Life After Life

Life After Life


Kate Atkinson

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Life After Life: War (II), 20 Jan 1915 Summary & Analysis

Bridget comes into the nursery with Teddy, telling Ursula to get down from the window. Ursula had been about to jump onto the roof when a small doubt “made her hesitate.” Bridget scolds Maurice for throwing Queen Solange out of the window, while Pamela uses a lacrosse net tied to a walking cane to retrieve Queen Solange from the roof.
Like the episode with the ocean, Ursula starts to have these pangs of dread which help her learn from mistakes made in previous lives—allowing her to have a longer (and theoretically better) life.
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The meal accompanying tea includes a boiled chicken. Many of their meals involve chickens now because the war necessitates that they keep their own birds. Mrs. Glover’s cooking hasn’t been the same since George was injured in a gas attack. He is still in a field hospital in France, and Mrs. Glover doesn’t know how injured he is.
The second description of the Todd life in World War I is much bleaker than the first, demonstrating how, as people live longer, they become more exposed to tragedy and death around them, as Ursula is.
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Maurice asks if they’re eating Henrietta, a chicken of theirs that was very old. This question disconcerts Ursula and Pamela. Sylvie warns Maurice about his manners before assuring the girls that the chicken they are eating is not Henrietta—even though she knows that it is. An urgent knocking occurs at the back door. Sylvie hopes it isn’t bad news, but it is: Sam Wellington is dead. Bridget screams in horror from the kitchen. That night, Ursula and Pamela place Queen Solange and the figurine side by side on the cabinet, “valiant survivors of an encounter with the enemy.”
The perils of war slowly start to creep into the story as Atkinson introduces its first casualty. But in contrast with World War II later, which invades every aspect of Ursula’s domestic life, a stark line is still drawn here between the battlefield and the household. This is evidenced by the descriptions of the figurines and dolls as “survivors of an encounter with the enemy”—a phrase which demonstrates just how far removed Ursula and her sister are from any real encounters with the enemy.
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