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The Return of the Soldier

3.68  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,900 Ratings  ·  294 Reviews
World War I, in the background of Rebecca West's first novel, was "the first war that women could imagine, " writes Samuel Hynes in his eloquent introduction, "and so it was the first that a woman could write into a novel." Narrated by a woman who, like West, has never experienced war and yet for whom the war was very real, The Return of the Soldier (1918) takes place not ...more
Paperback, 187 pages
Published August 1st 1996 by Carroll & Graf Publishers (first published 1918)
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John Freeman I'm not sure I'd describe Return of the Soldier as a WWI novel, or novella for that matter. It's a story about a man who returns from the war with…moreI'm not sure I'd describe Return of the Soldier as a WWI novel, or novella for that matter. It's a story about a man who returns from the war with amnesia, having no memory of the last 15 years and who reunites with his former love, even though he is married.

I say it is a story about the affects of the war on class. Or you could read it as a romance set in the days following the war.(less)
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Community Reviews

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Aug 08, 2014 Warwick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'll tell you I think the Second World War was much more comfortable because in the First World War the position of women was so terrible, because there you were, not in danger. Men were going out and getting killed for you and you'd much prefer they weren't. […] There was a genuine humanitarian feeling of guilt about that in the first war. It was very curious, you see. There I sat on my balcony in Leigh-on-Sea and heard guns going in France. It was a most peculiar war. It was really better, in
How could you not enjoy a book that includes the idea of "an over-confiding explanation made by a shabby visitor while using the door-mat almost too zealously"?

In this slim novel set during WW1, Charles and Kitty live in tasteful opulence, along with his cousin Jenny, who tells the story of Charles' memory loss. He returns to England with no memory of the last 15 years, desperate to see his youthful (and lower class) love, Margaret, who is also now married to someone else.

The story is reall
K.D. Absolutely
Sep 09, 2012 K.D. Absolutely rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010)
Rebecca West (1892-1983) was an English author, journalist, literary critic and travel author. Her real name was Cicely Isabel Fairfield and she got her alias when, as a struggling actress in London, she played the role of Romersholm, a play by Henrik Ibsen. In 1913, she wrote a provocative review of H. G. Wells' Marriage and Wells invited her to lunch. They fell in love and lived discreetly together for 10 years producing a son, Anthony West. Wells was into his second marriage then so he was no ...more
Aug 08, 2008 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If there is such a thing as a “perfect” book, this is it. Rebecca West’s prose is like poetry — each word perfectly chosen, each phrase perfectly turned. It’s short enough to read during a pedicure, but the emotional wallop it packs demands a better setting — perhaps a conservatory . . . or a summerhouse?? (if only!) At any rate, I wouldn’t suggest the nail salon, where I just read it, or Highway 5, where I first listened to it on tape. Regardless of where you read it, though, it’s an absolutel ...more
Jan 19, 2016 Jonfaith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The old man's smile continues to be lewd and benevolent; he is still not more interested in me than in the bare-armed woman. Chris is wholly enclosed in his intentness on his chosen crystal. No one weeps for this shattering of our world.

This was a wonderful first novel, one written before the Armistice and yet it exhibited some carelessness. This otherwise ebullient story of a shell shocked story unable to remember his wife or the last fifteen years instead longs for an earlier entanglement -- w
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 scorned woman.. A lost child.. Sense of betrayal,though in a different shade.. Sou
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
How must you live your life?

Captain Chris Baldry had gone to war, leaving his wife Kitty and the pain of the death of their only child. He came back shell-shocked, all memories of his last fifteen years completely erased, and could only remember his love for his first sweetheart (now married to another yet still loves him) before he met and married his wife who is now a complete stranger to him. At the periphery is a childhood friend, Jenny, whom he remembers differently, yet likewise fiercely l
Renee M
I'm still in that haze of amazement after you read something that is unexpectedly superb. The gorgeous sumptuously turned sentences that make a treasure even of disdain. The layers of emotion. This may be an entirely perfect piece of writing. I can't believe I didn't come across it in one of my classes. I should have. But then of course I wouldn't have had the delight of discovering this tiny glittering trove.

P. S. Elizabeth Klett does an extraordinary reading for Librivox.

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
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 wante
Jul 21, 2016 Veronique rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a little gem of a book. At first, such a simple story of a hurt soldier coming back home from the frontline, but in fact much more. Even the title, so straightforward, takes on a new meaning by the end. This novel reminded me somehow of the saying - "Still waters run deep”.

West’s story reflects the ripple effects of war, first from the point of view of the women staying at home, waiting continually for the return of their loved ones, then through the soldier suffering the effects of bein
Apr 21, 2010 Margaret rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Moi
West examines the relationships between a shell-shocked soldier returned from the trenches of World War I and three women important to him. Her canvas is small, focusing only on these four characters, yet the wider background of the chaos of war and of changing society is implicit throughout. Every phrase is beautifully turned; there are no wasted or unimportant words. The conclusion is relentlessly moral, but so powerfully honest that it's far from preachy. The Return of the Soldier is a short ...more
Mike Robbins
Feb 13, 2016 Mike Robbins rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 Ret ...more
Jan 30, 2016 Vale rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Il ritorno del soldato è un breve romanzo che ha per temi il ricordo e la dolcezza del sentire. La storia è ambientata in Inghilterra quando in Europa siamo nelle fasi finali della Prima guerra mondiale. Il protagonista, a seguito di un'esplosione sul campo di battaglia, ha perso la memoria, o meglio non ricorda gli ultimi quindici anni della sua vita. Pur consapevole dei suoi doveri verso la giovane moglie decide di frequentare la ragazza che amava un tempo e che per sfortunate coincidenze avev ...more
Sep 05, 2015 Yamini rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, 50-ww
An absolutely wonderful, under-appreciated work of classic.

The Return of the Soldier sort of reminds of Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in the way that while this book’s central figure is one who has been through war, it’s not shoving the reader into a meaningful discussion about the effects of war on a man. It takes a roundabout approach to understanding how war, death, and tragedy affect’s a person’s psyche. Even though Chris is clearly the “soldier” who has returned from war, he rarely gets a chance to
Jan 18, 2010 Miriam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Miriam by: Jeremy
Shelves: memory
West’s first novel deals with love, war, grief, memory, loneliness, self-deception, class prejudice, materialism, and probably some other important questions that I didn't pick up on in my single reading.
Hilary Woolf
Apr 18, 2016 Hilary Woolf rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful book. Very different to the Aubrey trilogy. Sadness but with happy memories. Poor Chris and poor Margaret. The title of the book gains all it's meaning on the last page.
Jun 26, 2016 Leslie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, guardian-1000, war
I listened to the Elizabeth Klett recording available at LibriVox - she is an excellent narrator!

The descriptions are beautifully written. The story itself was sad, rather than tragic, and the horrors of WW1 are very much in the background. One reason that this didn't get a higher rating from me is that the class-conscious snobbery exhibited by Kitty and Jenny rasped on my nerves. I have read other books that have this same attitude that didn't bother me so I don't know what it was -- maybe the
Jun 24, 2011 Lauren rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps this makes me a simpleton, but I didn’t like this book. Yes, I appreciate its historical significance in being the first novel written about the Great War by a woman. Yes, the plot hints at something wonderful. And, yes, I found the ending surprisingly good. Mostly because, unlike the majority of the book, the action at the end was shown rather than told through unending descriptions and thoughts of what was likely happening. It’s also the only point in the book where the characters were ...more
Jan 25, 2009 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: newberry-library
This first novel by Rebecca West was published in 1918. It is short but holds tremendous rewards for the attentive reader. Focusing on the return of a shell-shocked soldier suffering from amnesia, the novel presents a world turned upside down by the effect of the soldier's illness on his internal life as well as his relationships with his wife, sister, and former lover (from before his marriage). The upset of his personal world mirrors the state of Europe after the Great War. The author highligh ...more
Robert Wechsler
Nov 26, 2015 Robert Wechsler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british-lit
There are two things that make Rebecca West’s novella very special. One is how it deals with beauty, how cruel its narrator is about it and yet how she comes to recognize a different sort of beauty (and how she ignores her own).

The other thing that makes this novel so special is its unusual love (and hate) quadrangle, with three women focused on one man (and each attentive to the others) who is, for at least two of them, scarcely there, but might be made to be. It’s brilliant.

Jenny is one of the
Jan 14, 2016 Emma rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A gem of a novel and deeply heartbreaking.
Jun 11, 2014 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 kille
Jul 15, 2016 Safae rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001, english, favorites
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 s
May 29, 2011 Vasha7 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book didn't start very promisingly. I'm not immediately inclined to follow along with the reflections of a narrator whose sole self-appointed task was to create a comfortable nest for the splendid, great, amazing, etc. man she selflessly adored, who was satisfied with "the way that in the midst of entertaining a great company he would smile secretly to us, as though he knew we would not cease in our task of refreshing him"; who said that "nothing could ever really become a part of our life ...more
Aug 12, 2012 Ali rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Aug 12, 2015 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013-books
What a wonderful moving book , one that will stay with me for a long time.
Feb 25, 2011 Ally rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-classics
Some of the writing within this novella was beautiful but there were a lot of flowery passages that I didn't feel added to the story and which resulted in my mind wandering. This meant that I had to try and re-read some parts in order to pick up the story again. I would call it a pretentious writing style but that might be a little unfair as there were sentences and paragraphs that were sublimely poetic. - The plot itself was interesting and the sub themes of beauty and snobbery were well handle ...more
The soldier in the title is Chris Baldry who comes home from the First World War a slightly different man - physically the same, but his memories have been swiss-cheesed causing him to not remember his wife at all, his dearest cousin as a childhood friend only and his first love as he last saw her fifteen years ago. He returns thinking she is his love still and cares to have it no other way. The three women are brought together in this cruel turn of events to try to come to terms with this and t ...more
Stephanie "Jedigal"
A soldier is retrieved from a hospital with amnesia when his family discovers what has happened to him. In spite of the detachment one feels with many books of the period, this is nevertheless an intimate portrayal of the experience of those who love him, first as he fails to remember them, and considers his former lover as more present and real to him, and then as he "returns" to his "soldier" self. Quietly sad.

West's got some beautiful old-fashioned "flowery" language here. If you're in the ri
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Cicely Isabel Fairfield, known by her pen name Rebecca West, or Dame Rebecca West, DBE was an English author, journalist, literary critic and travel writer. A prolific, protean author who wrote in many genres, West was committed to feminist and liberal principles and was one of the foremost public intellectuals of the twentieth century. She reviewed books for The Times, the New York Herald Tribune ...more
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“Embraces do not matter; they merely indicate the will to love and may as well be followed by defeat as victory. But disregard means that now there needs to be no straining of the eyes, no stretching forth of the hands, no pressing of the lips, because theirs is such a union that they are no longer aware of the division of their flesh.” 10 likes
“It's my profession to bring people from various outlying districts of the mind 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.” 7 likes
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