Sunday, January 2, 2011

Chris never had shell shock?

I recently taught Rebecca West's WWI novel The Return of the Soldier (using the new Broadview contextual edition) in conjunction with Pat Barker's Regeneration--a terrific combination by the way. Interestingly, one of my graduate students claimed that Chris is not actually a victim of shell shock but is either shamming or simply mis-diagnosed by his doctors. She came to this conclusion after reading both Regeneration and W.H.R. Rivers's essay "The Repression of War Experience," seeing in Chris none of the symptoms of actual repressed war trauma as are described in these two other texts. Such a revisionist reading would open new, intriguing ways of approaching the novel, notably suggesting that Chris is suffering from a condition that is not directly related to the Great War. Any comments are welcome.


  1. There will be a reader's blog on The Return of the Soldier March 25, 2011 at

    A psychologist and member of the Rebecca West Society has left a post there commenting on West's treatment of shell shock. Very interesting.

    I believe that West was less concerned about illustrating the proven symptoms of shell shock than insinuating Freudian theory into her plot. Chris's retrieved memory has more to do with his suppression of his son's death than suppression of his battlefield experience.

  2. If a one has re-read the book enough and feels one has extracted all of West's meanings, then go ahead and look for revisionist plot devices.
    Maybe there is a simpler explanation. Maybe Rebecca West wrote about it the best way she knew how for her plot and simply didn't get all her facts straight about the symptoms of shell shock.