“The Diary of a Soldier on Wheels” is the first-ever literary critical study of the diary kept by R. W. Taylor, an avid reader and member of the Army Cyclists Corps during the First World War. The diary has only recently become available through Oxford’s First World War Poetry Digital Archive. This project grew out of a presentation and research paper that Aislinn Kelly wrote for Dr. Laura Heffernan’s fall 2015 course, “Literature of World War I,” and Kelly is currently developing it into a conference paper and article for publication. She argues that while Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory remains the authoritative study of soldier poets and soldiers as readers, he neglects the military population that read middlebrow novels and that experienced the war just beyond the trenches. The paper suggests that Taylor’s diary, as a record of his reading and writing, expands our literary history of the war. Situating the diary in its historical and literary contexts allows us to trace the origins of the motifs that Taylor utilized and compare his meanings with that of his famous contemporaries. To make tracking keywords and motifs through the diary easier, Kelly has transcribed the diary into the program Evernote, making the hand-written document viewable side by side with a searchable and tagged plain-text transcription. The transcript is also the first step towards Kelly’s intentions to encode the diary using TEI-XML and to make a story map that puts the pages of the diary and corresponding analysis into their approximate geographic contexts in both England and France. The literary analysis proposes how to read the diary as a piece of war writing influenced by his surroundings and the novels he read in his leisure time. For example, Taylor’s description of a sunset lacks a juxtaposed trench, and he uses the theater as an analogy but does not grapple with the performative, dissociative aspects of trench warfare. In light of the war’s centenary, it is important to consider this different experience of war and make it accessible as part of a reimagined WWI literary canon.
Student Researcher: Aislinn Kelly. Aislinn is going into her fourth year as an undergraduate majoring in English and double-minoring in Literature and Art History at the University of North Florida. She transferred to UNF after earning her AA in English at FSCJ, where she took the literature class that sparked her interest in the literature of the First World War. She is a student representative to the Advisory Committee of the Digital Humanities Initiative. Her other academic projects include co-authoring an article with Dr. Laura Heffernan and Deanna McMichael about teaching the women writers of the First World War—with a focus on women whose work appears in the First World War Poetry Digital Archive. After her prospective graduation from UNF in spring 2017, Kelly intends to gain experience working in archives and to pursue a graduate education in English literature.
Faculty Mentor: Laura Heffernan, Associate Professor of English. Laura Heffernan is Associate Professor of English at UNF. She teaches courses on 19th- and 20th-century British literature, the modernist novel, and exploratory digital seminars on the literature of office work and the literary history of World War I. Dr. Heffernan’s research uses archival materials to discover how people have read, studied, and taught literature through the twentieth century. Her work has appeared in Modernism/modernity, Representations, Victorian Studies, and New Literary History, and she blogs about digital methods and disciplinary histories here: https://modernismmodernity.org/forums/discipline.
The historical and document images used on this page are from The Great War Archive, University of Oxford (www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/gwa); © [Stuart Lee].