The Return of the Soldier

ISBN: 0812971221
ISBN 13: 9780812971224
By: Rebecca West Norman Price Verlyn Klinkenborg

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About this book

Set during World War I on an isolated country estate just outside London, Rebecca West’s haunting novel The Return of the Soldier follows Chris Baldry, a shell-shocked captain suffering from amnesia, as he makes a bittersweet homecoming to the three women who have helped shape his life. Will the devoted wife he can no longer recollect, the favorite cousin he remembers only as a childhood friend, and the poor innkeeper’s daughter he once courted leave Chris to languish in a safe, dreamy past—or will they help him recover his memory so that he can return to the front? The answer is revealed through a heartwrenching, unexpected sacrifice.The text of this Modern Library Paperback Classic was set from the first American edition, published in 1918, and features original illustrations by Norman Price.

Reader's Thoughts


I've stopped reading books synopsis' a long time ago since some of them actually ruins the book for you , so i had absolutely no idea on what this book was about, i only started reading it since it is a recommendation from someone on "1001 books you must read before you die group" on goodreads, i complained about the difficulty i found on other books on the very same list, and she gave me a little piece of advice.She was right, the book is easy on the language level , on the other hand i can't say the same about the emotions that this book brought me,they were hard, i stopped reading romances altogether because after a while they all started to seem to me dull and repeated , but this one, this one made me believe once again in love and in tragedy, it made me realize that i am a romantic after all, i just don't like ordinary and cheap romances , i like the hard , enduring and non physical ones.I felt so many different kind of love in this book, The love Jenny has for Chris , an innocent and brotherly kind of love, that could make you think of your sisters, it is the kind of love that lasts forever of course, but it's not consuming and deadly and maybe not even wonderful, it's just more natural than other kinds of love and easier too.I don't think Kitty loves Chris as much as she needs him for her image, she needs someone she can count on, she is not the giving kind, and she is selfish and immoral , and once again we can see how physically beautiful people are presented as evil ones, because they relay so much on their beauty that there is no place left for personality, and it's not their fault alone , it's mostly the fault of society of people so blinded by beauty .Margaret's love is unconditional and eternal, she kept it buried in her heart all those years, and the last sacrifice she made was the sign that she was worthy of love more than anyone else in this book, it showed us also how unselfish she is, she is quite the opposite of kitty , she is not physically beautiful , but her soul made her seem like a queen of beauty to me.Chris, there are two of Chris, Chris the one who loves Margaret , and Chris the soldier, an amnesia made Chris forget all about his recent life, so i'm not sure if he truly still loves Margaret or if it just a refuge of his mind to a time when he was the happiest, and his love is unconditional as well he loves Margaret regardless of how she looks, his soul is attached to her in the purest and most magical this book you can FEEL more than anything else, i would consider from now on this book as the father of all romances , and the most tragic one.


I found this short novel, West's first, haunting. The prose is lush, sometimes overly so and the plot seems simple, but it raises deep questions about illusions that we cling to--about ourselves and others. The narrator, Jenny, tells how her cousin Chris returns from the war with no memory of the last 15 years, including his marriage. At the start of the novel, Jenny believes that she and his wife Kitty have made Chris a contented man, whose life (despite the death of an infant son) has been happy. They believe that his relationship with them is at the "core of his heart." Jenny discovers that most of what she thought she knew about Chris was illusion. The novel suggests that Jenny, too, has not understood herself and her feelings for Chris. But this is a love story with a sad, but almost perfect ending.


Although I have a lovely green Virago copy of this book, I chose to read the free version which I have on my kindle as I am away this week and I generally take my kindle away with me for ease. This is really a novella, but despite it's size it does pack quite an emotional punch. The writing is quite perfect, rather poetic at times. Apparently written when the author was very young and I believe it was her first published novel, it really was quite an achievement. The Return of the Soldier takes place in England, mainly in a large home near Harrow, yet it concerns itself with war, the consequences and realities of that experience upon people and their relationships. The soldier of the title is Chris Baldry, away at the war, his devoted cousin Jenny and his wife Kitty are united in their wish to have him home with them where they feel he belongs. However Chris's return to them is bittersweet, for he is suffering amnesia. His mind is stuck, fifteen years in the past, before he knew Kitty, but when he did know another woman. Of a lower social standing, Margaret is now a sad, worn middle aged woman, not the beautiful girl Chris knew so briefly, yet to him she is still that girl, and Kitty a stranger As the novel progresses Jenny, who is the narrator of the story, is gradually separated from her original alliance with Kitty. She is devoted to her cousin, with what appears to be an unacknowledged love, Jenny seeks to protect him. Kitty's pain is like a terrible grief which often manifests itself in her harshness towards Margaret, who is allowed to visit Chris in an effort to heal him. That in such a slight novel, Rebecca West was able to so deftly explore themes of war, family, love, memory and class is surely testament to a truly gifted writer. The writing as I have said is lovely, The characters are seen at a slight distance, Kitty in particular is a cool remote figure, she's hard, and thus it is difficult to feel for her, while at the same time the reader does feel her pain. I found this a very enjoyable little book, sad and quietly devastating it is the sort of book I suspect will stay in my mind for some time.


It's a brief book but manages to capture so much history between a few characters, and how war damages everyone -including those who remain behind. The ending is fascinating because no matter what there will be one kind of a misery or other for everyone. Definitely an under-rated story.


For a story that's only about eighty pages long, this book really packs an emotional punch. Usually I know how I want a story to end, but with this one, I felt torn. Either way, lives would be ruined. Very poignant and gorgeously written--hard to believe this was West's first novel.

Mike Robbins

Before I read this, I had known of Rebecca West only through her famous book on Yugoslavia, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. Born in London in 1892, she had little formal education, her family being in genteel poverty. She trained as an actress, but seems to have acted little, becoming a sufragette and then the lover of H.G. Wells. She turned to writing and had a distinguished career in serious journalism. She also wrote a number of novels, but it seems unlikely that most are widely read now. The Return of the Soldier, however, has never quite been forgotten and was filmed, with a stellar cast, in 1982. Her first book, it was published in 1918.As the book opens, two women are in a country house just outside London on a bright day in the early spring of 1916. They are well-to-do; Kitty is the attractive wife of Baldry, the master of the house, and Jenny, less pretty, is his cousin. Jenny has started to worry that they have heard nothing of Baldry, a serving soldier, for several weeks. Kitty assures her that the War Office would have informed her if there were anything amiss. They are interrupted by the arrival of Margaret, a dowdy woman of limited means from a bleak suburb nearby. She informs them that Baldry is, in fact, in hospital in Boulogne, that he has lost his memory after an explosion, and that he has regressed some 15 years to the time when, as a young man, he loved her. That is why the War Office has not been in touch; it is Margaret to whom Baldry has written, and it is her that he wishes to see. Baldry is brought home, and is indifferent to his wife; a little less so to his cousin, who he does remember, albeit as a young woman – but he spends his time with Margaret. He is unconcerned that she is now a middle-aged, married, suburban dowd. It becomes clear that he still loves her. Meanwhile his wife, Kitty, desperately wants him restored to normality.There is an understated lyricism in West’s writing that makes the book poignant and vivid. The sequences in which Baldry remembers his early courtship of Margaret 15 years earlier are set on Monkey Island at Bray, in a curve of the Thames, where Margaret’s father is landlord of the Monkey Island Inn. The place is real enough; today it is an hotel and conference centre just a mile or so from the M4 motorway. West and Wells had frequented Monkey Island immediately before the First World War. In the book, it is a quiet country pub catering to the odd passing boatman. Baldry describes how it was reached:...a private road... followed a line of noble poplars down to the ferry. Between two of them... there stood a white hawthorn. In front were the dark-green, glassy waters of an unvisited backwater, and beyond them a bright lawn set with many walnut-trees and a few great chestnuts, well lighted with their candles... To anyone who knows the countryside in the south of England, this is evocative. In April, May and June the sky turns a deeper blue and the trees and hedgerows come alive; the white and pink chestnut candles are a delight, as are the white patches of hawthorn. Underneath this lyricism, however, this book has some hard themes, some of which must have raised eyebrows at the time. Some have seen the book as a clinical description of combat trauma. Others will see a feminist message here – that the dependence of women on men distorts the behaviour of both, and is even a driver for war. There is plenty of evidence in the book for this interpretation and besides, West was a strong proponent of women’s rights. But perhaps we shouldn’t apply modern labels to people who pre-date them. Class is another theme. Margaret, the woman to whose affections Baldry has returned, is a woman of a lower station. Jenny and Kitty meet Margaret for the first time, when she first calls at the Baldry house: She wore a yellowish raincoat and a black hat with plumes. The sticky straw hat had only lately been renovated by something out of a little bottle bought at the chemist’s. ...Margaret starts to explain that Baldry is wounded, in Boulogne, and that it seems they do not know. Her words are not taken at face value: This was such a fraud as one sees recorded in the papers ...Presently she would say that she had gone to some expense to come here with her news and that she was poor... These class tensions have still not been excised from British life. However, West makes an even more important point that is made much more explicitly, and in my view less well, by a more famous book, Heller’s Catch-22. That is the whole question of the logic of war. Kitty, the spurned wife, calls in a series of doctors to try to bring back his memory and restore him to normal. If she succeeds, he will of course return to the front. Cousin Jenny understands this, and feels growing sympathy for Margaret. It slowly becomes clear that, by trying to restore him to “normal” and send him back to war, Kitty is being monstrously selfish. The lover is right; the wife is wrong; restoration to “normal” means death. This was a brave message for 1918. An expensive specialist has arrived to “cure” Baldry – that is to say, restore his memory. Margaret, the working-class woman that he loves, protests to the doctor: “What’s the use of talking? You can’t cure him,” – she caught her lower lip with her teeth and fought back from the brink of tears, – “make him happy, I mean. All you can do is to make him ordinary.”“I grant you that’s all I do,” he said. ..”It’s my profession to bring people... to the normal. There seems to be a general feeling it’s the place where they ought to be. Sometimes I don’t see the urgency myself.”In Catch-22, the American airman, Yossarian, finds that there is a twisted logic: if you request relief from combat duty on the grounds of insanity, you must be wrong, because to do so is sane. West is subtler but the message is the same; by being “cured”, Baldry will be made to go back to the front, which is mad. Being restored to sanity would make Baldry do something insane. The Return of the Soldier is a beautiful book, but it is also a very subversive one; it questions not only the definition of normality, but, in so doing, the very nature and legitimacy of the authority of one human over another.


Story which gives the view point of a WWI soldier returning home from the war, shell shocked and suffering from amnesia.


This is actually one of the most engaging books I have read in a while. I think part of that is because it was so short, just six chapters. Things happen quickly and so you get sucked into the story relatively quickly as well. It also really packed an emotional punch for me. World War I has always been the military engagement that affected me the most emotionally. This is mostly likely because even though we always start a war by refighting the last one, in World War I the technology of warfare had advanced so quickly, that our concept of what war was had not caught up to the reality of early 20th century warfare. Victorian concepts of honor and valor in warfare are difficult to keep when your lying in a muddy trench in France for months at a time. Or that's my guess anyway after reading All Quiet on the Western Front. So I was immediately sorry for Chris to begin with before I even met Kitty. That is the second thing that really struck me about this book. I think the author did a lovely job of describing early 20th century aristocratic Britain. Again, if Upstairs Downstairs, Downton Abbey, and Brideshead Revisited are fairly accurate descriptions. Kitty is the epitome of superfluous beauty with nothing but her position in society and her lovely face. Whereas Margaret is common, but burns with an inner beauty, which both Jenny and Chris appreciate. The author makes wonderful comparisons between these two women. My favorite was the difference between light reflected from a mirror versus the light of a careworn and sooty lamp, which glows warmly from within the glass. Finally, the ending....just....brilliant....and horrible....and perfect.


this is an odd little book. for the majority of its pages, it reminded me a bit of marguerite duras. the prose is lush, lavish and, like duras, occasionally overwrought. it's also remarkably elusive - it's difficult to see why the three women it chronicles are so enthralled with the returning, amnesiac soldier of the title. his character seems deliberately under-written, which gives the reading experience the quality of a ghost story and keeps the masochistic affections of its three female characters at an intriguing distance.the novel's uncanny quality - my favorite thing about it - falls apart a bit at the conclusion, which is diagnostic, allegorical and disappointing. the issues it ultimately raises about the nature of truth and happiness are far less interesting than the ones at its periphery (particularly its disturbing observations about class). the more i understood the novel, the less i enjoyed it. still, west's prose is occasionally very impressive, and it's nice to read a narrative about war that doesn't follow the usual path of bravado and macho disillusionment.


THE RETURN OF THE SOLDIER. (1918). Rebecca West. ****.This was Ms. West’s first novel, and apparently provided her a great introduction to the world of readers at the time. It’s one of many novels of the period that used WW I as the setting or the starting point. Basically, it is about what we, today, call PTSD. Back then, they referred to it as “shell shock,” or “war neurosis.” The effects of trench warfare on the soldiers were horrific. In most cases they would have been better off being killed outright rather than suffer from the physical and mental aftereffects. We meet Kitty Baldry and her husband’s cousin, Jenny, who also acts as the principal narrator. Kitty’s husband is fighting in France and they haven’t heard from him for a while. They receive a visitor, a woman neither had seen before, and one who was obviously of a lower class as evinced by her dress and manners. Her name was Margaret. She tells them that Chris has been hurt and was in a hospital in Boulogne. Who she was and how she knew this was a mystery to the two women. As proof, she shows them a telegram that had been forwarded to her from a very old address, an inn that she had managed years ago. It turns out that she had been Chris’ girlfriend up to about fifteen years ago, but had not heard from him since – until the telegram alerted her to his whereabouts. We soon learn that Chris was suffering from selective amnesia. He could remember all of his past – up to about fifteen years ago – but nothing of anything beyond that. He was still wildly in love with Margaret but remembered nothing about Kitty. During the fifteen years that Chris and Kitty had been married, they had had a son who died at age two. He could not remember that either. The story dwells on the attempts of all parties involved to bring Chris back to the present and jar his memory so that the fifteen lost years would be restored. This was a very well written novel – aside from an over-complexity of sentence structure – and addressed a variety of social issues that were important at the time. Were it not for the schmaltzy ending, this would have scored a five-star rating. Recommended.

Mark white

I started reading Rebecca West because Francine Prose used a superb sentence of hers as an example. Prose was right as usual.The book is written from the perspective of an upper class British woman in WW I. Her cousin is married to a prominent and wealthy fellow who is off in the trenches. Dedicated to creating a world of love and beauty for the husband, the women wait restlessly for him as their entire lives seem dedicated to serving him.One day a drab middle-class dowd shows up on their doorstep with a fantastic tale of the husband injured and shell shocked in a hospital in England. After shooing her away under the assumption the woman was trying to con them out of money, the wife and cousin discover the dowd was right.He returns home, his attitudes changed dramatically, and we discover the dowd was once his lover. The stresses and changes reveal the true nature of each of the characters.Nearly a perfect book.


Available at: is not an easy reading but the writer's style is quite interesting.

Wendy Bertsch

This is a most intriguing study of what it meant to be a feminist in the early 1900's. We are given a hint - the merest intimation - that a woman might be able to live a sort of fulfilling life without a man. But the doting attention at least two out of the three women in this story lavish on the rather ordinary, albeit inoffensive, returning soldier can be a bit hard to take. And the stereotypes of the British class system, which purport to be challenged here, are actually reinforced with every successive vivid word of description.What kept me reading was the intriguing study of a damaged mind and the dilemma presented to those trying to cope with a very difficult situation. This is not a book you'll be likely to put down before the last page.


Rebecca West was born Cicily Isabel Fairfield. Her father abandoned his family, and his death which followed hard after, left the family poor. West was educated and began a career as an actress before joining the feminist movement under the Pankhursts and writing for feminist magazines and papers. When she was 19, she began what would be a ten year affair with H. G. Wells. H. G. Wells liked the ladies and apparently thought he wore pants made of glass (see various, including Philip Gooden). West apparently liked the men. West and Wells had pet names for each other. He was Jaguar, and she was Panther. She also got pregnant. She didn’t have a wedding, and Wells was married (despite his many affairs, he never divorced). Their child was Anthony Panther also called Anthony West. West delivered the child outside of London, which she had left because of the stigma attached to an unmarried mother. Apparently in later years, Wells and West disagreed about whether the child was planned or not, with West claiming at one point Wells had impregnated her to keep. Their child apparently was quite bitter later in life. I don’t wonder why. West went on to have a very good career, including as a journalist and travel writer, and it is somewhat upsetting that she is not as popular as her one time lover Wells, who might have stolen a woman’s work and passed it off as his own. It is vital that you know the above because it will influence how you see this story which was written after the birth of West’s child and deals with love, lust, and class. And that is the problem with this new policy by GR staff, which slim hope it is, one hopes they change. It is close to impossible to separate an author from a work. It’s true as more than one person pointed out in the feedback thread that many people would want to know if they are reading the work of a pedophile or a rapist. Imagine O.J. Simpson’s proposed book but not being able to mention anything about the spousal abuse or trials. Goodreads was prior this policy change a place for readers to find this information, so they could make an informed buying decision. This policy nulls this. Furthermore, it limits learning and limits any teacher or class who wants to use Goodreads (which many have been). How can a teacher encourage students to leave a critical review if students cannot mention the author’s life or background? How can students discuss, review, or learn in such an environment? They can’t. Goodreads will no longer be a place where you can learn from book reviews. That is why this policy stinks. That is why this review focuses on the author.


Another book I listened to at work. I use the site to get audiobooks of books that are in the public domain so they are free. They are read by volunteers so they are not always the best but this book was read by a reader that I've listened to before and she's quite good. I was browsing through the catalog of books on librivox and came across this one. I'd never heard of this book or author before but I thought I'd give it a try.This book was pretty good. It's about an Englishman who is wounded while fighting in WWI. He gets amnesia and can't remember anything about the last 15 years of his life, including his wife or young son that died. He does however remember the woman he was in love with when he was younger who is now married to someone else. It's about all of them dealing with him and his state of mind, etc. It's pretty interesting and is a fairly short book.

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