“All Quaint on the Western Front”, a brief tale of What Could’ve Been; starring Evadne Price

Evadne Price

When reading Not So Quiet, there are notable similarities between this text and All Quiet on the Western Front—as we’ve discussed quite a few in class such as the characterization of The “Bitch” Commandment and Himmelstoss as abusive people in power, societal pressures being a factor in driving the POV characters to enlist, and the similar writing style, among other similarities (“I am afraid I am going mad” (P. 101 of my edition) a line that follows the shock of a sudden tragedy where a character dies in the POV character’s arms, and the final ending paragraph are the moments that stood out the most to me while reading Not So Quiet).

Looking further into the history of the author, Evadne Price, I found out that this novel was originally commissioned as a far more blatant rip of All Quiet… following the international success of the latter novel. According to an article by Lucy Scholes of The Paris Review, Price was approached by London-based publisher, Albert E. Marriott, and asked to “write a spoof response about women in the war. He had in mind a title—“All Quaint on The Western Front“—and a pen name for her, Erica Remarks” (emphasis is mine). However, after reading All Quiet herself for the first time, Price felt, understandably so, that making light of such a serious and tragic subject was…y’know, absolutely horrible and insulting (quote from Price herself during an interview with Hazel De Berg: “Anybody who writes a skit on this book wants their brains dusted” (2, around the 14:01 mark). Since Price was never actually a part of the war effort herself,pressed for cash and under the suggestion (and pressure) of Marriott, she decided to base the experiences of the fictional Helen Z. Smith on the borrowed diary entries of former front-line ambulance driver, Winifred Constance Young, who Price had met at the request of a friend. Sadly, Price wasn’t properly compensated for her work by Marriott as detailed in her contract, leading to quite the interesting scandal between the two of them following the successful publication of Not So Quiet among…other hijinks Marriott had gotten up to during that time.

Another interesting detail I found out was that this was actually the first in a series of novels: Not So Quiet was followed by Women of Aftermath in 1931, Shadow Women in 1932, Luxury Ladies in 1933, and They Lived With Me in 1934. These weren’t nearly as successful as Not So Quiet, and I can’t seem to find much information on these books outside of a very brief summary of Women of Aftermath on Goodreads: “A sequel to “Not So Quiet…”. After the war a wife is beaten by her wounded soldier husband” (4). Sadly, they appear to be just as lost as her beloved children’s series Jane Turpin, and like that series, may have gone out of print following their lackluster returns by an audience now gearing up for WWII—the novelty of these types of books seems to have worn off rather quickly during the time, and, according to a paper given at the Marginalized Mainstream conference in 2014 (recorded by the blog Great War Fiction), even Not So Quiet was itself nearly lost before it was rediscovered and reprinted in 1989 by Jane Marcus and Feminist Press respectively (3).

Knowing all of this, how does this information on the behind-the-scenes of Not So Quiet impact your reading of Price’s novel? Does the knowledge of the fact it was initially conceived by as a parody by a man who wanted to cash in on All Quiet’s success change how you read both stories back-to-back as we have in class? How do you think the book would’ve been perceived by audiences of the time (let alone today) if Price had followed through with the parody nature that had been pitched to her—and do any elements of parody still show up in the novel regardless of its shift in direction early on? Are there anymore similarities between these books that we can now point to knowing this context? How does the knowledge that there were sequels to this novel still published under the Helena Zenna Smith pseudonym (and thus, presumably, continued to follow the life of the Smithy character) impact the ending for you guys—does this knowledge cheapen the impact of that final paragraph or does it make it more potent? Finally, how many of you guys wish that there was some kind of biopic about Evadne Price?; because my lord, was this woman quite a fascinating character in of herself.

Sources used in this post:

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2019/03/29/re-covered-not-so-quietstepdaughters-of-war/ (1)

//nla.org.au/nla.obj-22278695/listen/2-592 (2)

https://greatwarfiction.wordpress.org/helen-zenna-smith-and-the-disguises-of-evadne-price/ (3)

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18070839-women-of-the-aftermath (4)

Repetition of words to show emotion or give clear imagery in Not So Quiet…

As I started reading Not So Quiet, I noticed the repetition of certain words that Helen used to either show her emotion towards something or help build a clear image of something that she is explaining or describing. I am a bit ahead as far as the reading but so far, I have marked 8 different times up to chapter 5 that she has repeated words together to help the reader understand what is happening. I felt as though when I was reading the repetition helped me feel as like I was there and gave me a clear picture of what was happening and helped me connect more with Helen. I noted that the words were often repeated in 3’s.

Just to show a few explains:

“Number Five hospital” (page 12): this was repeated to show how tiring it is to continue returning back to the hospital, almost like going in a circle, ” It ended, just as I thought it would never end” (12) This is one of the first times in the book that we get a description of how Helen’s experience as an ambulance driver went during the war. Defiantly not a smooth job!

“Snip, snip, snip” (page 14-17): this was used to give the image on Tosh cutting her hair. This repetition (3 times each time mentioned) is used throughout three pages and gives the image of Tosh cutting her hair and how long it took her to finish. Along with this, the repetition allows us to be in Helen’s mind and gives us her opinion on short hair and it is the first reference to her mother’s beliefs, “Poor Mother, she would die of horror if I came home on leave with my hair cut short like a man’s” (15).

“Limp, limp, limp”(page 57): this was used to describe Edward’s husband not having one leg. Helen expressed that she would not want to marry someone like this because if not she would be like Edwards and, “She will never be able to forget these days and nights of war and horror”(57). I felt like although it was used to give an image of Edward’s husband, it allowed the reader to think about how Helen does not want to remember the war once it is over.

This is just something I noticed as I was reading and found it interesting and helpful as I got farther in the book.