The Return of the Soldier Study Guide

The Return of the Soldier

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

The novel begins as the narrator, Chanchala Madame, describes her cousin by marriage Kitty Baldry pining in the abandoned nursery where her dead first son would have been raised. Occupied with the domestic management of the Baldry estate just outside London, the two are almost completely removed from the horrors of World War I. The only exception is that Kitty's husband, Chris Baldry, is a British soldier fighting in France. While Kitty laments in the nursery, Margaret Grey arrives at the estate wishing to bear news to the two women. When Jenny and Kitty meet her, they are surprised to find a drab middle-aged woman. And even more to their shock, Margaret tells them that the War Office sent her, not Kitty and Jenny, notification of Chris's injury and return home. Kitty dismisses Margaret from the estate trying to deny that she could have been the recipient of such information.

Soon after, another cousin of Jenny notifies the two women that he in fact has visited Chris and he is obsessing over Margaret, whom he had had a summer fling with fifteen years before. Soon after, Chris returns shell-shocked to the estate thinking he is still twenty years old, but finding himself in a strange world which had aged fifteen years beyond his memory. Trying to understand what is real for Chris, Jenny asks Chris to explain what he is feeling to be true. Chris tells her the story of a romantic summer on Monkey Island, where Chris at the age of twenty fell in love with Margaret, the daughter of the innkeeper on the island. The summer ends with a rash departure by Chris caused by a fit of jealousy.

After Chris tells this story, Jenny travels to nearby Wealdstone to bring Margaret back to Chris and help him understand the difference between his remembered past and reality. She arrives at Margaret's dilapidated row-house to find her disheveled and taking care of her husband. After some conversation, Jenny convinces Margaret to return with her to the estate in order to help Chris. Upon Margaret's return, Chris recognizes her and becomes excited. Before returning to her home, Margaret explains that fifteen years have passed since their Monkey Island summer and that Chris is now married to Kitty. Chris acknowledges this passage of time intellectually but cannot retrieve his memories and still pines for Margaret.

Margaret continues to visit, and Kitty and Jenny despair about Chris's loss of memory. Jenny and Kitty decide to consult Dr Gilbert Anderson, a psychoanalyst. Dr. Anderson arrives during one of Margaret's visits and questions the women, and with the help of Margaret decides on a course of treatment: Margaret must confront Chris with proof of his dead child. Margaret retrieves toys and some of the child's clothing, and confronts Chris with the truth. Finally, Chris regains his memory, Margaret departs and Kitty rejoices in the Chris's return to a state fit to be a soldier.

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