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Backwash of War

An Extraordinary American Nurse in World War I

Ellen N. La Motte
edited with an introduction and biography by Cynthia Wachtell

"We are witnessing a phase in the evolution of humanity, a phase called War - and the slow, onward progress stirs up the slime in the shallows, and this is the Backwash of War. It is very ugly." -Ellen N. La Motte

In September 1916, as World War I advanced into a third deadly year, an American woman named Ellen N. La Motte published a collection of stories about her experience as a war nurse. Deemed damaging to morale, The Backwash of War was immediately banned in both England and France and later censored in wartime America. At once deeply unsettling and darkly humorous, this compelling book presents a unique view of the destruction wrought by war to the human body and spirit. Long neglected, it is an astounding book by an extraordinary woman and merits a place among major works of WWI literature.

This volume gathers, for the first time, La Motte's published writing about the First World War. In addition to Backwash, it includes three long-forgotten essays. Annotated for a modern audience, the book features both a comprehensive introduction to La Motte's war-time writing in its historical and literary contexts and the first extended biography of the "lost" author of this "lost classic." Not only did La Motte boldly breach decorum in writing The Backwash of War, but she also forcefully challenged societal norms in other equally remarkable ways. Born into the extended duPont family—whose namesake business, DuPont, would become America's largest manufacturer of munitions during World War I—she utterly defied the scripted and restrained role of an American society lady. She was a trained nurse, public health advocate and administrator, lesbian, suffragist, journalist, writer, self-proclaimed anarchist, expatriate, intimate friend of the avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein, long-term partner of the American heiress Emily Crane Chadbourne, and indefatigable leader of an international anti-opium campaign. The biography shines a spotlight on the "lost" author of the "lost classic."

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