Monday, November 16, 2009

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

50. The Return of the Soldier
by Rebecca West
fiction, 1918
library book
finished, 10/26/09

After I read Thomas' review of this short novel, I wanted to read it immediately. What an amazing story. West's writing reminded me of Virginia Woolf's just a little; her descriptions of the outdoor and indoor scenes; the way in which what someone says shows the reader what kind of person she is. In fact, the very first words of the book set up the character, Kitty for us:

"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! Besides, if he'd been anywhere interesting, anywhere the fighting was really hot, he'd have found some way of telling me instead of just leaving it as 'Somewhere in France.' He'll be all right."

Well, not the sort of person I'd want waiting for my return!

The narrator is the other woman living in the house, Captain Baldry's cousin, Jenny. It is quite obvious that she is the one who truly loves the man.

I wanted to snatch my cousin Christopher from the wars and seal him in this green pleasantness his wife and I now looked upon.

This 'green pleasantness' is just the sort of British country home one dreams of. Beautiful grounds and beautiful house which Chris himself (his hired workers) had rebuilt after his marriage to Kitty, and before the war. And this rebuilding features strongly in the book. For Christopher comes home from the war with no memory of the past fifteen years. He no longer recognizes his 'new' home. He has no memory of his marriage or of the death of his young son.

The way the two women hear the news of his problem is puzzling and upsetting. A perfect stranger, Mrs. William Grey, arrives from 'the red suburban stain which fouls the fields three miles nearer London than Harrow-Weald.' She tells them that Christopher is 'hurt.' The women at first think she is lying. How would she know of the situation when they haven't heard from the War Office? It turns out that she received a telegram from a hospitalized Christopher, addressed to her maiden name and sent to her old home. She says that they knew one another fifteen years ago, and she has neither seen nor heard from him since.

And there our story really begins. We learn about his fifteen-year old memories. We meet a doctor who has a plan to 'cure' him, and we are presented with the ethics of the whole situation. I was completely involved in the book. I was fascinated by each of the people, and how they reacted to the ordeal they had to cope with. The use of 'modern' psychology is particularly interesting. The Return of the Soldier is beautifully written and gives the reader a lot to think about.


  1. I am glad you enjoyed this book. It definitely has me interested in reading more Rebecca West.

  2. Thanks for coming by, Thomas. The book I read it in has selections of all kinds of her writing. 828 WES on the library shelf.

  3. I'll have to look for this one -- have read Rebecca West's The Fountain Overflows. This sounds interesting -- also, have you read Edith Wharton's A Son at the Front? I love that novel, but I am a big E.W. fan. I've enjoyed your blog and just ordered up a bunch of a box'o Hamish MacBeth -- after all, winter is on the way! Thanks for posting. Best wishes, Edie

  4. Thanks so much for leaving me a note, Edie. I'll look for The Fountain Overflows - it isn't in the collection I got from the library. And I've not been such a fan of Edith W's but I'll check out A Son at the Front. Thanks for both recommendations. Have fun with Hamish!

  5. Well, whatever you do don't start with Lily Bart. I chose House of Mirth as a Cupcake Chronicles book group read and that didn't go over well. They couldn't stand her! I am not a mystery fan but can't resist watching Poirot, etc. on BBC so I figure maybe I'll dive into another world -- plus I have a relative named Gilfillan who is in her eighties and I plan to send them her way once I read through. She lives in the middle of nowhere and there's nothing she likes better than receiving a box of books. Have fun! Edie (also Queenie on our blog)

  6. Dear Nan,

    This sounds very similar to a wonderful movie with Alan Bates as the returning soldier,and Glenda Jackson cast as the old girlfriend.
    Its a wonderfully rich film and I think you might enjoy it. I will find this book and thanks so much for sharing this.


  7. I loved this. I found it so haunting. The Fountain Overflows is truly superb and if you enjoyed this you'll absolutely love that. It has two sequels, This Real Night and Cousin Rosamond. I'm yet to read those; I'm saving them because I can't bear to finish the story!

  8. Return of the Soldier is one of my very favourite books.

    Did you know there was a film of the story made in the 80's [1982] starring Alan Bates,Julie Christie and Glenda Jackson...I really enjoyed this too

    Very sad but very memorable...Glenda Jackson puts in a beautiful performance

    [It appears on netflix so should still be available if you'd like to watch it]

  9. Rebecca West and this book in particular have been on my radar for awhile. My library does not have it so it is on my list of books to get through ILL.

  10. Thank you so very much for stopping by my blog, Nan, now i've discovered yours! What a great place to visit! I'm going to enjoy exploring. Lizzy

  11. Noted, Edie! :<) I'm sure Hamish will be just the ticket for Gilfillan.

    Julia, I just found it at Netflix, and put it at the top of my queue. I'd never heard of it, and yet two of my favorite actors are in it. Thank you so much!

    Rachel and Edie, I've emailed the library and asked them to ILL The Fountain Overflows. Thank you both. I love your reason for putting off the second two, Rachel. I understand it completely.

    Val, I'm not a bit surprised!! And I just wrote to Julia above that I put it at the top of my queue. Thanks so much for letting me know.

    Jeanette, I'll be interested to hear what you think when you read it.

    And thank you, Lizzy!

  12. Enjoyed your review of this brilliant novel which shows the young West's promise as a writer. May I echo others and recommend The Fountain Overflows? West's mature masterpiece.

  13. Thank you so much, Nicola. I have ordered the book through our library's Inter Library Loan program.


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