Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

1/1/2017 - 6/30/2017

Funding Totals

$25,200.00 (approved)
$25,200.00 (awarded)

Raising the Dead: War, Plague, Magic, Modernism

FAIN: FA-233025-16

Elizabeth Outka
University of Richmond (Richmond, VA 23173-0001)

A book-length study of the literary response to the flu pandemic of 1918-1919.

*Raising the Dead* investigates a modernist mystery: why does the 1918-19 flu pandemic, which killed as many as 100 million people (far more than WWI), seem to make so few appearances in British and American literature of the period? My project explores how the flu became a shadow trauma to the war, amplifying the horror of that conflict, infusing its way into the mourning and the literature of the post-war period, and yet also changing the calculus of risk and blame between the home front and the front line. I recover how the war and the flu together fueled an obsession with the resurrection of the material (and not just the spiritual) body. As corpses flooded the world, writers, filmmakers, religious leaders, spiritualists, and magicians began to believe in or imagine ways the body might return. Recovering the flu’s role in this obsession shifts our understanding of the interwar period and demands a rereading modernist texts as familiar as *The Waste Land* and *Mrs. Dalloway.*

Media Coverage

“The Best 200 Words I Read All Week” series (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Heidi Siegrist
Publication: Virginia Quarterly Review
Date: 11/17/2019

“Why Anxious Readers under Quarantine Turn to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.” (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Evan Kindley
Publication: The New Yorker
Date: 4/10/2020
URL: .

“Here’s How Italians ‘Quaranteamed” 700 Years Ago.” (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Zachary B. Woolf
Publication: CNN
Date: 5/3/2020

“What Plague Art Tells Us About Today.” (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Emily Kasriel
Publication: BBC Culture
Date: 5/18/2020

“Through the Smudged Pane: Pandemic Consciousness in Mrs. Dalloway.” (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Elizabeth Winkler
Publication: Times Literary Supplement
Date: 5/29/2020

“Life after the 1918 flu has lessons for our post-pandemic world.” (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Kristen Rogers
Publication: CNN
Date: 6/28/2021

Associated Products

Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature (Book)
Title: Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature
Author: Elizabeth Outka
Abstract: The influenza pandemic of 1918–1919 took the lives of between 50 and 100 million people worldwide, and the United States suffered more casualties than in all the wars of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries combined. Yet despite these catastrophic death tolls, the pandemic faded from historical and cultural memory in the United States and throughout Europe, overshadowed by World War One and the turmoil of the interwar period. In Viral Modernism, Elizabeth Outka reveals the literary and cultural impact of one of the deadliest plagues in history, bringing to light how it shaped canonical works of fiction and poetry. Outka shows how and why the contours of modernism shift when we account for the pandemic’s hidden but widespread presence. She investigates the miasmic manifestations of the pandemic and its spectral dead in interwar Anglo-American literature, uncovering the traces of an outbreak that brought a nonhuman, invisible horror into every community. Viral Modernism examines how literature and culture represented the virus’s deathly fecundity, as writers wrestled with the scope of mass death in the domestic sphere amid fears of wider social collapse. Outka analyzes overt treatments of the pandemic by authors like Katherine Anne Porter, Thomas Wolfe, Willa Cather, and William Maxwell and its subtle presence in works by Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, and W. B. Yeats. She uncovers links to the disease in popular culture, from early zombie resurrection to the resurgence of spiritualism. Viral Modernism brings the pandemic to the center of the era, revealing a vast tragedy that has hidden in plain sight.
Year: 2020
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Columbia University Press web page
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description: Author bio at the University of Richmond
Access Model: Available in cloth, paperback, or ebook
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9780231185752
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes


Transatlantic Studies Association-Cambridge University Press 2019 Book Prize
Date: 7/7/2021
Organization: Transatlantic Studies Association
Abstract: By a coincidence of timing, this groundbreaking work of extraordinary intellectual breadth and depth resonates deeply with our current circumstances. In examining the impact of the 1918-1920 global influenza pandemic on selected British and American modernist literature, including the early realist engagement, Elizabeth Outka introduces a new reading of these seminal texts, one that in various ways was not attuned to the overt public consciousness of the time or later. This work therefore engages a deep rereading of the literature set within a new frame, addressing difficult and illuminating issues of the underlying and contested politics of both remembrance and forgetting. Outka engages and puts in context the simultaneous impact of the war and the pandemic, which shaped the historical mindset in various ways, deliberately or unconsciously preferencing and valuing one form of death over another. Engaging trauma and memory, her work fundamentally invites us to reconsider the influenza