Tears, idle tears

Never let it be said that the BBC’s flagship television programme marking the centenary of the First World War, Britain’s Great War, has had no impact on academic research. Following a flippant comment on Twitter, in response to Jeremy Paxman’s description of members of the British cabinet crying at the outbreak of war, I seem to have rather publicly committed myself to writing an article on British soldiers crying during the First World War.

This is actually slightly less ambitious and out of left field than it might first appear. I have a number of examples of men crying, and commenting on crying in relation to their masculine sense of self, while at the front. I am also actively looking for examples of men showing emotion through tears in hospital. These are examples of men crying as a response to fear or to pain. Following from André Loez’s article in Macleod and Purseigle (eds.), Uncovered Fields: Perspectives in War Studies (Brill, 2004), on French soldiers’ tears, I suspect there are also men who cry out of grief and relief/joy.  I would love to find more examples of these, so if anyone comes across any, please do let me know.

I have also been working my way through quite a lot of literature on the history of emotions, as I try to work out my theoretical and methodological approach to the study of masculine subjectivity, something that has definitely changed since I published my book five years ago.  This is a fascinating and complicated subject that I will be posting about at greater length in the near future.  Having a discrete, concrete project to work on that allows me to put a mass of theory into some sort of practice should be quite a useful discipline.  I have always been the sort of researcher who needs to write as she goes, if only to keep my ideas in order.

So I will keep hunting for examples of men whose stiff upper lip trembled far more often than we might believe, and work at locating them in the context of the history of emotions in wartime.  Thank you, BBC and Twitter, yet another job to add to my list!

6 thoughts on “Tears, idle tears

  1. It’s a great topic! I have found a couple of examples of men talking about the tears they shed on leaving their families – another dimension to why men might cry.

  2. Great blog post and I look forward to reading the finished article. I’ve just finished “Sagittarius Rising” by Cecil Lewis which was published in 1936 and described his experiences as a young fighter pilot on the Western Front in World War One and, following on from this, training pilots for the newly established Chinese Air Force in China in the early 1920s. Not only is it a fine novel, it avoids the whole stiff upper lip thing and quite openly describes his feelings and emotions. I can see if I can dig out some quotations about crying, if you like.

  3. I can modestly send you a copy of my article from 2012 on Italian soldiers’ emotions (including tears) if you have (inexplicably!) not read it…

    • Yes, please! I think I am going to put this one together as a proposal for the Helsinki conference on emotions and warfare so any and all references, particularly historiographic, will be much appreciated.

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