Making Meaning Together: Information, Rumor, and Propaganda in British Literature of the First World War

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Through an examination of fiction by H.G. Wells, Joseph Conrad, and John Buchan, this dissertation examines information as a category as it exists under conditions of modernity, and how the contours of and changes in definitions and understandings of modern information become more visible, and are likely accelerated by, the complex information challenges brought about by the disruptions of the First World War. Given that "information" is a key building-block in understanding systems of knowledge in modernity, this dissertation incorporates theoretical constructs describing information drawn from a variety of disciplines, all of which circle around the problems and concerns of the increasingly saturated, complex, and untethered nature of information as experienced by an individual in modern life. This project also highlights the role that rumor plays in modernity. The war years bring an expansion of government-directed information control, both in the form of actively produced propaganda and in the form of censorship, disrupting the conduits along which information travels under normal conditions. Rumor, generally considered a pre-modern form of communication, remains a part of modern information systems and provides a mechanism for making meaning when other sources of information begin to fail.

This dissertation also considers how "wartime" fiction, as a category distinct from pre-war and post-war fiction, is a revealing domain of literature in its own right, and one that has been overlooked in scholarship on literature of the First World War. This project focuses on once popular but long understudied wartime fiction by Wells, Conrad, and Buchan. It also compares the wartime fiction of these authors to their own pre-war fiction in order to trace how the category of information was a concern for these writers from the beginning of their careers. Further, this project explores how wartime texts contain significant elements that can be understood as pre-modern, as modern (and modernist), and as incipiently post-modern, which highlights the existence of both residual and of emerging forms and ideas during the war years, disrupting a dominant understanding of the First World War as a period of cultural and intellectual rupture.