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Marchant, Bessie | A Girl Munition Worker

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  • SOLD First edition of this important First World War adventure novel by the prolific children’s writer sometimes described as “the girls’ G. A. Henty”.

    Bessie Marchant Comfort (1862-1941) spent her entire life in England but wrote close to 150 novels set in locations around the world. Her protagonists are mainly young women who take on masculine-coded traits and roles, overcoming fear and uncertainty to save the day (and often male characters) through intelligence, courage, and self-control. In A Girl Munition Worker the heroine, Deborah, is employed in a munitions factory and becomes involved in the case of a German spy, heroically foiling a Zeppelin raid against the facility by shooting the agent guiding the airship from the ground.

    “British and American wartime girls’ books unabashedly celebrate opportunities for middle-class heroines to take on exciting new jobs outside the home: as munition factory workers in Brenda Girvin’s Munition Mary (1918) and Bessie Marchant’s A Girl Munition Worker (1916), or as farm laborers in Marchant’s A Transport Girl in France (1919). Within these workplace settings, the protagonists perform additional heroic service by identifying and capturing German spies. As intrepid spy catchers, girl heroines are able to contribute to the war effort by engaging, like their soldier counterparts, with the enemy, but they make use of what are portrayed as some distinctly feminine weapons: curiosity and intuition. At the same time, by hunting down and confronting dangerous spies, the young female protagonists in these books demonstrate a level of bravery not typically associated with femininity at that time. Ironically, these moments of gender-bending are often followed by scenes in which the girls fall in a faint, clearly overcome by the magnitude of what they have done… The activities of these characters, both as working girls and as spy catchers, clearly challenge the notion that a girl’s or woman’s world must be limited to the domestic sphere. At the same time, the radicality of this message is tempered by frequent reminders of the heroine’s femininity, beauty, and physical and emotional fragility” (Redmann, “Girls Reading the Great War”, Women Writing War, 2018).

  • ...The Story of a Girl’s Work during the Great War. Illustrated by J. E. Sutcliffe. London: Blackie and Son Limited, [c. 1916].

    Octavo. Original grey cloth blocked in black, blue, and yellow, grey coated endpapers. Frontispiece and 5 plates. Bookseller’s ticket of William Pile of Sutton and Wallington. Spine rolled, cloth rubbed with slight wear at the tips, spotting to the edges of the text block and title page and occasionally to the contents, small raised spot on the frontispiece. Very good condition.