How World War I brought out men’s maternal side

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“One of the paradoxes of the war – one of the many – was that this most brutal of conflicts should set up a relationship between officers and men that was…domestic. Caring. As Layard [a traumatised soldier Rivers hadn't been able to help] would undoubtedly have said, maternal. And that wasn’t the only trick the war had played. Mobilization. The Great Adventure. They’d been mobilized into holes in the ground so constricted they could hardly move. And the Great Adventure – the real life equivalent of all the adventure stories they’d devoured as boys – consisted of crouching in a dugout, waiting to be killed. The war that promised so much in the way of ‘manly’ activity had actually delivered ‘feminine’ passivity, and on a scale that their mothers and sisters had scarcely known. No wonder they broke down”.

The thoughts of army psychiatrist W.H.R. Rivers from the novel Regeneration by Pat Barker. In Regeneration, the first of a trilogy, Barker blends fact with fiction in her depiction of the relationship between Rivers and the celebrated poet Siegfried Sassoon, at Craiglockhart during the First World War. One more excerpt to follow.

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