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West’s superb novel—now available as an ebook
Rebecca West’s stunning debut novel: The classic story of a soldier’s amnesia and its effect on the women in his life
A strange woman arrives at the door with unsettling news for Jenny and her sister-in-law Kitty: Jenny’s husband has lost his memory while fighting in the war. As their solider returns home, the women discover that his mind is stuck on the woman he loved fifteen years before—the same woman who first delivered the news of his memory loss and whom Jenny and Kitty regard as socially beneath them. As they care for him and react to this news, they come to understand the power of love—past, present, unrequited, and unconditional.   Psychologically astute, West’s unforgettable first work of fiction reveals her innate skill at understanding the constructs of class that hamper people’s attempts to connect with one another.
Published: Open Road Media an imprint of Open Road Integrated Media on Mar 1, 2011
ISBN: 9781453207017
List price: $0.99
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This book, Rebecca West's first novel, was published in 1918 and has been called "the only book written by a woman about the war during the war". Given its interesting provenance and its status as at least a near classic, I had expected to enjoy it very much, but was a bit disappointed.The problem is not the story, which pulls the reader right along. Two women, the soldier's wife and his cousin, await his return from the war. Before the war he was a wealthy businessman; they are very comfortably established, and very much of the upper class. They learn from a distinctly non-upper class caller that the hero has been wounded, and has woken up in hospital with no memory of anything later than 1906 -- including his marriage. It turns out that in 1906 he and the non-upper class caller were deeply in love. He returns home, and events unfold. Nor is the writing an issue. Indeed, it is sometimes very beautiful. Ms. West's description of nature -- of changing light and moving water, of vegetation and the way it grows -- are precise, but also emotionally evocative. They made me think of Whistler's paintings, which are not at all precise, because they so strongly evoke moods as well as images. And the structure of the novel is complex but not confusing, involving multiple timelines, one principal narrator but several shifts in narration, and a point of view that shifts over time. I suppose that what bothered me about the novel is the characters; I did not at the end find them convincing enough to draw me in emotionally as well as aesthetically. To me, three of the four central characters seemed one dimensional -- the hero is innocent, the wife is shallow, the beloved woman is saintly. The fourth, the hero's cousin who is the main narrator, is more complex, but she too became unconvincing to me by the end of the book. There is a high romanticism about it all that, for me at least, says more about the time and place in which it was set than about the characters themselves. Clearly, my less than enthusiastic response is more a personal emotional judgement than an aesthetic evaluation. The book is well worth reading, and younger, less cynical readers might love it -- I probably would have, when I was a young woman.read more
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In less than 100 pages, Rebecca West creates a microcosm of British society in 1916 and a love triangle centered around an upper class WWI soldier. In the novel there are many dichotomies of wealth, class, and physical beauty, but the most important is the moral dilemma at the heart of the story: is it better to preserve life and love or reality and truth?The story begins with Kitty, the beautiful and cold wife of Chris Baldry, lamenting that she has not heard from her soldier husband for a fortnight. Attending her is Chris's cousin Jenny, who is the narrator of the story. Jenny is brushing Kitty's damp hair and remembering the days when Chris was home and so happy (he was happy right?), when a woman requests to see Kitty. Margaret Grey is dumpy, unfashionable, poor, and uncultured, barely respectable in the eyes of the two ladies, but she has important and delicate news to impart. Chris is coming home. The catch is that he has amnesia and remembers Margaret, with whom he was passionately in love fifteen years ago, but not his wife, Kitty. Thus the stage is set for the drama which unfolds in this small setting. In my mind, the most interesting and complex character is Jenny, the story's narrator. As a cousin of Chris's, she is a member of the upper class, yet she is in some sort of dependent position within the household. She is also in love with her cousin. Unmarried, gentile, and sympathetic to the plight of the lower class Margaret, Jenny is reflective amid the stark contrasts surrounding her. She is the one who struggles most with the moral question of Chris's return. I wish I could pull her from the shadows and hear her story in full.I enjoyed this quick read for the descriptions of British society in the midst of change; change which Rebecca West was personally eager to see come. I also wrestled a bit with the moral question she poses. But what made this a memorable read for me was the enigma of Jenny.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Perfectly conceived novella about the devastating effects of war on the heir of Baldry Court, an English country estate. Told from the first person perspective of a spinster whose entire life revolves around her cousin, his life and country mansion, it is the story of an English gentleman who goes off to World War I only to be returned with a severe case of amnesia. He does not recognize his pretty, socially correct wife; he has retreated to a hidden youthful romance with a poor woman. The woman, also married now, comes forward in the interest of helping him. The dance of manners takes place among the attendant Three Graces, who represent three kinds of love. A work of art to be read again and again.read more
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This book, Rebecca West's first novel, was published in 1918 and has been called "the only book written by a woman about the war during the war". Given its interesting provenance and its status as at least a near classic, I had expected to enjoy it very much, but was a bit disappointed.The problem is not the story, which pulls the reader right along. Two women, the soldier's wife and his cousin, await his return from the war. Before the war he was a wealthy businessman; they are very comfortably established, and very much of the upper class. They learn from a distinctly non-upper class caller that the hero has been wounded, and has woken up in hospital with no memory of anything later than 1906 -- including his marriage. It turns out that in 1906 he and the non-upper class caller were deeply in love. He returns home, and events unfold. Nor is the writing an issue. Indeed, it is sometimes very beautiful. Ms. West's description of nature -- of changing light and moving water, of vegetation and the way it grows -- are precise, but also emotionally evocative. They made me think of Whistler's paintings, which are not at all precise, because they so strongly evoke moods as well as images. And the structure of the novel is complex but not confusing, involving multiple timelines, one principal narrator but several shifts in narration, and a point of view that shifts over time. I suppose that what bothered me about the novel is the characters; I did not at the end find them convincing enough to draw me in emotionally as well as aesthetically. To me, three of the four central characters seemed one dimensional -- the hero is innocent, the wife is shallow, the beloved woman is saintly. The fourth, the hero's cousin who is the main narrator, is more complex, but she too became unconvincing to me by the end of the book. There is a high romanticism about it all that, for me at least, says more about the time and place in which it was set than about the characters themselves. Clearly, my less than enthusiastic response is more a personal emotional judgement than an aesthetic evaluation. The book is well worth reading, and younger, less cynical readers might love it -- I probably would have, when I was a young woman.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
In less than 100 pages, Rebecca West creates a microcosm of British society in 1916 and a love triangle centered around an upper class WWI soldier. In the novel there are many dichotomies of wealth, class, and physical beauty, but the most important is the moral dilemma at the heart of the story: is it better to preserve life and love or reality and truth?The story begins with Kitty, the beautiful and cold wife of Chris Baldry, lamenting that she has not heard from her soldier husband for a fortnight. Attending her is Chris's cousin Jenny, who is the narrator of the story. Jenny is brushing Kitty's damp hair and remembering the days when Chris was home and so happy (he was happy right?), when a woman requests to see Kitty. Margaret Grey is dumpy, unfashionable, poor, and uncultured, barely respectable in the eyes of the two ladies, but she has important and delicate news to impart. Chris is coming home. The catch is that he has amnesia and remembers Margaret, with whom he was passionately in love fifteen years ago, but not his wife, Kitty. Thus the stage is set for the drama which unfolds in this small setting. In my mind, the most interesting and complex character is Jenny, the story's narrator. As a cousin of Chris's, she is a member of the upper class, yet she is in some sort of dependent position within the household. She is also in love with her cousin. Unmarried, gentile, and sympathetic to the plight of the lower class Margaret, Jenny is reflective amid the stark contrasts surrounding her. She is the one who struggles most with the moral question of Chris's return. I wish I could pull her from the shadows and hear her story in full.I enjoyed this quick read for the descriptions of British society in the midst of change; change which Rebecca West was personally eager to see come. I also wrestled a bit with the moral question she poses. But what made this a memorable read for me was the enigma of Jenny.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Perfectly conceived novella about the devastating effects of war on the heir of Baldry Court, an English country estate. Told from the first person perspective of a spinster whose entire life revolves around her cousin, his life and country mansion, it is the story of an English gentleman who goes off to World War I only to be returned with a severe case of amnesia. He does not recognize his pretty, socially correct wife; he has retreated to a hidden youthful romance with a poor woman. The woman, also married now, comes forward in the interest of helping him. The dance of manners takes place among the attendant Three Graces, who represent three kinds of love. A work of art to be read again and again.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Our narrator recounts the homecoming of her cousin, Captain Chris Baldry who, while fighting in the First World War, has been sent home due to shell shock. Chris, who is suffering from amnesia, has had a good portion of his memory wiped out and believes he is sixteen years younger. He doesn't understand his cousin Jenny's older appearance, doesn't recognize his beautiful young wife Kitty, and instead demands to see his first love, Margaret. While Kitty believes that her husband is just playing a clever trick on everyone, she still agrees to have Margaret brought over to him, but she becomes furious that Chris treats her like a stranger and instead prefers to spend his time with Margaret, a lower-class, physically unappealing woman, who nevertheless makes him very happy. A specialist is brought in who proposes a radical approach that is sure to cure the Captain so that he can return to the front. There is a strong divergence of opinions as to whether that is the best option for his wellbeing, but Kitty is adamant that she wants her husband back to his normal self. Highly recommended.I absolutely loved this story and it was of special interest to me since I started the Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker recently, which is set during WWI, with a psychiatrist who specializes in treating shell shock as one of the principal characters. One of the central issues there is the question of what actually constitutes mental health when men are only considered 'normal' if they are willing to put their lives on the line to fight in a brutal war with countless casualties.
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The soldier is Chris Baldry, married to the beautiful, polished, empty Kitty. Suffering from shell-shock Guy forgets fifteen years of his life, including the ten years of his marriage to Kitty, and remembers his first love, the kind and generous Margaret. A short, beautifully written novel.
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'Is it better to pine nostalgically for the irretrievable past or to accept the conflicted present?' This is the question at the heart of Rebecca West’s brilliant 1918 novel, The Return of the Soldier. Captain Chris Baldry has returned from the Great War suffering from shell-shock and amnesia. He can’t remember anything from the last fifteen years. Therefore, he doesn’t remember his wife, Kitty; nor his cousin Jenny. But he does remember Margaret Allington, a woman he was in love with fifteen years ago, whose appearance suggests she belongs to a much lower class than the others.These three women have to come to terms with Chris’ amnesia and help him to either a.) accept his memory loss and allow him to live in the past; or b.) help him to recover his memory and be forced to return to the Front.This is my first West book but I will certainly be seeking out some of her other work. Not only does she pose a provocative question and address England’s collapsing class system, but the writing is simply exquisite:“Grief is not the clear melancholy the young believe it. It is like a siege in a tropical city. The skin dries and the throat parches as though one were living in the heat of a desert; water and wine taste warm in the mouth, and food is of the substance of sand; one snarls at one’s company; thoughts prick one through sleep like mosquitoes.” (Page 51)Another excellent read thanks to LT; I’d never heard of Rebecca West until someone here reviewed this book.
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