In photo after photo, Hudgins builds a portrait of the women of
"These are photographs produced by soldiers, police, and commercial photographers during the war," Hudgins says of the collected works, which she researched in libraries in both the U.S. and
Some of the photos are strikingly candid, showing women doing traditionally masculine jobs such as mail delivery or wine making. Others seem to celebrate the participation of women in manufacturing weapons. Some of the more disturbing photos capture women and children as refugees. One photo from a 1918 edition of
This side of World War I--now in its centenary year--has rarely been seen, Hudgins says. The enormous brutality of the war, when layered with images of women as angelic, self-sacrificing or grieving figures, takes on a heightened, almost surreal sense.
Hold Still, Madame also establishes a visual path to the similar iconography used during World War II. While the technology was somewhat primitive, and the photos generally restricted to black and white or hand-colored treatments, the message is similar in both of these global conflicts: The role of women in war is to both relieve the suffering, and to remind men of the vitality and stability that peace can bring. The quintessential "We Can Do It" message of World War II's Rosie the Riveter is more subtle in these early pictures, she says, but it is there.
And yet, "the photographers' images did not represent the emancipation of the French woman, but rather her virtuous self-sacrifice," Hudgins writes.
In fact, some of the images include a subtle message that is likely not welcomed: that women actually inspire violence. "Never forget, Marianne, this is all for you!" reads the caption of an illustrated French postcard from World War I.
"Presenting women as vulnerable to German crimes was one important way the media rationalized the war's continuation after the stalemate set in in 1915," Hudgins says.
Hold Still, Madame is available in an electronic version from St Andrews University Studies in French History and Culture, a peer-reviewed academic publishing concern that is part of the
"The shorter length and digital accessibility of works in this series make them great for course assignments. But what I especially like is the fact that anyone researching World War I on the Internet can find my book--and search within it," she says.
Learn more about Hold Still, Madame and the other books in the St Andrews Studies in French History and Culture series.
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