Literature and War Readalong March 25 2011: The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

There is still plenty of time for anyone who wants to join the Literature and War Redalong this month to get a copy of Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier. It is only 90 pages long which makes it all the more feasible. If all those of you who expressed an interest in this book will read along we might be quite a crowd. We will see. There are at least two different paperback editions available. I got the one from The Modern Library with an introduction by Verly Klinkenborg. The other one is a Virago edition with an afterword by Sadie Jones.

Rebecca West’s book is unique as it was published in 1918, before the war had ended. She tells the story of a returning soldier who suffers from shell-shock. I am particularly interested in this topic and curious to compare her handling of it with Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy which is for me still one of the greatest books on WWI, shell-shock and the development of the new medical discipline, psychiatry.

I was very surprised to find out that The Return of the Soldier that seems so well-known in the English-speaking world has not been translated into German. The only two of her books that made it into German are Black Lamb and Grey Falcon and The Fountain Overflows.

Rebecca West was only 24 when she wrote this novel but already an acclaimed journalist and women’s rights activist. This isn’t an account of the front line but purely a story that takes place on the home front.

Shell-shock is extremely typical for most WWI accounts. It seems as if there had never been so many cases of shell-shock in any war as in WWI. Psychologists state that one of the reasons for this lies in the trench warfare. Being in the trenches for such a long time infused the soldiers with a deep feeling of helplessness that makes shell-shock much more probable than any othe type of warfare. The moment the soldiers were allowed to leave the trenches and move about shell-shock was far less frequent.

Here is the link to the Rebecca West Society if you want to find out more about the author, upcoming conferences and events.

The Return of the Soldier has also been made into a movie.