Bodies of War: Disabilities and Heroism in the First World War

  • Rhian Atkin Cardiff University
Keywords: Military, Corpo Expedicionário Português, masculinity, injury


In the present article, I analyze discourses of masculinity and the male body associated with Portugal’s involvement in World War I. I examine these from three perspectives: the national military body; medical and political discussion of disabled bodies; and soldiers’ stories about their own experiences. I draw on the popular press, published memoirs, and government and institutional documents to examine the fluid and shifting accounts of masculinity, disability, and heroism during and just after the war. I argue that representations of heroism in this context are directly linked to the male body; furthermore, they are both variable and constructed to serve specific ideological or personal purposes. More broadly, I conclude that the body in war and disabled by war comes to stand for Portugal’s experiences as a nation at the Western Front, and in the process makes invisible the individual bodies of men who fought for their country.

Author Biography

Rhian Atkin, Cardiff University

Rhian Atkin is Senior Lecturer in Portuguese at Cardiff University. Her current work focuses on knowledge, memory and identity in diaspora foodways. She has previously published extensively on Portuguese literature. Her book, Lisbon Revisited: Urban Masculinities in Twentieth-Century Portuguese Fiction (Legenda, 2014) examines the relationship between gender and social change in works by Fernando Pessoa, Luís de Sttau Monteiro, and José Saramago.