Birdsong

by

Sebastian Faulks

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Stephen Wraysford Character Analysis

The protagonist of Birdsong and Elizabeth Benson’s grandfather. Stephen is first introduced as young man in France in 1910. He is sent by his British employer to study textile manufacturing in the town of Amiens, where he boards with René Azaire. Stephen is an orphan; he has never met his father and his mother abandons him shortly after he is born, leaving him in the care of his grandfather. When Stephen’s grandfather is sent to prison for a petty crime, he is sent to an institution. A social reformer becomes interested in him and encourages his education, but Stephen is never loved, and by the time he reaches Amiens, his life has little direction. Stephen quickly falls in love with Isabelle, René’s wife, and they begin a steamy affair. Isabelle fills a void in Stephen’s life that he has long since ignored, but after she leaves him, he is worse off than when he started. He initially finds distraction in World War I, but as the war drags on Stephen becomes filled with hate. He despises the German soldiers he fights against, and he even despises his own men. Stephen’s sees the worst of himself reflected in the men he commands, and he watches as they commit unspeakable acts. Stephen finds solace in his friendship with Michael Weir, a fellow soldier, but when Weir is killed by an enemy sniper, Stephen finds it difficult to go on. His heart is further broken when Isabelle falls in love with a Prussian soldier, Max, and while he grows a great fondness for Isabelle’s sister, Jeanne, Stephen never again feels the passion he experiences with Isabelle in Amiens. As the war rages on, Stephen begins to soften towards his men, and when he is trapped in a collapsed tunnel at the end of the war and saved by a German soldier, he embraces his enemy. Stephen records his story in an encrypted journal, and while his life is ultimately short and full of pain, his granddaughter, Elizabeth, is able to learn from him. Because of Stephen’s story, Elizabeth gains a new understanding of her own modern life and a deep appreciation for the cost of war.

Stephen Wraysford Quotes in Birdsong

The Birdsong quotes below are all either spoken by Stephen Wraysford or refer to Stephen Wraysford. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
History and the Future Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Birdsong published in 1993.
Part One: France 1910 Quotes

“This morning I was out doing some errands in the town. There was a window open in a house near the cathedral and someone was playing the piano.”

Madame Azaire’s voice was cool and low […].

Monsieur and Madame Bérard looked startled. It was evidently not the kind of thing they had expected. Azaire spoke with the soothing voice of one use to such fancies. “And what was the tune, my dear?”

“I don’t know. I had never heard it before. It was just a tune like Beethoven or Chopin.”

“I doubt it was Beethoven if you failed to recognize it, Madame,” said Bérard

gallantly. “It was one of those folksongs, I’ll bet you anything.”

Related Characters: Isabelle Azaire (speaker), René Azaire (speaker), Monsieur Bérard (speaker), Stephen Wraysford, Madame Bérard
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Yet despite her formality toward him and her punctilious ease of manner, Stephen sensed some other element in what he had termed the pulse of her. It was impossible to say through which sense he had the impression, but somehow, perhaps only in the tiny white hairs on the skin of her bare arm or the blood he had seen rise beneath the light freckles of her cheekbones, he felt certain there was some keener physical life than she was actually living in the calm, restrictive rooms of her husband’s house with its oval door handles of polished china and its neatly inlaid parquet floors.

Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Azaire’s gaze had filled with something like amusement. “I don’t’ like to think of you having some kind of fit. I could easily—.”

“For goodness’ sake, René,” said Madame Azaire. “He’s told you there’s nothing to worry about. Why don’t you just leave him alone?”

Azaire’s fork made a loud clatter as he laid it down on his plate. For a moment his face had an expression of panic, like that of the schoolboy who suffers a sudden reverse and can’t understand the rules of behaviour by which his rival has won approval. Then he began to smile sardonically, as though to indicate that really he knew best and that his decision not to argue further was temporary indulgence he was granting his juniors. He turned to his wife with a teasing lightness of manner.

Related Characters: Isabelle Azaire (speaker), René Azaire (speaker), Stephen Wraysford
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

“And have you heard your minstrel again in your wanderings in the town, my dear?”

She looked down at her plate. “I was not wandering, René. I was doing errands.”

“Of course, my dear. My wife is a mysterious creature, Monsieur,” he said to Stephen. “No one knows—like the little stream in the song—whither she flows or where her end will be.”

Related Characters: Isabelle Azaire (speaker), René Azaire (speaker), Stephen Wraysford
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

Sometimes from the safety of the sitting room he would fix his eyes on the group and the vital, unspeaking figure of Madame Azaire. He didn’t ask himself if she was beautiful, because the physical effect of her presence made the question insignificant. Perhaps in the harshest judgement of the term she was not. While everything was feminine about her face, her nose was slightly larger than fashion prescribed; her hair had more different shades of brown and gold and red than most women would have wanted. For all the lightness of her face, its obvious strength of character overpowered conventional prettiness. But Stephen made no judgements; he was motivated by compulsion.

Related Characters: Stephen Wraysford, Isabelle Azaire
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

René Azaire had no suspicions of what was happening in his house. He had allowed his feelings toward Isabelle to become dominated by anger and frustration at his physical impotence and by what he subsequently experienced as a kind of emotional powerlessness toward her. He did not love her, but he wanted her to more responsive toward him. He sensed that she felt sorry for him and this infuriated him further; if she could not love him then at least she should be frightened of him.

Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

“I don’t want this.” Isabelle shook her head. The words came from her mouth without thought or calculation in their purity of feeling. “I don’t know what to do or how to behave now. I could be happy in the simplest way, like any other woman with a family of her own, without this terrible pain I’ve caused. I won’t listen to ether of you. Why should I? How do I know that you love me, Stephen? How can I tell?” Her voice fell to the low, soft note Stephen had heard when she spoke on his first evening in the house. It was a beautiful sound to his ears: pleading and vulnerable, but with a sense of strength in its own rightness. “And you, René, why should I trust you when you have given me so little reason even to like you?”

Related Characters: Isabelle Azaire (speaker), Stephen Wraysford, René Azaire
Page Number: 92-3
Explanation and Analysis:
Part Two: France 1916 Quotes

“No one in England knows what this is like. If they could see the way these men live they would not believe their eyes. This is not a war, this is an exploration of how far men can be degraded. I am deeply curious to see how much further it can be taken; I want to know. I believe that it has barely started. I believe that far worse things than we have seen will be authorized and will be carried out by millions of boys and men like my Tipper and your Firebrace. There is no depth to which they can’t be driven.”

Related Characters: Stephen Wraysford (speaker), Jack Firebrace, Michael Weir, Tipper
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:

“I know you go out on patrol with [the men] and bind up their wounds and so on. But do you love them? Will you give your life for them?”

Stephen felt himself closely scrutinized. He could have said, “Yes, sir,” and closed the conversation; but Gray’s informal hectoring manner, although unsettling, permitted frankness.

“No,” he said. “I suppose not.”

“I thought so,” said Gray, with a small triumphant laugh. “Is that because you value your own life too much? You think it’s worth more than some simple footsoldier’s?”

“Not at all. I’m a simple footsoldier myself, don’t forget. It was you who promoted me. It’s because I don’t value my life enough. I have no sense of the scale of the sacrifices. I don’t know what anything is worth.”

Related Characters: Stephen Wraysford (speaker), Captain Gray  (speaker)
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:

If night would fall, the earth might resume its natural process, and perhaps, in many years’ time, what had happened during daylight could be viewed as an aberration, could be comprehended within the rhythm of a normal life. At the moment it seemed to Stephen to be the other way about: that this was the new reality, the world in which they were now condemned to live, and that the pattern of the seasons, of night and day, was gone.

Related Characters: Stephen Wraysford
Page Number: 224-5
Explanation and Analysis:
Part Four: France 1917 Quotes

Stephen felt, at the better moments, the love for them that Gray had demanded. Their desperate courage, born from necessity, was nevertheless endearing. The grimmer, harder, more sardonic they became, the more he cared for them. Still he could not quite believe them; he could not comprehend the lengths to which they allowed themselves to be driven. He had been curious to see how far they could be taken, but his interest had slackened when he saw the answer: that there were no boundaries they would not cross, no limits to what they would endure.

Related Characters: Stephen Wraysford, Captain Gray 
Page Number: 270
Explanation and Analysis:

Stephen felt himself overtaken by a climatic surge of feeling. It frightened him because he thought it would have some physical issue, in spasm or bleeding to death. Then he saw that what he felt was not an assault but a passionate affinity. It was for the rough field running down to the trees and for the path going back into the village, where he could see the tower of the church: these and the forgiving distance of the sky were not separate, but part of one creation, and he too, still by any sane judgement a young man, by the repeated tiny pulsing of his blood, was one with them.

Related Characters: Stephen Wraysford
Page Number: 348
Explanation and Analysis:
Part Five: England 1978-79 Quotes

I do not know what I have done to live in this existence. I do not know what any of us did to tilt the world into this unnatural orbit. We came here only for a few months. No child or future generation with ever know what this was like. They will never understand. When it is over we will go quietly among the living and we will not tell them. We will talk and sleep and go about our business like hum beings. We will seal what we have seen in the silence of our hearts and no words will reach us.

Related Characters: Stephen Wraysford (speaker), Elizabeth Benson
Page Number: 403
Explanation and Analysis:
Part Six: France 1918 Quotes

Gray stood up and came around the desk. “Think of the words on that memorial, Wraysford. Think of those stinking towns and foul bloody villages whose names will be turned into some bogus glory by fat-arsed historians who have sat in London. We were there. As our punishment of God knows what, we were there, and our men did in each of those disgusting places. I hate their names. I hate the sound of them and the thought of them, which is why I will not bring myself to remind you. But listen.” He put his face close to Stephen’s. “There are four words they will chisel beneath them at the bottom. Four words that people will look at one day. When they read the other words they will want to vomit. When they read these, they will bow their heads, just a little. ‘Final advance and pursuit.’ Don’t tell me you don’t want to put your name to those words.”

Related Characters: Captain Gray  (speaker), Stephen Wraysford
Page Number: 409
Explanation and Analysis:

Levi looked at this wild-eyed figure, half-demented, his brother’s killer. For no reason he could tell, he found that he had opened his own arms in turn, and the two men fell upon each other’s shoulders, weeping at the bitter strangeness of their human lives.

Related Characters: Stephen Wraysford, Lieutenant Levi
Page Number: 463
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Birdsong LitChart as a printable PDF.
Birdsong PDF

Stephen Wraysford Character Timeline in Birdsong

The timeline below shows where the character Stephen Wraysford appears in Birdsong. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part One: France 1910
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Stephen Wraysford unpacks his belongings from a metal trunk in one of the bedrooms. Like the... (full context)
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...is sixteen, and Grégoire, who is ten, are also present. It is quickly established that Stephen is twenty years old and has been sent by his employer to learn about the... (full context)
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...unhappy about new machinery that threatens to replace their labor. As Lisette flirts obviously with Stephen, Madame Azaire avoids eye contact with him. Just as dinner ends, the doorbell rings and... (full context)
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...strike; however, Bérard appears to enjoy delivering the bad news. Bérard begins small talk, and Stephen mentions he is from England. (full context)
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Bérard and René are subtly critical of England. They are surprised when Stephen says that they have trains there, and they make mention of the constant rain and... (full context)
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...disagrees, claiming that when “art is put to practical ends it loses its essential purity.” Stephen says that any song that elicits an emotional response should be valued. (full context)
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Bérard and his wife soon leave, and it begins to rain. Stephen excuses himself to his room, where he sits and listens to the sounds of the... (full context)
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...from his writing by the sound of a woman’s voice. The sound is vague, but Stephen senses that something is wrong, and he sneaks down the stairs to investigate. He hears... (full context)
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Stephen returns to his journal entries. His journey from England, the train through France, and René... (full context)
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The next day, Stephen accompanies René to his factory, which is located in a poverty-stricken area of town called... (full context)
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René informs Meyraux that Stephen is visiting from a textile company in Manchester, which happens to sell the same fabric... (full context)
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Meyraux is suspicious of Stephen, and suspects that René is looking to import English workers and machinery, costing French jobs.... (full context)
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...Lucien as a threat and continues his disagreement with Meyraux. As the two men bicker, Stephen’s thoughts wonder to Azaire’s mansion and his quiet wife. Stephen’s thoughts are interrupted by René... (full context)
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Later, back in his room, Stephen uses the code word “pulse” for Madame Azaire in the pages of his journal. He... (full context)
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 Days later, René suggests that Meyraux bring Stephen with him to eat lunch with the factory workers. He does, and on the third... (full context)
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The next day, René asks Stephen if he is feeling better, and he quickly dismisses his symptoms as a reaction to... (full context)
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Madame Azaire quickly tells René to leave Stephen alone. After all, she says, he says he’s fine. René appears irritated, but then he... (full context)
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...to cut her off,” which he apologizes for with a “small bow of his head.” Stephen is captivated by Madame Azaire, and while she is not beautiful in a traditional way,... (full context)
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The next day, Stephen finds Madame Azaire in the garden cutting roses. He boldly approaches her and removes the... (full context)
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Stephen thinks to himself that Madame Azaire has “intrigue and worldliness beyond her obvious position,” and... (full context)
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Madame Azaire begs Stephen to let go of her hand, yet she doesn’t loosen her grip. Stephen asks her... (full context)
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The next day, Stephen is eating his lunch in a café when he sees Madame Azaire walk by. He... (full context)
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The man introduces himself as Lucien Lebrun, and he explains to Stephen that he lives in a small apartment in the building with five other people. Lucien... (full context)
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Madame Azaire turns to Stephen, sensing his confusion, and explains that she brings food to Lucien to pass around to... (full context)
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...becomes frightened of him. Now, at twenty-nine years old, Isabelle looks at the visiting young Stephen as a sort of “third child,” although she admits that even this awakens a “motherly... (full context)
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Early one morning, Stephen rises early. The Azaires are planning a day on the water gardens with Bérard and... (full context)
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...boat, there is no breeze and it is exceedingly warm. The water is stagnant, and Stephen tries to situate his feet so that he does not touch Isabelle across from him.... (full context)
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...excessively about the area and who lives where, referring to the dank riverbed as beautiful. Stephen tries to catch Isabelle’s eye, but she avoids his gaze. Exhausted in the heat, Bérard... (full context)
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On shore, no one is particularly hungry, and as René smokes and Bérard naps, Stephen carves a small figure out of wood. Lisette asks him what he is carving, and... (full context)
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Stephen is disgusted by the water; rats swim by and the entire area seems to be... (full context)
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Back in his room, Stephen takes a cool bath and sits down with a deck of cards. He begins to... (full context)
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Stephen soon falls asleep to the sounds of birds outside and dreams the reoccurring dream that... (full context)
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The next day, a telegram arrives from London requesting that Stephen conclude his work and get back. He responds, asking for an additional month to complete... (full context)
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...protests about the “spy from England” listening in on their meetings. Ignoring the building violence, Stephen asks a worker next to him what was meant by the man’s wife comment. The... (full context)
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A brawl breaks out in the factory and Stephen is punched in the face by an unseen assailant. He punches back, hitting another man... (full context)
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Later in his room, as Stephen’s hand begins to swell, he realizes that he has fallen in love with Isabelle. At... (full context)
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 The next day after René departs for the factory, Stephen feels like a child home sick from school who is “eavesdropping on this female life.”... (full context)
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Isabelle asks Stephen if he will be taking lunch with her and Lisette, as Grégoire is still in... (full context)
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With Lisette gone, Stephen grabs Isabelle’s arm, and when she protests, he kisses her. He confesses his love for... (full context)
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Isabelle quickly turns and leaves, and Stephen is afraid he won’t find the right room in the massive house. Near a locked... (full context)
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Stephen begins to tear Isabelle’s clothes from her body, and “the more she imagines the degradation... (full context)
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Afterward, filled with “desire and happiness,” Stephen and Isabelle remain silently side-by-side on the bed, listening to the sounds of birds in... (full context)
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 Stephen arrives at the dining room door for dinner, and he briefly acknowledges René and Isabelle... (full context)
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...able to “maintain the falsity of her position,” and thinks about her afternoon spent with Stephen. She left the red room at five o’clock, and she has not spoken to him... (full context)
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...their love is all over. Isabelle manages time to bathe and wash the traces of Stephen from her skin and body, then she scours the tub and stops to “check and... (full context)
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...to another room for cards and drinks. As Isabelle stands, she is suddenly aware of Stephen’s eyes on her body. She feels naked and is suddenly “overpowered” by her “shame and... (full context)
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Alone in her room, Isabelle hears a soft knock on her door. Stephen appears, having come to check that she is alright. He kisses her quickly and returns... (full context)
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The next day, Stephen takes a walk into town. René has told him not to return to the factory... (full context)
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Stephen enters a cathedral, and kneeling in a pew, he prays “instinctively, without knowing what he... (full context)
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When Stephen returns to the mansion, he finds Isabelle reading in a small study. As she stands... (full context)
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...in the study, fully clothed and standing against the wall. “I love you,” Isabelle tells Stephen as she pulls away from him and runs her hands up and down his body.... (full context)
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“The red room,” Isabelle says, standing up. “In ten minutes.” She turns to leave, and Stephen kills time cleaning the floor and takes a short walk in the garden. He remembers... (full context)
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After they wake, Stephen again asks Isabelle about the night he heard sounds from her bedroom. Isabelle tells Stephen... (full context)
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Isabelle tells Stephen that René hits her, and while it is not terribly painful, she finds his strange... (full context)
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Meanwhile, René has no reason to suspect Isabelle and Stephen’s affair. He is not threatened by Stephen, and he is not in love with his... (full context)
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On the weekend, Stephen agrees to go on the fishing trip to the Ancre River with the Azaires. Bérard... (full context)
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At the small café, Stephen and the Azaires eat unappealing fish and drink wine. Sitting across from Isabelle, Stephen knows... (full context)
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After lunch, they return to the river, and Stephen finds a secluded tree to rest under. Suddenly, a hand grabs his shoulder, and he... (full context)
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“You expected it to be someone else, didn’t you?” Lisette asks, before promptly informing Stephen that she knows all about him and her step-mother. She had heard them that first... (full context)
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Lisette tells Stephen that he “shouldn’t have led her on” by giving her the wood carving, and she... (full context)
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Stephen tries to placate Lisette with a kiss, but she declines, instead placing his hand under... (full context)
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One day while in the red room, Stephen tells Isabelle about Lisette’s advances. Isabelle asks him if he thinks Lisette is ready to... (full context)
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Stephen reminds Isabelle that Lisette and Grégoire are not her children, and he informs her that... (full context)
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Later René tells Stephen and Isabelle that he heard a “strange story” about someone visiting Lucien during the strike... (full context)
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...also “enjoying some liaison with Lebrun.” Isabelle denies the affair, claiming, “Not with Lucien. With Stephen.” (full context)
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“What can you expect from a woman you have treated as you have treated Isabelle?” Stephen asks. René, clearly embarrassed that Stephen knows his secret impotence, kicks him out of the... (full context)
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...she doesn’t know how to behave now or whom to love. She doesn’t fully trust Stephen’s love either, she says. “How do I know that you love me, Stephen? How can... (full context)
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Isabelle packs a few dresses and her framed pictures of her family and meets Stephen in the foyer. She can’t bring herself to say good-bye to the children, and as... (full context)
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...goes from room to room, tearing apart beds and searching for evidence of Isabelle and Stephen’s affair. He goes through every room in the house before giving up, forgetting about the... (full context)
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Stephen and Isabelle board a train and end up in the spa town of Plombières. Finally... (full context)
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Stephen tells Isabelle that a social reformer named Vaughan showed an interest in him and became... (full context)
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Stephen and Isabelle arrive in St.-Rémy-de-Provence, near Isabelle’s cousin, and Jeanne wires them money to secure... (full context)
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...her life with René. They spend most of their time together, even in sleep, but Stephen finds that “the closeness of Isabelle’s unconscious body makes him feel uneasy.” Stephen spends many... (full context)
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...away; her power was turned inward where it would silently create.” She mentions nothing to Stephen. (full context)
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On day while walking in town with Stephen, Isabelle becomes faint and must sit down. Stephen begins to fuss over her, and she... (full context)
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Isabelle is convinced that Stephen won’t understand her connection to her unborn baby. She imagines it is a boy, and... (full context)
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Now, in the street with Stephen, Isabelle cannot bring herself to tell him her secret. He offers her a piece of... (full context)
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“Jesus Christ!” Stephen yells in response to the bird. Isabelle can’t understand. “It’s only a pigeon,” she says.... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Stephen thinks of his grandfather’s cottage and considers taking Isabelle there. He does not feel sentimental... (full context)
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When Stephen returns home, he finds Isabelle and most of her personal belongings gone. Many of her... (full context)
Part Two: France 1916
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Soon, Jack’s sergeant collects him to go before Lieutenant Wraysford, one of the “strangest officers” the sergeant has known. When Jack arrives in the muddy... (full context)
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Lieutenant Wraysford declines to charge Jack and Weir doesn’t see the point in any further action. Wraysford... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Stephen Wraysford’s section of the trenches have been shelled off for three days. He is exhausted,... (full context)
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Stephen has developed a close friendship with Weir, and because of this, he knows more about... (full context)
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...facial muscles beneath the skin.” Tipper screams for his home and for his mother, and Stephen orders Reeves to get him out of the dugout. Stephen is left shaken, thinking about... (full context)
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Later, Weir arrives in Stephen’s dugout. He has run out of whiskey and he knows that his friend will have... (full context)
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Stephen agrees and begins talking. He tells Weir that if the people back home in England... (full context)
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Weir is disturbed by Stephen’s choice of topic and he quickly changes the subject. “I’ve never been with a woman,”... (full context)
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...wants to know what sex is like but now it has “become such an issue.” Stephen suggests a prostitute, but Weir isn’t interested. He assumes Stephen has been with many women,... (full context)
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Weir engages the topic of love, and Stephen tells him about Isabelle. He says that after she left, he didn’t pursue her. Instead,... (full context)
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Their conversation turns to their men, and Stephen claims that his men don’t respect him. “I’m irrelevant to them,” Stephen says. “Sometimes I... (full context)
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Weir and Stephen run out to the trenches and begin digging through blown rock and dirt, trying to... (full context)
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Stephen comforts Douglas, whose femur is protruding from his leg. He asks about Douglas’s wife, and... (full context)
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 In the following days, Stephen’s company is relieved for rest, and he is billeted in a doctor’s home on the... (full context)
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In the morning, Stephen thinks about breakfast and wonders if there will be meat. He thinks of Bérard and... (full context)
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He thinks of Isabelle, and while Stephen can still taste her flesh, he remembers little else about her. “What had gone completely... (full context)
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Stephen had remained in St.-Rémy for an entire year after Isabelle left, in case she needed... (full context)
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Stephen had considered joining the French army. After all, they would all be fighting the same... (full context)
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Stephen had assumed that the war would be “fought and concluded swiftly in a traditional way,”... (full context)
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 Later that morning, Stephen meets with Captain Gray, an odd Scotsman who spends most of his time reading. He... (full context)
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Gray asks if the men obey Stephen, and when he answers in the affirmative, Gray questions, “do you think that’s enough?” Stephen... (full context)
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Stephen claims not to look down on the men, but because he doesn’t value his own... (full context)
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...tunnels from the other side of No Man’s Land. Gray agrees and promises to put Wraysford in charge. (full context)
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Stephen later asks his men for volunteers. “We’ll take a sewer rat to show us the... (full context)
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...men laying the charge and also the lower tunnel,” he tells them. The men in Stephen’s charge are terrified of the deep tunnel, and Stephen feels their “fear begin to infect... (full context)
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...to advance deeper into the tunnel. Afraid that the soldier will get them all killed, Stephen asks him, “You hate the Germans don’t you?” When the man responds “yes,” Stephen orders,... (full context)
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Jack tells Stephen that the men laying the mine are worried that Germans are tunneling through into their... (full context)
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...cut the Germans off before they can reach their men, when gunfire erupts behind them. Stephen’s men throw grenades and fire their guns back down the tunnel, when Stephen is suddenly... (full context)
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The men evacuate the tunnel, dragging Stephen behind them. The regimental aid post has been blown up too, and the men do... (full context)
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As he awaits medical attention in the mud, Stephen is aware of “a profound weariness” when infection sets in. By the time he reaches... (full context)
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Down the trench line, Jack finds a medical tent and asks an orderly about Stephen. “They put him over the wall,” the man says. Jack asks if he is dead,... (full context)
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...and torn uniforms, and stands back to assess the death. Suddenly, a figure moves, and Stephen struggles naked to the surface. “Get me out,” he manages, and as Jack climbs into... (full context)
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Meanwhile, at his usual billet, Weir tries not think about Stephen. He has heard nothing about his condition but he believes he is alive. To Weir,... (full context)
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One day while walking outside, Captain Gray comes to visit Stephen. He tells him he is being given a two-week furlough home to England when he... (full context)
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Stephen continues, “I have no home in England. I wouldn’t know where to go.” He implores... (full context)
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Gray promises to advocate for Stephen’s place in the company if he agrees to “toe the line a bit more.” Gray... (full context)
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Stephen claims to not truly believe in the card games but simply does it for the... (full context)
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Back at the Front, Stephen and Weir prepare to move out to Albert on Friday, and Stephen promises to take... (full context)
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The previous heavy bombardment has led to “relative quiet,” and Stephen can hear the sounds of the German soldiers nearby. He hates them and feels “nothing... (full context)
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Later that evening, Stephen and Weir take a motorbike into town, and when they arrive outside the brothel, Weir... (full context)
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An older woman arrives and leads Weir to the back of the establishment, and Stephen is left alone. When Weir returns, he looks “shaken and pale,” and Stephen begins to... (full context)
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The older woman appears and leads Stephen to the back bedroom. He claims he isn’t interested; he only wants to make sure... (full context)
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Stephen does exactly as he is told, and he notices how beautiful the girl is. As... (full context)
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Looking at the young prostitute, Stephen does “not know whether to take the girl or kill her,” and he removes his... (full context)
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Stephen looks at her, confused. She says only, “It is very difficult. The war.” Stephen apologizes.... (full context)
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...are dispatched to the Front and the artillery is allowed some downtime. Captain Gray takes Stephen to dinner at the house the Colonel is billeted at. Colonel Barclay tells the men... (full context)
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Colonel Barclay tells Stephen that they will be “the first wave of attack.” As they enjoy dinner in the... (full context)
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...men find a local billet for the night. With darkness comes gunfire, and the barn Stephen is trying to sleep in rocks and shakes throughout the night. Without sleep, the men... (full context)
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Stephen sees a group of men digging a mass grave, and the battalion moves on in... (full context)
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Stephen notices Tipper “smiling madly” in the sea of men, and he notices Weir standing with... (full context)
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Gray looks to Stephen and tells him that he wants him to take charge of the company should he... (full context)
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...his parents and tells them that they “have been the dearest Mum and Dad,” and Stephen writes Isabelle, even though he knows the letter will never reach her. He tells her... (full context)
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...British shoot back and part of their trench explodes. Fire shoots into the sky, and Stephen thinks something must be wrong. “We must go now,” he thinks, but he receives no... (full context)
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...still ten minutes to go before seven-thirty. When his watch finally reads the correct time, Stephen steps out of the trench and an eerie silence falls, cut by the song of... (full context)
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Stephen presses on and a man missing half his face wanders by, his gun still drawn.... (full context)
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Surprisingly, Stephen makes it through the barrage of gunfire, and he begins to laugh to himself. He... (full context)
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...Germans (their defenses have barely fallen) and going back across No Man’s Land is impossible. Stephen senses movement under his feet and notices a badly injured man. His eye socket is... (full context)
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As Stephen looks out of the German trench he thinks, “Nothing is divine anymore; everything is profane.”... (full context)
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As he searches for water, Stephen sees more of his men cut down, and he prays for night to fall. Once... (full context)
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Stephen is finally is able to stagger down to the river for a drink, and while... (full context)
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An impact comes from nowhere and strikes Stephen in the temple. He wakes sometime later to Tyson, one of Weir’s miners, bandaging his... (full context)
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Weir starts to shake. The guns have stopped, yet he still asks Stephen if he can hear them. Stephen hadn’t noticed before, but in the silence is the... (full context)
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As Weir cries, he asks Stephen to hold him and call him by his name. Stephen pulls him close. “It’s all... (full context)
Part Three: England 1978
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...dirt. Two books are at the bottom of a pile, and one is labeled, “Captain Stephen Wraysford, April 1917.” Another book is unlabeled and full of Greek script. (full context)
Part Four: France 1917
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...weeks of rain, the communication trench has become a flooded “cesspool.” In the poor conditions, Stephen Wraysford is beginning to feel differently about his men, and at times he feels love... (full context)
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Much of Stephen’s original unit is dead, and a few have had to return home to England. Some... (full context)
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...boots are one-size-fits-all and stuffed with “putrid rags.” A new subaltern, Ellis, arrives and tells Stephen that he would like to go to Amiens on their next leave. Stephen declines to... (full context)
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Ellis tells Stephen that the tunnel head is nearby, and that Captain Weir is there. When Stephen goes... (full context)
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Back on at the Front, Weir asks Stephen to tell his fortune. Stephen orders one of the men to bring him a rat,... (full context)
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Stephen tells Weir that his horoscope is wonderful—only he should stay away from priests and women.... (full context)
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Stephen denies fixing the cards and asks Weir why he wants to survive so badly. Weir... (full context)
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Weir tells Stephen about his visit to England and the disappointment that is his family. Weir wishes they... (full context)
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As the men talk, Stephen tells Weir that he continues to fight not for England and those living back home,... (full context)
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Stephen becomes “drunk and confessional” and tells Weir about using magic and superstition as a child.... (full context)
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“I knew this would happen,” Weir says. Stephen agrees to go in the tunnel with him. Not even the stretcher-bearers will go down... (full context)
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Weir and Stephen quickly come upon the end of the tunnel. There should be at least another thirty... (full context)
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...turn around to exit the tunnel, but there is not room, so Weir crawls over Stephen to get ahead of him. His pick dislodges the disturbed dirt and a large chunk... (full context)
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...a tunnel is an automatic court-martial. The men go about looking for the bird and Stephen sees it nearby. He lunges at it and screams, missing it. Weir is able to... (full context)
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Neither man can kill the bird, so Stephen is forced to carry it. He ties it in his handkerchief and must hold it... (full context)
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 In the following days, Gray gives Ellis and Stephen permission to go to Amiens for a few days on leave. Stephen agrees to go,... (full context)
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Stephen asks Ellis what he plans to do on leave. Since Ellis has never been on... (full context)
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Stephen takes Ellis to the café where he had once seen Isabelle walking past the window,... (full context)
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Later, Ellis and Stephen share a few drinks in a rowdy bar before Stephen excuses himself for a walk.... (full context)
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As Stephen approaches the woman in the street, she appears to know him as well. It is... (full context)
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Stephen is suspicious of her presence in Amiens, and Jeanne admits to coming to care for... (full context)
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Stephen tells Jeanne that he wants to see Isabelle. She won’t take him to her, but... (full context)
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After leaving Jeanne, Stephen walks down to the boulevard du Cange. The landscape is familiar and memories rush back... (full context)
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The next night, Stephen meets Jeanne as planned, and she tells him that Isabelle has agreed to see him,... (full context)
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Isabelle waits for him in a darkened room, and as Stephen enters he is shocked. Isabelle’s face is greatly disfigured. A large scar runs from her... (full context)
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...tells him not to worry; it looks bad but doesn’t cause any pain. She tells Stephen that she was twice injured by a shell—first at the house, and then while living... (full context)
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Isabelle tells Stephen what came of her after she left him. While she did go home to Rouen,... (full context)
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Isabelle does not tell Stephen about the child. She had fallen in love with Max in large part because he... (full context)
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Isabelle goes on to tell Stephen that Grégoire will join the army next year and that Lisette is happily married to... (full context)
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Stephen asks Isabelle if he may touch her, and when she answers yes, he gently runs... (full context)
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Back at headquarters, Gray tells Stephen that he is going back to the front line tomorrow. Gray is being pressured to... (full context)
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Gray tells Stephen about a company that had killed some enemy prisoners after a long bombardment instead of... (full context)
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Gray asks Stephen if he is still performing card tricks. He admits to entertaining Weir, but no one... (full context)
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The next day, Stephen receives a letter from Jeanne in Amiens. Isabelle has left for Munich to be with... (full context)
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Ellis stops by Stephen’s dugout and tells him that he has ordered the men into a working party to... (full context)
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...man named Brennan even uncovers the body of his brother. After they return, Weir asks Stephen if this is what his father has in mind when he says that the men... (full context)
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In the following days, Stephen arrives in Boulogne to catch a boat home to England for his forced leave. He... (full context)
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Once in England, Stephen realizes that he has nowhere to go, and in the end, he decides to head... (full context)
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Stephen decides to take a walk through the English countryside. While walking aimlessly, he notices the... (full context)
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Stephen heads back to France a day early so that he can visit Jeanne in Amiens.... (full context)
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Stephen asks Jeanne if she will be returning home to Rouen now that Isabelle no longer... (full context)
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Jeanne makes Stephen a nice meal, and as they eat she displays a “pleasant shyness.” In her presence,... (full context)
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Back at the Front, Gray tells Stephen that his new appointment has been delayed and instead he will lead a raid on... (full context)
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...rests in a dugout. Since Shaw’s death, Jack has begun to doodle pencil drawings of Stephen. He can’t bring himself to sketch Shaw, and he can’t “remember John’s face well enough... (full context)
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As Stephen waits to launch the raid, Weir comes to visit him. As usual, Weir is upset... (full context)
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Weir is “startled and downcast,” and he attempts to tell Stephen how important he has been to him during the war—just in case. Stephen responds angrily,... (full context)
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In the morning before the raid, breakfast comes to the trenches and Stephen is pleased to see bacon. The men quickly eat and prepare to enter No Man’s... (full context)
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...fire as well, and the men start to fall. Company B lends fire power, and Stephen and the soldiers are able to make it through a hole in the German wire.... (full context)
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Stephen looks across No Man’s Land and doesn’t see any troops. A platoon commander arrives and... (full context)
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...side of No Man’s Land. “What do we do?” he cries. “We hold the line,” Stephen replies, “we hold the fucking line.” The fighting continues for hours until a new regiment... (full context)
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A commanding soldier approaches Stephen and orders him to withdraw. Something has gone wrong—another problem in planning. As the regiment... (full context)
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Later, at his new desk job, Stephen writes Ellis’s mother and tells her of her son’s bravery. Stephen has grown tired of... (full context)
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When word reaches Stephen of Weir’s death, he is struck by a profound sadness. He thinks of the last... (full context)
Part Five: England 1978-79
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...Elizabeth explains herself and her reason for calling, and he confirms that he remembers Captain Wraysford. Gray is reluctant to talk, but he tells Elizabeth that Stephen was a tall, superstitious... (full context)
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Elizabeth asks Gray if Captain Wraysford was kind, or funny, and if he got along well with the other men. Gray... (full context)
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...together by tape. Elizabeth introduces herself, and sitting next to him, asks him about Captain Wraysford. “Such fireworks. We was all there, the whole street,” he says. (full context)
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...and Elizabeth sits with him quietly sipping tea. She decides to ask once more. “Captain Wraysford?” Suddenly, his voice “pipes up” as he says, “We all thought he was mad, that... (full context)
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...read her grandfather’s journal. Bob has neatly translated it, and she easily reads over it. Stephen talks of his guilt for surviving when so many others have not, and he talks... (full context)
Part Six: France 1918
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Stephen tries to write in his journal, but it is all a “nightmare.” He picks up... (full context)
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The next day, Stephen goes to see Colonel Gray at headquarters. Gray looks unaffected by the war, and he... (full context)
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Gray asks Stephen what he thinks will be put on the memorial when the war is over. Stephen... (full context)
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As Stephen leaves headquarters, Gray tells him to think about the memorial. He tells him to think... (full context)
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Before going back to the front line, Stephen takes a few days to go to Rouen. Amiens has become too dangerous, and Jeanne... (full context)
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Jeanne tells Stephen about the German advance on Amiens. She didn’t want to leave, but she was forced.... (full context)
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Jeanne tells Stephen that Max is not well and that he has had to have his leg amputated.... (full context)
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Jeanne and Stephen go out for dinner, and afterward, they sit in the garden drinking brandy. They dream... (full context)
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...get her robe. As she reaches for it hanging on the back of the door, Stephen opens it. He is looking for the bathroom. Jeanne moves to cover herself but instead... (full context)
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“Let me hold you,” Jeanne says. Stephen walks into her arms and puts his own arms around her thighs. He lays his... (full context)
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When Stephen returns to the front line, the man who has taken Weir’s position with the miners... (full context)
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Later, Stephen crawls into the tunnel behind Jack Firebrace and two other men. They soon meet up... (full context)
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The miner suggests waiting five minutes, and just as Stephen protests, the tunnel blows up. As Stephen lays on the floor in the midst of... (full context)
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Jack can hear Stephen unearthing him, but he can feel his legs crushed under a large beam. He moves... (full context)
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“What happened?” Stephen asks. Jack tells him the Germans blew a charge right above them. They probably know... (full context)
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Stephen works for five hours trying to free Jack before he must take a rest. He... (full context)
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Stephen frees Jack and begins making his way down the tunnel that Jack has identified as... (full context)
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Stephen and Jack stay in the tunnel for nearly an hour. If they don’t do something,... (full context)
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Stephen asks Jack who he would like to die with. “Which human being out of all... (full context)
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“You talk almost as though you had fallen in love,” Stephen tells Jack. Jack explains how he did. Stephen tells him to hold on. After he... (full context)
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Jack asks Stephen if he would choose to die next to him. Stephen tells Jack he “will do... (full context)
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Jack begins to tremble so badly that Stephen is unable to carry him, and he resigns himself to death. Stephen is certain that... (full context)
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Stephen falls asleep, and when he wakes, he reaches out into the darkness. He feels something... (full context)
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Jack, suddenly becoming lucid, tells Stephen that the New Zealanders lay sandbags differently than the Englishmen, and that there may be... (full context)
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Stephen talks to Jack as he digs, trying to keep him alive. After hours of work,... (full context)
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After Jack explains how to blow the explosives, Stephen carries him down the fighting tunnel and out of the way of the blast. He... (full context)
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In the meantime, Stephen wakes up underground. There is no light but there is some air, and he tries... (full context)
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In the course of digging, Stephen has lost most of his clothes and his revolver. If he wants to kill himself... (full context)
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Entombed in the darkness, Stephen figures that they have been trapped for five or six days. He yells out to... (full context)
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Levi orders the men to keep going and they finally break through. Stephen’s tapping echoes, and Levi accidentally goes in the wrong direction but eventually doubles back. Stephen... (full context)
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...of the tunnel together into the German trench to the sounds of birds. In English, Stephen asks Levi if it is over. Levi answers in English: “It is finished.” He looks... (full context)
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...them in a shared grave. That night, they eat out in the open air and Stephen says he must head back to the British side. Before he leaves, Levi gives him... (full context)
Part Seven: England 1979
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...clearer sense of what the war was like. She is confused over one entry, though. Stephen wrote about being trapped with a man named Jack who has a son called John,... (full context)
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...take some “time to digest it,” it doesn’t bother her. She asks her mother about Stephen. Françoise tells her that he didn’t speak for two years after the war, and even... (full context)