books. It’s about contributing something to the community, giving people something to enrich their lives. Achieving sales matters far less than reaching the people who need your story.

By the way, it won’t be long now before you see second-hand bookstores flooded with unwanted copies of this these books called The Da Vinci Code, Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. Learn well from this: you can sell a story to millions and reach nobody. Far better, I think, to reach a few to whom your story means a lot.

Over and over, you’re going to be absolutely bamboozled by the human instinct to tear each other down over differences. You’ll figure out over the next ten years or so that story is the answer: to have the courage to speak, and to listen. Story brings people together, binds us. Sort of like the Force.

Also, right at the tail end of your twenties, Disney is going to purchase Star Wars and release the sequel trilogy, and—don’t look at me like that, it’ll be loads better than you expect. Remember when Disney started making Marvel movies? Oh wait, that hasn’t happened yet. Disregard.

Read, Past Me. Read stories from as many different perspectives as possible. I know you love fantasy and historical and science fiction, and that’s cool, but even within those genres there’s a lot more diversity than you choose to see right now. You’ll go through periods where you choose to read only novels written by women, or by people of colour. The ones by women of colour will teach you the most! As you discover more stories grounded in the here and now, you will find the world is more fantastic than you ever realised. Hear other people’s stories, the stories of strangers you meet in the streets. When you develop the capacity for patience, you will discover every human being is on their own hero’s journey. Learn how complicated and wonderful and strange the world is, and be willing to acknowledge the limitations of your understanding. That is the first step toward growth.

Just a couple more messages, Twenty-year-old Me. Over the next decade, you’ll start to learn how to take care of yourself. I don’t just mean how to pick out your own clothes and cook your own meals. When you’re there for people, you throw yourself into their wellbeing and care for them with your whole heart. And that’s good, that’s fine, that’s a part of who you are. But sometimes you’re going to get hurt, and sometimes you’re going to get exhausted. Once in a while, your caring will get thrown in your face. A handful of others will care for you as much as you do them. Nourish these relationships, but be mindful of your own needs also. It’s true that love is not a finite resource, but time and energy are. Don’t waste them on people who treat you as though you’re a complication in their life story.

In the end, there’s going to be one person who sticks by your side, and she is the love of your life. Right now, Twenty-year-old Me, you’re thinking about asking Kelly to marry you. There’s plenty of folks who will tell you it’s a mistake. Don’t listen to them. Getting married is the best thing you’ll ever do. Cherish Kelly, adore her and love her with all your silly heart. That’s what’s important. You already know it, I think, though you don’t quite know what it means yet.

I’ll close with a timey-whimey wibbly wobbly quote from your future and my past: ‘We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?’

Until next time, vale.

Thirty-year-old Julian

Beyond sight: Using all five senses to evoke an historical scene

Salvete, readers!

Employing all five of the senses to capture detail about the world is an amazing way to suck the readers in. It’s particularly important for an historical author, as sensory details are your reader’s key to understanding what is basically an alien world. We comprehend reality through the senses. Aristotle devoted an entire treatise to this subject. The senses which your viewpoint character focuses on will show the reader loads about them. In historical fiction, I think there is a tendency toward visual description, and that’s fine, but it’s only one of the tools in your kit. Smell, for example, is one of the most powerful senses and can set up a scene beautifully.

If your characters are, say, on a Greek trading ship with a cargo hold full of spice from India, there is a wealth of sensory detail you could include to construct the scene. For a fun exercise, I’m going to list the sensory details I’d include in that scenario. Can you think of any others? And what kind of person do you think the viewpoint character is? Let me know in the comments!

TOUCH

  • The rocking of the ship
  • Sea sickness in the belly
  • Weak and shivery
  • Roughness of the unpolished wood
  • Heat and humidity
  • Sweat running down the spine
  • The closeness of the air below deck
  • Fresh wind on the face
  • Salt crusting everything

SOUNDS

  • Gulls shrieking
  • Ocean waves
  • Whisper of wind
  • Creak of rigging
  • Clatter of footsteps above deck
  • Shouted orders in a strange tongue
  • Crash of transport amphorae rolling around loose

SMELL

  • Spices in amphorae—strange, exotic
  • Brine
  • Vomit, especially if the viewpoint character doesn’t have sea legs
  • Stale air below decks
  • Pitch used as sealant
  • Pine wood

TASTE

  • The salt on the air
  • Vomit
  • The aftertaste of the character’s last meal

SIGHT

  • The blue-green ocean—or should that be the wine-dark sea?
  • Blinding sunshine
  • Shirtless men climbing the ratlines, loading cargo
  • Details of the ship: mast, rigging
  • Sail billowing in wind
  • Cloud formations
  • Barnacles on side of ship
  • Dolphins/fish in water

I love doing this exercise– it is a great way to get the imagination fired up when dealing with writer’s block and is also a really great way of planning out a scene. Hope you enjoyed it!

Until next time,

Valete

Becoming an independent scholar and lovable rogue

Salvete, readers!

Normally I post a brief summary of writerly achievements for the week as an accountability exercise, but this has been an unusual week which has given me pause to reflect on where I am as an author and scholar.

Last week, my post-thesis fellowship at my alma mater came to an end. That’s okay. The fellowship served its purpose. The primary intention behind this scheme is to give freshly-minted PhDs the resources they need to publish their doctoral research, and I have achieved that with the release of my book. The difficulty comes in continuing to research afterward. It’s particularly tough as I have several irons in the fire in terms of publications and no longer have full library access at my old institution. This is not an uncommon story for recent PhD graduates, I’m afraid. Unless you are one of the lucky few who lands an academic position quickly, life after PhD can be very tough indeed. I find myself without a formal academic affiliation for the first time since I started my undergrad degree.

But I’m not giving up just yet. Flexibility and adaptability are keys to success.

Long ago, I saw the necessity of building up my career prospects in the world outside academia. The chances of getting a permanent position within academia are pretty dire, particularly in the humanities. Universities churn out far more PhDs these days than there are academic positions available. Once upon a time, I envisioned myself becoming a tenured professor. Yet now that I’m a little more experienced and have responsibilities as a family man, I think staking my future solely upon my academic prospects is a bit like planning to become a rock star. It’s not impossible, but unlikely. A handful of my former classmates have pulled it off, and they are amazing. On the other hand, I’ve also seen people toil in academia for years after achieving the PhD, eking out a meagre existence in the hope that a proper academic job is just around the corner. These are brilliant, talented, and highly skilled people. And yet one can do a lot of things with a PhD in the Humanities outside of academia—it just requires a bit of imagination and a lot of energy, just like with everything else. You don’t have to be an academic drifter if you don’t want to be.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve managed to carve out a niche for myself in the world of curriculum design and support, using my knowledge and skills in unexpected ways. Since finishing the PhD, I’ve moved on to become a professional member of staff at another university. One of the privileges of my position is that I have full library membership. This means access to databases, journals and books. If my new institution doesn’t have a resource, I can request it through an inter-library loan. In other words, I still have resources to continue my scholarly writing career, even if my career is unconventional. I’m very grateful to have this opportunity, and I’m going to make the most of it. This isn’t the end of my relationship with my former institution, either. I maintain ties of friendship with my old faculty, and am still co-authoring a book with one of its members.

A few days ago I had a very productive meeting with a commissioning editor at a major academic publisher. We discussed ideas for future books. All of them are absolutely feasible even without a formal academic position.

So there you have it, folks! For the time being, I’m an independent scholar and lovable rogue.

Until next time,

Valete

Historical fiction: embracing authenticity

Salvete, readers!

In last week’s blog post, I mused (okay, pontificated) about the inadequacies of ‘accuracy’ as a framework for understanding historical fiction. This week we turn to the idea of authenticity. Let’s start by defining the concept.

An historically authentic piece of fiction evokes the spirit of a time period and is sympathetic to the source material. It’s the type of historicity which really gets under the skin of a particular time and place. For me, historically authentic historical fiction is analogous to deep world-building within fantasy fiction. Though the author will always make changes for the sake of the story, he or she considers whether or not such changes are plausible within their imagined world. The world must be internally consistent—this is paramount. Nobody is going to believe in the world you construct if it doesn’t play by its own rules.

In my view, one of the keys to authenticity is to go deep into the characters’ viewpoint and show how the age in which they live influences perceptions of reality. How would their social context shape their decisions? Rather than trying to construct the past in a moralising or judgemental way, the storyteller makes a concerted effort to get inside the cultural and (if possible) linguistic context of the period they seek to portray. Going deep into characters’ viewpoint in an historical setting is an act of imagination, of living in what is ultimately another world. And you have to take up residence in that other world, otherwise your protagonists will simply be modern people playing dress-up in historical clothes. The difference between historical authenticity and inauthenticity is like that between living in another country and visiting as a tourist.

One of the greatest benefits of going deep into an historical viewpoint is that it empowers authors to subvert readers’ expectations about a period. It allows you to defy the stereotypes and tell a fresh story. Often, when striving for ‘accuracy,’ we just perpetuate stereotypes which don’t bear scrutiny but adhere to commonly held views of the past. Let’s look at an example. Say you’re writing a novel about a Roman woman of the Third Century AD. Let’s call her Lucia. She’s a freeborn citizen of the Equestrian order, well-educated. Lucia is in an abusive marriage. Time and again I’ve seen the same story play out in narratives set in the Roman world: Lucia has no way out. After all, everybody knows a Roman woman was her husband’s property… right? Certainly, I’ve marked more than one first-year paper that has argued thus. And so we’re stuck with an old trope, and a tired old story in which Lucia stoically endures a tragic life. Usually it’s male novelists who cling to this trope, but that’s another story.

Lucia’s story is kind of drab so far, don’t you think? Yet if we go deeper into the time period we see just how problematic the stereotype really is. The kind of manus marriage in which the woman was basically her husband’s property was disappearing in the Roman world by the Third Century. Divorce was easily available for elite women of the empire, if the legal texts of the jurists are anything to go by. And of course when we look at the evidence of the jurists really carefully, we find all sorts of interesting tidbits about the rights a woman could enjoy during this period, which make for a much more lively story. For instance, according to Gaius Institutes 1.145.194, freeborn women were freed from male guardianship if they had three children. She’s using her social context of the world she knows to her advantage.

So maybe instead of a story of acquiescence to oppression, this becomes one of liberation—Lucia doesn’t have to be the long-suffering matron we’ve met in a squillion historical dramas. Wouldn’t it be great to make her a carefree character who kicks up her heels and starts her own business? Importing, I don’t know, monkeys? Yep, that was a thing. And if we think about the period a little more deeply, complexities in the characterisation arise. Despite her legal rights, Rome was never anything but patriarchal.  What manner of opposition might Lucia face? What of her birth family? She would in all likelihood be a slave-owner—how would her own experiences of violence influence the way she disciplines them? Also, a bit of further research reveals a papyrus letter from Roman Egypt, in which a woman has to petition the local prefect to be able to enjoy her right to live without a guardian. Ergo, despite whatever rights Lucia theoretically holds, the fact that she’s got to appeal to have her legal rights upheld tells us volumes.

The storytelling possibilities skyrocket when we throw away the shackles of ‘accuracy’ and instead throw ourselves into the period. One of the strengths of embracing authenticity rather than accuracy as a tool for historical fiction is that it lets the writer present a more nuanced viewpoint. Through deep research and critical engagement with primary sources, you’re empowered to tell a story that’s all your own.

In future weeks, I’d like to explore more aspects of historical authenticity—how, for instance, can an author use deep viewpoint to the best effect? Where does anachronism fit? How do we make dialogue sound historically authentic? Can we ever really escape the influence of the present in our constructions of the past? And when the time is right, I’ll share a bit more about how I apply my own principles in writing my novel, an historical fantasy based on Vergil’s Aeneid.

Until next time,

Valete

Julian