Regeneration

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Overview

In 1917 Seigfried Sasson, noted poet and decorated war hero, publicly refused to continue serving as a British officer in World War I. His reason: The war was a senseless slaughter. He was officially classified "mentally unsound" and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital. There a brilliant psychiatrist, Dr. William Rivers, set about restoring Sassoon's "sanity" and sending him back to the trenches. This novel tells what happened as only a novel can. It is a war saga in which not a shot is fired. It is a story of a ...
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Regeneration

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Overview

In 1917 Seigfried Sasson, noted poet and decorated war hero, publicly refused to continue serving as a British officer in World War I. His reason: The war was a senseless slaughter. He was officially classified "mentally unsound" and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital. There a brilliant psychiatrist, Dr. William Rivers, set about restoring Sassoon's "sanity" and sending him back to the trenches. This novel tells what happened as only a novel can. It is a war saga in which not a shot is fired. It is a story of a battle for a man's mind in which only the reader can decide who is the victor, who the vanquished, and who the victim. It is one of the most amazing feats of fiction of our time. Regeneration is the first novel in Pat Barker's acclaimed World War I trilogy, which continues with The Eye in the Door and culminates in the 1995 Booker Prize-winning The Ghost Road.

Set in a British military hospital during WWI, this novel blends fact and fiction, drawing its two protagonists from the pages of history. The author of Union Street, portrays overwhelmed men who try to come to terms with their outrage over a futile war.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Books of the Century
...[A] magnificent antiwar novel and a wonderful justification of her belief that plain writing, energized by the named things of the world, will change readers profoundly by bringing them deep into imagined lives. (1992)
New York Times Books of the Century
...[A] magnificent antiwar novel and a wonderful justification of her belief that plain writing, energized by the named things of the world, will change readers profoundly by bringing them deep into imagined lives. (1992)
Library Journal
In 1917, decorated British officer and poet Siegfried Sassoon wrote a declaration condemning the war. Instead of a court-martial, he was sent to a hospital for other ``shell-shocked'' officers where he was treated by Dr. William Rivers, noted an thropologist and psychiatrist. Author Barker turns these true occurrences into a compelling and brilliant antiwar novel. Sassoon's complete sanity disturbs Dr. Rivers to such a point that he questions his own role in ``curing'' his patients only to send them back to the slaughter of the war in France. World War I decimated an entire generation of European men, and the horrifying loss of life and the callousness of the government led to the obliteration of the Victorian ideal. This is an important and impressive novel about war, soldiers, and humanity. It belongs in most fiction collections.-- C. Christopher Pavek, National Economic Research As socs. Lib., Washington, D.C.
Samuel Hynes
Regeneration is essentially the story of two men and their effects on one another. Both are in the army, and this is a war story though it takes place far from the battlefields....Regeneration is an anti-war war novel, in a tradition that is by now an established one, though it tells a part of the whole story of war that is not often told -- how war may batter and break men's minds -- and so makes the madness of war more than a metaphor, and more awful....This novel, like her others, is testimony to the persistent vitality of that kind of writing.-- The New York Times
New York Times Books of the Century
...[A] magnificent antiwar novel and a wonderful justification of her belief that plain writing, energized by the named things of the world, will change readers profoundly by bringing them deep into imagined lives. (1992)
Kirkus Reviews
In this fact/fiction hybrid, Barker turns from the struggle for survival of northern England working-class folk to the struggle back to sanity by British officers unhinged by WW I trench warfare. Craiglockhart War Hospital, a grim psychiatric facility outside Edinburgh, is the setting. The framework is the arrival of Siegfried Sassoon at Craiglockhart in the summer of 1917, and his discharge back to France in November. Sassoon is treated by the eminent neurologist (and Army captain) William Rivers, whose job is to restore his damaged warriors to fighting condition. Sassoon is a relatively easy assignment. Despite his public statement protesting the war, Sassoon is no pacifist; this complex poet feels at home in the Army and is an exceptionally courageous officer, beloved by his men, to whom he feels a blood-debt that can be paid only by his return. For all the sparring between Sassoon and Rivers, only a hair separates them, for the latter is also a man of enormous integrity, profoundly troubled by the horrors his patients must endure. And it is these horrors (not the clipped exchanges of Sassoon and Rivers) that linger in the mind: Burns's vomiting nightmares caused by a mouthful of decomposing German flesh; Prior's being rendered mute after handling a human eye. At the center is Rivers, a model therapist, whose unstinting support may give even the wretched Burns a chance at a normal life. Barker has also provided some workmanlike off-base romance for Prior, her one developed fictional character; but the heart of the work, where the big fish swim, is Rivers' consciousness, his insights into front-line behavior enriched by his anthropological straining. Don't look here for thedramatic sweep of a war novel; instead, you get a scrupulously fair reconstruction of Craiglockhart, plus a moving empathy for both doctors and patients. The extent of that empathy earns Barker' work a place on the shelf of WW I literature.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452270077
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 7/28/1993
  • Series: Contemporary Fiction, Plume Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Lexile: 770L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.37 (w) x 8.07 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author

Pat Barker

Pat Barker is an award-winning English writer and novelist most famous for her Regeneration Trilogy, named by the Observer as one of the ten best historical novels of the 20th century.

Nicholas Wright's previous plays include Travelling Light, The Last of the Duchess and the acclaimed National Theatre adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Mrs Klein, Rattigan’s Nijinsky, The Reporter, Cressida and Vincent In Brixton, which won the Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2003. All of his plays are published by Nick Hern Books.

Biography

It took Pat Barker ten years to find a publisher for her first novel, but when Union Street was released in 1982, critical reaction was extremely positive. A gritty tale set in the 1970s, the book recounts the interconnected stories of seven women living in an industrial town in northern England. Barker, a former teacher of history and politics, was recognized as a formidable, if late-blooming talent. In its review, The New York Times mused, "Pat Barker gives the sense of a writer who has enormous power that she has scarcely had to tap to write a first-rate first novel." The literati agreed. The following year, Barker appeared on Granta magazine's list of the 20 Best Young British Novelists alongside such future luminaries as Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, and Ian McEwan.

Although Barker received critical praise for her early books, tales that limned the bleak lives of working class Britons, she struck her most resonant chord with the Regeneration Trilogy, a series of novels based on the experiences of shell-shocked WWI soldiers (including poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen) at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Scotland. The first novel in the trilogy, the splendid Regeneration, was named by The New York Times as one of the four best books of 1991; its sequel, The Eye in the Door, won the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1993; and the concluding novel, The Ghost Road, was awarded the 1995 Booker Prize for Fiction.

Certainly, Barker has explored the nuances of contemporary civilian life in subsequent novels; but the specter of war, especially the Great War, seems always to loom over her writing. One explanation is that the grandfather who raised her fought in the trenches in France. Although he seldom spoke about the war, it came to haunt him in his later life. Even unvoiced, his wartime experiences became part of her childhood "stock of memories."

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    1. Hometown:
      Durham, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 8, 1943
    2. Place of Birth:
      Thornaby-on-Tees, England
    1. Education:
      London School of Economics; Durham University

Read an Excerpt

Part 1
1

Finished with the War A Soldier’s Declaration

I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.
I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.
I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust.
I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.
On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being practised on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realize.
S. Sassoon

July 1917

Bryce waited for Rivers to finish reading before he spoke again. ‘The “S” stands for “Siegfried”. Apparently, he thought that was better left out.’
‘And I’m sure he was right.’ Rivers folded the paper and ran his fingertips along the edge. ‘So they’re sending him here?’
Bryce smiled. ‘Oh, I think it’s rather more specific than that. They’re sending him to you.’
Rivers got up and walked across to the window. It was a fine day, and many of the patients were in the hospital grounds, watching a game of tennis. He heard the pok-pok of rackets, and a cry of frustration as a ball smashed into the net. ‘I suppose he is — “shell-shocked”?’
‘According to the Board, yes.’
‘It just occurs to me that a diagnosis of neurasthenia might not be inconvenient confronted with this.’ He held up the Declaration.
‘Colonel Langdon chaired the Board. He certainly seems to think he is.’
‘Langdon doesn’t believe in shell-shock.’
Bryce shrugged. ‘Perhaps Sassoon was gibbering all over the floor.’
“‘Funk, old boy.” I know Langdon.’ Rivers came back to his chair and sat down. ‘He doesn’t sound as if he’s gibbering, does he?’
Bryce said carefully, ‘Does it matter what his mental state is? Surely it’s better for him to be here than in prison?’
‘Better for him, perhaps. What about the hospital? Can you imagine what our dear Director of Medical Services is going to say, when he finds out we’re sheltering “conchies” as well as cowards, shirkers, scrimshankers and degenerates? We’ll just have to hope there’s no publicity.’
‘There’s going to be, I’m afraid. The Declaration’s going to be read out in the House of Commons next week.’
‘By?’
‘Lees-Smith.’
Rivers made a dismissive gesture.
‘Yes, well, I know. But it still means the press.’
‘And the minister will say that no disciplinary action has been taken, because Mr Sassoon is suffering from a severe mental breakdown, and therefore not responsible for his actions. I’m not sure I’d prefer that to prison.’
‘I don’t suppose he was offered the choice. Will you take him?’
‘You mean I am being offered a choice?’
‘In view of your case load, yes.’
Rivers took off his glasses and swept his hand down across his eyes. ‘I suppose they have remembered to send the file?’

Sassoon leant out of the carriage window, still half-expecting to see Graves come pounding along the platform, looking even more dishevelled than usual. But further down the train, doors had already begun to slam, and the platform remained empty.
The whistle blew. Immediately, he saw lines of men with grey muttering faces clambering up the ladders to face the guns. He blinked them away.
The train began to move. Too late for Robert now. Prisoner arrives without escort, Sassoon thought, sliding open the carriage door.
By arriving an hour early he’d managed to get a window seat. He began picking his way across to it through the tangle of feet. An elderly vicar, two middle-aged men, both looking as if they’d done rather well out of the war, a young girl and an older woman, obviously travelling together. The train bumped over a point. Everybody rocked and swayed, and Sassoon, stumbling, almost fell into the vicar’s lap. He mumbled an apology and sat down. Admiring glances, and not only from the women. Sassoon turned to look out of the window, hunching his shoulder against them all.
After a while he stopped pretending to look at the smoking chimneys of Liverpool’s back streets and closed his eyes. He needed to sleep, but instead Robert’s face floated in front of him, white and twitching as it had been last Sunday, almost a week ago now, in the lounge of the Exchange Hotel.

For a moment, looking up to find that khaki-clad figure standing just inside the door, he thought he was hallucinating again.
‘Robert, what on earth are you doing here?’ He jumped up and ran across the lounge. ‘Thank God you’ve come.’
‘I got myself passed fit.’
‘Robert, no.’
‘What else could I do? After getting this.’ Graves dug into his tunic pocket and produced a crumpled piece of paper. ‘A covering letter would have been nice.’
‘I wrote.’
‘No, you didn’t, Sass. You just sent me this. Couldn’t you at least have talked about it first?’
‘I thought I’d written.’
They sat down, facing each other across a small table. Cold northern light streamed in through the high windows, draining Graves’s face of the little colour it had.
‘Sass, you’ve got to give this up.’
‘Give it up? You don’t think I’ve come this far, do you, just to give in now?’
‘Look, you’ve made your protest. For what it’s worth, I agree with every word of it. But you’ve had your say. There’s no point making a martyr of yourself.’
‘The only way I can get publicity is to make them court-martial me.’
‘They won’t do it.’
‘Oh, yes, they will. It’s just a matter of hanging on.’
‘You’re in no state to stand a court-martial.’ Graves clasped his clenched fist. ‘If I had Russell here now, I’d shoot him.’
‘It was my idea.’
‘Oh, pull the other one. And even if it was, do you think anybody’s going to understand it? They’ll just say you’ve got cold feet.’
‘Look, Robert, you think exactly as I do about the war, and you do ... nothing. All right, that’s your choice. But don’t come here lecturing me about cold feet. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.’

Now, on the train going to Craiglockhart, it still seemed the hardest thing. He shifted in his seat and sighed, looking out over fields of wheat bending to the wind. He remembered the silvery sound of shaken wheat, the shimmer of light on the stalks. He’d have given anything to be out there, away from the stuffiness of the carriage, the itch and constriction of his uniform.

On that Sunday they’d taken the train to Formby and spent the afternoon wandering aimlessly along the beach. A dull, wintry-looking sun cast their shadows far behind them, so that every gesture either of them made was mimicked and magnified.
‘They won’t let you make a martyr of yourself, Sass. You should have accepted the Board.’
The discussion had become repetitive. For perhaps the fourth time, Sassoon said, ‘If I hold out long enough, there’s nothing else they can do.’
‘There’s a lot they can do.’ Graves seemed to come to a decision. ‘As a matter of fact, I’ve been pulling a few strings on your behalf.’
Sassoon smiled to hide his anger. ‘Good. If you’ve been exercising your usual tact, that ought to get me at least two years.’
‘They won’t court-martial you.’
In spite of himself, Sassoon began to feel afraid. ‘What, then?’
‘Shut you up in a lunatic asylum for the rest of the war.’
‘And that’s the result of your string-pulling, is it? Thanks.’
‘No, the result of my string-pulling is to get you another Board. You must take it this time.’
‘You can’t put people in lunatic asylums just like that. You have to have reasons.’
‘They’ve got reasons.’
‘Yes, the Declaration. Well, that doesn’t prove me insane.’
‘And the hallucinations? The corpses in Piccadilly?’
A long silence. ‘I had rather hoped my letters to you were private.’
‘I had to persuade them to give you another Board.’
‘They won’t court-martial me?’
‘No. Not in any circumstances. And if you go on refusing to be boarded, they will put you away.’
‘You know, Robert, I wouldn’t believe this from anybody else. Will you swear it’s true?’
‘Yes.’
‘On the Bible?’
Graves held up an imaginary Bible and raised his right hand. ‘I swear.’
Their shadows stretched out behind them, black on the white sand. For a moment Sassoon still hesitated. Then, with an odd little gasp, he said, ‘All right then, I’ll give way.’

In the taxi, going to Craiglockhart, Sassoon began to feel frightened. He looked out of the window at the crowded pavements of Princes Street, thinking he was seeing them for the first and last time. He couldn’t imagine what awaited him at Craiglockhart, but he didn’t for a moment suppose the inmates were let out.
He glanced up and found the taxi-driver watching him in the mirror. All the local people must know the name of the hospital, and what it was for. Sassoon’s hand went up to his chest and began pulling at a loose thread where his MC ribbon had been.

For conspicuous gallantry during a raid on the enemy’s trenches. He remained for 1 hours under rifle and bomb fire collecting and bringing in our wounded. Owing to his courage and determination, all the killed and wounded were brought in.
Reading the citation, it seemed to Rivers more extraordinary than ever that Sassoon should have thrown the medal away. Even the most extreme pacifist could hardly be ashamed of a medal awarded for saving life. He took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. He’d been working on the file for over an hour, but, although he was now confident he knew all the facts, he was no closer to an understanding of Sassoon’s state of mind. If anything, Graves’s evidence to the Board - with its emphasis on hallucinations - seemed to suggest a full-blown psychosis rather than neurasthenia. And yet there was no other evidence for that. Misguided the Declaration might well be, but it was not deluded, illogical or incoherent. Only the throwing away of the medal still struck him as odd. That surely had been the action of a man at the end of his tether.
Well, we’ve all been there, he thought. The trouble was, he was finding it difficult to examine the evidence impartially. He wanted Sassoon to be ill. Admitting this made him pause. He got up and began pacing the floor of his room, from door to window and back again. He’d only ever encountered one similar case, a man who’d refused to go on fighting on religious grounds. Atrocities took place on both sides, he’d said. There was nothing to choose between the British and the Germans.
The case had given rise to heated discussions in the MO’s common room — about the freedom of the individual conscience in wartime, and the role of the army psychiatrist in ‘treating’ a man who refused to fight. Rivers, listening to those arguments, had been left in no doubt of the depth and seriousness of the divisions. The controversy had died down only when the patient proved to be psychotic. That was the crux of the matter. A man like Sassoon would always be trouble, but he’d be a lot less trouble if he were ill.
Rivers was roused from these thoughts by the crunch of tyres on gravel. He reached the window in time to see a taxi draw up, and a man, who from his uniform could only be Sassoon, get out. After paying the driver, Sassoon stood for a moment, looking up at the building. Nobody arriving at Craiglockhart for the first time could fail to be daunted by the sheer gloomy, cavernous bulk of the place. Sassoon lingered on the drive for a full minute after the taxi had driven away, then took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and ran up the steps.
Rivers turned away from the window, feeling almost ashamed of having witnessed that small, private victory over fear.

2

Light from the window behind Rivers’s desk fell directly on to Sassoon’s face. Pale skin, purple shadows under the eyes. Apart from that, no obvious signs of nervous disorder. No twitches, jerks, blinks, no repeated ducking to avoid a long-exploded shell. His hands, doing complicated things with cup, saucer, plate, sandwiches, cake, sugar tongs and spoon, were perfectly steady. Rivers raised his own cup to his lips and smiled. One of the nice things about serving afternoon tea to newly arrived patients was that it made so many neurological tests redundant.
So far he hadn’t looked at Rivers. He sat with his head slightly averted, a posture that could easily have been taken for arrogance, though Rivers was more inclined to suspect shyness. The voice was slightly slurred, the flow of words sometimes hesitant, sometimes rushed. A disguised stammer, perhaps, but a life-long stammer, Rivers thought, not the recent, self-conscious stammer of the neurasthenic.
‘While I remember, Captain Graves rang to say he’ll be along some time after dinner. He sent his apologies for missing the train.’
‘He is still coming?’
‘Yes.’
Sassoon looked relieved. ‘Do you know, I don’t think Graves’s caught a train in his life? Unless somebody was there to put him on it.’
‘We were rather concerned about you.’
‘In case the lunatic went missing?’
‘I wouldn’t put it quite like that.’
‘I was all right. I wasn’t even surprised, I thought he’d slept in. He’s been doing a ... a lot of rushing round on my behalf recently. You’ve no idea how much work goes into rigging a Medical Board.’
Rivers pushed his spectacles up on to his forehead and massaged the inner corners of his eyes. ‘No, I don’t suppose I have. You know this may sound naive but ... to me ... the accusation that a Medical Board has been rigged is quite a serious one.’
‘I’ve no complaints. I was dealt with in a perfectly fair and reasonable way. Probably better than I deserved.’
‘What kind of questions did they ask?’
Sassoon smiled. ‘Don’t you know?’

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 23 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2013

    AP World History Review: Horrors of War Regeneration, a historic

    AP World History Review: Horrors of War
    Regeneration, a historical fiction book by Pat Barker, recounts the experiences of the patients in Craiglockhart War Hospital and their doctor, Dr. Rivers. Rivers job is to help his patients recover through helping them recount their war memories. Pat Barker uses the memories of his characters to reveal the horrors caused by World War I.
    Regeneration is a string book about opinions and overcoming obstacles. Dr. River’s role is to help his patients overcome the obstacle of their rears and horrors that they experienced in World War I, but in doing so is forced to listen to and picture the gruesome tales. These experiences therapy sessions in the end of the book change the overall opinion the River’s has on the war. Pat Barker’s characters are in a wide variety, but have a similarity, they all have a specific dislike of the war, and are afraid to return to it. Pat Barker successfully displays the horrors of the many veterans of the Great War.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2000

    An affecting book

    I have finished Pat Barker's work, and still find that I'm drawn to it. When reading the book, I felt I was in 1917, walking through the hospital with the characters. I came away knowing Dr. Rivers, and wanting to talk more with Seigfried. I've read about WWI, but Regeneration made me feel that I was there. As a boy I lived next to a WWI German soldier, who briefly talked to me about his side of the trenches. This book gave me a glimpse at the horror he must have witnessed.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2014

    Lyne

    "You are NOT dying on me." She mumbled.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2014

    Treble

    "What killed you?"

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2014

    Avaeonai

    "Holy Kasterborus..." she breathed, laying back in the grass.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 29, 2012

    Amazing.

    Loved it. Had to read it for class but ended up enjoying it anyway.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    Regeneration

    This book looks at many of the social issues confronting society in the midst of the industrial revolution and the horror of the war to end all wars. Insightful and thought provoking in relation to the first diagnosis of PTSD?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2011

    AP World History Book Review: Intriguing and Intuitive

    This book is a great resource for those looking for a general idea of what society was really LIKE during Word War 1. This book was intriguing from the begining. By creating a somewhat fictional story, the author was able to express the difficulties of the doctor, Rivers, to treat those suffering from war neurosis. The end of the book was especially exceptional as it brought together the rest of the story into a sort of climatic point that supported an idea of anti-war in today's society. By writing a story about World War 1, the author was able to confront a somewhat controversial topic of today: to war or not to war? By stating history as it was, she was able to prove to the readers that war is destructive. Even from the point of view of soldiers, they would for the most part agree that war is destructive. So, the author did an excellent job in conveying her views to the reader and successfully supporting it.

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  • Posted September 29, 2010

    Highly Recommended

    It is clear why she won the Booker Prize--this is an enthralling novel

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2001

    Battle for a Poet's Mind

    If you are an ethical man, how do you change another man's mind about the war he has been fighting, a man recognized for heroic action and his concern for his troops? And a man who is a well known poet--whose words always have meaning, and are not part of Orwellian Newspeak? Barker's novel effectively dramatizes the discussions Dr. W.H. R. Rivers may have had with poet Siegfried Sassoon in order to send him back to the trenches of WWI. Because Sassoon had publicly accused 'those who have the power of ending the war' of prolonging it, his friends, particularly Robert Graves, arranged and encouraged his admission to the psychiatric hospital rather than punitive disciplinary action. Regeneration has been labeled an anti-war novel--and it is hard to be pro- war ever after the fact when reading of the realities of trench warfare during WWI. More important, the novel's presentation of the dilemmas posed to both doctor and patient raise questions for us about the rationale for war, the role of politicians and businessmen and the public's sheeplike acquiesence, and the morality of 'brainwashing' or other efforts to change people's minds. The great irony is what happened after the book's coverage of events: Sassoon returned to the war, and unlike so many of the young poets who fought in it, he lived to old age--but did not write as much poetry in his middle years. And Robert Graves, who appears as a good manipulator of people and events, lived also to old age and greater fame than Sassoon.

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    Posted March 3, 2012

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