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The Return of the Soldier
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Short Story/Novella Collection > The Return of the Soldier - September 2018

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message 1: by Bob, Short Story Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bob | 5118 comments Mod
Our September Short Story/Novella read is The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West, 112 pages, published in 1918.


Shirley (stampartiste) | 846 comments Finally!!! 😁 Yeah!

I just took delivery of my copy and can't wait to get started.


Melanti | 2383 comments Here's some free electronic editions:

Project Gutenberg
Librivox
Amazon.Com

Sorry, I couldn't find this book at all on the Amazon UK.


Shirley (stampartiste) | 846 comments Great links, Melanti. I found my paper copy on www.Biblio.com which also has sellers in the UK. The link is here.


Allie | 47 comments Shirley (stampartiste) wrote: "Finally!!! 😁 Yeah!


Right?!


Allie | 47 comments Melanti wrote: "Here's some free electronic editions:

Project Gutenberg
Librivox
Amazon.Com

Sorry, I couldn't find this book at all on the Amazon UK."


Thanks so much!


Shirley (stampartiste) | 846 comments Allie wrote: "Shirley (stampartiste) wrote: "Finally!!! 😁 Yeah!


Right?!"


😂


Terris | 2868 comments I think I'm listening on LibriVox. Anxious to get started!


Rachel | 30 comments I thought this story was surprisingly engaging. There were so many layers to it. On one level, we're examining what happens when a man's secret heart is exposed and the havoc it can wreck. On another, we get to see the machinations of power and privilege when the world order is threatened. On still another, we see these echoes of the Genesis story, the return to Paradise, and the fall of humankind. I thought it was an amazing portrait of the English as they reckoned with the consequences of World War I.


Kathleen | 4198 comments It was a very compelling read, and I'm still mulling it over. I agree about the layers, Rachel. I didn't think of the comparison with Genesis, but that's an interesting view.

I liked the psychological side--what can happen when you neglect your true self and how that relates to our acceptance of war.


message 12: by Sara, Old School Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 6105 comments Mod
I finished this today and loved the layers of meaning and the way in which our narrator changes her view of Margaret as she begins to look beyond the surface. I couldn't help thinking (view spoiler)


Darren (dazburns) | 2017 comments intending to start this tonight...
(now that I've cleared the decks by DNF-ing Bros Karamazov!)


message 14: by Sara, Old School Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 6105 comments Mod
Oh, Darren, it took me three tries to get through Bros K. I am having the same experience with The Possessed. I don't imagine I am going to get through it but right now I am still plodding along.


message 15: by Sue (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue K H (sky_bluez) | 3419 comments I agree about the layers Sara and Rachel. I loved the way the narrator changes her view of Margaret also. She was looking at a person in terms of class rather than her merits as a person. I felt this related to the way you have false impressions of people in war because you're looking at people based on the character of their leaders rather than the individuals who are just like ourselves. There are good and bad people in every class and every country.

I liked the psychological side too Kathleen. His personal life was more painful for him than the war. His memory could have gone back to when his son was alive but it went earlier because his marriage was also so unhappy.

Even though I loved most of the book, the ending was disappointing for me so I took off a star. It felt too simplistic and rushed.


message 16: by Sara, Old School Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 6105 comments Mod
While reading reviews after finishing the novel, I came across this one https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

I think it makes some marvelous points and the opening quotation from Rebecca West gives the story another dimension for me.


Rachel | 30 comments Oof. What a quote. Being unfamiliar with Rebecca West, I ended up reading a couple of articles about her after reading this novella and an interview that The New York Times did with her in the last year of her life. All of the quotes they use from her seem so brutal in their judgment, but I love the clarity in her worldview. It's interesting to the beginnings of that in The Return of the Soldier, and I'd like to read more of her work to see how it develops.


Shirley (stampartiste) | 846 comments What a great book this was! It really took me by surprise as there were indeed so many levels to this story. I posted my review here. I thought West did a wonderful job of showing just how wide the gap was between the aristocracy and the working poor in England.

Thank you for the link, Sara. West's quote definitely shows a sense of guilt she felt at being in that "pampered sort of unnatural state." It makes me wonder if the evolution of Jenny's attitude toward Margaret wasn't autobiographical in nature: West becoming aware of her pampered state and that men, regardless of class, were sacrificing their lives for her safety.

For all her poverty (as Jenny and Kitty could not forget), Margaret was definitely the better human being.

I loved all the themes that West developed in this book.


message 19: by Bob, Short Story Classics (last edited Sep 06, 2018 12:40PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bob | 5118 comments Mod
I read this earlier this year and I am currently rereading it, an exceptionally rare thing for me, but this book is worthy or rereading. I haven’t reached the end of my second reading, but my recollection the first reading has me thinking that after Chris regained his memory he would be going back to the frontlines.

I wonder he’ll take a devil may care attitude toward life? After all if he is killed what does he really loose? His marriage is basically loveless. It’s just a matter of convention and societal expectation. His son is dead and Kitty either can’t or won’t have another. And the love of his youth and life is married and is unattainable going into the future. If he survives the war he will just go through the day to day motions of living one day at a time, being a polite courteous gentleman, sad.


message 20: by Sara, Old School Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 6105 comments Mod
Bob wrote: "I read this earlier this year and I am currently rereading it, an exceptionally rare thing for me, but this book is worthy or rereading. I haven’t reached the end of my second reading, but my recol..."

My thoughts exactly. What they have done by pulling him back to reality is take all his hopes away and sentenced him to return to the war. Another way the title struck me as having so many different layers of meaning...because in the end the soldier is returning to the battle and the hopelessness of his life.


message 21: by Sara, Old School Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 6105 comments Mod
I have been thinking about Jenny and Margaret. At one point she spoke of the smell of cabbage clinging to Margaret and I thought that was probably one of the few things people in that community had to eat. The contrast between Jenny's thoughts sitting in Margaret's parlor and those of Margaret sitting in Jenny's bedroom struck me as well. Margaret is not envious or jealous of Jenny and I'm not sure Jenny can understand that. Jenny's life is all surface, while Margaret's has depth. And, we are shown how Margaret treats her husband, which I think is important because it tells us she is a loving, thoughtful person and her care of Chris is not only because of her previous attachment but because she sees him as a human being. I think Jenny (to some extent) and Kitty (completely) fail to see Chris except in terms of what he "means" to their life, their status and their comforts.


Kathleen | 4198 comments Sara wrote: "I finished this today and loved the layers of meaning and the way in which our narrator changes her view of Margaret as she begins to look beyond the surface. I couldn't help thinking [spoilers rem..."

I love what you say here about Margaret giving him up for the second time for the greater good. It struck me how the difficulty of doing this came across so powerfully.


Kathleen | 4198 comments Sue wrote: "I agree about the layers Sara and Rachel. I loved the way the narrator changes her view of Margaret also. She was looking at a person in terms of class rather than her merits as a person. I felt th..."

Brilliant comparison, Sue. Yes, the way they wrote off Margaret is so comparable to the false impressions we have to harbor to engage in war.


message 24: by Sara, Old School Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 6105 comments Mod
Kathleen wrote: "Sue wrote: "I agree about the layers Sara and Rachel. I loved the way the narrator changes her view of Margaret also. She was looking at a person in terms of class rather than her merits as a perso..."

Sue, I am so sorry I had missed your comment earlier. I agree with Kathleen that you have captured the essence of waging war in your comment--we cannot think of the enemy in anything other than generalizations. As brutal as WWI was, it would have been essential to never think of individuals as being like us in any way.


message 25: by Sue (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue K H (sky_bluez) | 3419 comments Sara wrote: "Bob wrote: "I read this earlier this year and I am currently rereading it, an exceptionally rare thing for me, but this book is worthy or rereading. I haven’t reached the end of my second reading, ..."

I didn't think of that Sara but you're exactly right, the title applies equally to his return back to war.


message 26: by Sara, Old School Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 6105 comments Mod
It struck me at the end that Kitty would rather see him dead or back in that hell that was WWI than have him left to loving Margaret. Which, of course, means she did not love him at all, only what he offered to her in terms of status and reputation and comforts.


message 27: by Sue (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue K H (sky_bluez) | 3419 comments Bob wrote: "I read this earlier this year and I am currently rereading it, an exceptionally rare thing for me, but this book is worthy or rereading. I haven’t reached the end of my second reading, but my recol..."

I'm the same way Bob, it's so hard for me to re-read when I know there are so many great books out there that I haven't read. When I do though, I always find it rewarding and think that I should do it more often.

Your comments make me think of some of my clients who return back to the battlefield voluntarily. In one case in particular, I could see that his home life was miserable.

I know that many have such a hard time adjusting to normal life after what they've been through. They don't feel like they fit back into a comfortable life and they miss the close bonds they've formed with the people they serve with who would risk their lives to save them. In Chris' case, he probably has a hard time returning to a life without his son and true love so that war can even feel like a better option.


message 28: by Sue (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sue K H (sky_bluez) | 3419 comments Sara wrote: "It struck me at the end that Kitty would rather see him dead or back in that hell that was WWI than have him left to loving Margaret. Which, of course, means she did not love him at all, only what ..."

oh yes, Kitty was heartless. Many strangers would care more than she did about her own husband. Even in the beginning, she didn't seem all that upset that he was gone.


Kathleen | 4198 comments When I read the review Sara recommended above, with that fantastic quote from West about the guilt women felt, it made me think of this quote from the novel. You can tell from the meanings behind these lines, that West had some deep thoughts about the ways women reacted to the war.

“So Kitty lay about like a broken doll, face downward on a sofa with one limp arm dangling to the floor, or protruding stiff feet in fantastic slippers from the end of her curtained bed …”


message 30: by Sara, Old School Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 6105 comments Mod
I am always promising myself to re-read some works that I know I couldn't take in at one sitting, but I seldom do unless the book is so far in my past that I cannot remember the story well.

I'm glad we have come to realize that soldiers have a hard time assimilating back into civilian life. I think at this time they were expected to just come home and pick up where they left off. Shell-shock was looked at almost as a choice by some. A way of avoiding one's duty...buck up, lad.


message 31: by Sara, Old School Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 6105 comments Mod
Kathleen wrote: "When I read the review Sara recommended above, with that fantastic quote from West about the guilt women felt, it made me think of this quote from the novel. You can tell from the meanings behind t..."

LOVE that quote. The word choice is so perfect "fantastic" slippers on a "curtained" bed, to emphasize that no sacrifice of vanities is being made here. She really evokes an exact image of Kitty, I can see her and it feels very melodramatic.


message 32: by Bob, Short Story Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bob | 5118 comments Mod
"Give me the jersey and the ball."
The rebellion had gone from her eyes, and they were again the seat of all gentle wisdom.
"The truth 's the truth," she said, "and he must know it."


This is the last we as readers know of Margaret, she has accepted the responsibility and duty to end Chris’s happy existence of living in the past. Just seeing the jersey and the ball would probably start Chris on his journey back to reality, but to hear about the death of his son from Margaret meant that he could not ignore it, even if it was his wish too, she would never lie, his happiness was over.

he would go back to that flooded trench in Flanders, under that sky more full of flying death than clouds, to that No-Man's-Land where bullets fall like rain on the rotting faces of the dead.

I know Margaret realized at the time she brought Chris back to the present that he would be forever lost to her, but with the strain of that decision. On top of her reliving the grief felt when her own son Dick died. I wonder if she knew he would be sent back to-the war. Would she have still done it?

The truth is the truth, return the soldier to his fate.


Christine | 1217 comments I agree that this book has many layers to it. I just finished it this morning, and I am still gathering my thoughts. It was very interesting to read all your comments though, so thank you all for sharing!


message 34: by Sara, Old School Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 6105 comments Mod
Bob wrote: ""Give me the jersey and the ball."
The rebellion had gone from her eyes, and they were again the seat of all gentle wisdom.
"The truth 's the truth," she said, "and he must know it."

This is th..."


I agree that Margaret knew she was releasing him from his inability to see the present for what it was. I do not think she knows what other consequences he will face. But, Kitty does. She knows and she chooses.

The quote is perfect. Margaret embraces the truth, but Kitty wants Chris back in the lie she created of the perfect marriage, the happy couple, and the war as duty and honor.


Laurie | 1700 comments The ending is so effective because we aren't actually shown Chris's reaction and have to imagine it. I was devastated when I read it.


Rosemarie | 1580 comments I agree with your opinions of Kitty and Margaret. What a contrast!
Jenny said somewhere that Kitty was the body controlling the soul, Jenny herself was the intermediary and Margaret was the soul.
Jenny came to see the true worth of Margaret and the selfishness of Kitty.
I noticed that Kitty had even redecorated Chris's bedroom into a room with jade green walls and a lapis lazuli fireplace. No wonder the poor man couldn't sleep.


message 37: by Sara, Old School Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 6105 comments Mod
Laurie wrote: "The ending is so effective because we aren't actually shown Chris's reaction and have to imagine it. I was devastated when I read it."

I found the ending effective as well. The description of him walking toward the house sort of says it all.


message 38: by Bob, Short Story Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bob | 5118 comments Mod
One of the most amazing things West does in this book is paint Kitty as being pretentious, arrogant, and cruel. Kitty is a truly mean sprinted woman completely self-absorbed. West creates Kitty without using pages of descriptive words. She creates the villain Kitty using some short conversation, and a few paragraphs. The picture created of Kitty is almost photographic and is a masterful character creation.

By the way is anybody else ticked off that Rebecca West let Kitty of completely unscathed? She is despicable and in the end she is the only character to walk away intact. Jenny has been emotionally affected and Margret and Chris have been destroyed. Yet the story ends with Kitty spiking the football completely victorious. I wish West could have given Jenny the strength to at some point in the story gather the gumption needed to just slap Kitty once when she was being an ass. Oh well one can’t have everything.


Nente | 780 comments I thought the whole point of Jenny was that she was in love with Chris herself (cousins, after all - pretty much traditional in an English drawing-room romance). So her attitude to both Kitty and Margaret is far from objective, she's almost an unreliable narrator at first; but she is won over by Margaret after all.
As for Kitty, the fact that she absolutely forgot her own son as an important part of her husband's life is enough to put her beyond the pale.


message 40: by Sara, Old School Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 6105 comments Mod
I think that is just reality, Bob. What could hurt Kitty? She has no feelings for anyone but self, so if she gets to keep her material goods nothing can touch her. I think her callousness is so well portrayed by the fact that she goes into the empty nursery to dry her hair because the sun comes through the windows there...and she comments that Chris makes them keep it as a nursery when it could be used by her for something else. The cruel and callous do seem to win, of course she has missed out on everything important in life--she has lost Chris and she doesn't even know what she has lost, Margaret knows. Which would any of us rather be?


Nente | 780 comments Margaret, on the other hand, thought that it was very important for Chris to remember his kid - and for the kid to be remembered by the father who loved him.


message 42: by Bob, Short Story Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bob | 5118 comments Mod
I too thought that Jenny’s unrequited love for Chris began in childhood and continued on through the story. Kitty was fully aware of Jenny's love for Chris. It appeared to me that Kitty knowing of Jenny's feelings for Chris made it easy for her to treat Jenny more as a servant than family. I agree that Jenny could have been taken as an unreliable narrator. But as the story unfolded I believe she was completely objective and related an honest story. In the end I think Jenny admired Margret the woman and wished she could be more like her.


J_BlueFlower (j_from_denmark) | 1853 comments A interesting dilemma and a unusual story. The story itself turn out to be very different from my expectations (I was expecting a British solder returning home from All Quiet on the Western Front with massive PTSS).

What I liked most about the story was how the narrator changes towards Margaret as the story progresses.

I was not a fan of the description-heavy style. A large part of them or not adding to the story. It is not be because Rebecca West cannot write sharply, because the portrait of Kitty is extremely sharp with very few words.

Also I though the part about the 2 x half-child a bit strange and derailing focus from the main story.


Rosemarie | 1580 comments It took me a while to get used to the style. I found the first chapter a bit heavy going. I enjoyed the book more when it focussed on Margaret.


Cynda  (cynda) | 3445 comments The mystery starts right up with a visitor bearing news. So succinct and clear.


message 46: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 08, 2018 10:06PM) (new)

Bob I agree that I was furious with Kitty as well. West paints her as an utterly self-absorbed, vapid, and callous woman indicative of typical upper class British society prior to the Great War.
Maybe I am reading too much into this but I did find the callousness over her son's life and unwillingness to understand Chris's condition comparable to his shell-shock. One simply suppresses or denies what is undesirable. However I pity Kitty. Chris is willing to come to terms with his shell shock notwithstanding his pain and sacrifice. Kitty on the other hand will persist in her bubble always; she is incapable of breaking her mold, of thinking beyond selfish pursuits.

I also find it significant that West compares Kitty with a mirror.
"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." Kitty merely reflects light, she possesses none of it while Margaret radiates it.


Cynda  (cynda) | 3445 comments What to call aspects of novella. Decidedly not a comedy of manners but a description of manners. Too bad one cannot say, "Here is some extra cloth we have leftover. Will you be able to use it?" But then that comment says something about me that I do not quite approve of. Ouch.


Cynda  (cynda) | 3445 comments Telling Sentence of Jenny: The whole truth about us [Jenny and Kitty] lies in our material seeming.


message 49: by Sara, Old School Classics (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara (phantomswife) | 6105 comments Mod
Kt wrote: "Bob I agree that I was furious with Kitty as well. West paints her as an utterly self-absorbed, vapid, and callous woman indicative of typical upper class British society prior to the Great War.
M..."


KT, brilliant observation re: the mirror image.


message 50: by Terris (last edited Sep 09, 2018 03:37PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Terris | 2868 comments I just finished! Wow! Not quite what I expected, but I really liked it. But oh, how sad. That ending with Kitty being happy, but knowing how sad Chris was going to be, Oh My!
I did like the description of what Chris's life might be like if they didn't bring him back to the present. That did not see like a good alternative either.
I did not like Kitty at all, I liked Margaret a lot. For a while I wasn't sure about Jenny, not being sure exactly who she was and what part she was playing. At times she reminded me of the narrator in Rebecca as she told the story from a little outside the scenes. But then we found out a little more about her and got her name. It was still a little like Rebecca though.
I liked it overall, and am glad it finally won the category!


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