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Not So Quiet: Stepdaughters of War [Hardcover]

Helen Smith
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Feminist Press at The City University of New York; New ed of 1930 ed edition (1 Jan 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0935312978
  • ISBN-13: 978-0935312973
  • Product Dimensions: 17.2 x 13 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 883,730 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Praised by the Chicago Sun-Times for its 'furious, indignant power', this story offers a rare, funny, bitter, feminist look at war. Published in London in 1930, this is a novel in autobiographical guise that describes a group of British women ambulance drivers on the French front lines during World War 1. As Voluntary Aid Detachment workers, the women pay for the privilege of driving the wounded through shell fire in the cold, on no sleep and an inedible diet, under the watchful eye of their punishing commandant, nicknamed Mrs Bitch.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Helen Zenna Smith is the pseudonym of Evadne Price who served as an ambulance driver in France during the FWW. This totally compelling fictionalised account of a woman's experience of the War should be ranked alongside E. M. Remarque's 'All Quiet on the Western Front', Siegfried Sassoon's 'Memoirs of an Infantry Officer' or Edmund Blunden's 'Undertones of War'. The value of the experiences of women who saw active service during the FWW are beginning to be recognised in academic circles thanks to the work of feminist critics, but it is time that such recognition came from the general public as well, and this book is one of many that is capable of bringing those experiences to wider attention. A wonderfully written book that is worth reading. Highly recommended !!
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
This semi-autobiography, moulded in the style of All Quiet on the Western Front (hence the pun on "Quiet" which also connotes the supposed passivity of women during wartime), is a merciless but utterly gripping account of female ambulance drivers on the Western Front. It's a welcome breath of air, because it doesn't give the usual take on the war and it doesn't have the sort of reservations and evasion that even lauded war writers like Sassoon or Graves use. This is non-stop trauma and vitriol, but it's so well written it sucks the reader in from the start. Unlike the whininess of Vera Brittain (proclaimed the "mistress of self-pity" by De Groot) this is by no means a feminist book, but has a real punch to it. It is impossible not to empathise with the narrator, again an often fraught task with the more accredited war writers. "Smithy's" hatred of the war and its dehumanising conditions (both of the soldiers and her fellow drivers) is tinged with obvious signs of war neurosis. Particulalry gripping is her friend "The Bug" succumbing to shellshock and being told that she has exhibited "a disgraceful exhibition of cowardice on the part of an Englishwoman", and the description of driving towards field hospitals in terrible conditions listening to the men in the truck screaming.
Smith intentionally dehumanises the men throughout the book in an attempt to distance herself from their condition and one is left under no illusion that this is one of the only ways to preserve her own sanity. The author's contrast with the heroic claptrap in letters from home is also presented with such force and anger it makes the reader wince with empathy. A grim job that was always sold high, this is a real eye opener both in terms of the female perspective on war and the situations faced by them. Cracking stuff.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not So Quiet 24 Oct 2004
I was assigned this book for a class and therefore went into the book thinking that I would hate it. I didn't want to read it and then I picked it up and started reading. This is the best book I've ever read for school. It's even in the top ten of books I've ever read. If a teacher needs a book of this sort for their class, I recommend this book because your students will overwhelmingly love it. There is so much that can be paralleled to modern day and the characters are so realistic and they seem like someone you know already. You will love it, I promise.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Not So Quiet... is the fictional, but autobiographical account of the author, Helen Zenner Smith's experiences during the First World War. It is one of the most uncompromising, unflinching accounts for the First World War I have ever read. Perhaps made all the more startling by the fact that it is a woman's experience of life at the front.

'Smithy' is a volunteer ambulance driver, living and working in close quarters with other women volunteers, she ferries wounded men from ambulance trains and casualty clearing stations to various hospitals. There is no false nobility in her account; the men are shattered and in pieces, both literally and metaphorically and 'Smithy' herself is brutally affected by horror and by her endless, exhausting daily routines under the iron hand of 'Mrs Bitch' the commandant who regularly doles out unnecessary punishment to the exhausted, traumatised women.

This novel affected me greatly, partly I think because it surprised me so much. It is far removed from the traditional, noble 'daughters of England' representations of women in war and much closer to the reality of war writing that has been associated with the likes of Robert Graves and Seigfried Sassoon. I don't understand why this work is not read alongside accepted 'important' war writing, because it deserves its place up there and deserves a much wider readership than I suspect it currently gets.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From Me to You! 4 Feb 2009
I became interested in the literature of the First World War whilst studying it for English at my third year at University years ago- and I'm happy to say that it's continued. However we were only introduced to a limited number of authors and after opening an amazon account I began to look further at the wider range of authors that must have existed and I wasn't disappointed!
Not So Quiet... was one of the titles that was reccommended to me and purchasing this book is something I'm not going to regret.
There are plenty of accounts of the First World War through, unsurprisingly, the eyes of men and what makes this book unique is that it is a fictional account of a young ambulance driver serving in France and what makes this book more remarkable is that it's from the perspective of a woman.
The role of women, especially during the First World War, was a topic that seemed to have been generally ignored. As a collective whole, their presence in the male dominated literature that surrounds the 1WW deems them as the enemy, the creators of life for the future only then, to willingly push them out onto the battlefields to be slaughtered all for the sake of trophies.
This type of hypocrisy and the attitudes of the women on the Home Front, is something that the reader sees slaughtered through the eyes of the main protaganist Smithy.
She is our eyes and ears and even our sense of smell. The author never lets up on the noise and horror of war, everything Smithy experiences, we doto. This unrelenting account gives the book its pace, even when we momentarily step out of France when Smithy returns home vowing never to go back to the Front, we experience the patriotism of the women at home, which is in itself allows the reader to experience a different type of war.
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