The Return of the Soldier (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading) [NOOK Book]

Overview


In Rebecca West's The Return of the Soldier (1918), Chris Baldry comes home from World War I shell-shocked and suffering from amnesia. He believes that he is twenty years old and in love with an innkeeper's daughter whom he has not actually seen in fifteen years. His elegant wife and spinster cousin must suffer the chagrin of being forgotten, as well as face the challenge of how to cure his mental illness.
Read More Show Less
... See more details below
The Return of the Soldier (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$3.49
BN.com price
(Save 12%)$3.99 List Price
Marketplace
BN.com

All Available Formats & Editions

Overview


In Rebecca West's The Return of the Soldier (1918), Chris Baldry comes home from World War I shell-shocked and suffering from amnesia. He believes that he is twenty years old and in love with an innkeeper's daughter whom he has not actually seen in fifteen years. His elegant wife and spinster cousin must suffer the chagrin of being forgotten, as well as face the challenge of how to cure his mental illness.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

Meet the Author



Cicily Isabel Fairfield, who adopted the pen name "Rebecca West" from Ibsen's Rosmersholm, was born in London on December 21, 1892. She participated in sometimes-violent women's rights demonstrations and moved in suffragist circles. Romantically linked with H. G. Wells and Charlie Chaplin, West ultimately married banker Henry Andrews. In 1948, Time magazine called her "indisputably the world's Number One woman writer," and in 1958 she was named Dame of the British Empire.
Read More Show Less

Introduction

Rebecca West's The Return of the Soldier (1918) is a war novel about women who await their soldiers at home. As such, it achieves a unique double vision. Evoking the graceful beauty of upper-class pre-war British life in the rich, painterly language that earned West praise as one of the twentieth century's finest stylists, it nevertheless deplores the narrow existences such privileges can produce and maintain, for women and men. It also suggests that this domestic world and the masculine war have a symbiotic relationship: economic and social inequities among men and women, rich and poor, are manifested and mirrored in brutal military conflict. A casual reader might see only superior soap opera in period costume. Chris Baldry, a married, upper-class World War I officer, comes home from the front shell-shocked and suffering from amnesia, believing that he is twenty years old and in love with Margaret, an innkeeper's daughter whom he has not actually seen in fifteen years. His elegant wife, Kitty, and spinster cousin Jenny must suffer the chagrin of being forgotten, as well as face the challenge of his apparent mental illness and how to cure it. But this brief modernist masterpiece offers much more than a simple synopsis suggests. Its layered, ironic point of view brilliantly highlights the complexities of traditional gender roles, class tensions, Freudian psychology, and a war unprecedented in the scope of its useless, violent slaughter: hot buttons both then and now.

Cicily Isabel Fairfield, who became Rebecca West, was born in London on December 21, 1892, the third daughter of a Scottish pianist mother, Isabella Mackenzie, and an Anglo-Irish journalist father, Charles Fairfield. West's brilliant parents provided a home filled with political, artistic, and philosophical discussion, but when West was eight her father abandoned the family and soon died penniless. Isabella Fairfield moved the family to her native Edinburgh, where West attended George Watson's Ladies' College and early on showed sympathy for socialist and feminist causes, participating in sometimes-violent demonstrations and moving in suffragist circles. At seventeen, West studied acting at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, but left in less than a year to write for the new feminist journal The Freewoman, adopting the pen name "Rebecca West" from Ibsen's radical character in Rosmersholm and attracting immediate attention with her witty, combative articles. Her passionate affair with H. G. Wells, begun in 1913, resulted in an illegitimate son, the writer Anthony West, born on August 5, 1914, the day after England declared war on Germany. During the ten years of her involvement with Wells, West had to move frequently and pretend to be Anthony's aunt, receiving only sporadic support from Wells as she earned a living writing theatre and book reviews and political and personal journalism. Her early novels The Return of the Soldier, The Judge (1922), Harriet Hume (1929), and The Thinking Reed (1936) reflect aspects of her relationship with Wells, as well as with her father, in their critique of the economic structures that make women dependent upon unreliable men.

West was a glamorous intellectual and socialite in her thirties and had flings with Charlie Chaplin and Lord Beaverbrook, among others, but in 1930 she married the banker Henry Andrews and they lived in London and Stokenchurch until his death in 1968. Their trips to Yugoslavia in the years preceding World War II inspired her masterpiece, the unclassifiable "travelogue" Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941). After the war, West covered the Nuremberg trials for The New Yorker, later published as A Train of Powder (1946). In 1948 Time magazine called her "indisputably the world's Number One woman writer," and in 1958 she was named Dame of the British Empire. Her autobiographical novel The Fountain Overflows was a 1956 best seller, as was her 1966 spy thriller, The Birds Fall Down. In 1983, West died at the age of ninety after a seventy-year career as a woman of letters. Since her death, several more West works have been published, including This Real Night (1984) and Cousin Rosamund (1985), sequels to The Fountain Overflows; The Sentinel (2002), an early unfinished novel about a teenage suffragist; and Survivors in Mexico (2003), another historical epic, also unfinished, that chronicles her time in Mexico in the 1960s.

West wrote The Return of the Soldier during her difficult early motherhood, and the novel seems all the more remarkable when one realizes that its author was only twenty-six at its publication, that it was her first novel, and that her experience included neither the aristocratic country house nor the working-class squalor it contrasts. Her first book, published in1916, was a study of Henry James, and The Return of the Soldier unquestionably reflects the master's influence. Like The Portrait of a Lady, The Return of the Soldier is a novel of manners. More importantly, however, it is a work of psychological realism, in which the first-person narrator Jenny's developing consciousness, like Isabel Archer's in James' novel, provides its substance: Jenny's realization that she has fundamentally misunderstood key characters and misinterpreted key scenes resembles Isabel's. But unlike Isabel, Jenny is emphatically not the main character in the drama. Neither wife nor lover nor soldier, she tells other people's stories, constituting what James called a "satellite." In this she is like Strether in James' The Ambassadors, who observes, learns, and changes without really affecting the events he witnesses.

Yet Jenny's unreliable voice differs from the loquacious, omniscient narrator typical of James, and the reader's challenge is to understand the irony, and tragedy, inherent in Jenny's initial snobbery and narrow-mindedness. In this she resembles John Dowell, the dispassionate narrator of Ford Madox Ford's 1915 novel The Good Soldier, a book West reviewed and greatly admired and whose refrain, "This is the saddest story" echoes Jenny's cry, "This was the saddest spring." Dowell, like Strether and Jenny, lacks the charm and passion of the lovers he describes, but he is driven to understand the truth behind his initial impressions of "the good soldier" Edward Ashburnham who, like Chris Baldry, seems the embodiment of the English gentleman. Likewise, Jenny has to face the truth that Chris-again like Edward Ashburnham-does not love his wife, Kitty, but rather Margaret, his youthful flame who is neither beautiful nor refined but possessed of an exquisite spirit. Slowly Jenny figures out the actual relations among the characters, including those with her, and sees that the outward perfection of Chris' demeanor conceals quiet desperation. Thus her world shatters when she realizes that the truth of their home, Baldry Court, lies in its "material seeming" and nothing more.

Jenny and Kitty represent types that would have been perfectly recognizable to 1918 English society, as well as to readers of George Eliot and Charlotte Brontë, and each contains within her characterization a feminist point. Kitty, the rich society wife, looks like a girl on a magazine cover with a literal price affixed; she represents the "parasites" the young socialist West repeatedly condemned in her early journalism, non-productive women whose lavish lifestyles impoverish the workers who supply their worldly goods and staff their homes. Jenny is also a parasite, but a more sympathetic one as the old maid (at thirty-five) who must survive by living with relatives. Too genteel to work in service or industry, unable as a woman to enter any white-collar profession, she endures Kitty's disdain and suffers unrequited love for Chris, her destiny to be one to whom nothing happens, like John Marcher in James' "The Beast in the Jungle." But unlike Marcher, Jenny's inactive life results less from personal failings than from her position as an unmarried woman, an "extra" woman in the parlance of the day, and she is acutely aware of her empty existence. Both Jenny and Kitty revel in luxury as a substitute for joy, smugly contrasting their sumptuous clothes and surroundings with Margaret's cheap attire and ugly village home. Jenny, however, realizes that without Chris their home is merely an "empty stage." What she does not say becomes obvious: women get their social value from the men with whom they are associated.

It is exactly her snobbery, her focus on the "body" rather than the "spirit" as the measure of worth, that Jenny finally loses, and it is Margaret who inspires her epiphanies. West, in much of her work, employs imagery from cooking and couture-she insisted that the domestic "feminine" arts be recognized as useful and important-and in this novel the changing imagery of clothing and fabrics chronicles Jenny's greater awareness of the truth behind appearances. Initially, Margaret, unmistakably working class, seems "repulsively furred with neglect and poverty," the "spreading stain" on the fabric of their lives contrasted with Kitty's silken elegance. Kitty chooses her clothing for Chris' first night home-white satin gown, bright jewels, which make her "cold as moonlight, as virginity, but precious"-to emphasize her difference from aging, messy Margaret. But her costume only serves to emphasize Chris' rejection of his married life, "all its circumstances his prison bars," and his idealized love for Margaret "as she exists in eternity" rather than time. It also demonstrates his rejection of Kitty's sexual mores. Chris blunders into this scene like a "hot animal"; he needs a fully sexual woman rather than the ice maiden Kitty emulates, though not the "Gaiety Girl" Kitty could more easily accept than a plain woman whose appeal she simply cannot fathom.

Chris has been the good soldier of Britain's industry and army, the male inheritor of wealth and privilege, and initially Jenny imagines that he has been perfectly happy in these conventional roles. Yet she is astute enough even at the start to recognize that this burdens him with the needs of "a mob of female relatives who were all useless either in the old way with antimicassars or in the new way with golf clubs." Jenny's articulation of this paradox sets The Return of the Soldier apart from feminist novels in which male privilege figures as the object of women's envy and anger. Chris, like the protagonist of Virginia Woolf's 1922 novel Jacob's Room, has indeed the education and background to enjoy the world as he wants. But this upbringing also obliges him to face the trench warfare of World War I, horrors Jenny imagines with tortured empathy and that he must face when he "returns" from his amnesia. These hallucinatory visions seem to symbolize everything wrong with this class-based false world.

Chris' fifteen-year-old reminiscences of his youthful love for Margaret at Monkey Island Inn-a recreation of the inn where West and Wells had their happiest trysts-stand in deliberate contrast to this nightmare of No Man's Land. The hawthorn tree keenly recalled by both lovers, a tree associated in folklore with health and fertility, epitomizes the island's Edenic loveliness, the very opposite of the mud, bombs, and corpses Jenny imagines him remembering. In fact, his mental rejection of his combat experience and his married life comes to seem "saner than sanity" to Jenny and Margaret, and his "return" via Freudian psychotherapy would, in Margaret's words, serve only to make him "ordinary." Yet Jenny's insistence that Chris drink "the wine of truth"-and recognize that social realities necessitate the repression of some deep desires-concurs with ideas Freud would later make famous in Civilization and its Discontents, and represents one of the first uses of Freud in fiction. Margaret has taught Jenny this, as it is Margaret who faces fully the sexual implications of Freud's theories and supplies the key to Chris' locked memory.

Nonetheless, Margaret's claim that Chris did not trust her as he would "a girl of his own class" rings brutally true even on idyllic Monkey Island. It is no coincidence that Kitty's confident voice begins and ends the novel: first she denies that the fighting could be really "bad," and then that Chris is "cured" when he remembers and returns to his married and military life. While Kitty is clearly the least admirable character in the novel-the "falsest thing on earth"-she represents Freud's reality principle, and as such cannot be forgotten. Chris' "return," then, has tragic overtones: not only must he fight again in the circumstances that created his "shell shock"-still a new term in 1918-he must again uphold a social structure that values vain, materialistic Kitty over soulful Margaret and equates proper masculinity with violence and aggression. Margaret's and Chris' sons, born from separate marriages but both dead at age two, seem emblematic of this: as Margaret intuits, each has only "half a life" in this world where horses and guns seem appropriate toys for little boys, and one has everything and the other almost nothing.

Written just before the "high modernism" of the 1920s, The Return of the Soldier is not obviously experimental; it does not employ, for instance, the complex stream-of-consciousness narration that James Joyce and Virginia Woolf would soon make famous in Ulysses and Mrs. Dalloway, nor does it rely on Kafkaesque symbols or surrealist episodes. Nevertheless, it belongs firmly in the canon of modernist literature. Its focus on the subjective rendering of experience-the idea that what is real is what is perceived-aligns it with the impressionist fiction of Joseph Conrad, and its emphasis on the divided psyche-our genuine selves versus the faces we present to the world-echoes themes in William Butler Yeats' and George Eliot's poetry. West later wrote fiction in very different voices and styles, experimenting with (what would eventually be called) magical realism (Harriet Hume), epic tragedy (The Judge), social satire (The Thinking Reed), Dickensian autobiographical fiction (the three novels of the Cousin Rosamund trilogy), and historical spy thriller (The Birds Fall Down). In fact, many see West's eclecticism as the reason she is not more often read or taught: her work fits conveniently into no categories, and for that matter neither does her feminism-which rejects the androgyny Woolf celebrates-or her politics, which became more conservative as she grew older.

The Return of the Soldier, first serialized in Century magazine, went into a second printing within a month of its publication and established West's reputation as a novelist. Its style and story were much praised, and The Annual Register included it as one of the distinguished artistic works of 1918. John Van Druten's 1928 dramatization had a long and successful run, and the novel was made into a lush 1982 film starring Alan Bates, Julie Christie, Ann-Margaret, and Glenda Jackson. Feminist, psychoanalytic, and World War I scholars have studied it extensively in the last twenty years, and it remains West's most popular and familiar work. Its enduring appeal resides not only in its treatment of still-relevant issues involving war, gender, economics, and class, but in its rich portrait of an England long gone, for better or for worse. The Return of the Soldier captures this world as it disappears; and like all great novels, it portrays with sympathy and sagacity humanity's unavoidably complex choices and compromises.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 14 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(5)

4 Star

(1)

3 Star

(5)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(2)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2014

    It would be a big favor for the prospective buyer as to the actual length of the text

    At 98 cents a short story / novella is acceptable if known but not if presented as a novel i have a single poem in a pretty little book

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2014

    This is less than 75 pages and a novella at best

    Though i would call it short story. This utter lack of understanding on part of the wife and not mentioning a child right away plus no record of next of kin on his officer papers is beyond belief. His mental condition though cured would be thought only temp and occur agai under stress stress of war and stress of his home responsibilities her banning her dog again is the opposite the wife is almost as disturbed as having the cousin hus cousin living with them as a second wife

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2014

    This is a typical two hanky ladies novel or afternoon

    Ronantic movie like ramdon harvest with grete garson and.. walter piegon. not for those who want grafic scenes silly plot but then they usualky are in this genre read it before and cant remember but it had to do with somethibgvi the house brought back his memory

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 3, 2014

    I highly recommend that you do NOT read this.  Don't waste your

    I highly recommend that you do NOT read this.  Don't waste your time.  The prose is heavy and tiresome, and the characterization is loose and ever changing.  The main characters don't grow or evolve, they simply are changed into different people at the end of the book.  And they are all uninteresting and self-absorbed people .  

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)