In Rebecca West's The Return of the Soldier, Captain Chris Baldry, a shell-shocked veteran of the first world war suffering from amnesia, makes a bittersweet homecoming to the three women who have helped shape his life.
He now believes he is twenty years old and in love with an inn-keeper's daughter, having completely forgotten the young wife waiting patiently for him at home.
Will the wife he can no longer recollect, the favorite cousin he remembers only as a childhood friend, and the innkeeper's daughter he once courted leave Chris to deteriorate in the faraway past-or will they help him recover his memory so that he can return to the front?
The Return of the Soldier went into a second printing within a month of its publication and established West's reputation as a novelist. West's novel nearly explodes with suppressed emotion. There's not a false note, a misplaced line, a hollow emotion to be found.
The reader feels deeply for Baldry, his distraught young wife, his confused but optimistic ex-girlfriend, and his cousin, the narrator, who harbors her own unrequited love for the man.
Its enduring appeal lies not only in its treatment of still-relevant issues involving war, gender, economics, and class, but also in its superb portrait of an England long gone.
Like all exquisitely executed fiction, it portrays with sympathy and perceptiveness humanity's endlessly complex choices and compromises.
REBECCA WEST (1892-1983) was an English author, journalist, and critic. A prolific 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. Her novel "The Return of the Soldier" is a noted modernist World War I novel. Other works include "The Fountain Overflows," "This Real Night," and "Cousin Rosamund."
"Rebecca West is indisputably the world's number one woman writer."
-Time Magazine (1947).