Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Return of the Soldier was Rebecca West’s second published work, her first having been a study of fellow writer, Henry James (Henry James, 1916). As her first novel, the book is a straightforward, unadorned account of shell shock and its effect on a central character and on those with whom he comes in contact. As a memorable depiction of war and its effects upon Western civilization, it is important, but as a psychological study of two very different types of women, one asexual and shallow, the other earthy and profound, it is a splendid contribution to British fiction. The novel not only drew favorable critical attention to Rebecca West and thus began her successful writing career but also allowed her to develop themes which would recur throughout her subsequent writing.

The theme of a character’s struggle between his inner magical realm and his somber, problematic outer reality so evident in The Return of the Soldier was expanded upon in two of West’s later works, The Judge (1922), and The Thinking Reed (1936). In these two novels, female protagonists, spiritual counterparts to Chris Baldry, have to abandon long cherished ideas about the ideal life and embrace the often cruel and puzzling real world of everyday experience. West’s characters are often hemmed in by their circumstances and environment. Yet if they can come to some sort of acceptance of the way things actually are, there is a measure...

(The entire section is 421 words.)