“The Madwoman in the Basement”: Post-Traumatic Stress of Female Citizens, Refugees, and Deportees in Carinthia after WWI and WWII
Playing on Sandra Gilbert’s and Susan Gubar’s seminal work The Madwoman in the Attic, this paper attempts to contextualize post-conflict narratives and diagnoses about female patients in the Landeskrankenanstalt Klagenfurt from 1918 to 1925 and from 1945 to 1950. Especially after the First World War, the clinical and terminological concept of “shell shock” came to be implemented in professional environments of nursing and hospitalization, albeit predominantly or even rather exclusively focusing on soldiers and combatants. Palpably, these newly emerging and formulated theories about war and post-war traumas were not applied to women and young girls, whose anamneses, additionally, were still forged and gridlocked in expressively Freudian perceptions and language by (male) doctors.
This talk aims to unpack post-1918 and post-1945 cases of women, treated either short- or long-term at the main psychiatric institution in Klagenfurt. For instance, it will cover thematic intersections of migration, (loss) of citizenship, deportation, and refugeeism with various forms of political violence, as well as family violence, rape, physical or psychological harassment, and, quite literally, the ruins of the soul. Particularly after the Second World War, stories of female civilians who suffered from a plethora of mental symptoms after their rescue from being buried alive in bombed homes become exceptionally frequent in the medical documents – hence the chosen title.
About the author
Dagmar Wernitznig obtained her doctorate in History from the University of Oxford with a DPhil thesis pertaining to the life, work, and (political) activism of the international pacifist, feminist, and suffragist Rosika Schwimmer (1877–1948). Having graduated in literature and modern languages, she also holds a second PhD degree in American Studies and lectured, tutored, and published extensively in the academic fields of gender, post-colonialism, critical theory, and cultural criticism as well. Additionally, she worked as a postdoctoral and, subsequently, an associate fellow at the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford, plus earned a business certificate from the Saïd Business School. Her most recent publications include, for instance, a journal article for a special issue of Women’s History Review (“Out of her time? Rosika Schwimmer’s (1877–1948) Transnational Activism After the First World War”, 2017) and book chapters for editions and collaborative compilations by Bloomsbury, Brill, and Palgrave Macmillan.
She collaborates on the EIRENE project.