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The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

The Return of the Soldier (1918)

by Rebecca West

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,1526010,151 (3.91)544
  1. 40
    A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr (Widsith)
    Widsith: Two excellent, but very different, novels about damaged English soldiers returning home from the First World War with shell-shock.
  2. 10
    The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (fannyprice)
  3. 00
    This Real Night by Rebecca West (davidcla)
    davidcla: The sending off of the soldier to WW1.
  4. 00
    Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf (davidcla)
  5. 00
    The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (amanda4242)
  6. 00
    Between the Sword and the Wall: a novel of World War I by Thomas De Angelo (Charles77)
  7. 00
    The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller (inge87)

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» See also 544 mentions

English (58)  Dutch (2)  Danish (1)  All languages (61)
Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
I found The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West an incredibly sad story. As related by his cousin, Jenny, this story tells of the return of the shell shocked Chris Baldry from the trenches of the First World War. Far from the happy reunion his wife and cousin expected, they find themselves welcoming back a complete stranger. His mental anguish has caused him to forget the last fifteen years of his life. Instead of his wife, the beautiful, vivacious Kitty, he yearns to see his old girlfriend, Margret.

My heart was touched by all these characters. The shallow Kitty who only wanted her superficial life with her husband back, the cousin Jenny who obviously loved Chris and was willing to spend her life as part of his background, Margaret, from a different class, who cares for Chris and recaptures her youth through him, and, of course, Christopher himself, so filled with the pain and horror of the war that he went back to a happier time in his life.

In this one quite short story, the author has captured a generation as class snobbery, the horrors of trench warfare in World War I and the budding science of psychoanalysis are all touched upon. While the conditions he faced in the war were obviously the trigger for Chris’ regression, there were other factors that affected his trauma that needed to be addressed. Although the book ends with a relieved Kitty declaring her husband “cured”, I suspect that this was just a beginning and that Chris would always be a changed man so in actuality the future is still undetermined. The Return of the Soldier was a haunting and emotional read. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Jun 17, 2018 |
With her usual exquisite prose marred a bit by her usual tendency to show it off, Rebecca West tells what might be the ultimate 1st world problem story about a mature man who when wounded in the Great War, loses memory of the last 15 years of devotion to his father's business and providing more than comfortable lives for his wife and female relatives. Told from the viewpoint of his besotted cousin, a childhood friend, who despairs both over his re-connection with the now dumpy love of his youth and the need for him to forgo the comfort she gives to return to an adult live. ( )
  quondame | Jun 14, 2018 |
This is a wonderfully written story that belongs to WWI, but can also be considered as a microcosmic story. [[Rebecca West]] emotionally describes the return of an officer during WWI suffering from a memory disorder he has due to the detonation of a bomb. He believes that he is still young (20 years old). Everything he does with his wife, with whom he has been married for ten years, seems to have been wiped out. He only remembers his old love of youth, which is now already married.
I highly recommend this book. ( )
  Ameise1 | Mar 17, 2018 |
A lovely, heartbreaking novella about the love that transcends time and the value of truth.

A well-to-do British officer returns mid-WWI with no memory of anything for the last 15 years. His beautiful, cold and unimaginative wife is appalled to find that all he cares about is spending time with his teen sweetheart, now a kindly village woman of limited means and broken physical appearance. Narrated by a cousin, the tale asks whether the truth of our reality is more important than our happiness.

A perfect little story. ( )
  auntmarge64 | Mar 4, 2018 |
As you might expect from the title, this is about a soldier coming home from the war -- the Great War. Physically, he seems fine, but he has amnesia and no recollection of the past 15 years. This creates problems when it comes to remembering, say, that he's married, and recognizing people who look older than they did at the time he's remembering.

This is a short novel, possibly a novella, and I'm not sure what to make of it. I don't think it would have been quite as effective if it had been longer, and yet I felt disappointment at the ending. But at the same time I don't think a different ending would have worked.

The rating of 3 stars reflects the fact that I don't regret reading this, but that I'm not sure what to make of the experience. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Dec 26, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
Though its style is occasionally a trifle strained, a trifle "Precious," the novel is on the whole, well written, and its plot well handled.
added by christiguc | editNew York Times (Mar 10, 1918)

» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rebecca Westprimary authorall editionscalculated
Glendinning, VictoriaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hynes, SamuelIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jones, SadieAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jones, SadieIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
May, NadiaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vidal, LauraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'Ah, don't begin to fuss!' wailed Kitty; 'if a woman began to worry in these days because her husband hadn't written to her for a fortnight -- !'
We had suffered no transfiguration, for we are as we are, and there is nothing more to us. The whole truth about us lies in our material seeming. He sighs a deep sigh of delight and puts out his hand to the ball where Margaret shines. His sleeve catches the other one and sends it down to crash in a thousand pieces on the floor. The old man's smile continues to be lewd and benevolent; he is still not more interested in me than in the bare-armed woman. No one weeps for this shattering of our world.
...how entirely right Chris had been in his assertion that to lovers innumerable things do not matter.
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Book description
From the book cover:
The soldier returns from the front to find three women from his past. There's Kitty, his wife, with her cool, moonlight beauty, and his devoted cousin Jenny, who never quite admits her love for him.

But it's Margaret whom the shell-shocked Chris remembers. Margaret, his first love of fifteen years before. His cousin he recalls only as a childhood playmate, and his wife not at all. The women have a choice: to leave him as he is, or to 'cure' him. . .
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 014118065X, Paperback)

It would be a crime to give away even the barest outline of Rebecca West's apparently simple, always agonizing first novel. We shall say only that The Return of the Soldier concerns the title character and three very different women to whom he is linked in very different ways--by blood, by marriage, and by love. It is also an imaginative study (one drenched in realism) of intimacy and illusion, possession and a terrible, destructive snobbery. On one estate outside London, even as the Great War and familial loss are taking their toll, the inhabitants strive for a measured, outwardly exquisite existence. All must remain as it was while their Chris is at war: each person, each object in its proper place. "You probably know the beauty of that view," the narrator buttonholes us, looking out the nursery window:
For when Chris rebuilt Baldry Court after his marriage, he handed it over to architects who had not so much the wild eye of the artist as the knowing wink of the manicurist, and between them they massaged the dear old place into matter for innumerable photos in the illustrated papers.
But of late this universe unto itself cannot quite keep out an England altered by ambition and industry. Only a few miles away a "red suburban stain," Wealdstone, has somehow cropped up. And one day all is permanently altered--or, rather, revealed--when a Wealdstone resident comes bearing news of Captain Baldry. Mrs. William Gray is clearly not of Chris's wife Kitty and his cousin Jenny's class, as Kitty in particular makes her aware. "Again her gray eyes brimmed," Jenny observes. "People are rude to one, she visibly said, but surely not nice people like this." How is it, then, that this dreary, "dingy" woman knows Chris and knows that something has happened to him? And how is it that Jenny soon comes to see her as someone "whose personality was sounding through her squalor like a beautiful voice singing in a darkened room"?

In the remainder of this brief, perfect novel, a vanished (or repressed) past and its lost prospect of happiness comes to the fore. Rebecca West is best remembered for Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia (1941), but she displays the same vision--and a similar degree of realism--in her charged 1916 novel. Many readers will passionately regret the book's last twist, even as they know it to be artistically as well as historically true. --Kerry Fried

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:05 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Rebecca West's penetrating perspective on the huge social changes that were triggered by the Great War concerns an aristocrat who returns from the conflict traumatised by the shelling and unable to return to a normal lifestyle.

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