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The Return of the Soldier

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  4,754 ratings  ·  544 reviews
Writing her first novel during World War I, West examines the relationship between three women and a soldier suffering from shell-shock. This novel of an enclosed world invaded by public events also embodies in its characters the shifts in England's class structures at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Paperback, 112 pages
Published June 8th 2004 by Modern Library (first published 1918)
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LadyCalico She doesn't try to tell the whole story of World War I in a novella, just a few weeks of one soldier's life, and that is enough, and that is…moreShe doesn't try to tell the whole story of World War I in a novella, just a few weeks of one soldier's life, and that is enough, and that is magnificent The story is more on the nature and reality of what it means to love than the nature and reality of war.(less)

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3.70  · 
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 ·  4,754 ratings  ·  544 reviews

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"I heard, amazed, his step ring strong upon the stone, for I had felt his absence as a kind of death from which he would emerge ghostlike, impalpable."

Two women await the return of a soldier, Chris, from World War I. His wife, Kitty, is an upper-class woman, still mourning the death of their child. Jenny, his cousin, serves as narrator for this beautifully written novella by Rebecca West. I felt this wasn’t so much a commentary about the war itself as it was a critique of the social classes and
Steven Godin
I shudder to think of what soldiers have to witness whist taking to the battlefield, regardless of what war they were fighting in. Some return home bathed in glory, but for others mental anguish and post traumatic stress can be emotionally paralyzing. What though of shell shock?, unable to remember the horrors of war would surely be a blessing?, but then again not. For loved ones back at home have to pick up the fragmented pieces of someones lost memories, and welcome back a complete stranger.

Aug 02, 2014 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
This review contains spoilers.

Chris Baldry is the soldier in the novel, an English soldier returning from the battlefield of WWI, and he is suffering shell-shock which has erased the last 15 years of his memory. He is returning to three women; Kitty, his wife who he does not remember at all; Jenny, his cousin, who lives in the household, who he remembers as a younger girl; and Margaret, a girl he loved in his youth and believes now that he still loves. It seemed to me that two of the three women
Apr 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommended to Christine by: Candi 4, Off the Shelf

3 stars

I can sum things up here with an oxymoron: This one was too much work and too leisurely for me. Plus I didn’t connect with three of the main characters. Sounds like a one star, doesn't it? Well, no.

Let me explain. By too much work, I mean this one required my full attention. No distractions allowed. Despite making sure I was in a quiet room, I had to reread lots of sections at least twice to get the gist. Sometimes I just gave up on the gist. To be fair, my concentration could have been o
Jul 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
I knew immediately when I started this that I was hooked. The writing grabbed me from the start. Then later I marveled at how expertly the characters were drawn; what they did and said and thought all meshed perfectly. Finally what fascinated me was the theme, the book's central question. Do you force a person to recognize the truth even if that truth may lead to unhappiness? This is a perfect book to discuss in a book club. Discussion is sure to be lively.

I adore how Rebecca West draws places
Aug 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Roman Clodia
Jun 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rereading this, I now take issue with my own assertions in my first-read review (below) that this is 'a simple and simply-told story': despite this being West's first novel, she chooses to tell the story via Jenny, Chris' cousin, secretly in love with him, and an interestingly limited narrator. She is perhaps the person who is most changed by events in the book moving from an unthinking, in-bred class prejudice that instinctually despises Margaret to something far more perceptive, open, and enli ...more
Meh. The writing was good but I was pretty disappointed in the ending.
Connie G
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Chris Baldry, a British soldier in World War I, was sent home suffering from shell shock. Although he was not physically wounded, he had a fifteen year memory loss. He was remembering life as a young man at age 21. One wonders if he is better off in a mental state outside reality. If he is "cured", he will be sent back to the front--to flooded trenches, cannon fire, and dead bodies. Which situation is really a state of madness?

Rebecca West also reminds us that the families of the soldiers are de
Mar 17, 2018 rated it liked it
The Return of the Soldier is a story of a soldier named Chris returning home with a memory loss due to a "shell-shock" and the three women who awaits his arrival - his wife, his cousin and his former love. The story develops on how these three women, while struggling with their emotional attachment to Chris, help him to bring his memory back.

Written as a third person narrative, the story talks of the life of Chris, shifting between past and present touching on his past relationship with his for
K.D. Absolutely
Sep 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
“…I sat in the hall and wrote letters and noticed how sad dance music has sounded ever since the war began.”

It’s World War I, and while the men go off to fight, the women engage in their own power struggles. Some assume that power is primarily in their attractiveness. Of course, things are not so simple.

Rebecca West, 24 when this was published in 1918, takes us into the homes and the personal histories of a man and three women, and shows us how the ravages of war reach beyond the battlefield, in
Oct 11, 2013 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.

A re-read for Armistice 2018!
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dannii Elle
This slim volume contains an entire era and acts as a spokesperson for a generation of men lacking a voice of their own. This was a poignant and painful read, on times, but told an important story with the most beautifully evocative and empathetic of language. I was enthralled in the characters and the almost voyeuristic insight into the historical gentry.
Diane S ☔
May 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lor-2019
Thoughts soon.
classic reverie
I had put "The Return of the Soldier" on my "to read" list years ago but decided after adding more of Rebecca West books, it was time, having never read her before. All I knew about this story was it was written by Rebecca West and it was about a soldier from World War 1. This brilliantly written story is an ultimate favorite of mine. As I read this I felt I was on an emotional roller coaster that was bombarded with strikes of lightning at times. I am still thinking about all the story conveyed ...more
Jan 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
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  (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
May 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A spellbinding novel that is both ingenious and gorgeous.

Aspects of The Return of the Soldier remind me of the wonderful A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr, one of my all time favourite books. Both are ostensibly about shellshock, both are short novels which pack a mighty punch, both feature a powerful love affair, and both reveal so much about the human condition.

Published in 1918, when Rebecca West was a mere 26 years old, The Return of the Soldier is about the return of a shellshocked sold
Beautifully delivered novella set during WW1. On face value it's a simple enough story, Chris Baldry returns home after suffering the horror of the trenches.

Descriptive and atmospheric, wonderful characterisation which is unusual in a story of this length. The last line pulled me up short, it did pack an emotional wallop.
Renee M
Aug 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Please note that I gave this book 4.5 stars, but rounded it up to 5 stars on Goodreads.

I read this story for The Dead Writers Society, 2016 Genre Fiction August 2016 book.

This story is (expletive) up. Seriously. You have a husband and wife separated by World War I. The husband's cousin is living with the wife and seems to sit around with constantly wet eyes thinking about "their Chris". And then the wife (Kitty) finds out that her husband who she loves is wounded with amnesia/shell shock and do
Jun 24, 2011 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
Adam Dalva
Dec 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
A really good novella - it strikes me as the platonic ideal of an Ian McEwan star-crossed love novel with a surprising dab of Salinger. Dismissed for far too long, this is a quick and compelling read with three moments of memorable beauty. Margaret is an all-timer of a character and the moment of her meeting with Chris is extraordinary (to avoid spoilers, I can't really talk about the plot at all. There is essentially one plot move in this book, and it's a cliche, yes, but it's worth finding for ...more
Mike Robbins
Aug 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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

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
Jun 05, 2009 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
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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 Tribun ...more
“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.” 16 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.” 13 likes
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