The Nuclear Family from Wellington to Hiroshima: Eithne Wilkins’s ‘Oranges and Lemons’

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This is a recuperative essay addressing the work of Eithne Wilkins (1914-75), a poet with a strong presence in journals of the 1940s and 1950s, but now mainly remembered as the first translator (with her husband Ernst Kaiser) of Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. I argue for her importance as a largely forgotten late modernist, and examine her major poetic sequence ‘Oranges and Lemons’, possibly the only long poem published by an English woman between 1945 and 1960, and almost certainly the most ambitious. It is comprised of a series of allusive poems incorporating memories of her New Zealand childhood, of her father Edgar, portrayed as a fire-watching doctor, and of the experience of her brother Maurice Wilkins, who worked on the Manhattan Project and later won a Nobel Prize. I argue that the poem, with its complex and personal mythopoesis, represents a response to global conflict in which the scattering of the ‘nuclear family’ figures a hemispheric war.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-146
Number of pages20
JournalModernist Cultures
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • post-war poetry
  • late modernism
  • nuclear war
  • Eithne Wilkins
  • Maurice Wilkins
  • Women's Poetry

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