In December 2015, we sent a selection of four chapters to 44 people after first contacting them to see if they would be interested in reading a few chapters from the book. The selection included an introduction to orient the reader to the setting and time period and why we were doing this ‘project’. The chapters were not in order, but rather ones that gave a good overview of Marion’s work during WWI in France as well as her style of writing. We also included a Table of Contents as well as several photographs. Our goal was to see if others found this journal of worthwhile merit and to see if it would have readability appeal. Those contacted included authors, historians, WWI enthusiasts, and people who enjoy non-fiction.
We have had 20 responses so far (as of Jan. 31, 2016) with all including positive comments and asking to read more.
“The images you’ve included do a superb job of enhancing the narrative, such as the poster from the Motor Corps, which helps put us into the war-time culture. Some scenes are indelible—the ‘blesse’ who can’t reach into his bag because his hands were blown off. How Marion conveys the contradiction between the peaceful and beautiful valley with the danger of German soldiers lurking there, among many other amazingly descriptive scenes. She was a well-trained writer with gumption to take the time to get all that down and send it home.
I also enjoyed your highlighting the passage about how ridiculous she now found her former life of tea parties after having found such purpose as a nurse on the front lines. That is a powerful statement about how women learned to handle their responsibilities and transcend class privilege.”
~Kim Bancroft, author of The Heyday of Malcolm Margolin: The Damn Good Times of a Fiercely Independent Publisher, and the editor of Literary Industries, the 1890 memoir of Kim’s great-great-grandfather, Hubert Howe Bancroft, book collector and historian, Heyday Press
“What impresses me most is the quality of Marion’s writing — her descriptive powers, sense of humor, and clear appreciation that her story is part of a larger narrative. (In other words, the larger narrative, and the importance of it, comes through in the telling of her and Alexine’s experiences.) The photos are also excellent accompaniments — they really add flavor and texture.”
~Lissa Muscatine, co-owner of Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington DC
“In At the Back of the Western Front: An American Woman’s WWI Journal, Alexa Gregory and Vicki Rondeau bring Marion Otis Mitchell’s experiences vividly to life. Mitchell herself is a captivating writer as she describes her life as a motor corp driver in France from 1917-1919. The reader follows Mitchell and her fellow female drivers into hospitals where they come into intimate contact with wounded soldiers; we are with them as they slog through trenches; they get lost driving behind enemy lines as bombs are falling and become stuck deep in the French countryside when their camionette breaks down. It is not just the resourcefulness and strength of these women that strikes the reader; it’s Mitchell’s hardy, no-nonsense pioneer spirit that communicates itself immediately–now almost 100 years later–the way she depicts wartime conditions with grit, and often humor.
With plentiful illustrations, notes, and careful editing, Gregory and Rondeau have managed to present this narrative in a way that makes it intelligible, powerful, and easy to follow, even for readers with no previous background in World War I history. A compelling read, essential for anyone interested in the history of women’s contribution to World War I, early 20th-century letter-writing, and Women’s History in general.”
~Lisa Kaborycha, author of A Corresponding Renaissance: Letters written by Italian Women, 1375-1650, Oxford University Press, 2016
“Through their extraordinary WWI journal entries and letters, Marion and Alexine Mitchell were women who lived big, cinematic, adventurous lives. They were audacious in the best sense of that word. Through their extraordinary journal entries and letters they have made vivid experiences that only a few brave women shared, keeping those stories alive for all of us. In our own family Marion and Alexine’s legacy has shaped how a generation of women see themselves. “What’s the most audacious thing you could do?” This book challenges readers to ask themselves exactly that.”
~Erika Gregory, Director, N Square: The Crossroads for Nuclear Security Innovation
And a few more who preferred to remain anonymous:
“Marion’s ability to bring the complexity, grit and apocalyptic specter of the Great War into a highly-digestible and detailed prose is really exceptional. Rondeau and Gregory deserve tremendous credit for editing these reminiscences into something that really adds to the body of WWI knowledge, especially as we sit in the centennial cycle.”
“This is a fascinating account of WWI through the altruistic eyes of a courageous woman. Marian Otis Mitchell chose to help the war effort in 1917, when women had few choices, not only in the U.S but the entire World. Women were usually seen and not heard. Even after 70 years her story remains relevant and inspirational. Marian Otis Mitchell proves to be a compelling intelligent narrator who also became an accidental role model for generations of women.”