Book Reviews

The Return Of The Soldier (Virago Modern Classics) by Rebecca West

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List Price: £8.99

 

Paperback: 160 Pages.

Published: 02 December 2010 by Virago

ISBN: 9781844086986

EAN: 9781844086986

The soldier returns from the front to the three women who love him. His wife, Kitty, with her cold, moonlight beauty, and his devoted cousin Jenny wait in their exquisite home on the crest of the Harrow-weald. Margaret Allington, his first and long-forgotten love, is nearby in the dreary suburb of Wealdstone. But the soldier is shell-shocked and can only remember the Margaret he loved fifteen years before, when he was a young man and she an inn-keeper's daughter. His cousin he remembers only as a childhood playmate; his wife he remembers not at all. The women have a choice - to leave him where he wishes to be, or to 'cure' him. It is Margaret who reveals a love so great that she can make the final sacrific

Reviews

4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars  by Anne

A sad book about loss and regret

The book is set in the First World War and written in 1918. It centres around the family living in an old country house – Chris, the soldier of the title; his wife Kitty who is fashionable and obsessed with how things look; and Jenny, Chris’s cousin who has unrequited love for him. Kitty and Jenny start the novel living alone in the house as Chris is at war. They are filled with fear about Chris’s time at the front and they seem to be in limbo as they wait for his return.

Into this situation arrives Margaret, a working class woman who the two ladies initially think is trying to con them. Margaret has been contacted by Chris who has returned from the front wounded and, having forgotten his recent past, can only remember a time in his youth when he was in love with Margaret.

This is actually quite a complex novel despite the fact that it is so short. It deals with shell shock and nervous problems, including having Chris treated by a psychoanalyst. It also deals a fair amount with loss and regret – Margaret has lost her beauty and her chances in life with time, Chris and Kitty have lost a small child, Jenny has lost any chance of love with Chris and Chris ends up losing any chance to make a future with Margaret in favour of the vows he has made to Kitty. It’s bittersweet and the whole book seems to suggest that the status quo must be restored irrespective of any other choice or anyone’s deep felt wishes.

Where the book shocks the modern reader is probably not what would have made an impact at the time in which it was written. Jenny is the narrator and her description of Margaret when she first arrives is appalling. She is repelled by the cheapness of her clothing and the fact that it is in poor taste and the fact that Margaret does not have refined looks. Over and over again she mentions Margaret’s large, red and worn hands. In the end Jenny feels that Margaret behaves the best of any character but you do get the impression that this is particularly notable because of her class and the fact that you wouldn’t expect such refinement of character and self-sacrifice from the lower classes. A lot of this is quite painful for the modern reader, possibly because in every other way you recognise these people and their dilemma and identify with them – I wonder if this book was written today whether the ending would be the same ? I think not.

It’s an interesting, if rather dated read, and I enjoyed it. This is the only book by Rebecca West I have ever read but I would be prepared to try others.

 
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