[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-Disability]: Handley-Cousins on Casey Jr., 'New Men: Reconstructing the Image of the Veteran in Late-Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Tue May 8 15:50:58 MDT 2018

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From: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
Date: Tue, May 8, 2018 at 5:42 PM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-Disability]: Handley-Cousins on Casey Jr., 'New
Men: Reconstructing the Image of the Veteran in Late-Nineteenth-Century
American Literature and Culture'
To: <H-REVIEW at lists.h-net.org>

John A. Casey Jr.  New Men: Reconstructing the Image of the Veteran
in Late-Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture.
Reconstructing America Series. New York  Fordham University Press,
2015.  Illustrations. 248 pp.  $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8232-6539-8.

Reviewed by Sarah Handley-Cousins (University at Buffalo SUNY)
Published on H-Disability (May, 2018)
Commissioned by Iain C. Hutchison

The American Civil War has generated veritable mountains of
scholarship, and yet the trope remains that it was an "unwritten
war." Unlike World War I, which is often understood to have inspired
a generation of writers to make sense of the war through novels and
poetry, scholars have long argued that no such wave of literature
followed the Civil War. Where, literary scholars bemoaned, were the
Hemingways and Fitzgeralds of the late nineteenth century? Of course,
plenty was written about the Civil War, but it was easily dismissed
as sentimental tripe, with nothing substantial to add to our
understanding of the conflict or its aftermath.

John A. Casey's book, _New Men: Reconstructing the Image of the
Veteran in Late-Nineteenth Century American Literature and Culture_,
demonstrates quite the opposite. In this book, we see how literature
became the landscape in which veterans worked to find their
identities as "new men," forever changed in ways both positive and
negative by their military service. For the first time in American
history, Casey argues, men began to understand their military service
as an "experience" rather than an "event," and war service
transformed from just one moment in a man's life to its central,
defining occurrence (p. 9). Literature became the space in which
veterans and civilians alike tried to understand, defend, and in some
cases, reject that new identity. _New Men _aims to bring a literary
perspective to Civil War veteran studies. While the field has been
burgeoning in recent years, it has not as yet included a work that
has focused specifically on analyzing literature by and about
veterans, and so this new work is a welcome addition. Casey's
analysis of both well-known and less-studied novels in particular
will be useful for historians of the Civil War era.

Casey uses both fiction and nonfiction sources. In one sense, this is
enormously useful, allowing him to compare the ways that veterans
explored issues within the safety of fictional worlds in contrast to
the ways that veterans described their experiences in realistic terms
in memoirs. This also serves to further explode the idea of an
"unwritten war," as the inclusion of nonfiction sources shows just
how much postwar Americans turned to the written word in their
attempt to understand the experience. However, the inclusion of
nonfiction does bring up the question of choice. What does Casey
believe "counts" as war literature? What might the addition of Robert
Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel's edited collection
_Battles and Leaders of the Civil War _(1884), or the many articles
written by former soldiers and officers published in popular
magazines, or the publications of veterans' organizations and
regimental historians, or even the massive two-volume postwar project
edited by Joseph K. Barnes, _The Medical and Surgical History of the
War of the Rebellion_ (1870-1888), have added to this study? This is
perhaps less a weakness than an opportunity for further study.

Some chapters of _New Men _are more successful than others. The third
chapter, in which Casey explores the ways that some veterans grappled
with traumatic experience in literature, feels out of step with Civil
War trauma scholarship. This is partly a timing issue--the book was
published in 2015, just as a major historiographical conversation
about trauma studies was taking place among Civil War scholars. Casey
relies largely on literary scholarship regarding trauma and fails to
include important historical work, such as that by Diane Miller
Sommerville, David Silkenat, and Frances Clarke.[1] Since Casey is a
literary scholar, this decision is justifiable but detracts from the
chapter's ability to make a serious historical intervention. Further,
while Casey's reading of _Memoirs of General William T. Sherman
_(1889) does convincingly demonstrate that Sherman saw himself and
his soldiers as fundamentally different from the civilians they
encountered, the argument that this is evidence of Sherman narrating
traumatic experience is less persuasive.

Chapter 4, which focuses specifically on Stephen Crane's _The Red
Badge of Courage: An Episode of the American Civil War _, is arguably
the strongest chapter in the text. In this section, Casey offers an
innovative and fascinating new interpretation of the famous war
novel. Of course, this most famous novel of the Civil War was not a
war novel at all but was written decades after the war by a civilian
journalist. By analyzing _The Red Badge of Courage _ alongside its
sequel _The Veteran_ (1896) and Crane's war reporting from the
Spanish-American War, Casey offers a new take on this strange fact,
suggesting that Crane actually used his novels to express his
frustration at the monopoly that Union veterans claimed to have on
American manhood. Rather than a realistic accounting of combat, Casey
argues, _The Red Badge of Courage _ was an attempt to demonstrate
that Union veterans were just men, and, given the chance, younger men
cowed by the oppressive weight of their fathers' war would fight with
just as much glory. Crane's writing as a war correspondent shows how
exultant he was when a younger generation of American men got their
chance to tap into the masculinity wellspring that was war at the
close of the nineteenth century.

Overall, _New Men _is an interesting and creative new addition to
Civil War veteran studies. Historians of disability will find
interesting and useful analyses of disabled veterans in literature
and printed images, but the experiences of disabled veterans is not
the primary focus of the text. Readers might be left wanting a more
solid historiographical foundation for Casey's literary analysis, but
the book nonetheless brings a fresh new perspective to the study of
the men who fought the Civil War.


[1]. Diane Miller Sommerville, "A Burden Too Heavy to Bear: War
Trauma, Suicide, and Confederate Soldiers," _Civil War History _59
(December 2013): 453-491; David Silkenat, _Moments of Despair:
Suicide, Divorce, and Debt in Civil War Era North Carolina _(Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014); and Frances Clarke,
_War Stories: Suffering and Sacrifice in the Civil War North
_(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011).______

Citation: Sarah Handley-Cousins. Review of Casey Jr., John A., _New
Men: Reconstructing the Image of the Veteran in
Late-Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture_.
H-Disability, H-Net Reviews. May, 2018.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=50943

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States


Best regards,

Andrew Stewart

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