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


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.


In many ways this book is old-fashioned, romantic nearly to the point of being sentimental. It's also great and I breathed it all in in one sitting (it's short). Published in 1918, this novel (novella?) is about a wealthy Englishman who returns from the trenches with an unlikely case of PTSD that's caused him to forget the past fifteen years of his life. It's beautifully written and conveys something of just how much World War I must've really fucked with everyone's head. The first thing I wanted to do once I finished was write an English paper about it, which is strange, and absolutely never happens to me. If you're looking for an early-twentieth-century novel to write a really lovely English paper on, definitely check this one out. Check it out anyway, even though you're not.

Viji Sarath (Bookish endeavors)

"If this be the truth,Let me remain in the blissful ignorance.."It was a story that made me remember all the sad songs that I've heard.. So touching.. Heartbreaking.. True lovers getting separated is something no one is happy with.. But sure has it created many a masterpiece in literature. This is a 'truth is bitter,but you've got to accept it' type of story.. There is a beautiful romance going on.. And there is a scorn woman.. A lost child.. Sense of betrayal,though in a different shade.. Sounds the ingredients of a soap opera,doesn't it.? When the story began with description of Kitty and the interaction between her and Jenny,I thought 'so what.?' But as the story progressed,it turned pretty interesting.. Love and coffeeI guess both are alike.. Stimulates brain,makes us energetic but after a while we lose all our energy.. Those who are used to having it need it every morning but most of the time they don't even smell or taste it,they just drink it like a cup of water,just like husbands used to their old wives.. We all know we shouldn't use coffee in excess,but we can't stop once we start drinking it.. Some take it the way it is,pure,unadulterated.. Others like it sugared,with cream.. And both are called by the name 'slow poison'.. I've got nothing against love or coffee.. I'm an avid drinker of both.. The story here is about black coffee,sorry,true love.. That we become blind when we fall in love is described by the author as,"“I reflected, while Kitty shrilly wept, how entirely right Chris had been in his assertion that to lovers innumerable things do not matter.”His picture of love between Chris and Margaret is so beautiful.. The image of him trying to touch her just to confirm she is nearby is something a lover would do in that time or this. And what beautiful pictures he draw with this words.!! Never had I been taken in by the beauty of words creating lively images.. Whatever the surroundings be,he describes every single leaf with all its beauty.. And not only images of beauty,but images of raw emotion too.. Like in these words,“She held in her arms her Chinese sleeve dog, a once-prized pet that had fallen from favor and was now only to be met whining upward for a little love at every passer in the corridors, and it sprawled leaf-brown across her white frock, wriggling for joy at the unaccustomed embrace. That she should at last have stooped to lift the lonely little dog was a sign of her deep unhappiness.”Kitty's pain is described not in terms of her facial expressions,but through the way she acts.. Throughout the book,one can find beautiful examples like this.. This book was just perfect.. The perfect ending.. Had it ended otherwise,it would have been injustice in earthly terms.. But this way,the beauty of their love shines more.. It is in unfulfilled loves that we always seek our heroes.. Happily ever after is nice,but love is glorified in separations of heart..


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


UNINTERESTING. "We were all of us in a barn one night, and a shell came along. My pal sang out, 'Help me, old man; I've got no legs!' And I had to answer, 'I can't, old man; I've got no hands!' "—Loc 63The thick, sleep-inducing prose of Rebecca West's short novel, THE RETURN OF THE SOLDIER, safely insures the rest of her writings from my perusal. Recommendation: Do not waste your reading time on this alleged 'classic'."I found, though the occasion was a little grim, some entertainment in the two women's faces, so mutually intent, so differently fair, the one a polished surface that reflected light, like a mirror hung opposite a window, the other a lamp grimed by the smoke of careless use, but still giving out radiance from its burning oil."-Loc 985Kindle edition from, 1355 Locs <> 112 pages


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.

Susan Tsiouris

The effects of war, in this case WWI, often go beyond the soldier. What family and friends have to deal with, and how, is often overlooked. In this poignant short novel by Rebecca West the focus is on the three women in the life of a soldier, Chris, who has returned from battle suffering from amnesia. In his mind it is 15 years earlier. He remembers his cousin, Jenny, as she had been, and his former love, Margaret, who has since married. Then there is his wife of 10 years, Kitty. He has no memory of her or their dead child. There is a deep sadness that is pervasive in this story. How the characters deal with trying to help Chris is fascinating. They all love him, but they also have to find ways to cope with their own issues.


This book quietly but persistently destroys a common idea about the relative value of reality and its ministers (pscyhologists, psychiatrists, etc) in the course of its lovely pages. Along the way it has some harsh ideas about bourgeois aesthetics as well.


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.


Rebecca West is my new modernist crush. Can she displace, at the core of my heart, Djuna Barnes? Probably not. Mina Loy? Maybe.But actually it's a different kind of love one feels for each of one's beloveds. West makes me laugh, but she is also extremely psychologically incisive.The Return of the Soldier was apparently her first novel. It's short and brutal, the way honesty can at times be cruel. It is also tender. Written in response to the first world war, it's worn well and is still sharply relevant.


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.

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